Lao Cai to Hekou – Vietnam to China Border Crossing [2019 Update]   Recently updated !


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Today we walked across the Vietnam China border. Literally.  From Lao Cai to Hekou.  Actually we travelled from Sapa to Hekou, China, crossing the border at Lao Cai Vietnam to Hekou, China.

This is an easy crossing between Northern Vietnam and the south western China province of Yunnan at the junction of the Red River and the Nanxi River.  There’s just not a lot written about it.  This guide aims to advise on how to get from Sapa to Lao Cai, and then from Lao Cai to Hekou Yunnan.  We’ll cover border opening times, visa requirements, what you can expect in Hekou China and details on onward travel from Hekou.

You can take a train from Hekou to Kunming, or a bus to the Yuanyang Rice Fields.

The first thing that you’re going to want to do is read this guide thoroughly – ask any questions you might have and plan out your onward travel from Hekou.  This is esepcially he case if you do not have a VPN.  China is currently blocking access to all HTTPS websites ( so that means this site as well as all the sites where you’d book your accommodation, trains and other onward travel. ) Read more about VPN’s and other things you should do BEFORE you get to China in our article.

 

How to Get from Sapa to Lao Cai

Most travellers will spend some time in Sapa, the old French hill station set up in 1922, before crossing.  However the border crossing takes place in the Vietnamese town of Lao Cai into the Chinese town of Hekou.  The Lao Cai border crossing is about 2 kilometres from the Lao Cai train station.  However, we have included the instructions oh how to get from Sapa to China in total.

We left from Sapa at 09:30

We stayed in the top part of the town for our last night in Vietnam, at the Sapa Cozy – check out prices and availability of places to stay in Sapa.  It’s close to the Church, which is where the buses leave from for Lao Cai.

Where to Get the Sapa to Lao Cai Bus

Sapa_where the buses to Lao Cai go from

The Tourist Bus from Sapa to Lao Cai

We headed to the Church at 09:15 to catch the 09:30 tourist bus to Lao Cai – 28k VND.

From the Lao Cai train station (Ga Lao Cai) we planned to catch an Xe Om (motorbike taxi) each for 20k VND (US $1) to the China Vietnam border. Alternatively we could walk the remaining 2km in about 40 minutes.  You can also take the Lao Cai to Sapa bus in the opposite direction.  You’ll find it going from the Lao Cai train station to Sapa (there are also a myriad minivan shuttles that cost about the same.

Sapa to Lao Cai Minivan

A minibus driver approached us and agreed to take us to Lao Cai for 30k.  We further negotiated getting to the border for another 10k VND each.  As the minibus was empty when we did this deal we expected to be sitting around for the next hour while he drummed up trade.  We were pleasantly surprised when we set off 10 minutes later as he had promised, even though we weren’t full.

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He operates by setting off a few minutes ahead of the bus – so en route to Lao Cai we picked up several more folks, who were also waiting for the bus.

We were dropped off just before the border, with a Vietnamese wave in the general direction of “China, China”.

How far is Sapa from the Chinese Border?

The distance between Sapa and the Chinese border at Hekou isn;t really the question, more how long will it take from Sapa to the China border.  The answer depends – but it will usually take you around an hour (60 minutes) to get from Sapa to Lao Cai to the Chinese border.

Hekou Border Crossing Map

Google isn’t exactly accurate here – so I’ve drawn on the details of the location of the China Vietnam border crossing map.  The Lao Cai to China crossing is quick and easy.

 

Lao Cai Where the Border Is

The Vietnam China border map above is from Google (with my additions) and IS confusing.  This is mainly because both Google’s border line is in the wrong place on the map AND the rivers look as though they run into the streets.  It  looks like, for instance, that Binhe Lu in Hekou is in the river.  It’s not.   This Hekou – Lao Cai Vietnam map is to show where we were dropped off.  This Vietnam China map is still relevant and hasnt change in 2019.

Lao Cai to Hekou Border Crossing

Vietnam & China Border opening times

China is one hour ahead of Vietnam.  Vietnamese immigration is open at 0700 (that’s 0800 Chinese time).  Then you need to walk across a bridge into Chinese immigration.  Chinese immigration is open from 8am until 11pm (Chinese time).  That’s 7am until 10pm Vietnamese time, because of the time zone differences.

Vietnamese Immigration at Lao Cai

The entrance to Vietnamese immigration is through the exit, because,  you are exiting Vietnam.  It’s a simply process, you stand in a line and get your passport stamped.

