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China-Vietnam: how to cross the border between Hekou (河口) and Lao Cai

In this travel guide, I explain how to cross the border between China and Vietnam from Hekou (河口) to Lao Cai.

canola flowers fields

You won’t find much if you are looking for information about crossing the border between China and Vietnam. One reason is that the border has been closed for many years. Another reason is that that’s not the most common way to enter Vietnam (or China).

However, since I did cross the bridge separating these two countries, I can give you some useful information. This article explains how to get from China to Vietnam, but you can do the same thing in the opposite direction.

How to get to Hekou (河口)

train hard seat china

When talking about China and Vietnam borders, I‘m referring to the cities of Hekou in China and Lao Cai in Vietnam. To get to Hekou, there are two possibilities: getting there by bus or by train. The train is definitely cheaper and faster.

It would take a completely separate article to talk about all the different trains in China, how to buy the tickets, which kind of ticket it’s better to buy, etc… To summarize, when booking a train in China, I recommend using

If your city of departure is not too far from Hekou (no more than 2/3 hours), you can buy a ticket for a Hard Seat. You can see the picture above to get an idea of what these seats look like. If the distance is greater, I recommend a Hard Sleeper ticket (basically a ticket for a bunk bed). This is because the seats of old Chinese trains are very uncomfortable. You don’t want to sit there for more than a few hours. As of now, there are no fast trains connecting Kunming to Hekou.

The good thing about traveling by train is that you’ll see some beautiful countryside (check out the article’s first picture).

You’ll be surprised by the numerous security checks you’ll have to undergo before getting on the train: Chinese are obsessed with safety. It is impossible to get on the train without tickets.

When arriving in Hekou, get outside the small train station and avoid the taxis. Then, look for the numerous green buses that will take you straight to the border. Their destination in Chinese is 越南 (Vietnam). The price is 2RMB.

China-Vietnam border crossing

exit vietnam border

The first thing to do is to enter the small building with the big “Exit” text. Remember to bring the immigration ticket you filled in when you entered China.

Hopefully, they can give you a new one if you lose it. Don’t forget to check if you need a Visa to enter Vietnam. Every country is different, and you can’t get a Visa on arrival from this border. If you need one, you can request it from this agency.

There is always a lot of confusion regarding visas and their validity. Is it often hard to understand when you can start counting the number of days your Visa is valid for: from the date on the stamp or the following day? In China and Vietnam, the visa is valid from the day after the date of entry into the country.

Once you have passed the security checks in China, you can cross the bridge that separates China from Vietnam.

After a few hundred meters, you will be on the other side of the bridge and be able to enter the building where the Vietnamese authorities check passports.

There are usually very few people, and the authorities shouldn’t take long to check your passports.

Once you cross the border, you’ll be approached by a crowd of Vietnamese people who will ask you if you need to change money. Avoid them and walk to the ATM nearby, at the end of the big square, if you need local money.

how to cross the china vietnam border

Lao Cai (the city bordering China) does not have much to offer. If you still want to rest from the trip, you can find some cheap hotels with

Usually, tourists continue their trip and visit Sapa or Hanoi. If you have to go to Sapa, you can take one of the minivans in the square just outside the border or (even better) take the public bus that costs much less and offers the same service.

If you are wondering if it’s better Sapa or Yuanyang, in China, check out my article.

Yunnan also borders Laos, and you can easily cross the border between Mohan in China and Boten in Laos. Here, you can read my guide.

sapa rice paddies

If you are heading south and want to visit Hanoi or any other place, you can take a train or a bus from Sapa. You can book the train from this website.

As a last reminder, some websites are censored in Vietnam, as well as in China. Please remember to get a VPN before you get there. You can read this article if you don’t know what a VPN is. Here 5 reasons to always use a VPN when traveling.

Here, you can find some pics I took in Vietnam. Here is an article about Shenzhen, the Chinese Silicon Valley

38 thoughts on “China-Vietnam: how to cross the border between Hekou (河口) and Lao Cai”

  1. Valentina

    Hey Fabio, thank you so much for the information! I read on another article (from 2017) that the bus drops you off 30 minutes walk from the actually border crossings building, was this the case when you went too?
    Also, could you confirm why you mentioned to avoid taxis at Hekou north? Is it because they’re expensive? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Valentina, when I took the bus it stopped a bit far away from the border and there were not Didi yet. Now I think it should be fine.

  2. When there wasn’t Google translate, you write a Chinese character on a card, smallish, and a drawing (or your language’s word) on the reverse side. Combining them is usually sufficient to make yourself understood. Use your fingers too. Pointing to yourself first, usually means I need something.

