On the far north coast of Vietnam, Mong Cai is a Class-2 city in the Quang Ninh Province that straddles the China-Vietnam border. Built upon the south bank of the Beilun River, Mong Cai is situated directly across from China’s Dongxing City.
The abundance of trade between Vietnam and China has turned Mong Cai into an influential and extremely wealthy city as trade between the two countries exceeds billions of dollars per year. For tourists, the wealth and beauty of the coast have made it a resort destination for foreigners and locals coming from Hanoi or Haiphong.
Wealthy City in the Quang Ninh Province
Mong Cai takes the dull reputation that most border cities have and turns it on its head. Instead of being a place where travelers simply pass through on their way to and from the country, it’s become a destination with glitzy resorts and a pristine coastline.
A busy street in Móng Cái City, Vietnam. Photo: Ken Marshall.
While many tourists come from within Vietnam, Chinese locals have also put their eyes on the city. Traveling to Mong Cai for the day, many Chinese nationals conduct business or leisure before returning to China for the evening. On the Vietnam side of the border, many travelers will head north to Mong Cai from the country’s capital, Hanoi, or the seaside city, Haiphong.
Though Mong Cai is wealthy, the northern location makes it quite remote and there is yet to be an airport built to service the city. Instead, travelers will have to arrange to take a car or bus to the city. Hanoi, the country’s capital, is about 312 km (194 mi) away and the drive takes more than 5 hours. Haiphong is around 205 km (128 mi) to the south, requiring a 4-hour drive.
For years, Mong Cai has been the site of conflict between Vietnam and China. Both countries see value in the city for various reasons. To the Vietnamese, Mong Cai gives them the chance to purchase Chinese-made goods for decent prices, and to the Chinese, it acts as a resort destination where attractions like golf courses and 5-star resorts are being developed.
However, long before Mong Cai became a tourist destination, the two countries had been keenly interested in the area. In 1979, during the Sino-Vietnamese War, China began to attack Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province. The invasion hoped to secure and turn over Vietnamese cities to Chinese control.
Bombing Mong Cai and other cities in Vietnam, the People’s Liberation Army of China were ultimately unsuccessful in gaining control over the Quang Ninh Province. In fact, Vietnam was so successful in defending its city that most of the casualties were of Chinese forces. Since the end of the Sino-Vietnamese War, Vietnam has been rebuilding its relationship with Vietnam.
Mong Cai Border Gate. Photo: Ken Marshall
Rather than fight, both countries have banked on the prosperity of Mong Cai. In 2008, it was estimated that $4.1 billion US dollars were traded through the Mong Cai Border Gate between Vietnam and China. Additionally, each year, more and more trade flows through the city, which only increases Mong Cai’s overall wealth.
- As of 2018, Mong Cai has a permanent population of about 125,000 people.
- Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and English are common languages that are spoken in Mong Cai.
- The average income of families in Mong Cai exceeds $20,000 US dollars, which makes it one of the wealthiest cities in Vietnam.
As a thriving border city, Mong Cai has dozens of tourist attractions that make it an ideal destination for a relaxing vacation. In addition to the luxurious resorts and epic golf courses, Mong Cai is renowned for its beaches, islands, temples, and markets. Boasting a mix of crowded and uncrowded attractions, visitors will have the chance to discover all the city’s nooks and crannies.
The top tourist attractions in Mong Cai include the local markets, Vinh Thuc Island, Cape Sa Vi, Black Rock Beach, Tra Co Beach, Tra Co Church, Temple of Thien Hau Thanh Mau, Cai Chien Island, and Tran Phu Walking Street.
Riverside in Móng Cái City, Vietnam. Photo: Phó Nháy.
Mong Cai Markets
One nickname that locals gave Mong Cai is “Market City”. Stemming from its reliance on trade, there are 6 large markets located in the city center. Not quite the typical small markets found throughout the country, the ones in Mong Cai resemble shopping malls. While there is a section for food, many shops offer wholesale goods, which makes them popular destinations for travelers.
