From Sapa Town of Vietnam to Hekou Town of China: A Guide to Crossing the Border

China is renowned as a beautiful country with an ancient heritage that extends back years and years. Visit China, and you may return to the era of thousands of years ago and enjoy the old environment of an East Asian country. From Sapa Town you can easily cross the border and set foot in the country of China. Not only will you experience the amazing mountains and hill tribes of northern Vietnam, but you will also continue your adventure through a border crossing to a different country. Read on to discover what you need, how to do it, and what to experience on the other side.

sapa border crossing lao cai to hekou
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Two Border Gates with China of Lao Cai Province

From Sapa Town, Lao Cao Province, you can cross two border gates to reach China: Muong Khuong and Lao Cai.

Muong Khuong border gate

This border gate is located in Muong Khuong Commune, Muong Khuong District, Lao Cai Province, adjoining Maguan County, Yunnan Province, China. It is administered by the border economic zone of Lao Cai. This gate is usually used for transportation of goods between the two countries of Vietnam and China.

Lao Cai border gate

Lao Cai border gate is one of the most important border gates between Vietnam and China in tourism and economic activities. It is located in Lao Cai City center, Lao Cai Province, adjoining the Chinese county of Hekou, an autonomous county of Yao people, in the south of Yunnam Province. There is a bridge called Ho Kieu connecting Lao Cai border gate and Hekou border gate. Travelers most of the time often cross this border gate rather than Muong Khuong border gate because just after crossing the border, you will reach the beautiful town of Hekou. In the rest of this article I will provide a detailed guide on how to cross Lao Cai border gate and show you what to see and do in Hekou Town of China.

lao cai to hekou border crossing
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Best Time to Visit China

If you just want to visit Hekou Town, you do not have to worry about the weather because it is very similar to Sapa. To avoid rain, cold weather, or very hot weather, you should visit the border town in spring or summer.

If you want to enter through Lao Cai border gate and visit Hekou, you should notice that the weather gets colder and colder to the north. China is a large country, so weather changes from south to north and from west to east. You should plan your journey carefully and note the weather when you intend to visit so that you can prepare clothes accordingly.

One important point is that despite the expansive territory spreading from west to east, China uses only one-time zone for the whole country. It is Coordinate Universal Time (UTC) +8, which means it is one hour ahead of Vietnam (UTC +7). Although Lao Cai Province and Yunnan Province share the same longitude coordinates, there is a one-hour discrepancy in time.

vietnam to china border cross
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Lao Cai border gate is open from 7 AM to 10 PM, which means in Hekou, the hours become 8 AM to 11 PM.

The Paper Needed to Cross the Border

You have to obtain your Chinese visa prior to the trip! To receive a Chinese visa, you have to register at the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Hanoi (address: 46 Hoang Dieu Street, Dien Ban Ward, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi City) or at the Chinese consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (Address: 175 Hai Ba Trung Street, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City).

You have to prepare these documents:

  • Valid Vietnamese visa
  • Passport valid more than six months
  • A 2×3 and a 4×6 photo
  • Completed application forms
  • Tickets for flights entering and exiting China (because you want to go by land, you just have to show them the confirmation in entrance and exit, you don’t have to pay in advance for the tickets)
  • Affirmation for accommodation for your first destination in China (also, you just need to show the confirmation of the hotel without paying in advance)

Sometimes the officers may ask you to add some more documents based on your conditions, just follow their lead. Then, wait to process. It may last four working days.

You need to pay an amount of money for the visa fee (around 30 to 45 US dollars).

How to get to Lao Cai border gate

We already have a detailed guide to help you get from Hanoi to Sapa easily. You can spend many days in Sapa enjoying the perfect beauty of this land before going to China.

Then, you have to get to Lao Cai City from Sapa Town. The cheapest way is to take the bus of Lao Cai Transportation company. It will take around an hour to travel from Sapa Town to Lao Cai City.

Departure: Sapa Town Center Church, Thach Son Street
Destination: Lao Cai Railway Station Square, Pho Moi Ward, Lao Cai City
Contact: (+84) 214 365 65 65
Price: Around 50,000 Vietnamese Dong

If not, you can use a private transportation company.

Hoang Hai Company
Contact: (+84) 912 660 030 or (+84) 974 686 389
Price: 50,000 VND

VietBus Company
Contact: (+84) 2143 88 77 33 or (+84) 2143 77 17 27
Price: 50,000 VND

Once you reach Lao Cai City, you can easily take a taxi and ask the driver to bring you to the Lao Cai border gate.