  3. Samuel

    Hello Fabio, thanks a lot for this very useful guide. I still have two question. I want to apply for a tourist visa, therefore I need to specify where and how I will leave china. But I can’t select Helpu because it’s not in the list. Is there as solution? Despite that I need to write down a bus, train or flight number but what should I do when I will just cross the border on foot?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Samuel, I think it’s not on the list because technically the train ends in China. Maybe put Laos? The train there actually crosses the border. It’s just a technicality.

  4. Hey, are there any news if the land border Lao cai-hekou is already open for international tourists (we are from Austria). We have a Chinese tourist visa but are not sure, if we can cross the border right now (May 2023).

    Would be great to find somebody who did recently. Thanks

  5. Melissa

    Hi. Is this crossing open now (Dec. 7, 2022)? I would like to cross on Jan. 16, 2023 from China to Vietnam, and then cross back into China on Jan. 23, 2023. Also, I am assuming that if the border is open, there is a quarantine on the China side. Thank you!

    1. AS of now, December 2022, is still closed, but it might change soon given the new rules.

        1. Melissa

          I wonder if it might open soon…!

          1. Javi

            Hi, any updates? Anyone knows if the border will be opened in january with the new rules?? Thanks..

            1. As of now, December 31st, there are no changes. I’ll update the article as soon as there is any news

    2. Perry Tait

      Hey guys … great thread for CHINA to VIETNAM by border crossing.

      I am planning a move real soon to DaNang Beach, and later, for my friends to drive a Chinese registered transit van across the border with our motorbikes, kayaks etc.

      I will share whatever data I can get as well ..

      1. Melissa

        Please let us know if you hear anything about it opening.

    3. murtaza

      Dear fabio
      would indeed appreatiate if you could share some information about the lao cai border being still open as on 15-7-2022 from vietnam to china.

      thanks and regards


      1. Fabio Nodari

        Hi. The border as of July 2022 is still closed.

    4. Baskar

      Hi sir can you please tell me when you crossed this border and this border cross possible for tourist from Vietnam travel to China. Are they allowing?

      1. Fabio Nodari

        Unfortunately China doesn’t have any plan to reopen to tourism any time soon

        1. Samuel

          Hello, thanks for such informative post

          1. Fabio Nodari

            My pleasure Samuel 🙂

      2. Alejandro

        Hello Fabio! For this time being, is the border from Hanoi to China open already? I would like to cross land border by November. Thanks for the reply.

        1. Rachel Wong

          I’m planning to go next year in the beginning of February. However I’m not sure the border open yet or not . Does anyone can give me some information?

    5. tony

      Ended up here after looking for Taiwan postal delivery information as per the rabbit hole of the Internet! I’ve travelled extensively around Asia but have still to include Vietnam for some reason, I always end up being distracted by that bus going in the opposite direction!

      Having spent two months in China I’d advise more than one VPN, I had five different versions loaded on my phone but over time they each got shut down. Make sure you set up the vpn before you leave, that way you’re not using Chinese servers. In my last two weeks, I was travelling blind, though by then I’d grown accustomed to the routine of getting around. If you don’t speak/read Chinese it can feel quite intimidating on arrival and frankly exhausting getting anywhere, though there will usually be an English speaker at the main transport hubs. Most older people speak no English, but many younger students will be looking for an opportunity to practice theirs. You’ll need their help getting a taxi as none will pick you up off the street due to the language issue. It’s a challenging country for sure but one worth experiencing, though as we’re all currently locked down with Covid a little abstract at the moment!

    6. Jacob Brougham

      Hey Fabio, can I apply for a visa at the border? On the websites for Americans applying for visas the airport of entry is required, and I will be just walking across. Thanks for all your great tips!

      1. Hi Jacob. Sorry but I’m not sure. When I crossed the border Italian citizens didn’t need a visa. It might be a better idea to call the consulate to avoid bad surprises. Safe trips!

      2. Mark

        Put the name of the border town as the “port”. Should mean the same thing.

      3. Blake

        Hi Jacob….Are you planning on crossing from China to Vietnam soon?

        If you get the time, it would be awesome if you post here how it goes.

        I’m also planning on leaving CN for VN in a few months, but with all of the neverending city lockdowns, overpriced and frequently cancelled flights, the land border – assuming it is currently actually open – seems like a far preferable choice.

        Very difficult to get any accurate information though, alas.

        1. Fabio Nodari

          Hi Blake,
          as of now unfortunately the border is still closed… Might change in a few months though.

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