Cao Bang's Highlights: What to do and what to see

Cao Bang, a provincial outpost located in Bang Giang river in a scenic creek. The state of hotels and services might show the reason why few foreigners get up this far, however, strong travelers are in their element. The province has great capabilities for developing tourism with both natural and cultural features. 
The city itself is worth for a stroll, especially, because of its huge riverside market. The twilight in Cao Bang need to be seen from the bridge or on the promenade running along the river. You can watch buffaloes gazing from here and local people paddling slowly to carry their produce to market. Aside from the call of the fun pastoral roads in the region, Ban Gioc Waterfall is what drawing visitors go to Cao Bang. This renowned waterfall northwest of town is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world. Pac Bo caves is in the northwest of Cao Bang, it’s where president Ho Chi Minh hideout after returning from China. On the weekend mornings of specified days, surely you can come across (on your way to Pac Bo or Ban Gioc) hill tribe markets in the towns which are outside of Cao Bang. 

I. What are most popular attractions in Cao Bang?

Cao Bang tourism offer a large number of attractions. For international tourists, apart from the caves at Pac Bo, Ban Gioc’s waterfall is an amazing destination and worth seeing. It can be said that the best part among ethnic hill tribe villages is the roads passing through astonishing mountainous landscapes. Especially on the weekends, there are chances for you to catch the scene of unprepared hill tribe markets. The roads stretch for miles with Tai and Nung ethnic people wearing their traditional costumes, walking with regular steps to market alongside their products. For more information on scheduled markets, you should ask the hotel where you are staying at. However, these markets are often held on auspicious days in the lunar calendar. 

1. Ban Gioc Water Falls

Traveling with a distance of 53 miles (85km) with 4 hours driving one-way along the mountain road to the east of Cao Bang, you will reach one of the most renowned waterfalls in Asia. People don’t remember its name. However, when this sight is in your list, you will see some shiny pictures of it hung on Chinese store’s walls or hotel’s corridor a lot. From China, the Quay Son river spilling into Vietnam fuels the multi-tiered falls. On the banks at the base of this falls, the French originally built small villas. Nowadays, the domestic tourists come to Ban Gioc Waterfalls in big groups, especially on weekends, filling the place with group picnics, chatting and laughing. Don’t be too surprised when you are invited to join with them after sitting for a while. Just a few kilometers from the falls is Nguom Ngao Cave. The admission to enter this cavernous space charges 15.000 Vietnam dongs and believe us, it is really worth a visit.
Ban Gioc waterfall
The amazing Ban Gioc Waterfall
It is important to prepare a special permission to get to the falls. It would be hard if you are going to do it yourself. You should go Cao Bang the night before the day when you plan to pay the falls a visit and ask your hotel to make arrangements (cost some fees). 

2. Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark

When setting your foot in Cao Bang province, do not skip Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark. This is the highlight of the region, which is recognized by UNESCO as Global Geopark in Vietnam after Dong Van Stone Plateau. Apart from stunning karst landscape, this park is also famous for its rich biodiversity. You know what? The researchers also had found the sedimentary rocks date from 500 million years ago in this park. Once getting there, you will have a chance to behold the magnificent Ban Gioc Waterfall along with many historic monuments such as Pac Bo Cave or Trang Hung Dao forest.  
Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark - Highlight of the region

3. Nguom Ngao Cave

The nature gives this cave as a valuable gift to this wonderful land. Tourists explore the grotto of 300 million years old for its mystic space formed by magnificent stalactites on one side and an interesting legend behind its special name. The cave is almost 2200m in total length with three gates and thousands of smaller caves. Surely the miraculous collection of limestone mountains and currently unique shapes of stalactites (which take millions of years to form) will leave a big impression on you.  
The spectacular Nguom Ngao Cave

4. Pac Bo Cave 

Spots, related to Ho Chi Minh, are Vietnamese favorite destinations and also foreign visitors. After more than 30 years of exile, Ho Chi Minh chose to live in Pac Bo caves with the purpose of planning the revolution in 1941 under the protection offered by the locals. The way leading to the site is lined by big concrete pavilions. The paths running along the amazing Lenin River at the foot of the Karl Marx Mountain (Ho Chi Minh named them himself) connect to an open parking area. These paths lead you to some cave sites with the signs that show you how to get to the places where Ho spent his time resting. However, the real business at Pac Bo is still swimming and picnicking. 

5. Truc Lam Phat Tich Pagoda

Truc Lam Phat Tich was built in the traditional Vietnamese architecture style with a three-door gate, a Guan Yin statue and a Nung Tri Cao temple, the national hero leading the locals to protect Vietnam’s northern border. Moreover, this pagoda is considered as the first pagoda in Northern Vietnam. Its looks complete the breathtaking scenery of Cao Bang’s pristine landscapes.        
 Truc Lam Phat Tich Pagoda overviewing the valley

II. When is the best time to take tour to Cao Bang?

Cao Bang can be visited all year round. In different periods of the year, the weather affects the scenery which brings new coats to the land with vivid appearance. Tourists will never get bored after so many times seeing it. 

1. Spring 

Coming to Cao Bang in spring will bring you a wonderful trip. It’s when the weather getting cool during the day, but a little bit cold when the night falls. The chance of rain is also lower that assures you a dry and comfortable trek or outdoor activities. After a long winter, Cao Bang changes itself to become more attractive with green forests and fields. February is also the time of rice season in Cao Bang when you can see local farmers working on rice terraces filled with water. When March starts, the whole terraces change into a luxuriant green. Hanging above is the deep blue sky which makes an absolutely unforgettable memory in your travel to the S-shaped country. 