However, tourists will have to get to the markets early as most shops are only open from 7 am to 1 pm. By the afternoon, many vendors who are Chinese will have returned to China for the afternoon and evening.
Vinh Thuc Island
Off the coast of Mong Cai, Vinh Thuc Island is often described as being a backpacker destination. Isolated and rustic, the island is dotted with beautiful beaches and clear water. Dau Dong and Ben Hen Beach and boast small restaurants and accommodations. Mostly undeveloped, guests will have the option of staying in homestays or camping in a tent.
Cape Sa Vi
Not too far from the city, Cape Sa Vi is Vietnam’s most northeastern point. A beautiful destination, the cape is renowned for its long coastline and amazing views. Shaped like a crescent moon, the beach extends for more than 17 km (10.5 mi). A unique pointed structure marks the cape, and in the area, there are numerous hotels and restaurants.
The famous tower of Cape Sa Vi. Photo:
Black Rock Beach
Called Ngoc Son by locals, Black Rock Beach gets its name from the large stone slabs that sit atop the sand. Finger-like in appearance, the stones reach out from the ground towards the crystal-clear water. Though the water is usually calm, visitors should be cautious as the tide can get restless. On the flatter parts of the beach and away from the rocks, it’s safe for swimmers.
Tra Co Beach
Called the “most lyrical beach in Vietnam”, Tra Co draws its beauty from the fine white sand and clear water. Shallow with few waves and clear water, the beach is an excellent spot for families with young kids. One perk of Tra Co Beach is that the shoreline is undeveloped and there aren’t many commercial services. Instead, visitors can purchase fresh seafood from the local fishermen.
Temple of Thien Hau Thanh Mau
Sometimes called the Tra Co Temple, the Temple of Thien Hau Thanh Mau was built to worship a statue of Thien Hau that washed onto shore. Though the origins are unknown, locals saw the statue as a sacred treasure and built a temple. Today, its become a site of pilgrimage for many locals and tourists. There is also an ancient vegetarian tree and fairy at the temple.
Cai Chien Island
One of the newest islands off the coast of Mong Cai that has been opened to tourism is Cai Chien. With no big towns, most places on the island are small and designed for eco-living. However, as there are a few places to stay, tourists are permitted to stay overnight on the island.
Attractions at the island include the container house, Khe Dau Lake, and various beaches. The three most popular beaches are Dau Rong, Van Ca, and Cai Chien.
Tran Phu Walking Street
In the heart of Mong Cai, there are two streets that have been blocked off from vehicular traffic. Designed as pedestrian courts, the streets connect some of the city’s best shopping centers and food courts. A great entertainment space, many families will head to the Tran Phu Walking Street for an afternoon or evening of entertainment.
Some of the best food stalls in Mong Cai are located on the Tran Phu Walking Street and vendors often sell delicacies like white leg shrimp, Mong pig, or Tra Co crab.
Adding to the charm of Mong Cai are the dozens of exceptional resorts, hotels, and hostels. Developed with tourism in mind, the city is well-prepared to house and service guests who are staying the night. While there are large-scale resorts in the city, travelers will also find a decent selection of boutique hotels.
The best accommodations in Mong Cai are the Majestic Mong Cai Hotel, Sunshine Hotel, Luxury6 Hotel, and Paradise Hotel.
Majestic Mong Cai Hotel. Photo: Majestic – MongCai Hotel
Majestic Mong Cai Hotel – A large resort, Majestic Mong Cai Hotel ensures that travelers receive world-class service during their stay. Giving guests celebrity treatment, the hotel is one of the best 5-star resorts in the city. Located close to the city center, the hotel is primely located close to the city’s best shops, restaurants, and attractions.
Facilities at the property include a restaurant, bar, garden, terrace, 24-hour front desk, and room service. Free Wi-Fi can be found throughout the property and a buffet breakfast is provided. Rooms at the Majestic Mong Cai Hotel are air-conditioned, and each features a fridge, minibar, and TV.
