Cao Bang has been more than just a remote province to the Vietnamese people because it holds so many admirable landmarks constructed by our history. Did you know that it was chosen as a famous hideout for our soldiers during the war? And of course this happened for a reason.
Cao Bang’s terrain is as complicated and brain-teasing as it can be, making it an optimal choice for setting up a place away from our enemies. It was a survival decision in chaotic times, however, now that we are settled for peace, I have to say Cao Bang’s nature has given us the most precious gifts with its spectacular and breathtaking sceneries. This area has many different places worth putting on your travel checklist, but they all share one detail: a sense of natural-bonding and adventurous spirit. I have decided to share my two favorite spots – Ban Gioc waterfall and Nguom Ngao cave with you.
Ban Gioc Waterfall
A brief history
Located in between Vietnam and China, Ban Gioc waterfall is a natural border in the north of Vietnam. When I say “in between”, I mean it literally. The waterfall is divided into two parts, with the northern side belonging to China’s territory and Vietnam on the other. It claims to be the highest natural waterfall in the Southeast Asia region, reaching to more than 70 meters with three layers of falls and spreading to 208 meters in total width.
Pouring out to Quay Son river, Ban Gioc waterfall is located in the middle of a mountain range across the area. From the height of 30 meters on the Vietnam side of the fall, the pounding water flows will make you feel as if you’re standing in front of the wrath of Poseidon. Scattered around Ban Gioc waterfall in an unexpected neat pattern, the rock platforms have separated the water masses into many currents like silver threads.
Cao Bang has lasting cool weather all year round and it even sees snow in the winter, which is very rare in a tropical country like Vietnam. However, it will not stop you from having the best traveling experience because there is still an excellent amount of sunshine to keep you warm or, you can just soak in the fierce turquoise flows of water with a small rainbow reflecting in through those water drops with the help of the sun. The source of Ban Gioc waterfall is a calm and large river – Quay Son, adding to the feeling that everything seems like it was transported here from a 300-year-old painting made by a distinguished artist in the ancient Han dynasty of China.
Best time to visit
Like every other waterfall in the world, Ban Gioc fall has its own period of low and high water level according to the season. So basically you can visit this breathtaking spot any time in the year. However, there are times when you can experience the very best version of Ban Gioc with the appearance of many more natural touches around this waterfall.
In broad terms, Cao Bang has two seasons each year, starting with the wet season from June to September, and the dry season from October to May. The first period obviously sees a grander waterfall, the currents become even stronger and sharper. These fiery forces often carry rich alluvial soils straight from the upstream and push it out straight to Quay Son river. Despite the foamy white flow from the waterfall, water at the fall’s end usually has a dark brown color. It is a perfect nutrition source for the green life surrounding Ban Gioc, but it might not serve the same efficiency in terms of traveling experience, especially for those who don’t know that Cao Bang is still mostly a pristine tourist attraction with little influence of the tourism industry. With this water color, do not mistake it for being contaminated.
The weather during the dry season is much cooler, and there is less rain. The currents are gentle with a beautifully clear turquoise tint to the water. However, the problem with this season is the water amount: “gentle” sometimes means “shallow” if the sun decides to appear more than usual. You can’t enjoy Ban Gioc if the water is not deep enough to dive into, right? Let me give you an exclusive solution.
According to locals and experienced travelers in Cao Bang, the best time to visit this phenomenal waterfall is around August and September, when the water is active but not too low, and is clear and blue. Like I said earlier, you can pair your trip to Ban Gioc waterfall with other activities in the surrounding area. If you wish to enjoy the fantastic view of ripe rice fields across Cao Bang, visit in October. Or, visit in November and December if you want to embrace the beauty of wild sunflower fields after exploring Ban Gioc waterfall.
We have to go through two routes to get to Ban Gioc waterfall; starting off from Hanoi to Cao Bang, and from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc. It’s around 370 kilometers from Hanoi to Cao Bang, and it takes more than half a day to drive if you travel by bus. This is also the means of transport I recommend to you because of its safety and time-saving factor. Here are some trusted bus brands offering routes from Hanoi to Cao Bang, with the price ranging from 200,000 to 270,000 VND (prices are subject to change due to holiday demands).
Departure time: From Hanoi and Cao Bang: 8:30 PM
Departure time: From Hanoi and Cao Bang: 8:00 PM / 8:30 PM
After arriving in Cao Bang, you can take the regular buses (number 3 and 7) to Trung Khanh town and Ban Gioc waterfall resort as their final destination. The distance is around 85 kilometers so it should take you two more hours to get to your waterfall. There’s an entrance fee to Ban Gioc, ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 VND depending if travelers are adults or children. Buy the tickets, (bathing) suit up, and you’re ready to explore this sensational waterfall!
Nguom Ngao cave
Echoing urban legends and stories
Nguom Ngao cave was discovered in 1921 by locals and several foreign visitors who later discovered its age to be hundreds of millions of years old. Located only three kilometers away from Ban Gioc waterfall to the south, you cannot skip this fabulous natural masterpiece, especially when you have visited the waterfall already. With the total length of more than 2,100 meters, Nguom Ngao cave is truly an ideal place for nature-lovers. It has three main gates: Nguom Ngao, Nguom Lom and Nguom Ban Thuon, each of which are Tay names. Their specific meaning when translated into official Vietnamese can tell you a little bit about their story.
I’ll start with the name. “Nguom” means cave and “ngao” means tiger. It is said that this cave used to be the natural habitat of many wild tigers in the past, so the local villagers decided to name it after this. Time went by, and people developed a more interesting reason to explain this name. A frequent sound resembling the thrilling roar of the jungle’s mighty lord emanating from the cave confused the locals, but later it was discovered to be the sound of water echoing through the cave walls.
Moving on to the second gate, “lom” means wind and it stands for the geographical design of the gate to the whole area. Tucked under many stone blocks at the foot of the mountain, this gate catches almost all of the wind circulating through the cave and it carries a longstanding cold climate at its site. For the third gate, Ban Thuon is the name of one Tay village situated at the back of the mountain, indicating the cherished bond between men and nature.
Best time to visit
Nguom Ngao cave is remarkable partly thanks to the water dripping through the limestone walls, and nowadays, after time has successfully done its job, inside Nguom Ngao lies one of the most diverse and wonderful limestone forms among caves in Vietnam. That is to say, water is an essential factor helping to advance the visual experience you’ll see here, especially now that Nguom Ngao has been constructed for easier visiting with stairs and lights inside the cave.
Wet season in Cao Bang is from June to September, so these months are the best time to visit this cave. This is also very convenient as you can add Ban Gioc waterfall to your itinerary. If you worry about getting too cold inside the cave during the rainy season, my advice is … no worries because the temperature in Nguom Ngao is stable from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius so it should be cool in the dry season and warm in the wet season.
Nguom Ngao cave is only around three kilometers from Ban Gioc waterfall, so it’s quite easy to get here from Ban Gioc. If you’re a keen walker, you can try taking on this marvelous cave by foot. Walking is also an interesting way to discover the hidden beauty of the majestic nature in this northern city by yourself. Or simply hire a Vietnamese-style motorbike service in the neighborhood and you can get there in no time!
Cao Bang is such a wild city with many natural sites waiting for men to conquer and unleash its raw yet lingering beauty. Ban Gioc waterfall and Nguom Ngao cave are more than just two tourist attractions to the Vietnamese people, they are natural wonders that preserve the beauty of this area. If you love Vietnam like me, why not try this place? It’ll take your breath away I’m sure!
For more local guides and traveling tips to the north of Vietnam, you can check out these articles:
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