 

Lao Cai to Hekou Vietnamese Exit

Vietnammese Immigration at Lao Cai, Vietnam  – what to expect

There were four folks in front of us, all looked like regular visitors, we were the only western tourist.  We were through in less than 5 minutes.  That included standing by the sensor that checks your body temperature! We were apparently normal apparently and passed through without problems.  Most of the folks crossing here at the Lao Cai China border are locals, not tourists.

Chinese Immigration at Hekou Yunnan, China – what to expect

Then, it was a short walk across the Friendship Bridge over the river and we were heading into the Hekou – Chinese immigration building.

Walking Across the Friendship Bridge Lao CAi to Hekou

There was NO ONE here. Apart from the immigration staff.

Chinese Immigration Hekou

First of all we had a stop at the quarantine section and a passport check. Then it’s onto a small station where your passport is scanned by a helpful guy.  He also inputs the requested visa number into the machine, which then prints your entry and exit cards.  There is no visa on arrival here, you must obtain your Chinese visa prior to the trip.  This is just one of the things that you must do before you arrive in China -there are others!  And there are recommendations for apps that you should download before you go too – read about that here.

Our helpful guy didn’t speak any English, but sign language is universal and, face it, if a man in uniform points and pushes, you just go.

You sign the cards and then head to the Immigration notice and booth.  This is all within 8 metres of each other. There was now no one in the line, so we went quickly through there.   Then you put your bags through the airport security style scanner and you’re out.

Filling in the Immigration Form in Hekou

Time to Cross Vietnam – China Border

Vietnam to China in 16 minutes. Pretty darned good. This was late morning by the time we arrived at the border (11:44 on a Saturday).  We had no bus to catch on the other side, our bus goes at 06:00 or 09:00 tomorrow.  So we plan to stay in Hekou for the night.

Hekou, Yunnan

There are multiple locations in China named Hekou.  You are travelling to Hekou, Yunnan.

Facilities in Hekou

There’s not a lot to see.  Its typical border town, but you’ll find places to stay and eat (More on Hekou Food here), even if you don’t speak or read any Chinese.

 

Map of Hekou with Immigration and ATM

Hekou Hotels

There are lots of hotels in Hekou within easy reach of the immigration building.  Be sure of your accommodation in Hekou and book ahead.  The Chinese site Trip is great for booking accommodation in China and has more choice than other sites.

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Hekou Accommodation Recommendations

Sun Hotel

Shared terrace and lounge, free wifi.  English spoken here.  Dorm beds and private rooms available.  Get best prices and a reservation here.

1982 Hostel

Easy location, walking distance of the border. 24 hour desk, restaurant  Big rooms and very clean.  Reserve your room now at a great price.

Asia Theme Hotel

Free in room wifi, 4 hour front desk and an entire NON SMOKING FLOOR!  Secure your room now

Leave a Deposit if you’re paying in Cash!

If you’re paying cash for a budget room in China then you need to leave a cash deposit, which is returned as you leave (assuming that you didn’t wreck the room of course).

Getting Chinese currency in Hekou

ATMs in Hekou

If you don’t have Chinese Yuan (often marked as RMB or CNY), then there are several ATM’s that a foreign card holder can use.  Not all Chinese ATM’s will accept foreign cards.  We found Bank of China easy to use throughout our 60 days in China.

The ATM does actually speak to you in English.

You can find a Bank of China ATM that’s available 24 hours and that works with foreign cards at the corner of BINHE LU – see the notation on the map.

Lao Cai to Hekou – Vietnam to China-8272

How to Leave Hekou

If you want to leave Hekou straight away, then then you will want to get to either the Hekou Passenger Transportation Centre (for buses) and there are details on this below –  or the Hekou North Train Station (which opened in December 2014). >  Book your Chinese trains online with Trip.com

Hekou to Kunming Buses

It is possible to get from Lao Cai to Kunming (or Sapa to Kunming) in one day. as there are lots, throughout the day, they go from the Hekou Passenger Transportation Centre – or bus station.  Take the little green bus to get there.  (See details below).  You will need, though to get to the border early in the day.

Hekou to Xinjie for Yuanyang

Read more about getting to the Yuanyang Rice Fields here

Where to Get Buses in Hekou

Long distance buses in Hekou leave from the Bus Passenger Transportation Centre.  The building is about 2.5 miles (4km) from the border.  The Hekou Bus Passenger Transport Centre is also where you book and buy a ticket from.  We bought our tickets the day before we travelled, to be sure of having a ticket to our next destination.

