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Cao Bằng is an area of Vietnam that is very close to my heart. My mum grew up in Cao Bằng Province until she fled the country with her family when she was only 19. Every visit I’ve made has been with her by my side as we explored her home country together. Here are the highlights that you shouldn’t miss when you visit North Vietnam.


Cao Bang City


Today, Cao Bằng city is a modern area that is a very popular weekend destination for the Vietnamese. In fact, when we arrived on a Saturday morning, we struggled to find available accommodation! So, I’d recommend booking ahead, especially if you’re visiting during a weekend or holiday period!


The city boasts a few modern cafes, a peaceful promenade by the river, fun family activities during weekend evenings, and a local market with some interesting finds. Outside of that, there isn’t much else to see, but it’s just a nice place to just BE in. It’s a great spot to use as a base when seeing the other wonders of Cao Bằng Province.



Getting around


Renting a private car and driver is fairly cheap in Vietnam. You are charged by the day and the driver will take you wherever you want to go, will wait for you and will give you the freedom to do what you want, for however long you want. Driving around the mountains of this area isn’t recommended and locals will be better off doing this task! My recommendation is just to make sure you invite them on your meals during the day. It won’t cost you much and it’s polite.


I’d recommend visiting Ho Thang Hen and Nam Tra on the same day as they’re nearby each other.



Ho Thang Hen


28 km from Cao Bằng



This peaceful lake is hidden in a forest, surrounded by rocky mountains. The lake is a beautiful blue/green colour all year round, unlike other lakes that can become brown in the rainy seasons.


You can hike around the lake on a pathway to obtain views from different angles, and a bit of shade! There are, also, kayaking and boating opportunities, with caves to explore. But, whatever you do, no matter how tempting it is, don’t enter the water. Locals warned us that people had drowned in the lake. Vietnamese people are very superstitious and they believe that ghosts pulled them under the water and, as a result, no one ever enters now.


In the sweltering heat, we were tempted to go in despite the warnings, but, in the end, we didn’t. However, my sister refreshed herself by splashing water on herself and, later that night, she came down with a horrible flu! Shivering in bed, my mum gave her the ‘I told you so’ speech. ‘Whether you believe the stories or not, it’s best not to go in’. Just enjoy the view and peace instead.



Niu Thung / Angel Eye Mountain


26 km from Cao Bang

4.2km from Ho Thang Hen



Your breath will be taken away, as you walk over the small hill to enter the valley.. Waves of green slopey lands spread out before you, as they lead to the giant mountain with a curious hole at the top: the famous Angel Eye Mountain. It’s covered in lush green vegetation, and it actually holds (or is!) a cave. It’s not for tourists but if you wish to enter, it’s best to do so with a local guide.


I suggest bringing some food with you as it’s the perfect place for a picnic. Just be sure to take all rubbish with you and leave nothing. You’ll see campers setting up tents for the night as they haven’t banned them yet, but as more tourists visit the area, and inevitably ruin the area, restrictions are bound to be set in the future.


Thac Ban Gioc

83 km from Cao Bang



Worth the long journey, this waterfall is situated on the border of Vietnam and China. Over the years it has become so popular with visitors that it now boasts a modern, pretty entrance, and walkway to the falls from the main road. Once upon a time, it was just a muddy path only known to the locals.



It is the 4th largest waterfall on a national border. At first glance, it looks like there are two waterfalls. However, when the water level is high enough from summer monsoons, the falls can join to become one impressive sight. It has multiple drops making it a real beauty. However, at ground level, it’s impossible to see unless you’re on China’s side upon their platforms that they’ve built on the side of the mountains. However, you can capture a distant view by heading to the nearby temple of Chùa Phật Tích Trúc Lâm Bản Giốc.

By paying the small entrance fee, you’ll be able to get close to the falls and even pay for a raft to get closer to the falls that are on the border.



Chùa Phật Tích Trúc Lâm Bản Giốc



This temple can be found only 500m from the famous Ban Gioc waterfalls. It’ll add value to your long journey up here to the border and this stop over is definitely worth it. The temple is high up on a mountain which you can access by climbing up the hill. From the platform you have a far off view of the beautiful Ban Gioc waterfalls. Straight ahead of the Temple, facing outwards, is the most incredible view of the valley and its mountains.

At sunset, the sight is spectacular.


 

How to get to Cao Bang


From Hanoi:

If you're coming from the south or mid Vietnam, the easiest way to get to Cao Bang is from Hanoi. From Hanoi offers journeys by sleeper bus. There are no trains, nor airport.

In order to ensure that you’re on a modern, comfortable bus, check with your hotel/hostel reception. They’ll be able to give you the prices for each bus company, and tell you which are the most comfortable. Prices will be around 400,000 VND, and buses tend to leave around 21:00 and arrive in Cao Bang bus station at 4am.

Once at the bus station, there will be taxis waiting to take you into the city, which is only a 3 minute car journey, but perhaps worth it if you have a lot of luggage!



From Ha Giang:

You can reach Cao Bang from Ha Giang by winding your way through the mountains that divide the two regions. You can do this by bike or car, but it’s advisable to take extra care, as even Vietnamese people, who aren’t from the area, daren’t take this route. They aren’t used to the roads, and when the weather isn’t kind, it can make the journey more complicated. Ask your hostel/hotel reception to give you advice. They’re usually very friendly and knowledgeable.

 

Where to stay in Cao Bang


Not long ago, there was only one big hotel in Cao Bang city. Now, the region’s popularity with visitors, both local and abroad, means that there are a large choice of hotels to choose from. I’d recommend staying in the centre, and booking ahead, especially if you’re staying during a weekend!


We stayed at Sói Homestay and would highly recommend it!

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