Lao Cai has been known since ancient times as a historic trading post. Here, the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the ethnic minorities of the region fought to gain control of the region. In 1463, the Viet Kings established Lao Cai as the capital of their northern most region, then named as Hung Hoa. It came under French colonial rule in 1889 and was their administrative town, and also served as a military garrison. In the early 19th century the first railway line was built from Hanoi to this region. It took 7 years to complete but at the cost of 25,000 lives of Vietnamese conscripted labor.
In late 1978, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. In retaliation, the Chinese, as allies of Cambodia, countered and invaded North Vietnam with the sole aim of “teaching the Vietnamese a lesson”. The attack was launched by 60,000 strong Chinese Army from several fronts. They occupied territory from Paso (previously known as Phon Tho) in the Northwest to Cao Bang and Lang Son in the Northwest. The Chinese were ill prepared for such a massive campaign, and within two weeks their attack crumbled, they lost 20,000 troops and withdrew from Vietnam but still boasting that they had won the battle. The Vietnamese had won a decisive battle on all fronts. It has been inferred that the border town, 295 km from Hanoi, with good rail, road and river traffic provided the impetus to the invaders to threaten Hanoi and the Red River Valley and that the "attacks here were intended as distractions to prevent their Vietnamese defenders from moving to reinforce the defense of Lao Cai."
After the province was invaded by the Chinese in 1979 from its border town Lao Cai, the border with China was closed for several years. In this war, the city of Lao Cai was destroyed by the Chinese. Remnants of the war in the form of land mines are reported to pose threat to people along the border with China.
The Lao Cai town at the border town on the bank of Red River as the provincial capital has