Sunshine Hotel – Located just a few minutes from the city center, Sunshine Hotel is a 2-star establishment that has earned a stellar reputation. Towering above the city, terraces and balconies provide excellent views of Mong Cai. At the hotel, there is a shared lounge, terrace, 24-hour front desk, and room service. Rooms are spacious and come with private bathrooms, AC, TVs, and a minibar.
Luxury6 Hotel – The 4-star Luxury6 Hotel is one of the only in Mong Cai to receive a 10 out of 10 rating due to its excellent staff, quality service, clean rooms, and facilities. On-site, the hotel has a bar, restaurant, garden, terrace, free Wi-Fi, and parking. Each room comes with AC, a private bathroom, a desk, fridge, minibar, TV, and safe. Suites are larger and some include a kitchen and wardrobe.
Mong Cai from the Paradise Hotel. Photo: Paradise Hotel Móng Cái
Paradise Hotel – Another highly rated is called the Paradise Hotel. Located 800 meters from the city center, Paradise Hotel is a newer addition. Boasting 3 stars, the hotel has a restaurant, bar, and terrace. Staff at the hotel provide service 24 hours a day. Room types at the hotel include Twin, King, Deluxe Family, and Standard King suites.
Another way to discover more of Mong Cai is by visiting the city’s restaurants, markets, and food stalls. Flooded with four- and five-star quality establishments, you can try a variety of local dishes made with fresh ingredients like seafood. Many hotels will also have on-site dining. The best restaurants in Móng Cái are the Long Tu Restaurant, Dông Hoa Restaurant, and Xanh House.
Long Tu Restaurant – Open for lunch and dinner, the Long Tu Restaurant has a modern design with both public and private dining rooms. Serving Vietnamese traditional dishes, the restaurant is well-rated for its meat and seafood. Round tables allow guests to converse easily, and the generous portions make it ideal for sharing with friends or family.
Dông Hoa Restaurant – Serving a diverse array of Vietnamese food, the Dông Hoa Restaurant has a lively atmosphere and friendly staff to keep guests happy during their meal. The best items on the menu include grilled meat, chopped vegetables, and fresh noodles. The beautiful interior design of the hotel also helps set the mood as hanging plants and lantern give the space a peaceful appearance.
Interior of Dong Hoa Restaurant. Photo: Đông Hoa Restaurant
Xanh House – Xanh House is a hot pot restaurant that is a local favorite and quickly becoming a hotspot for tourists. The flavor is all in the broth and guests will have the option of cooking thin slices of meat, chicken, noodles, and vegetables. Hot pots are great for tourists traveling in a group and the restaurant’s affordable pricing makes it a top choice for backpackers.
Striving to attract more visitors to the city, Mong Cai hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. Honoring religious figures, historical events, and even sports, there are several popular festivals that attract tourists to Mong Cai. The most well-known of them all is the Tra Co Festival held at the Tra Co Communal House.
Beginning in the last few days of the fifth lunar month, the Tra Co Festival honors the local village. Activities during the festival include a “fattest pig” competition, cooking, and dancing.
The city center is the most popular place for tourists to stay, dine, and shop. Located in the heart of Mong Cai, tourists can easily walk from place to place. For destinations that are further away, there is a reliable network of taxis that service the city. Tour guides may also provide their own transportation to customers. Hotels can arrange taxis and tours for guests.
Mong Cai’s northern location means that many tourists will visit the city in the summer, regardless of the heat and rain. May, June, and September are popular months with less rain and lower heat. However, with the ocean boundary on one side of the city, many tourists will also visit Mong Cai in July and August.
Tourism also peaks in December and January, even though the temperatures are drastically lower. The least popular months for tourists in Mong Cai are February and March.
Panoramic view of Móng Cái City, Vietnam. Photo by: .
Though Mong Cai has been well-developed for tourism, there are also places where the crowds rarely linger. Away from the city center, the picturesque beaches are normally uncrowded, and the open landscape is filled with natural wonders.
Within the city, tourists can learn more about Vietnam’s history and explore its unique relationship with China. Worthy of the long journey, Móng Cái is an unforgettable destination.
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Keyword: Mong Cai, Vietnam