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Mong Cai & Chinese

MONG CAI & CHINESE BORDER

033 pop 48,100

Mong Cai is located on the Chinese border in the extreme northeastern corner of Vietnam. Previously the border gate (Cua Khau Quoc Te Mong Cai) was only open to Vietnamese and Chinese, but today it is one of the official international overland border crossings in Vietnam. It’s open from 7.30am to 4.30pm daily. However, your Chinese visa must be issued in Hanoi only (or your Vietnam visa issued by the embassy in Beijing only, if you’re going the other way). At least, that’s what we were assured by the Vietnamese border control; with no travelers in evidence it was a bit difficult to confirm.

One would be hard-pressed to say that Mong Cai is an attractive place. For the Vietnamese, the big attraction here is a chance to purchase low-priced (and low-quality) Chinese-made consumer goods. Some of Chinese tourists come across for the low-cost Vietnamese good, booze and prostitutes.

If you’ve been learning to speak Chinese, you’ll find plenty of opportunity to practice in Mong Cai. Many hotels, restaurants and shops are staffed by Vietnamese who can speak at least basic Chinese. Furthermore, about 70% of the stalls are run by Chinese who cross the border daily to flog their wares. This explains why the market shuts so early – the Chinese have to head across the border before it closes at 4.30pm. It also means you won’t have any problems spending Chinese yuan if you have them.

Other than the prospect of crossing the border, Mong Cai has little of interest for tourists. The town is dusty, the building are ramshackle, and there’s construction-site chaos everywhere. Dongxing (on the Chinese side) is apparently even worse.

Information

There’s a branch of Vietcombank in the centre of town; travelleers cheques can be cashed here.

Internet access is available in several places on Pho Hung Vuong.

Places to Stay & Eat

The hotels in Mong Cai aren’t the best. There are masses of them, in varying degrees of average. Look around, or try these.

Nha Nghi Hai Dang ( 881555; 107 Pho Tran Phu; rooms with fan/air-con 80,000/120,000) is just about OK, and hey, it’s cheap and in the centre of town.

Nha Nghi Hai Van ( 886479; Thang Loi, air-con rooms 150,000d) is the newest and cleanest of the hotels we visited, with helpful reception staff.

Truong Minh Hotel ( 883368; 202 Trieu Đ; rooms 135,000-150,000d) is marginally quieter than others on the main drag.

There is a gaggle of hotels opposite the bus station. Among them, Nha Nghi Cao Son ( 883883; air-con rooms 120,000-150,000d) is fine, but get a room at the back, off the noisy road.

There are food stalls around town, and a couple of restaurants at the roundabout.

 

Getting There & Away

Bus Mong Cai is 360km form Hanoi. Buses to/from Hanoi (42,000d to 62,000d, 10 hours) leave five times a day between 5.30am and 7.30am. Many buses and minibuses connect Mong Cai and Hong Gai (Halong City) (25,000d to 35,000d, six hours) between 5.30am and 4.30pm.

Mong Cai to Lang Son is a five-hour journey. However, buses on this route leave only once or twice a day, early, if at all, and you’ll have to change at Tien Yen. Much of the road is unpaved- expect plenty of dust or mud.

Boat High-speed hydrofoils run daily between Mong Cai and Bai Chay (170,000d, three hours) in Halong City at 12.30pm and Haiphong also at 12.30pm (230,000d, 4 ½ hours). From Mong cai, shuttle vans leave the hydrofoil ticket offices in town, for the pier at Dan Tien Port, about 15km away.

There are several hydrofoil ticket offices in town. Try Greenlines Fast Ferry Booking Service (43 Pho Tran Phu) or Northern Shipping Company (Nosco; Pho Hung Vuong). Both are only open before the daily hydrofoil departures at 12.30pm.

There is also a daily slow ferry between Hon Gai and Mong Cai (about 12 hours); check schedules locally.

It’s also possible to charter a boat from Van Don Island to Mong Cai; captains in Van Don ask about US$150/200 one way/return. The one-way trip takes six hours.

 

AROUND MONG CAI

Tra Co Beach

Seven kilometers to the southeast of Mong Cai is Tra Co, an oddly shaped peninsula widely touted as a beach resort. It’s a fine beach of hard-packed sand with shallow water, and, at 17km in length, it’s one of the longest stretches of sandy beachfront real estate on Vietnam. Painted wooden fishing boats are pulled up on shore, or illuminate the water during night-fishing excursions.

It’s still a small-scale resort, but there’s a high season between May and August, with many Vietnamese and Chinese tourists and the usual swathe of karaoke bars and massage parlours. Out of season it’s delightful: peaceful, clean and beautiful. It’s a much better option for an overnight stay than Mong Cai itself.

Place to Stay & Eat There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses; those described here are, at present, the only ones with direct beach frontage. Low-season rates are given; expect a hefty increase in high season.

Tra Co Beach Hotel ( 881264; twins from 140,000d) is a state-run motel-like place. It’s in a fabulous location, but at present is horribly shabby and rundown. Renovations are planned and are much-needed.

Hotel Gio Bien ( 881635; air-con rooms 120,000d), built in 2001, is family-run (with no call-girls allowed on the premises) and in still bright and clean. The rooms at the top have shared balconies and wonderful eagle-eye vistas along the beach.

Sao Bien Hotel ( 881243; air-con rooms 140,000-180,000d) is lovely, but during over visit and enormous pool and park were being constructed ocean-side and completely blocked the view!

Opposite the Tra Co Beach Hotel, on the edge of the beach, is a good cheap restaurant serving fresh seafood. The steamed ginger fish is great.

 

Vietnam Guide Book

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