Other things to notice before going across the border

China uses the Chinese Yuan marked as RMB or CNY as currency, so I recommend exchanging currency in Hanoi before your trip. You can exchange easily at any jewelry store on Ha Trung Street, Hang Bong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi City. The exchange rate is around 1 USD = 6.3 RMB or 1 RMB = 3,570 VND.

It’s okay if you forgot to exchange currency because there are several ATMs in Hekou, but not all the ATMs accept foreign cards. Look for Bank of China’s ATM to do the exchange. The ATMs actually do have English instructions, so it is easy to withdraw money. However, not all the ATMs support English, so be careful!

It’s important to notice that you are not allowed to bring weapons, inflammable substances, and confidential documents (related to political problems). Other things such as drugs and marijuana are banned too.

Things to Do After Passing Lao Cai Border Gate to Reach Hekou

Visit the border market

Because of the location at the border, goods in this market don’t have tax and you can buy goods here very cheaply. This market has three floors and has a thousand square meters filled with products. The market sells many kinds of goods such as fruits, jewelry, shoes, even knifes, and swords. Hekou belongs to an autonomous county, so these kinds of goods can be sold publicly. You can also find some kiosks offering casino services by Malaysian companies. The specialty of this market is brocade products. You will love these embroidered goods and might even bring a few back as gifts to your family or friends.

hekou town market
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy the Chinese food

Since Hekou is next to Vietnam, their food is a wonderful combination of Vietnamese and Chinese taste. Rove around Hekou Town and try all their street foods!

Look for cuttlefish skewers, fried chicken, fried pork, banana cake, sausage, potato chips, popcorn, and mantou (a small rice Chinese cake). Everything will be very cheap! Not much English is spoken in Hekou, so it will be better if you have a guide with you who knows Mandarin. If not, body language is enough to communicate!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

You can also drop by milk tea stalls and enjoy the creamy taste of this drink.

Explore Hekou at night

In Hekou you can easily catch a taxi to take you to any place you want. When dusk falls, you should go to the park of Hekou Town. At 7 PM (Chinese time), the town starts switching on all the lights. The town at night is light-filled and inviting! Even better is that you can encounter the Chinese-ancient-style shelters. In my opinion, decorated in lights, these shelters are beyond beautiful. How about taking some photos of these wonderful places?

The best part is you can buy flares and light them legally. These are banned in Vietnam. On account of your own safety, you should bring the flares to the river bank to light them.

From Hekou to Kunming

Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is famously known as “the City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant climate and flowers that bloom throughout the whole year. With a history of more than 2,400 years, it was also the gateway to the celebrated Silk Road that facilitated trade with Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar, India, and beyond. Today it is the cultural center of Yunnan as well as the most popular tourist destination in southwest China.

With breathtaking nature, it’s understandable why travelers flock to Kunming every year. The distance between these two cities is 1,057 kilometers, and although there are many ways to get to Kunming such as bus, train, or plane, the best means of transportation is by train. Just pay around 85 USD to 110 USD, sit down, take a nap, and seven hours later, you’ll be in Kunming! Alternatively, you can travel by bus, which costs around 65 USD to 100 USD for a 22-hour drive. Remember to book your ticket online here to ensure a care-free trip!

Plan Your Trip to Sapa

Now that you have your short trip to Hekou planned, start thinking about Sapa. You can easily reach Ha Giang Province, which unfurls in the beautiful buckwheat flower season. Ha Giang is about 300 kilometers away from Sapa and takes about six hours to reach. To travel from Sapa to Ha Giang, you should go to Lao Cai City Bus Station to catch a bus to Ha Giang.

You can use the services of these companies:

Tien Phuong Company
Contact: (+84) 985 418 136 or (+84) 966 275 179 or (+84) 966 580 582

Ngoc Nhat Company
Contact: (+84) 983 765 811 or (+84) 163 575 6111

Trung Bac Company
Contact: (+84) 961 583 848 or (+84) 961 580 088

From Sapa, you can also visit Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island, and Ninh Binh Province.

I hope this article will guide you through Vietnam’s Sapa Town to China’s Hekou Town. After visiting Hekou, continue on your journey to visit the ancient beauty of China or go back to experience the majestic scenery of our Vietnam.

Follow our The Christina’s Blog to get more information about traveling in Vietnam. I recommend these articles:

Sapa Trekking Guide: Valleys, Villages, Mountains and Clouds

The Best Homestays in Sapa (For An Authentic & Personal Experience)

Stunning Sapa: The Most Authentic Villages In and Around this Beautiful Land

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