Lao Cai

Lao Cai Province, nestled in the northwest region of Vietnam, allures travelers with its mountain landscapes, ethnic markets, and diverse cultural heritage, reflecting the traditions of its indigenous communities.

Lao Cai is about 300 kilometers from Hanoi, sharing boundaries with the provinces of Ha Giang, Lai Chau, and Yen Bai, and over 180 kilometers of border with Yunnan Province, China.

Lao Cai Province encompasses Lao Cai City, Sa Pa Town, and seven districts, all of which are popular tourist destinations.


Traveling to Lao Cai from Hanoi by road is convenient via the Hanoi-Lao Cai expressway (CT05), with a travel time ranging from 3.5 to 4 hours.

Trains departing from Hanoi to Lao Cai (SP4) operate daily, with departure at 10 p.m. and arrival at 6 a.m. Ticket prices start from VND280,000 ($11) per trip.

Upon arriving at Lao Cai Station, tourists have the option to take a service car to travel to Sa Pa and back again. The service car operates within a radius of 2 kilometers from the Stone Church in Sa Pa. The cost for this trip is VND55,000 ($2) per journey.

Travelers from other provinces can reach Lao Cai by flying or taking a train or bus to Hanoi, then continuing their journey to Lao Cai. Nearby localities are connected via various routes including National Highway 70, National Highway 12, National Highway 4D, National Highway 4E, and provincial road DT155.

Part of the highway CT05 connecting Hanoi to Lao Cai, leading to Sa Pa. Photo courtesy of


Lao Cai City

Lao Cai City is known for its cornucopia of historical, cultural relics, and scenic spots, making it a hub for spiritual tourism, with a wide range of temples. Additionally, Lao Cai has an international border gate to Hekou Yao Autonomous County, China, offering visitors the opportunity for day trips or extended visits.

Sa Pa

Nestled at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level, Sa Pa is about 40 kilometers from the center of Lao Cai. Its cool climate makes it an ideal destination for summer getaways.

During spring, Sa Pa alures visitors with peach and plum blossoms, accompanied by several festivals occurring this time of the year. Autumn graces Sa Pa with golden terraced fields, while winter, from December to February, offers opportunities to witness snow and ice.

Famous destinations in Sa Pa include the Stone Church, Muong Hoa Valley, Ta Van Village, Ta Phin Village, Cat Cat Village, Silver Waterfall, Ham Rong Mountain, Fansipan Peak, and O Quy Ho Pass.

Fansipan Peak

Mount Fansipan, situated in the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range between Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces, lies approximately 9 kilometers from Sa Pa town. Standing at a height of 3,147.3 meters, it is recognized as the highest peak in the Indochina region.

Summiting Fansipan can be achieved through two main routes: trekking or cable car. The trekking route, established in the 1990s, was initially intended for explorers, researchers, and adventurous individuals. With a quick pace, reaching the summit can be accomplished in just one day, starting from Tram Ton Pass.

In 2016, the Fansipan cable car was introduced, providing a more accessible means to reach the summit. Round-trip ticket prices for the cable car range from VND800,000 to VND850,000 ($32 to $34) for adults (depending on the day of the week) and VND550,000 ($22) for children. Operating hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. At the peak of Fansipan, visitors can find accommodation and dining services readily available.

From the peak of Fansipan, visitors can behold a sea of clouds. Photo by VnExpress/To Ba Hieu

O Quy Ho Pass

O Quy Ho Pass, one of Vietnam's four great passes (alongside Ma Pi Leng, Pha Din, and Khau Pha), spans the border between Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces. Cutting through the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range, this pass stretches over 50 kilometers with altitudes nearly reaching 2,000 meters above sea level.

O Quy Ho is approximately 18 kilometers away from Sa Pa Town. It is known as one of Vietnam's most magnificent mountain passes due to its length, challenging terrain, and stunning scenery.

Bat Xat District

Bat Xat District is located in the northwest of Lao Cai, approximately 12 kilometers from the city center, and is renowned as one of the top tourist destinations in the province with several attractions, such as:

Lung Po Intersection

Lung Po refers to a stream located in A Mu Sung Commune, Bat Xat District. At this junction, the blue waters of the Lung Po Stream mix with the red hues of the Red River.

