After a trip to Hanoi, and having previously taken the overnight train to from Vietnam (Hanoi) to China (Pingxiang), I decided to travel by land over North Vietnam to cross the land border between Vietnam and China.
Lang Son is famous for very little else other than the fact that it is the frontier between Vietnam and China. Aside from travellers in transit, it’s not exactly on the tourist trail.
How to get to Lang Son
Travelling to Lang Son is a three-hour drive from either Hanoi or Cao Bang. If you’re traveling overland from China to Vietnam, then a taxi from the border crossing at Dong Deng takes about 30 minutes and will set you back a mere $5 (be prepared to bargain).
Accommodation in Lang Son
A look on booking.com to find hotels in Lang Son will share fairly few options. At the “high end” there’s one boutique hotel for about $30, a few low end ones for around $15, or the best hotel in town – the Muong Thanh Lang Son Hotel. At only $40 for a room, the Muong Thanh Son is a steady four-star hotel with the only swimming pool in town.
What to see?
Lang Son/Dong Deng are very typical border towns with very little going on except a lot of traffic servicing the border.
That being said, it can a great starting point for either breaking up your journey from Hanoi or China, or for visiting the minority regions and karst hills of the surrounding area. The Hanoi – Nanning/Nanning – Hanoi train also stops at the station on the border, which is where you will do Vietnamese customs and immigration.
Ban Gioc waterfall, the largest in Vietnam, straddles the border with China and is also within fair reach if you visit Lang Son.
What to eat?
Vietnamese food is great, and Lang Son has a very decent street food scene. There’s lots of Vietnamese outdoor courtyard-style restaurants that serve fresh dishes or Vietnamese barbeque. One of the best things about eating in the boonies of Vietnam is that draft Hanoi beer is at almost every outdoor restaurant and costs peanuts.
Nightlife of Lang Son?
The nightlife of Lang Son is not much to write home about. As in most of Vietnam coffee culture prevails, and there are few bars.
Few foreigners come here though, so you are likely to have local Vietnamese invite you over to drink rice wine with them, which is always fun.
Is it worth visiting Lang Son?
Yes and no. Lang Son is hardly the kind of place you would want to live in, but I find that these northern Vietnamese towns have a real untouched flair, and in that sense Lang Son is worth it if just for a few days to relax before you move on.
Getting out of Lang Son
Lang Son is the border town between Vietnam and China, and from here you can either jump on a train to Nanning, or go by foot over the Friendship Pass that separates communist Vietnam from its big red northern neighbor. Alternatively there are buses to Hanoi, Cao Bang and other places in the north that leave at regular intervals.