How To Get To Lang Son

Overview

Lang Son and stretching up to Cao Bang is an area characterized by a very rugged geography. It is stylized by these small hillocks with narrow valleys in between. It is very appealing to photographers due to the way the early morning and evening light beams through small gaps in the ridge tops. For drone photographers it can be a dream, especially when there is low lying cloud in the valleys.  

It is also major city in the northeast of Vietnam due to its proximity to the Chinese border. There is a lot of traffic passing through in both directions and it is very popular with local tourists and traders. There is also a great deal of smuggling going on here so as to avoid import taxes. You may as you are driving along see large groups of drivers on fully loaded scooters speeding down past you (they usually have tobacco and cigarettes) or you might see small groups of ‘porters’ in more remote areas sneaking over the very porous border. There is obviously a lot more than this but you are unlikely to become aware of it.  

Generally speaking, it is not a great drive to get to Lang Son because of the amount and type of traffic but it is very easy to get to and does act as a first port of call before heading over to Cao Bang and Ha Giang regions. 

The city itself has a wide variety of tourist attractions, such as: temples pagodas and markets and it is also not far from Mau Son mountain, which is a fun drive and also a great place to see snow in Winter. 

You may choose to stop halfway at Huu Lung, or to do some rock climbing there, or instead head to Bac Son, which is a more sedate drive and a quieter place to stay. 

Hanoi to Lang Son (direct)

This is the fastest and most direct route, (on the map in BLUE). You can cross the Red River on any of the four lower bridges but I would choose either Long Bien or Chuong Duong. You can find out more about the bridges here. You will then have the choice of taking the older and smaller road (marked in PINK) to get you up to Bac Ninh or take the new highway 1a. The old road has smaller traffic on it and is a bit slower. Perhaps it is a good choice if you are not in a rush and want to see things on the way, although it will only be shops etc… The new highway 1a is exactly what it says on the box a large dual carriage highway. There will be a lot of heavy traffic, hopefully it will be going in the same direction as you, but don’t count on it, and it will get you to Lang Son very fast. You can easily be there in time for lunch if you leave before 9am. This can give you time to continue on to Cao Bang if you wish to. 

You do have the option to head over Nhat Tan Bridge towards the airport and then take the QL19 to join the main route. This is a bit longer and the QL19 is not the greatest road. It is dual carriageway, a little smaller and a bit more bumpy in places. However, this route means you do not need to go into town and deal with any rush hour traffic. It could be an option. 

From then on, it is plain sailing and you can simply follow the signs for Lang Son. Do be careful not to go onto the CT – Highway as you are not allowed to take motorbikes on this road. Set you Google Maps for ‘motorbike’ mode or ‘avoid tolls’ and you should be safe. 

Alternative Route

You do have the option to head over Nhat Tan Bridge towards the airport and then take the QL19 to join the main route. This is a bit longer and the QL19 is not the greatest road. It is dual carriageway, a little smaller and a bit more bumpy in places. However, this route means you do not need to go into town and deal with any rush hour traffic. It could be an option.

Alternative Destination

You may decide that you would prefer to spend your first night in the countryside rather than the city. This is easy enough to do by turning off on the DT243 and heading to Quinh Son in Bac Son. 

This route is a fantastic small tarmac road that is quite smooth and easy to drive. You will pass the VietClimb Homestay and climbing valley in Huu Lung before heading to Quinh Son. Both places are good to stay and there is a wide choice of homestays in Quinh Son. You may need to book in Huu Lung as they can get very booked with climbers. 

You then have the option the next day to take the QL279 or the Ql4b up to Cao Bang and maybe on to Ban Gioc Waterfall.

Straight to Lang Son

If you are set on getting to Lang Son as soon as possible, after Bac Ninh you can simply follow the signs for Lang Son. Do be careful not to go onto the CT – Highway as you are not allowed to take motorbikes on this road. Set you Google Maps for ‘motorbike’ mode or ‘avoid tolls’ and you should be safe. 

farmland just south of Bac Kan
farmland just south of Bac Kan
overlooking the lake on a dirt road
overlooking the lake on a dirt road

Ha Long to Lang Son

There may be some of you that have decided that visiting the world heritage site Ha Long Bay or Cat Ba Island is on your bucket list. From there it is quite easy to get to Lang Son and then either back to Hanoi or further up to Cao Bang and Ha Giang. 

There are two main routes to get there and these are marked in PURPLE. Interestingly, both routes (QL279 and Ql4b) are around 170km. The real difference is that the QL4b is a busier route with more trucks and police on it. For that reason, I would take the 279.

Possible Routes

The adventurous or those who have more time could take one of the three possible routes marked in RED. I have yet to try any of these as I have never had the time to do so. However, I would opt for the 237c as is seems to have the most rugged terrain. 

crossing the Cau River on an XR
crossing the Cau River on an XR

Mau Son Mountain

One reason to take the 4b would be to stop off at Mau Son Mountain and even stay there overnight. There are a few hotels on the top of the mountain and, unfortunately, some Karaoke dens. However, the ride up and, in particular, down the mountain are great fun. This is a much better idea than staying in Lang Son unless you fancy shopping for cheap Chinese goods. 

In a Nutshell

Don’t expect to have a wonderful ride to Lang Son, if arriving from Hanoi. The routes from Ha Long are much more scenic but there is still not really very much to see on the way. The focus is getting some Kms under your belt. Equally, road side stops are plentiful but average and there is nothing to recommend looking out for. 

Lang Son could either be a a place for you to visit to see some of the sights such as Ky Lua Market or Mau Son Mountain or it could be a destination on your tour. You may need to stop over at the beginning or end of a larger loop of the North. Either way, it is a cool place and does have things to do and places to see so it is worth knowing how to get there and away. 

Danny
Danny
Danny's been living in Vietnam for more than 16 years. He's toured the country from top to bottom, and is always excited to share his advice and discoveries with fellow travellers. He also runs Rent A Bike Vietnam, one of the country's most trusted motorbike rental companies, with shops in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City!

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