The Lung Po Flagpole, at 31.43 meters tall, represents the height of Fansipan peak. Its summit features a 25-square-meter flag, symbolizing the 25 ethnic groups in Lao Cai. Accessing the top involves climbing 125 spiral steps.

To reach Lung Po, visitors must navigate numerous winding passes and mountains. The need for caution should be emphasized during travel here.

Y Ty Commune

Y Ty, located in Bat Xat District, sits at an altitude of over 2,000 meters above sea level. Y Ty is known for being a popular cloud hunting spot, and is picturesque during the golden rice season from September to March.

Located approximately 90 kilometers from Lao Cai City, Y Ty can be reached via the Bat Xat - Trinh Tuong - Lung Po - A Mu Sung - A Lu - Ngai Thau route.

Alternatively, visitors can access Y Ty from Sa Pa through the Ban Khoang - Ta Giang Phin - Ban Xeo - Muong Hum - Sang Ma Sao route, spanning a distance of 70 kilometers.

Both routes have difficulties such as rough roads, potholes, and muddy conditions when it rains.

Noteworthy activities in Y Ty include exploring the Muong Hum Market, which operates only on Sunday mornings, where the locals gather here to buy, sell and socialize. Another enjoyable activity is taking leisurely walks while appreciating the rice fields in Choan Then Village.

A small hut under a big tree within Choan Then Village, Y Ty Commune. Photo by VnExpress

Ngai Thau Village

Ngai Thau Village, situated in Na Hoi Commune, is characterized by hills of varying heights, closely clustered together. Along the route to Ngai Thau, travelers are treated to landscapes of corn and rice fields, as well as wildflowers. During spring, peach blossoms and tao meo (Assam apple) blossoms adorn the area, while autumn showcases golden rice fields.

Visitors can reach Ngai Thau by car, parking about 2 kilometers from the peak, then either hiking or riding a motorbike to the summit. The hilltop offers expansive views and a clear panorama. Watching the sunset and sunrise from Ngai Thau peak is an unforgettable experience not to be missed.

Bac Ha District

Bac Ha District refers to an area in the northeast region of Lao Cai Province, situated at an altitude ranging from approximately 1,000 to 1,500 meters above sea level. The area enjoys a mild climate.

Bac Ha is rich in historical, cultural, and tourist attractions, including the San San Festival, which is celebrated by the H'mong and Tay ethnic groups and the Hoang A Tuong Palace. Additionally, Bac Ha is known for its brocade craft villages and the corn wine-making tradition of the Hmong people. The district is famous for its ethnic markets such as the Lung Phin or Bac Ha, where one can purchase livestock – mostly cows and pigs – as well as handmade crafts and produce.

Hoang A Tuong Mansion

Hoang A Tuong is a mansion constructed between 1919 and 1921. Locals often refer to it as the "King of the H'Mong." The mansion was owned by a Tay ethnic individual named Hoang Yen Chao, who later passed it on to his son, Hoang A Tuong.

Designed by the French, the mansion remains relatively well-preserved. The mansion still houses historical artifacts such as antique furniture sets and a Chinese wall mirror, along with three osmanthus trees that are as old as the mansion itself.

Bac Ha Market

Bac Ha Market is located 65 kilometers from Lao Cai City. It is known for retaining the traditional market's atmosphere and as a gathering place for ethnic communities. The market operates weekly on Sundays, attracting visitors who come to trade goods and engage with local culture.

As people descend from the mountains to attend the market, they often dress in colorful attire, treating the occasion as a festive event. Bac Ha Market is organized into sections dedicated to different types of goods, reflecting the diverse offerings and local identity of the ethnic groups present.

Simacai District

Simacai is a border district characterized by rocky mountain ranges. Located approximately 30 kilometers from Bac Ha, the area boasts wide and easily accessible roads. Simacai is renowned for its forests and valleys often shrouded in mist and clouds.