 

Map of where the Hekou Passenger Transportation Center is:

Map of Bus Station Hekou

 

How to get to the Hekou Bus Passenger Transportation Centre

Hekou’s bus station is easily accessible by the “little green bus” . The little green bus runs from 0630 – 2200 right along the river road, BINHE LU.  Each trip costs 2 yuan (2019 prices). The trip takes about 15 minutes. Simply put your money in the box as you enter the bus.

Little Green Bus Hekou

 

There aren’t many seats, but there is plenty of space for standing.

Little Green Bus Hekou

Getting to Hekou Train Station (Opened December 2014)

The Hekou train station is about 4.5 km from the immigration building.  It’s known as Hekoubei (in Chinese it is 河口北火车站 ).  It is sometimes also known as Hekou North Railway station.  You will want to get a taxi.  Write the Chinese characters down, and show it to a taxi driver.  Agree a price before you get in the taxi.

You should try and book your trains before you arrive in China – you can do this online with Trip.com – And be sure to do it in plenty of time, as trains book up quickly.  Take a look and find availability for your trip NOW.

A taxi from the border area to Hekou train station should cost 20 Yuan for four people with luggage. (March 2019 prices) – its a fixed price and drivers will refuse to turn on the meter.

Before you cross into China

Before you set off across the border into China there are some key things that you must do.  We’ve put together a checklist – be sure to read and do them before you set off!

Most importantly – Download a VPN

Without a VPN you are unlikely to be able to access sites like Gmail (even from your phone apps), Google Maps and Facebook.  Since August 2018 the Chinese government has been blocking access to HTTPS sites – which includes most booking , accommodation and even ASocialNomad.  Download a VPN – virtual private network – and install it BEFORE you get to China. The Chinese government frequently blocks access to sites that it sees are potentially against their communications policy. A VPN both secures your internet traffic and masks your location.  A VPN also makes it safer to input your credit card details and passports when you’re on public wifi networks.

Read our NEW Common Sense Guide to VPNS here – or get a VPN from US$8.32 a month with ExpressVPN – Take advantage of the time limited offer that gives you THREE MONTHS FOR FREE!

 

 

Resources:

 

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.


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27 thoughts on “Lao Cai to Hekou – Vietnam to China Border Crossing [2019 Update]

  • mlavant

    Hi guys, I did the same trip a few days ago in the opposite direction. From Kunming to Lao Cai, Sapa and Hanoi. You should know that since the beginning of 2015 the train line from Kumning to Hekou is running again (6 hours journey). More informations on seat61.com.
    You are right, the border crossing in both direction is to much easy ; 20 minutes from China to Vietnam, no queue and helpful officers. For a nice place to stay in Hekou, but still affordable, I recommand Xin Du Hotel, Binglang road N°1, close to the center. Typically chinese hotel with no english speaking ; the room is about 120 RMB (20 $).

  • TC

    Hello from Thailand,
    We are looking for the info on travelling from Vietnam to Kunming by train (also how to cross the border), and your blog is really helpful.
    I have read it thoroughly.

    Thanks

  • ASocialNomad Post author

    Thanks for the kind comments, I hope your trip goes well. We bought our train tickets in Vietnam from Hanoi railway station and our train tickets in China in person from railway stations. CTrip now allows you to buy train tickets online (what a HUGE relief – as the lines are huge in China, and you usually end up in the wrong line!). It also helps with planning your travel, as we never quite knew if we’d be able to travel on the day we wanted to, or on the train we wanted!. Let us know if there’s anything else we can help with!

  • Gia

    Thank you guys, this post is super helpful and written with great detail (appreciate the humour too heehee) so appreciative of your effort in doing this – I am planning to make a border crossing and hope it will be just as smooth! BTW the exit/entrance cards (for rest of China) are yellow-coloured and i wonder if that’s the same for this crossing too? Thanks again xx

  • ASocialNomad Post author

    Hi ! thanks for the comment – we actually found all our China border crossings easy – Mongolia > China, this one and China > Hong Kong too (although I guess that doesn’t count so much!). I’m pretty sure out entrance/exit cards were white, but I’m going to dig back through photos and see what I took – just as soon as this internet connection winds up above walking speed!!

  • Jon 李逵

    I surfed into your blog as I was researching the Vietnamese border crossing with China and this was extremely helpful and detailed! I live in China (Kunming) and know southern Yunnan quite well. Thanks for the accurate information!

  • j3114

    Your blog is fantastically helpful. One question, which website did you buy your online bus ticket from Hekou to Kunming on?
    We’re planning to go by train but it seems like they only allow 20 days booking in advance, which is too risky for us as we’re applying for visa 1 month prior our departure. Again, thanks for your blog!

