Things to See & Do
There are two large and beautiful caves ( ad mission 5000d, open 6am-6pm daily) just 2.5km from the centre of Lang Son. Both are illuminated, which makes for easy exploration, and both have Buddhist altars inside.
Tam Thanh Cave is vast and beautiful. There’s an internal pool and a viewing point (a natural ‘window’) presenting a sweeping view of the surrounding rice fields. A 100m walk away, up a stone staircase, are the ruins of the Mac Dynasty Citadel. It’s a deserted and lovely spot, with stunning views across the country.
The capital of the mountainous Lang Son province, Lang Son is in an area populated largely by Tho, Nung, Man and Dzao Montagnards, many of whom continue living their traditional way of life.
Lang Son was partially destroyed in February 1979 by invading Chinese forces (see the boxed text ‘Neighbouring Tensions’ in this chapter); the ruins of the town and the devastated frontier village of Dong Dang were often shown to foreign journalists as evidence of Chinese aggression. Although the border is still heavily fortified, Sino-Vietnamese trade appears to have resumed and to be in full sing again; both towns have been rebuilt.
Close to Lang Son, there are a couple of impressive caves in the surrounding limestone hills, and remnants of the ruined 16th– century Mac Dynasty Citadel. Most travellers come to Lang Son because of its role as a trading post and crossing point into China: the border is actually just outside Dong Dang, a township 18km to the north. It’s not a town to linger in, but if you find yourself with a few hours to spare there’s quite a bit to explore.
Places to Stay & Eat
There are no hotels to write home about in Lang Son.
Hoang Nguyen Hotel ( 870349; 84 Pho Tran Dang Ninh; singles/twins US$10/15) is friendly, privately owned and just about clean enough. Take a room at the bach over-looking the rice fields. There’s an Internet café a couple of doors away.
Hoa Binh Hotel ( 8708807; 127 Pho Tran Dang Ninh; air-con rooms [email protected]) is a relatively new place. It’s OK.
Mai Phuong Hotel ( 870458; 82 Pho Tran Dang Ninh; rooms 120,000-150,000d) is next to the Hoang Nguyen Hotel. Rooms are OK, if you can get past the smell of the lobby.
Ngoc Mai Hotel ( 871837; 25 Pho Le Loi; air-con rooms 180,000d) has big, bright, musty rooms. There’s also an Internet café next door.
There are plenty of other hotels and guesthouses in town, of much the same standard. Few have restaurants, but there are some com pho places in town and a couple of cheap restaurants near the bus station.
The Dong Kinh Market and the Old Market are dens of cheap goods ( that break easily) from China.
Getting There & Away
Buses heading to Hanoi’s Long Bien (30,000d, five hours) depart reguilarly from the long0distance bus station. A daily bus leaves Lang Son for Cao Bang (30,000d, five hours) at 4.30am. Minibuses heading to Cao Bang via That Khe and Dong Khe leave regularly from the minibus station on Pho Tran Dang Ninh.
Three daily trains run between Lang Son and Hanoi (71,000d, five hours) at 2.21am, 6.40am and 2.10pm.
The usual xe om can be found almost anywhere, but are especially abundant around the post office and the market.
On Pho Tran Dang Ninh you’ll see minibuses looking for passengers who are heading to the border at Dong Dang.