Visitors to Simacai can explore various attractions, including the buckwheat flower fields in Lu Than Commune, the San Chai gray stone forest, terraced fields in Sin Cheng Commune, and pear blossoms in Quan Ho Than Commune every March. Can Cau Market (held every Saturday) and Sin Cheng Market (held every Wednesday) are key destinations for experiencing the local culture, and they remain open during Lunar New Year holidays in January or February.

The mountain peaks

A sea of cloud on the peak of Lao Than. Photo by Vang A Ho

There are numerous mountain summits in Lao Cai Province that attract trekking enthusiasts. Lao Cai is often hailed as the land of mountain peaks by these travelers. Apart from Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, there are nearly 10 other notable peaks in Lao Cai. These mountains draw backpackers during trekking season, which typically spans from October to April each year.

Among these peaks is Lao Than, regarded as the pinnacle of Y Ty, boasting an altitude of 2,860 meters. Peaks such as Nhiu Co San and Ngu Chi Son offer reward climbing experiences and opportunities for cloud hunting.


Lao Cai has a diverse range of hotels catering to different budgets.

Prices for double rooms per night vary between VND200,000 to over VND1 million ($8 to $40) per night. Some prominent hotels include Muong Thanh, Sojo Hotel, Duc Huy, Lao Cai Diamond, Cao Minh, Song Hong View, and Liberty Lao Cai.

Y Ty Commune in Bat Xat District, famed for its rice terraces, primarily offers homestay accommodations. However, these homestays have recently received investments, ensuring good quality, cleanliness, and scenic views.

Popular options include Y Ty Clouds, Y Ty Dai Ngan, Xa Ha Nhi Y Ty, Co Si Y Ty, and Thao Nguyen Xanh. The price for a double room is approximately VND500,000 ($20) per night, while community rooms are available from VND50,000 per person.

In Bac Ha District, a popular tourist spot in Lao Cai Province's northwestern mountains, you'll find mainly homestays, stilt houses, or small hotels like Bac Ha Lodge Retreat, La Beaute Bac Ha, and Lagom Bac Ha Farmstay. Double room prices typically range from VND200,000 to VND500,000 per night.


Bac Ha-style pink pho

This is a type of noodle made from nuong hong brown rice, a specialty of the Bac Ha District. The rice is soaked for 5 to 10 hours depending on the season, ground, filtered into water, steamed, and then cut into noodles – all done manually.

Pink pho noodles are soft and smooth. The most popular variation of this dish is sour pho, which typically consists of noodles, char siu pork, vegetables, chopped pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts, a sour sauce, and a blend of special spices including soybeans, hat doi (magnoliaceae seeds), ginger, and chili.

Ban Pho corn wine

Ban Pho corn wine refers to a type of alcoholic beverage associated with Lao Cai, particularly Bac Ha Commune. The wine is crafted from waxy corn, characterized by its yellow grains, which are not particularly high-yielding, but are aromatic. After harvesting, the corn is dried in the sun and stored in the kitchen. Later, it is used to make wine.

Corn wine jars on display at Bac Ha Market. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

Thang co

Thang co is a renowned and traditional dish of the Hmong people, with a history spanning nearly 200 years. It is prepared using horse meat and seasoned with various local spices. Over time, the recipe for thang co has evolved to incorporate a variety of ingredients to cater to different tastes. A serving of thang co typically costs around VND30,000 ($1.20).

A big pan of thang co at the Bac Ha Market. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

Five-colored sticky rice

Five colored sticky rice is not only aromatic but also visually striking, featuring five main colors: green, red, purple, yellow, and white. The colors resemble those of forest leaves and are a specialty unique to highland areas.

Five-colored sticky rice, either arranged separately or pressed into a block. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Mo

Muong Khuong chilli sauce

Muong Khuong chili sauce is a specialty made by the highland ethnic communities in Muong Khuong District, using chili grown locally. Originally a homemade dish for family meals, it has gained popularity among tourists due to its spicy and fragrant taste, becoming a renowned specialty both within and outside the province.

The well-packaged Muong Khuong chili sauce makes for a great souvenir option. Photo by VnExpress

Tam Anh