    • ASocialNomad Post author

      Hallo there and thanks for your comment – when we used the bus from Hekou we went to Xinjie and booked the bus at the bus station the day before we travelled. For train travel you can use Ctrip – this link will take you there http://tidd.ly/601c52ea – but the you can’t book Chinese trains more than 30 days ( some overnight sleepers are 20 days) in advance. I’ll comment separately on how to deal with the visa. Sarah

    • ASocialNomad Post author

      Hallo! When it comes to your visa for China you will need an accommodation booking and travel and sometimes (depending on where you are applying from) your transport in and out of the country even back to your home country. But don’t worry, the details that you submit for the visa do NO have to be the trip that you take. View this as a paperwork exercise. Get the visa by creating an itinerary that you can book, print the bookings to PDF and then cancel those bookings that you do not want. Once you have your visa NO ONE checks that you are doing the route that you put in your visa application and it is Not referenced on your visa. We used booking.com to make bookings ( go for 4-5 nights in places it makes booking for the visa process easier ) and be sure to pick ones that have free cancellations. Write a letter to accompany your visa application detailing your (fake) route and submit it with your application. Stare that you will be booking a train / bus from x to y as soon as the bookings open. We’ve applied for and Received long stay tourist visas so far using this method. BUT we also had to include a “flight ticket” back to our home country – even though we planned to leave China overland. So we did this http://asocialnomad.com/travel/proof-of-onward-travel/ – we used the free option in there. And it worked both times ( and in other countries too). Getting a Chinese visa is a painful process but that’s all it is – just jump through the hoops and follow their rules. The country is fabulous. Drop us an email [email protected] if we can help further and Good Luck!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for all this very useful information. I’ve just bought my tickets to Xinjie at Hekou bus station for tomorrow and knowing about the green buses to get there was very helpful. The green bus fare is now 2 yuans. As for the Hekou-Xinjie bus timetable, it hasn’t changed: the only two daily buses leave at 6.10 and 9.00. Best regards, a fellow X-gen traveller

  • Narcology

    I think no one knows how important is to have a good VPN in China. I used to live in Beijing, and I remember I had a hard time finding a well-performing service. So, please remember, if Facebook, Google or other social apps is essential to you – do some digging on reviews online and make sure to purchase a service before leaving. If someone would want my opinion, I managed to get the best results with NordVPN. One thing, their price could be lower, but I purchased it with discount deal75, so it reduced about 3-4 times. Hope that helps.

  • Meegan

    A massive thank you for such a detailed guide. We are currently in Sa Pa and cross the border tomorrow so it’s extremely helpful to have such a detailed guide available to help.
    Many thanks,
    Meegan

  • Alice

    Thank you for very detailed information. This blog is really suitable for one who wants to go and visit Vietnam. Hope that you will provide us the more interesting articles about this beautiful country. looking forward to reading your others blog <3

  • Stephen

    Just did this in March 2019. All accurate information here. Well done. However, it cost only 20 Yuan to take the taxi from the border to the Hekou train station. Fixed price. The cabbies will not use the meter.

  • Shreyas

    Hello Sarah!
    I’m so glad I stumbled across ASocialNomad!
    I have a question..
    I plan on entering China from Vietnam (via Lao Cai) and flying out of China (from Beijing).
    Would it be okay If I showed a train ticket (from Hekou to Kunming) and a flight ticket out of Beijing for my visa?
    Do i Have to book a flight from Hanoi to China even though I have proof of departure (flight out of Beijing)?

    • Sarah Carter Post author

      Hi there! Remember that the visa process is a paper exercise – and that they want you to show that how you will get in and how you will get out. (and preferably they prefer you to show that you are flying to your home country (!!! – I guess the paperwork process doesn’t understand people don’t just travel from their home country!!) – for your outbound that sounds ok. It depends on where you are applying for your visa from – we applied in London, (twice), which is VERY strict, but have had readers apply from all over the world, it appears to be less strict in the countries around China. They do, in all cases, appear to want to know how you are getting in – so you can book a cancellable flight in and out – the US carriers do a 24 hour no fee cancel deal. I would recommend something like this. Book it, PDF it and cancel it. There does not need to be any correlation at this time between what you say on your visa and what you actually do! Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  • Vietnam Travel

    Lao Cai is the central tourist area of the North with scenic Sa Pa town in the clouds, charming market, the top of Phan Xi Pang and Lao Cai International Border Gate. Lao Cai has many historical places, natural caves, specialties and is a place bearing the unique cultural characteristics of many ethnic groups.