Lao Cai

Lao Cai town, located along the Hong River, would be considered a fine destination in its own right if Sapa had not stolen its thunder. Goods and services are in ample supply, eating and lodging is of decent quality, it’s a transport hub, and it’s crossed by leafy, sleepy side streets that are good for a wander. Plus it’s typically a few degrees warmer than Sapa, and less beset by mist and rain.

Lao Cai

Lao Cai overview


Lao Cai is a border town, but without that typical remote ‘outpost’ feeling you get with such spots. It’s just a short walk away from its sister city Hekou on the Chinese side — you’ll pass through here if you are headed to or from the Chinese city of Kunming, 470km to the north. The train line from Hanoi terminates here too, making it the gateway to Sapa for most travellers.

If Lao Cai looks kind of new to you, that’s because it is. The town was largely flattened by the Chinese during their invasion of 1979 and the international border crossing here did not re-open till the early 1990s. What you see today, including many of the glorious concrete egg-carton-style buildings, is just 25 years old.

 One of Lao Cai’s selling points is its fleet of little white electric cars. Easily recognisable as the white buggies that roam golf courses the world over, in Lao Cai they’ve rolled off the greens and onto the streets in a somewhat touching attempt to lure tourists to linger longer than a few hours.

Crossing the border
The Lao Cai / Hekou border is open every day from 07:00 to 20:00. Although in theory some nationalities can get their visas on arrival, there is precious little information or assistance available at the gate so it makes sense to arrive with a visa in your passport in any case — and British and American certainly need to be prepared. Going the other way, (travelling to Vietnam), no visa on arrival is available.


Lao Cai History

Lao Cai has been known since ancient times as a historic trading post. Here, the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the ethnic minorities of the region fought to gain control of the region. In 1463, the Viet Kings established Lao Cai as the capital of their northern most region, then named as Hung Hoa. It came under French colonial rule in 1889 and was their administrative town, and also served as a military garrison. In the early 19th century the first railway line was built from Hanoi to this region. It took 7 years to complete but at the cost of 25,000 lives of Vietnamese conscripted labour.


Lao Cai Geography

Located in North-West Vietnam, Lao Cai is surrounded by Yunna (China) on the north, Lai Chau Province on the west, Ha Giang Province on the east and Yen Bai, Son La provinces on the south.


Lao Cai’s terrain is divided into main kinds following: valley, low and high mountainous. With 3,143m in height, Fansipan is considered the highest peak of the Indochina Peninsula. The province has 107 rivers including Red, Chay and Nam Mu rivers… The province also owns 31 types of mineral, of which apatit, cooper, iron are most valuable.


The remarkable feature of Lao Cai is biologic diversification. There are 2,000 kinds of flora, 442 kinds of birds and animals… of which 60 kinds of animals only found in Lao Cai, 9 kinds of floras only found in Sapa. So that Lao Cai owns a treasure of valuable and rare genes, making up 50% rare floras in Vietnam.


Lao Cai has typical mountainous climate. The dry season lasts from October to March, it is cold. And the rain season is from April to September. Annual average temperature is 23oC. Specially, sometime, there is snow in Sapa.

Lao Cai

Phunu H’mong People in Lao Cai

Ethnic groups in Lao Cai

Lao Cai has a colorful culture of 27 ethnic groups. They are Kinh, H’Mong, Tay, Dao, Thai, Giay, Nung, Phu La, Ha Nhi, Lao, Khang, La Ha, Muong, Bo Y, Hoa, La Chi, San Chay, San Diu, Khmer, Lo Lo, Ka Doong, Pa Co, E De, Gie Trieng, Gia Rai, Cham, Ka Tu. The life of minority people groups base on planting rice on the paddy, on the fields in the mountains or on terraced field.

Festivals here are very special including Pray for good crop, Spring Mountain, and Long Tong festivals. There are many merry games such as nem con, tug-of-wars, cockfights.

Lao Cai Transportation
Located 300km from Hanoi, Lao Cai can be reached by car or train. There is National Highway No.70, 279, 4D linking Lao Cai to Yen Bai, Lai Chau and Ha Giang, China in turn. There are two trains depart from Hanoi daily to Lao Cai.

Lao Cai

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