5 Reasons to Visit Cao Bang, Vietnam

A motorbike trip through Vietnam is almost a backpacker’s right of passage. My husband and I have been traveling Southeast Asia for nearly four months and we knew, without a doubt, riding Vietnam was a must. Like many travelers, we had only planned on the stereotypical Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi route, but after some extensive research, we decided to spend a chunk of our time in northern Vietnam, and expand our ride beyond the Ha Giang loop and Sa Pa.

One of our favorite stops on this northern Vietnam motorbike tour was the lesser known, Cao Bang Providence. Cao Bang is a bit of a hike from Hanoi, so we wanted to encourage you with five fabulous reasons to visit Cao Bang.

#1 Ban Gioc Waterfall

Ban Gioc waterfall is the fourth largest waterfall along a national border, separating Vietnam from China. Boasting famous company like Victoria Falls and Niagara Falls, this impressive attraction should claim a spot on your bucket list. The waterfall is broken into three distinct cascades; fed by the Quay Son River, the Ban Gioc waterfall shines an aquamarine so vibrant that it appears real life has been altered.

Things to do at the Waterfall

  • Kayak in the natural pool – 50,000-dong
  • Take a bamboo raft to the base of the falls – 100,000-dong
  • Watch water buffalo enjoy their natural habitat
  • Grab a snack and shop the markets

Cost

  • Motorbike Parking = 10,000-dong
  • Bus Ticket = 80,000-dong (one way)
  • Entrance Fee = 40,000-dong

Insider Tip

Snag a view from above! When looking at the main part of the waterfall, there is a small temple and some caution tape to the left. Curious, we walked past the caution tape and found what appeared to be a retired path, massively overgrown. We followed the path approximately 15 minutes and reach the second tier of the falls. This allowed us to experience the full spectrum of the waterfall. Be warned: this is not an easy hike, it is slippery, steep, and I’m not totally certain it’s allowed. However, if you are willing to risk the walk, this adrenaline-pumping path really made our visit worth it.

Best View of Ban Gioc Waterfall

Check out the pagoda across the street: Truc Lam Phat Tich Pagoda. Admission is free and there is a stunning view of the falls from the top.

#2 Nguon Ngao Cave (Tiger Cave)

The cave is a mere 4-km from the Ban Gioc Waterfall so be sure to save an hour, or two, for exploring this underground chamber. Coming from someone who explored several caves in Vietnam, don’t miss this cave!
The tiger cave was discovered in 1921 and has only been explored by tourists since 1996. Tiger cave had its impressive collection of stalagmites and stalactites, but what sets this cave apart is its unhindered exploration opportunities. Guests can explore about 1-km of the cave along a manicured concrete path, but there are also opportunities to go “off-path.” We crossed over bumpy terrain that made us feel like we had just landed on Mars and found a sign directing us down slick mud to view the “Lotus Flower” stalactite. We waded in a stream that snaked its way through the cave and probed through the cave a bit rogue.

Cost

  • Motorbike Parking = 10,000-dong
  • Admission = 45,000-dong

Insider Tip

When the cave opens to its largest chamber, hop off the path and work your way around the extremely large stalagmite. On the other side, you will find the sign for the “Lotus Flower” – climb down and explore a little, just be careful!

#3 Mr. Kim’s Homestay

If you have never stayed in a homestay, this is a “must do” in Vietnam. Crashing at a homestay is unlike any typical hotel stay; it means you will get to experience the local Vietnamese culture, first hand. We had such a wonderful time sitting with Mr. Kim, gawking over the scenery, and enjoying delicious meals. We even shared a few toasts of rice wine with our host!

Although it’s only 7-km out of town, driving to Mr. Kim’s homestay actually cuts about an hour off the drive to the Ban Gioc Waterfall and Tiger Cave. I recommend staying here the night you visit the falls.

Visit Mr. Kim’s Booking.com page for more details and availability.

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Cost

  • One Night Private Room = $11*
    • *Prices are based on season, day, and availability. This is what we paid in May 2018.
  • Optional Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner. Breakfast was 50-dong and dinner was 100-dong, per person. Highly recommend eating here, the meals were delicious and there is virtually nothing else in the immediate area.

Insider Tip

There are a few kids in the family, bring along a game or some candy to share with them. We enjoyed a fun evening playing shuttlecock (a popular Vietnamese game) with the kids. They were happy to practice their English and we were delighted to have more time with the locals.

#4 Regional Street Food (duh!)

This wouldn’t be a proper Vietnam article if it didn’t mention some sort of street food. So, let me present you with two absolutely delicious street food options, found best prepared in the north.

Smoked Cao Bang Sausage

Greasy and smoked to perfection, there are street food stalls with sausages strung for miles. Be sure not to miss this specialty, the Cao Bang technique is savory and oh-so-yummy!

Roasted Duck

We missed our opportunity to try the roasted duck in the beach towns, so when we saw the crispy duck rotating on the rotisserie, we jumped at the opportunity to give this delicacy a try. To our pleasant surprise, the duck reminded us of Prime Rib – Asian-style. It was tender, moist, dense and scrumptious! The duck was served with a savory teriyaki dip, my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

#5 The Diverse Scenery of the Drive

From karst mountains to farmland, rice paddies to rolling hills, the drives surrounding Cao Bang rank in our top routes through Vietnam. The drive is absolutely stunning and insanely varied. One minute we were driving past a small village with ethnic minority groups farming corn and the next minute we were awestruck in the shadow of a towering karst formation. There are really no words to describe how stunning the drive is, so I will just let a couple pictures do the talking…

How to get to Cao Bang

There are two simple ways to get to Cao Bang, and subsequently the above activities: motorbike or city bus.

Motorbike

Motorbikes or Scooters can be purchased in Hanoi from fellow backpackers; there are tons of Facebook groups, just search: “Vietnam Backpacker Motorbike Sales.” Or, motorbikes can be rented for approximately 300,000-dong per day. Taking a motorbike was the most enjoyable way to explore all the activities Cao Bang has to offer; it allowed us to be on our own timeline and see more of the surrounding land.

City Bus

There are tour buses that depart from Hanoi and arrive in Cao Bang. Just stop in any travel agency in Hanoi and they are guaranteed to have tickets.

Once in Cao Bang, there is a city bus that leaves from the city center (near the hospital) every thirty minutes starting at 5:30 am. The bus actually passes right by Mr. Kim’s Homestay and terminates directly at the waterfall. The last bus leaves the waterfall area at 3:30 pm, so keep an eye on the clock! Cost = 80,000-dong one-way.

 

The only question left is, where to go from Cao Bang?!

If you are on a motorbike and want to continue exploring the north, I recommend heading to Bao Lac en route to the popular Dong Van. The scenery leaving Cao Bang is absolutely stunning, so take your time and make the drive the entertainment.

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