Northwest Vietnam

Hoa Binh - Song Da Reservoir - Mai Chau - Moc Chau - Yen Chau - Son La - Tuan Giao - Pa Khoang Lake - Dien Bien Phu - Muong Lay - Muong Te - Sin Ho - Lai Chau - Sa Pa - Lao Cai - Bac Ha - Ha Giang Province


IDD Code: (+84) 20
Lao Cai, the end of the line so to speak, is right on the Vietnam-China border. The town was razed in the Chinese invasion of 1979, so most of the buildings are new. The border crossing here slammed shut during the 1979 war and only reopened in 1993. Today Lao Cai is a major destination for travellers journeying between Hanoi or Sapa and Kunming in China, but Lao Cai is no place to linger with Sapa just an hour or so away. The border town on the Chinese side is called Hekou - you would have to be an enthusiast of Chinese border towns to want to hang out there.
Be especially wary of black marketeers, especially on the Chinese side - they frequently short-change tourists. If you do black market dealings, it's best to change only small amounts. Directly across the bridge on the west bank of the river, the BIDV Bank (Đ Thuy Hoa) can exchange cash and travellers cheques, and also has an ATM.
Sleeping & Eating
Gia Nga duest House (tell: 830 459; Pho Moi; r 100,000-150,000d; No need to stay here, but the owner pioneered a popular deal to offer a shower (20,000d with towel and soap) to freshen up after the night train.
Thuy Hoa Guesthouse (tell:826 805; fax 824 689;118 Đ Thuy Hoa; r 170,000-185,000; If you happen to be in the market for views across the Red River to China, this is a comfortable guesthouse. All rooms come with hot water and TV.
Lao Cai International Resort ( 88 Đ Thuy Hoa; r US$70-85;Still claiming to be the "ultimate choice' perhaps the management hasn't travelled the 38km to Sapa. The rooms are pretty smart and include safety deposit boxes, which are handy if you happen to land a big win in the casino downstairs. Chinese currency accepted.
Nhat linh Restaurant (tell: 835 346; Pho Nguyen hue) A reliable little travellers' cafe outside Lao Cai station, the friendly staff and extensive menu make this the obvious stop before or after a long train ride.
Viet Hoa Restaurant (tell: 830 082; 9 Phan Dinh Phung;mains 25,000-75,000d) The biggest restaurant in town, this is the place for local luminaries wanting the best of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. As well as weddings, they accept 'merry making party'.
Getting There & Away
Minibuses to Sapa (25,000d, 11/2 hours) leave regularly until late afternoon from the station next to the Red River bridge. Minibuses to Bac Ha (28.000d, two hours) leave several times daily; the departs last at 1pm. Lao Cai is about 340km from Hanoi. Buses make the journey (85.000d, nine hours), leaving early in the morning from the long distance bus station (Pho Nguyen Hue), but most travellers sensibly prefer taking the train. See Getting There & Away under Sapa for details on train travel between Hanoi and Lao Cai