I arrive in Mong Cai at three twenty-five in the afternoon and park up to the side of the bus station off the Quang Trung road. The border here turns out to be only open until 16:30, (I thought it was 17:30, but found better information that it was 07:30 – 16:30. Oh and expect to pay a dollar ‘overtime’ at the weekends.) so it’s unlikely I will have time to get through today, as there is quite a queue already.
Mong Cai shares the river with the Chinese city of Dongxing on the other side. Mong Cai is widely considered one of the wealthiest cities in Vietnam, and the city is very modern in places. Having resigned myself to not making the crossing, I head along to the river to look across at China. Although Dongxing is more developed an area, it is obvious that Mong Cai is where the money is, or at least where the money is spent. Maybe the Chinese have bigger places to worry about. I was expecting to get across and head off into China today, if only to stay near Dongxing, but the more I do my research the more I think I am better this side of the river. At least for tonight. There is a surprisingly lively nightlife. Families and tourists meander along the bridge and through the streets that branch off from the intersection in the centre of town. The cafes along the river offer a more romantic setting, and a younger crowd tends to gather in the two popular clubs. The town’s five-star hotel has a 24 hour casino, too, but local Vietnamese are not allowed into the hotel, so the only gamblers are Chinese or foreigners.
The border generates billions in trade between the two countries, and the nearby beach of Tra co draws in plenty of tourists. Mong Cai Town lies by the bank of the Ka Long River. Tra co beach stretches 17km (10 mi) along the south eastern edge of the nearby peninsular. It is mostly Vietnamese tourists from Hanoi and the northern region.
So, here I am, stuck, as it were, on the Vietnam-side of the border and unprepared. I like the look of Mong Cai, so I decide to head off for an early dinner and sample the local food. Not far from the bus station I find a chinese restaurant that is eager to serve me. There is no menu, and the owner insists, in actually good English, that I simply point out the ingredients I want and they will cook it for me.
Afterwards I head back to the camper, make a cup of tea and read for a while, before getting some sleep.