Friday, September 7, 2018

Ban Gioc, Vietnam

ban gioc waterfall aerial view dji drone vietnam


              Located in the northeastern province of Cao Bang, Ban Gioc is home to Vietnam’s best-known waterfall.  Surrounded by tree covered limestone mountains that stick out of the ground like spear tips, the Quay Son River ambles through green rice fields and bamboo groves till it pours in a torrent over the three tiers of the Ban Gioc Waterfall.  This off the beaten track location sees very few foreign tourists so its waterfall and cave are left mostly empty, and the area still has its countryside feel.  Due to this, this area is a great get away for those wanting to get away and experience the Vietnamese way of life first hand. 


What to Do

Ban Gioc Waterfall



horse rafts ban gioc waterfall vietnam
Main Ban Gioc Waterfall


              The main attraction of Ban Gioc is of course the waterfall itself.  Just 2 km east of the village, the waterfall is a sight to be seen. This is an off the beaten track destination when it comes to foreign tourists, so, besides a few Vietnamese tourists, you will probably get the serene views to yourself.   Ban Gioc Waterfall is the widest waterfall in Vietnam and the fourth largest waterfall along a national border with a span of 300 meters and height of 30 meters.  The fall sits on the border of Vietnam and China and you will regularly see Chinese tourist rafting out to the falls themselves.  The entrance to the falls is just off the main road below the falls and cost 40,000 VND/1.81 USD.                

rafts ban gioc waterfall vietnam
One of the rafts at Ban Gioc Waterfall


During the rainy season (July – September) the river swells and the waterfall forms one large mass, filling the air with mist.  During this time the river below the fall is also full and rafts can be hired to ferry you closer to the falls for 50,000 VND/2.72 USD, but prepared to get wet.  During the dry season, when the waters have subsided, the waterfall takes on a much more different look.  The waterfall splits in two and due to the subdued water flow you are able to walk much closer to the smaller of the two falls.  You can still hire a raft to ferry you close to the larger fall for the same price as above. 


Truc Lam Pagoda



truc lam pagoda ban gioc vietnam
Truc Lam Pagoda


              Located just 600 meters west of the Ban Gioc Waterfall entrance the pagoda is perched on the mountainside overlooking the waterfall itself.  The pagoda itself is worth a visit to see on its own, but what most people make the trek up the step slope for is the views it offers.  Once you make it to the top terrace of the pagoda you are awarded with a great view of the waterfall from above.  From this terrace you can also get a great view, looking back towards the village, of the mountains wrapping themselves around the lush rice fields below. 


path leading lookout tower truc lam pagoda vietnam
Pathway leading to the lookout tower above Truc Lam Pagoda


Most people stop here, but if you go to the back left of the terrace you will see a small concrete staircase going up the mountain.  If you follow this path up the mountain you will come to a lookout tower with an amazing aerial view of the waterfall.  Stay on the concrete path though and don’t be fooled by the trails leading off in hope of finding a great shot and wind up tearing your only pants like I did (yes, I tore them ALL the way down the leg…)


ban gioc waterfall vietnam
Aerial view of the waterfall from the lookout tower above Truc Lam Pagoda


Nguom Ngao Cave



nguom ngao cave ban gioc vietnam
Main chamber in Nguom Ngao Cave


              Nguom Ngao Cave is located just 1.5 km south of the village and is an easy walk; plus, the road ends at the cave so there is no way to get lost.  Like Ban Gioc Waterfall, the remoteness of Nguom Ngao Cave means it gets few visitors, so you will most likely get to enjoy the subterranean tranquility all to yourself.  The entrance fee for the cave is 45,000 VND/2.04 USD. 


nguom ngao cave pathway ban gioc vietnam
Lighted pathway through the cave


              A well-lit pathway winds through the cave for about 1 km before exiting the other side; not far from the entrance.  Along the way there are some amazing views of stalagmites and stalactites and other formations within the cave.  You can also hear the underground river as it gushes through the cave, but it is out of sight in a deeper area of the cave.  Due to the nature of caves the path and cave floor can get slippery at times and during the rainy season, a portion of the cave towards the end, which is made up of many pools, fills up with water and you may need to walk through it. 


