Budget Travel: North Vietnam

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June 10th 2014
Published: June 10th 2014
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Ban GiocBan GiocBan Gioc

Our first look at Ban Gioc waterfall, on the border of Vietnam and China
You want to spend 5 days traveling, taking tours, seeing wonderful caves and waterfalls, and drinking your nights away… all for $80?! It’s not impossible. Follow me and I’ll show you the way.

The setting in Lunar New Year, or Tet as the Vietnamese call it. It’s the biggest celebration of the year and most have 2 weeks off to travel to the homeland to visit family and make offerings to God’s and ancestors. Most everything is shut down, especially in the big cities. As an English teacher in Hanoi, I have at my disposal the plush scenery of northern Vietnam. Pick your posion: Cuc Phuong/Ninh Binh, Cat Ba island, Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Mai Chao, Ha Giang, Ba Vi, and Tam Dao to name a few. What we chose to do was head straight up north to Ba Be Lake, make our way north east to Cao Bang province to see Ban Gioc waterfall on the Chinese border, and back down to Hanoi via Lang Son.

With a group of about 25 of us ex-pats heading out early one morning, it’s pretty impossible to stick together the whole way. After getting lost for about

some great scenes to see, as you lazily cruz down the edges of Ba Be lake
an hour outside Hanoi, looking for the correct highway, Liam and I find ourselves separated from all the others with just a road atlas. Destination Ba Be. A lucky break takes us up highway TL 254, instead of the long way around on highway 3. We arrive by 3pm and explore a cave, a grassy meadow and a drive around the lake. By 6, most everyone has arrived and we settle into our home stay at a rate of 50k ($2.50) a night per person. Dinner, drinks and music fill our night.

Ba Be is a very relaxed town that resides on the edges of the lake, and is mostly made up of home stays and local houses. This is the place to come to relax, be in nature and chill on a brewskie. The following day, we had a 4 hour boat tour of the lake booked. On the agenda was an ethnic village (which had satellite tv!), an awesome, huge cave, water buffalo crossing the river and we opted out of the pagoda and replaced it with a jumping rock. A nice place to relax in the shade, take a dip, or exhilarate yourself with
off the beaten pathoff the beaten pathoff the beaten path

taking a voluntary detour off main highway, we pass through and spend some time with local farmers
a daring jump. By sunset, we were back on land, had eaten and on to the next waterfall, about 10km from our home stay. It was a bit too chilly to jump in for me, but that didn’t stop some of the boys.

Usually around this time of year, the freezing northern winter starts to dissipate and bring Spring weather. This year Tet was exceptionally warm, even at the higher elevations in the mountains. It was the perfect setting for our trip.

The next morning, without any rush (I was watching the Super Bowl where Broncos got crushed) we took off in the direction of Cao Bang. We took some amazing back roads that brought us through local farming communities but our basic route was the TL 254 to the 279 to Highway 3 and finally 205 into Trung Khanh by 3pm. We decided this would be the best point to stop for the day, as it’s only about 40km to Ban Gioc waterfall, which means a short morning ride and a full day to explore. We got some really good and greasy fried noodles, Liam showed off with the local kids in the
Trung KhanhTrung KhanhTrung Khanh

a very small, quaint town 40km from the border and our resting place for the night.
roller rink and we called it a night when Mulan came on tv. This time accommodation came out to about 80k each, for shared hotel rooms.

By early afternoon, we all enjoyed the wonder of the 4th biggest border waterfall in the world. It was a sunny day, we were pumped off breakfast of banh cuon in the local market and eager to explore. Most of us decided on hoping on one of the bamboo rafts that took you into the “spray zone” and back around. I’m not sure if your boat captain was just tired but we floated around in circles for about an hour. Liam had contemplated hoping in the water and swimming to the Chinese shore. None of us were sure what would happen. He settled for jumping in the water and touching a rock on the Chinese half. I had to get in on the action too! The water was so refreshing.

After that, everyone kind of went their own ways. Liam and I climbed the path behind the water falls to the highest level. Ban Gioc is a 3 tiered waterfall with some other waterfalls to the left that
Ba BeBa BeBa Be

We were the first to arrive and enjoy the splendors of Ba Be.
are just 1 tall tier. We found a lagoon up there as well. But time was passing and we still had to figure out what way were gonna get back to Hanoi.

Instead of turning around and going back the way we came, Liam and I continued on highway 211, as it loops back down and into Vietnam. We passed through one of the most spectacular caves/tunnels that I’ve seen. I’m not sure how but we managed to navigate some bumpy back roads all the way down to somewhere near Phuc Hoa. I can’t remember now the exact name of the place, but man we were exhausted to the bone. The only hotel we could find didn’t serve food, but we got out own room for $10! Due to the fact that we meandered through the back roads, by the end of the day, almost everyone had made it farther than us.

The next morning we hoped on the 208 heading south towards Dong Khe and out onto the 4A with a smooth ride home. Overall the trip was an amazing mix of friends, waterfalls, lakes, mountains, motor bikes, beer, and weather. With less
feeding water buffalofeeding water buffalofeeding water buffalo

This is just a warm up, I really want to ride one these things before I leave Vietnam!
than $15 spent on accommodation that left plenty of money for petrol, tours, food, beer and anything extra. It was a trip to remember and I can suggest it to any and all travelers. (Side Note: this is possible by bus as well.)

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25



Enjoying some adventure while cooling down at the same time.
on the raodon the raod
on the raod

This scenery is typical of Northern Vietnam. The jagged mountains contrast against the soft farm lads, as water buffalo graze and the sun shines above.

The first cave we explored once we arrived in Ba Be. IT's deceptively huge and I'm really curious as to where that river goes.
Mr. Linh's Home StayMr. Linh's Home Stay
Mr. Linh's Home Stay

A great place to stay. We all enjoyed ourselves!
the viewthe view
the view

This is what we got to wake up to from our wonderful home stay in Ba Be.
the bedsthe beds
the beds

A quick look at the sleeping situation at Mr. Linh's home stay. At $2.50 (50,000 vnd) a night and mosquito nets, who can complain?!

This is a glance at the cave we got to visit on the organized tour of Ba Be lake.
don't jump!don't jump!
don't jump!

Liam really wanted to test his luck and jump, without knowing the depth or if it was rocky below. Good thing he didn't! That daredevil...
buffalo crossingbuffalo crossing
buffalo crossing

It was really cool to get so close to these guys and have them cross right in front of us!

Getting creative with his jumps.

As the sun sets on Ba Be, we are in search of another waterfall and find ourselves here amid such beauty.
along the wayalong the way
along the way

The road less traveled.
banh cuonbanh cuon
banh cuon

Having a healthy helping of delicious, traditional street food at the market in Trung Khanh.
Ride or DieRide or Die
Ride or Die

My partner in crime and my love soaking up the adventure while on a raft at Ban Gioc waterfall.
waterfall galorwaterfall galor
waterfall galor

So many waterfalls to see, so little time! These tall ones are just to the left (on the Vietnam side) of Ban Gioc and if you take the path behind you can climb to the top and there's also where you'll find the lagoon.
top tiertop tier
top tier

The very top tier of Ban Gioc. It's a bit of a climb and can be slippery at times, but well worth it!
the lagoonthe lagoon
the lagoon

Looks magical, doesn't it?
cool bridgecool bridge
cool bridge

Leading out of Ban Gioc waterfall area. We had parked all the way down inside the waterfall area so we didn't have to walk for ages from the main parking lot. They tried to stop us at first but there wasn't much resistance.
keeping it gansterkeeping it ganster
keeping it ganster

A small pit stop to enjoy the view and rest my bum.

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