== Anybody got any tips on anything fun to do in Laocai other than eat Pho and stare at the river? Any recommended local restaurants? Hotel or guesthouse recommendations?
I stayed at "The Nest" which is fairly priced and just across from the bus and train station on the main square. Has most going on until late(r) of all the city. 200k VND for a night, clean, nothing special, bit noisy though from the street.
If you have the Nest on your right side, keep walking away with your back to the CN border, on your right side after passing a quite stretch of road, there will be a Bia Hoi place with decent snacks, ask for nem chua and the crispy bread and some spicy sauce to go with your bia hoi, and chat some with the locals. Quite fun.
You can also just try and hang with some of the many foreigners in Lao Cai (travellers), but not everyone seems to have the same need for English-language contact as someone who's stayed in China for a long time.
== Also, does anybody know of a reputable place there that rents motorcycles? Can one legally ride in Vietnam on either an American or Chinese moto license?
Anywhere and everywhere, for about 4-6 USD for the small Honda kind (up to 150 cc). You cannot legally drive in Vietnam unless you have a Vietnamese driving licence. That means that if you cause an accident, you're properly fucked and you can only resort to bribing the cops and trying not to get lynched. I've seen seriously bad things so be really careful.
== Also, where do buses to Sapa leave from, with what frequency and at what cost?
Main square has many buses and it's so touristy you'll be offered many options, including minivans. Don't know the cost because I always rode my bike.
== Anyplace else in the general vicinity that's cool to check out besides Sapa?
Yes, Bac Ha, on the other side of the red river and about just as far up the hill, is a much much much nicer place to visit than Sapa. Less touristy, at least with international tourism. So the hawkers bother the Vietnamese but not you so much. Still, English is generally spoken by restaurant and hotel owners so you'll get by. The market is much cooler. Fuck Sapa really.
Yen Bai (halfway to Hanoi already) is also a pleasant rural city.
Ha Giang is probably my favourite place in all of northern Vietnam. Access to incredible mountains, but already quite far from Lao Cai.