How to Get There

Public Transportation



cao bang ban gioc public bus vietnam
Public bus from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc


It will take two buses to get to Ban Gioc From Hanoi.  You can catch the first bus from Hanoi to Cao Bang at the My Dinh Bus Station on the west side of Hanoi.  This route can be done on the large sleeper buses (200,000 VND/9.09 USD), making it a very comfortable 8-hour ride.  Once in Cao Bang you will need to exit the bus station, cross the street, and wait there for the local bus to Ban Gioc to arrive (70,000 VND/3.18 USD).  It is easy to spot (just look for the white, yellow, and red striped bus with Cao Bang – Ban Gioc written across the windshield), runs multiple times a day, and takes about 2.5 hours.  If you are staying at one of the homestays in Stone Village just tell the bus attendant and they will let you out at the turnoff or you can ride the bus all the way to the waterfall.
We took the night bus to Cao Bang and arrived just before the first bus to Ban Gioc was leaving.  Doing this put us in Ban Gioc in time to drop off our things at our homestay and still easily see the temple, waterfall, and cave all in one day. 


Motorcycle/Private Car



rice fields mountains ban gioc waterfall vietnam
Mountain surrounded rice fields in Ban Gioc


              If you have your own moto or car you can easily navigate your way there.  Once out of the city area the scenery is very beautiful, especially the further north you get, and would make for a great ride.  To get there, just take the QL3 north from Hanoi to Cao Bang.  Once in Cao Bang continue on the QL3 east and turn left (due north) on the DT206.  This road will curve eastward, but just follow it till you reach Ban Gioc. 


Where to Stay



ban gioc second waterfall dry season vietnam
Secondary waterfall and bamboo bridge


              There are a few hotels that have opened up just a short walk from the waterfall that are decently priced; most with wifi, air-conditioning, and restaurants attached.  If you are wanting a more authentic experience though, I recommend staying at one of the homestays in the Stone Village about a 30-minute walk from the waterfall.  This may seem far, but it is actually a very nice walk through the village and valley where you have a great view of the rice fields and mountain range.  The Stone Village is also located on the road, just an 18-minute walk, to Nguom Ngao Cave, which puts the homestays in a prime location if you are wanting to see all three locations.  There is also the option of staying in Cao Bang, a much larger city about a 45-minute bus ride west of Ban Gioc, which has many options for hotels and food. 


stone village ban gioc vietnam
Stone Village


If you choose to stay at one of the homestays in the Stone Village, then I highly recommend the Yen Nhi Homestay.  It is a true Northern Vietnamese living experience.  You have two sleeping options here: a Double room - 200,000 VND/8.64 USD and the Dorm room – 100,000 VND/4.64 USD.  Both options have minimum amenities including a mattress on the floor (the dorm room is separated from the main living area by a curtain), an electrical plug, and a shared bathroom.  You can also opt to eat meals with the family for 100,000 VND/4.64 USD per person.  The meal consists of a variety of dishes that are shared amongst everyone. 


Where to Eat



pork tofu pho ban gioc vietnam
Pork tofu pho


              Eating options in Ban Gioc are not very plentiful, especially if you are trying to eat cheap.  In the village itself you will only find street brochettes and sausages and one open front restaurant that only serves pho.  Most of the hotels near the waterfall have restaurants on the bottom floor that serve an array of food at mid-level prices.  If you stay at one of the homestays in the Stone Village you also have the option of eating with the family for 100,000 VND/4.64 USD per person.  Although I did not choose to do this, the food looked and smelled delicious and the other guest confirmed this as well.


pin point map ban gioc vietnam


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