2. Summer 

When the spring ends, Cao Bang’s temperature quickly rises up to 25 degrees. If you are not used to the featured climate of the tropical area when the heat pairing with the humidity, you may get tired easily. For these summer months, riding a motorbike is such a great way to discover this wonderful beauty of the province. Summer comes turning the green rice paddies into yellow carpet. What do you think about helping the farmers harvest the crop? Bet that it is going to be an awesome experience, anyway. 
Yellow carpet of rice terraces in summer

Regular downpours at the end of summer are the sign showing that rain season is coming near. Even though, your travel only is bothered for 1 to 2 hours and when the dark clouds flow away, you can totally keep your journey going on. This is the best time to see Ban Gioc Waterfall due to the water rising. 

3. Fall

Autumn is moderate all day long, which seems to be the same as spring. This period, while raining does not happen as regularly as in the summer, is enough for hundreds of blossoms displaying their beauty and spreading aroma. The most beautiful moment is said to be the one before its death, which is so true to Cao Bang landscape before winter. If you haven’t had any plan to visit Cao Bang on this occasion, what holds you back?

4. Winter 

It can be said that Cao Bang’s winter is pretty gloomy. The mountains, terraces, forests turn blue and dreamy by the cold weather. The province is likely to change into a new outfit with white spots when snow falling on the land. It’s nothing interesting than exploring the winter in a tropical country. There is no doubt that it will be a memorable trip in your mind for years to come. 
Snow may fall in Cao Bang in winter which is rare in a tropical country.

III. How to travel to Cao Bang from the capital of Vietnam – Hanoi

1. By Motorcycle

Motorcycle is the best choice for those who want to experience the beauty along the way. However, bear in mind that the road to the province has many steep slopes as well as large trucks running along. Thus, you need to ensure your own safety. 

2. By Coach 

There are lots of high-quality and air-conditioned coach to Cao Bang Station from My Dinh Station in Hanoi, which is located at No. 20, Pham Hung Street. 
For a perfect Cao Bang trip, remember the following useful things

- For this kind of travelling, using backpack will be easier than using suitcase. Trekking and mountain climbing are the major activities so that you will feel free and comfortable wearing a backpack. 
- Don’t forget to bring along insect repellant, raincoat, sunscreen, warm clothes, sport shoes, toiletries, and first-aids. 
- The most important is staying away from the border or you will be considered as a transgressor by the military. It’s risky!
- Besides, it is recommended to try delicious foods such as steamed rice rolls, roasted duck, chestnut during your trip to Cao Bang.

Travel Conversation Questions

Stuey M :
I plan on going to Hanoi in 2 wks. Is it possible to shop for Cap Bang tour while I’m in Hanoi, and start the tour 1-2 days later? I’m not sure if there’re lots of tours available there, and how long ahead of time you should book.

Richard H :
I'm not sure about Cao Bang / Ban Gioc tours but if you are a little adventurous and have the time it's easy enough to reach the falls by bus.
One option is to take a bus from Hanoi to Cao Bang City (around 7 hrs) and then take the #3 public mini-bus to the falls (around 2.5 hrs). This is a very easy route as Cao Bang City is well connected to Hanoi by bus. There are a couple of other faster bus routes but they involve overnight buses that most of us don't recommend for safety and comfort reasons.
If rural Vietnam interests you Ban Gioc is an interesting choice for a day or two. I prefer to sleep in the village and visit the falls just after sunrise when virtually no one is there.

Gabrielle K :
Which "tour" o you have in mind ??? If it is just for the superb Ban Gioc Waterfalls, no need for an organized , which there are none anyway.. You can easily do it on your own : public bus direct Hanoi-Cao Bang (1 day); one night in CB (I recommend the excellent Jeanne Hotel) and then plenty of daily minibuses for one day Ban Gioc Waterfalls. Total 3 days, with much more time in transportation than visits. It makes more sense if you then go to Babe Lake (bus CB-Babe, one day beautiful boat tour lake + Nang River, then bus direct BB-Hanoi = 2 days more
Stuey M :
Thank you! Yep, Ban Gioc and Ba be are what I have in mind, (am also open to other attractions near by too)
Just wanna make sure I understand correctly, would you recommend traveling in this sequence?
Hanoi->CB, CB-> Ban Gioc falls day trip, then CB->Ba be. Then Ba be-> Hanoi
Is it worth staying longer in CB and check out the town? (I think there’s a market, but not sure if its worth it) I love all the nature stuff, and quiet town with exotic/local things to see.
How many days would u stay in Ba Be? Is it worth driving around the lake (or too difficult?), or biking? Or just taking a boat trip you think is enough?
Gabrielle K :

Yes, Hanoi-CB-BG-BB-Hanoi
Cao Bang is not a very exciting city and the gastronomy is absent. The market is like any other big town one ; you can go up to the Victory Monument with a panorama of the whole town.
From Cao Bang, you take a bus to CHO RA + moto-taxi 17 km CR-Pac Ngoi, where the Thai homestays are (the best is the one of M. Duy To (pronounced Zuy Teu"), a true Cordon Bleu. He arranges for you the beautiful day boat ride to the grotto and the Dau Dang Waterfalls, with lunch in Dau Dang. Next morning, you have a direct minibus Pac Ngoi-Hanoi. Duy Tho can also arrange a day of trekking in the national park

Stuey M :

Do you think it’s safe to book the bus ticket the night before? And are there a lot of motorcycle taxi around all day? Or is there a certain time of day I should arrive prior?

Gabrielle K :

The day before is OK, though some days before is safer. There are moto-taxis all the time until I would say 22:00


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