Land uses are changing rapidly in Vietnam’s upland northern borderlands. Regional development platforms such as the Greater Mekong Subregion, state-propelled market integration and reforestation programs, and lowland entrepreneurs and migrants are all impacting this frontier landscape. Drawing on a mixed methods approach using remote sensing data from 2000 to 2009 and ethnographic fieldwork, we examine how land-use and land-cover change (LULCC) has occurred across three borderland provinces—Lai Châu, Lào Cai and Hà Giang—with high proportions of ethnic minority semi-subsistence farmers. After a broad examination of regional land-use changes, we select three case studies to further analyze the underlying relationships between specific LULCC and local livelihood diversification strategies. These include specific patterns of urban growth due to a range of political decisions in Lai Châu and Lào Cai Provinces; reforestation due to non-timber forest (NTFP) product cultivation in the west of Lào Cai Province; and a stable landscape that restricts government attempts at refashioning upland livelihoods in the east of Hà Giang. Our findings point to the difficulties of completing LULCC maps for this highly heterogeneous region and the complexity of LULCC and livelihood interactions and relationships examined on the ground.