Thursday, October 27 2016


An arduous but rewarding journey north

Update: August, 30/2015 - 20:11
Green with envy: Cao Bang Province is famous for its natural beauty, with both mountains and jungles. — VNA/VNS Photos Phuong Hoa

A group of travellers makes its way up to Cao Bang to see one of the country's legendary waterfalls, admiring the scenery along the way. Le Thu Huong reports.

We left Ha Noi after lunch on a steamy hot summer day. Everyone in our group was excited because we had read about Cao Bang and its spectacular Ban Gioc Waterfalls near the border with China. From our school textbooks, we had all learned that the waterfall is one of Viet Nam's most magnificent, and we needed to get there at least once in our lifetimes.

Everyone was so excited, we never thought about the challenges that awaited us on the road. The road from Ha Noi to Cao Bang is about 300km crossing Thai Nguyen and Bac Kan provinces. The road from Ha Noi to Thai Nguyen is in great condition and we passed 80km in no time. From Thai Nguyen to Bac Kan, the road turned worse, and we couldn't go as fast.

However, the slow speed gave us more chances to admire the beautiful mountain landscape. Small villages nestled at the foot of a hill, little towns scattered behind mountain slopes. At times, we had to stop and wait for a large buffalo herd to walk across the road.

Multiple levels: More and more people are visiting the Ban Gioc Waterfalls.

Cao Bang is not only known for its big waterfalls, it also boasts an important revolutionary pilgrim destination. Pac Bo Cave was home to President Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked there for a year after he returned home from abroad to organise and lead Viet Nam's revolutionary movement during the early 1940s. While living at the cave, he named a nearby spring after former Soviet Union President Vladimir Lenin, and a mountain after German philosopher Karl Marx. Uncle Ho also held revolutionary training classes with a syllabus based on documents translated by him and ran an underground newspaper.

On both sides of the road, we saw colourful billboards hanging in front of houses advertising foods and rest houses, along with locals selling specialties such as pickled bamboo shoots, mac mat fruit (an essential ingredient for meat or fish dishes) and many others.

Our 16-seat coach continued running on a smooth section of road through mountain hamlets surrounded by immense pine forests.

The road from Bac Kan to Cao Bang is more zigzag with sections running close to the mountain side, and we saw fields lying between trees in the valley.

On the mountain slope are immense fields of maize which began turning yellow, signalling a bumper crop.

Our car continued running up and down passes on the 120km road. The higher we go, the turns have become even sharper. We pass the most challenging passes any long-distance coach driver would be proud to have crossed: Giang, Gio, Khau Khoang, Cao Bac and Tai Ho Sin.

On the edge: A group of tourists pose with a national border marker.

The longest and most winding pass is Gio Pass. Sometimes, our hearts sank into the pit of our stomach when we saw big trucks loaded with heavy goods coming in the opposite direction on dangerous turns.

It seems the more our hearts were tested, the higher our souls were lifted: the landscape was getting much more imposing and breathtaking. On one side, the small valleys with green rice fields and bamboo trees reflected in the clear stream. On the other side is a dark mountain wall, covered with stones. By late afternoon, the sun began to go down the mountains, and looking up we saw a dark purple sky rest on high mountain peaks.

Finally, after 6 hours, we arrived in Cao Bang city at 7pm.

Our first impression is that it is a nice and small city, not too busy.

We came to a restaurant in the city centre where we could try a local feast full of specialties such as bo khai (a kind of vegetable in the forest), ong khoai (young bees) stir-fried with sour bamboo shoots. But the most impressive of all was the glutinous rice steamed with ants' eggs. I was hesitant at first when I saw dead ants among the brownish rice grains. But it did taste very good with a splash of crispy ants' eggs.

We spent the night at a local hotel and the next morning, we had breakfast out again at a local stand. Then we went to a very charming and spacious cafe at the end of a tiny little alley. The morning was tranquil and quiet, we could have stayed there all morning. But it was time to go and we were all ready to get moving.

After half an hour on the coach, the tour guide led us to Ban Gioc Waterfalls, which is listed as one of the world's greatest waterfalls to straddle two nations by Touropia in 2015 along with Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina, the Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe and Niagra Falls between Canada and the US.

First in its field: The Phat tich Truc lam Ban Gioc Pagoda was the first pagoda built in the northern border region. It is in Dam Thuy, Cao Bang Province, close to the Ban Gioc Waterfall. — Photo

Touropia also listed Ban Gioc Waterfalls as one of the 10 most spectacular waterfalls in the world.

From Cao Bang city centre, there are two ways for you to choose to reach Ban Gioc. One is Tra Linh to Tong Cot and the other is Ma Phuc to Quang Uyen.

The Ma Phuc Pass is famous in the north for its lime stone mountains, which have two stone blocks that look like two horses kneeling down.

The pass is not as high and doesn't zigzag as much as Gio Pass so we all felt comfortable and enjoyed the wild landscape along the two sides of the road.

From Trung Khanh District centre to Dam Thuy Village where the waterfall is located, we drove along the Quay Son River. As we approached the waterfall, we heard its roaring sound.

When we arrived near the waterfall, we had to park our car and walk on a zigzag road to reach the site.

Rushing rapids: Ban Gioc Waterfall in Trung Khanh District (Cao Bang Province) is the biggest natural waterfall in Southeast Asia, and it attracts about 30,000 visitors a year. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha

The tour guide told us that the mild Quay Son River winded through hamlets and forests before meeting a sudden drop-off, creating a fast and thick fall from a height of more than 10 metres through dazzling white spumes.

A secondary waterfall is located in Dam Thuy Village of Cao Bang Province's Trung Khanh District. It's 53 metres high and 300 metres wide. It has three layers creating many different small and large waterfalls.

We toured the site on a bamboo raft. The river section under the waterfall is large enough for us to stand on the raft and enjoy the natural beauty of the waterfalls. Its sound and strong current from immense forests and mountains created a beautiful sight that infatuates any guest who makes the trip here.

We were so absorbed enjoying the waterfalls we forgot about returning to the city despite it being already late in the afternoon.

In Cao Bang, apart from Ban Gioc, Pac Bo, you can visit the Tran Hung Dao historical forest where Viet Nam's first army platoon was formed in 1944 and Nguom Ngao, a beautiful cave which was discovered in 1921 and opened for travellers in 1996.

Our short trip could not include these visits, but we can come back another time, when hectic life in the city sends us right back to the beauty of Cao Bang. — VNS

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