Published: June 20th 2007June 20th 2007
After going from tourist trap to tourist trap the last couple weeks, my head was hurting from the constant yells for transport or tours. I had seen way too many backpackers (nothing against them, after all I am one too) and I just wanted to see a town where it was just Vietnamese living there. With that mindset I made the bet that Cao Bang was just that type of place. Its eight hours north of Hanoi and no tourist buses run that way. I figured that no tourist bus meant no tourists, so I gave it a shot.
On the road to Cao Bang there were countless rice paddies and several mountain views. When getting into town I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. The moto drivers didn't swarm the bus and I had to actually approach them to get a ride to my hotel. After checking in, I went for a walk around the town. It had a good feel. There's a river that cuts the town in two and it's much cooler than Hanoi because it's up at 800 meters. I noticed that no one spoke english there. I
have to use my limited Vietnamese and sign language to communicate. Made for a good opportunity for practice. Another thing about this town is that there's no tourist price. Such a relief. When I went through the market I actually was quoted the normal price. Every place south of Hanoi was the complete opposite.
On my second day I arranged a xe om (motorbike) to take me to Ban Gioc Falls and Ngu'om Ngao cave. This is 3 hours from Cao Bang and you need to get a special permit from immigration before going. The reason is because the half of the falls is in China, so it's in the "frontier zone". The ride there was amazing. There were some of the best views that I have seen since being in Asia. It had been raining earlier, so some clouds were around, which I think enhanced the views.
Ban Gioc falls was amazing to see. We (me and my driver, Troh) had to go to the immigration building in front of it first, and then we walked past a rice paddy to get to the base. The sound of the water crashing was amazing. The falls were quite
wide and were made up of several. On the left, the water crashed through trees. It gave it a jungle feel. On the right was the largest. It was three levels and seeing it gave me a big smile. There was a short trail just left of it that led up to the top of them. Great view from up top.
After the falls, we went to Ngu'om Ngao cave. It was a great site to see. The cave is 2.4km long and when you enter, it is refreshingly cool. Feels like ice-cold air conditioning. Inside there's a small creek that runs though, giving the sound of running water. There were so many different rock formations and huge caverns. Some at least 30 meters tall and wide. Between this and the falls, it was a great day. Even better, not a single tourist at either one!
On our drive back, Troh wanted to stop off at his brother's house. He didn't know a single word of english, but after a few hours we learned how to communicate. His brother lived in a small town about 30 km from Cao Bang. We had lunch there and then they brought
out the Zio (rice wine). This was no ordinary wine, but cobra and 5 snake. It intimidating at first to try, but after a few, it went down smooth. They seem to always be drinking in Vietnam and at any time.
The next day we went out to see Pac Bo cave. It's about 2 hours from town and the drive was pleasant. The cave itself isn't much. It's more like a hole, than a cave, but it had historical significance. Before, when Vietnam was under french rule, Ho Chi Minh and other revolutionaries hid there and planned the revolution that won their independence. Also in that area is Kim Dong memorial. Kim Dong was a teenager during the revolution and acted as a messenger. French troops were near the Vietnamese forces and he distracted them to give time for the Vietnamese to escape. It cost him his life and made him a national hero.
On the drive back, we stopped at my driver's cousin's house. They were rice farmers and we had a massive feast with their family with more zio. I tried to give them a little money for the meal, but they refused and said
that I was their guest. Such nice people and so welcoming.
Later that night I went out to grab a bite to eat. I stopped at an Upe stand (snails). They are delicious and very cheap. You can get a big bowl and a yogurt smoothie for under 50 cents! When there, I met two very nice school teachers named Lam and Chi. They later took me out for coffee and showed me around town.
At this point I would have left town, but Lam offered to show me around more, so I stuck around. It was so nice to meet someone whom was being friendly to just be friendly.
On my last day we went out for coffee again and met some local police officers who were celebrating. They asked if they could join us and talk. It was fun, but they ordered way too many bottles of zio. By 2pm we were already drunk. Like I said earlier, they drink all day everyday here. At least zio doesn't leave too bad of a hangover.
The next morning I was on a bus out and a little sad to go. I could have spent longer
here, but there's more to see, so time to go.
There are more photos below