Lao CaiVietnam. It is on the border with China, separated from the Chinese town of Hekou by the Nanxi and Red Rivers.
Lao Cai Railway StationAs of 2016, there are 3 night trains and 1 day train each day from and to Hanoi (about 9 hr, US$20 for a soft sleeper depending on the train).
There are also trains from Kunming to the new (standard-gauge) Hekou North Train Station. The station is several km away from the border crossing, but buses meet each train and take passengers to the border crossing area and other locations around town.
The border is open 08:00-23:00 Chinese time (07:00-22:00 Vietnamese time).
As of 2016, there is no passenger railway service on the narrow-gauge bridge across the border river, even though physically the narrow-gauge tracks connect to the new Hekou North station on the Chinese side. Goods trains still cross the bridge and watching them pass the border gates is an interesting and photogenic pastime.
Cốc Lếu A and B Markets Cheap (very cheap if you are good at bargaining) Chinese goods are on sale and the range of products makes it an interesting diversion.
Chinese Border Gate There are several places along the river border where you can gaze into China if you don't have a visa. It's all very relaxed and no-one seems to mind you taking photgraphs
As soon as you leave the immigration building you will be approached by money changers. They usually offer poorer exchange rates than the bank. There are two banks just next to the border and a third one just at the other end of the first bridge, though these are all annoyingly closed at weekends. Banks in Hanoi will also readily exchange your RMB for dong.
Bắc Hà Sunday MarketBắc Hà Sunday market can be visited from Sa Pa, but is nearer to Lào Cai and best visited just after you have arrived in Lào Cai from Hanoi or when you have returned to Lào Cai to take the train back to Hanoi.
Nhà hàng Nhật Bản Sakura Deliaddress: Số 082 Hợp Thành, Phố MớiJapanese restaurant of good quality.
InternetYou can get free Wi-Fi near the bus/train station at the Fansipang Restaurant and Le Bordeaux Restaurant. Both are visible from the station.
HanoiTrains run from the train station in Lao Cai to Hanoi (8 hr) with an overnight sleeper option. This will put you in Hanoi rather early in the morning with your only company being a million motorcycle and taxi touts. So its generally a good idea to have a plan as to where you will be heading on arrival. Prices for a soft sleeper ticket are around 300,000 dong, lower classes are cheaper. Check seat61.com for up-to-date information on prices. Livitrans Train Company
There is a bus service to Hanoi costing 89,000 dong. The night bus to Hanoi costs about 150,000 dong. Very uncomfortable with loud music and no leg space. Train is much better option, but often needs to be booked in advance.
SapaMinibuses run from outside the Chinese Hekou border immigration exit, and train station straight up the mountain. Cost should be 25,000 dong per person and the bus leaves only when it is full. There does not seem to be a bus from the public bus station to Sapa.
If arriving via the Chinese Hekou border, watch out for touts who will persistently attempt to get you to pay up to 150,000 dong, or RMB20 (approximately 50,000 dong) per person to get to Sapa. Just ignore them and walk to a main street and flag a minibus with a sign showing Sapa at the windscreen. Confirm with the driver or bus attendant 25,000 dong and hop into the minibus to Sapa.
If arriving by train (usually around 05:30) watch out for minibus scams asking at least 200,000; generally they can be bargained down.