Mountainous provinces in Northeast Vietnam are famous for its scenic landscapes. Ba Be Lake in Bac Can province brought me a peaceful and relaxing feeling with its turquoises serene surface surrounded by towering mountains. The scenery became even more fanciful in the early morning mist. Ban Gioc waterfall in Cao Bang appeared majestically and spectacularly, while Nguom Ngao cave carried a mysterious uniqueness and Pac Bo cave exhibited a historical majesty.
- Day 1-2: Visit Ba Be lake (232km), then drive to Cao Bang (130km)
- Day 3: Ban Gioc waterfall and Nguom Ngao cave (84km)
- Day 4: Pac Bo cave, Lê Nin stream, then drive to Meo Vac (184km)
(* distance is measured by Google map)
On the first day, we received our rental car and departed from Hanoi at 8am. After leaving the large and empty highway of Hanoi-Thai Nguyen, we followed Highway 3C, then DT 254 to Bang Lung town to save 40 km, instead of driving through Bac Can city. However, it was a wrong decision as despite the shorter distance and less traffic, the road was terrible, narrow, muddy and dusty. There were sections we had to stop giving way to the car in the opposite direction or waited for the bulldozer to clear the landslide.
We stopped for lunch in a small eatery at Bang Lung town, Bac Can Province. Stuffed bamboo was different and delicious. Continuing on the rugged rocky road for another hour, we reached Ba Be national park. We bought the entrance ticket at VND 46K / pax, drove to our hostel located right on the shore of the lake. At that time, Ba Be lake looked extremely calm with a emerald glow under a harsh afternoon sun.
After taking a short break, we drove to Pac Ngoi village, 3km away from our hostel. It is a busy village with plenty of stilt home-stays/ guesthouses. From distance, there are green young rice fields and a horse was grazing leisurely. Little kids were playing g in the courtyard of the cultural center of the village.
The next morning, we chartered a boat to get inside Ba Be Lake. It was such a peaceful experience. It seemed that everything was awakening up after a good sleep. From our boat, we could see the mist hovering around mountainsides. Water of Ba Be Lake was truly emerald & cloudy thanks to its alluvion. It is also known as the typical color of freshwater in this northern region.
The first landing point of our boat was Puong cave, the farthest and also the most popular attraction in Ba Be Lake, connecting with Nang river. It took us 1 hour sailing to reach there. The entrance looked small from far away, but when getting closer, we were surprised by its majesty. Being a part of Lung Nham limestone mountain, the cave was gradually formed when Nang river flowed through the ravine. It’s now home of thousands of bats with giant space and unique geological formations.
Leaving Puong cave, we visited Angel pond. The scenery was not as amazing as the picture on internet. It is a nice emerald pond, but noisy atmosphere caused by plenty of shops along the way strongly impacted the tranquility of the pond. We were disappointed with this attraction.
After a great lunch with lots of local specialties, we continued driving to Cao Bang province, located in Northeast Vietnam. The road was good and we got a chance to admire the rice field during sunset, it was stunning!
Ban Gioc waterfall located at the river border of Vietnam and China, 84km from Cao Bang city, is known as one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights, and also the 4th biggest waterfalls on frontier (after Victoria, Iguazu and Niagara). The road to the fall (DT 205 and DT 206) are in good condition, just a bit winding and quite steep. Moreover, it is an important trading route with China, hence there are many trucks passing by, making me tensed when taking over slow moving trucks on steep roads.
The scenery along the way was spectacular with layers of mountains embracing the rice paddies. Sometimes, the roads seemed to go straight to the mountain.
After driving around two hours and 30 minutes from Cao Bang, we arrived Ban Gioc waterfall. It appeared incredibly and splendidly from the highway.
Walking through the ripening rice field, we got close to the fall. We were shocked by the hustle and bustle of tourists from both sides of the border, wearing orange life vest on a plenty of bamboo rafts queuing to move deeper in the fall. The noise seemed shatter the wildness and peacefulness of the natural scenery there.
I found a less busy corner to admire the beauty of this fall, felt its powerful vitality and mightiness.
We continued our journey to Nguom Ngao cave, one of Vietnam national heritages, only 4km away from Ban Gioc fall. It was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect such a beauty. The cave is giant with lots of stalagmites in unique shapes, such as a grape pomelo or a boat
The landscape at the exit of the cave was also magnificent with layers of mountains.
Before driving a long distance to Meo Vac, we stopped by Pac Bo cave, a historical relic of the nation where Ho Chi Minh president used to live and work on revolutionary activities. From the main gate, we were transferred by 5-minute electric car to Pac Bo village. Then after another 5 minutes walking, Lenin stream appeared with incredible emerald color, such a featured color of freshwater in Cao Bang region.
Continued walking deep inside, along the stream of Lenin, through a green narrow passage with big trees, we reached Pac Bo cave where Uncle Ho lived and worked.
It is a small and dark cave, today only showcases the bed and cooking stove used by Uncle Ho.
It was a tough driving day as the road from Cao Bang to Meo Vac was extremely bad. Still the winding steep mountain passes, but they were narrower and full of big holes. Road surface was heavily damaged with lots of rocks and stones. Sometimes we managed to drive at 15km/ hours. It took us 5 hours to pass 150km distance. In exchange to our effort, the scenery along the road was stunning with layers of mountains surrounding deep valleys in various colors of rice fields during harvest season.
Read other related articles about my road trip to Northern Vietnam
Delicious local food you don’t want to miss
Since it is mountainous region with lots of lakes and streams, local food in Northeast provinces can not lack freshwater fishes and snails. The dishes are simply cooked to retain the original flavor of the food.
Wild vegetables and bamboo shoot are unmissable in our daily meal. The bamboo is soft and smells good, can be done in many ways. The spicy and sour bamboo shoots in Cao Bang is unmatched and the stuffed bamboo shoot is also unique.
Steamed rice cake with soup (Bánh cuốn nước lèo) and Duck Pho (Phở Vịt) are the two specialties of Cao Bang. The cakes don’t go with fish sauce as usual, but with soup which is stewed with pork bones. Duck meat is soft and enhances the taste of Pho. Adding in a little spicy and sour bamboo shoots in those dishes, making them more delicious.
Where to stay?
Accommodation in Northeast provinces is not too expensive. There are many different types of rooms, depending on your budget.
Ba Be lake
- Accommodation is mostly in stilt guesthouse, located concentrically in Pac Ngoi village with the price of 150,000-250,000 VND/ night. However, the village was a bit crowded, noisy and don’t have close view of Ba Be lake.
- We stayed in Anh Ngoc Guesthouse on DT 254, a bit far from the center, but we had gorgeous view of Ba Be Lake. Enjoying hot coffee in the chilled morning, admiring serene lake in early mysterious mist was strangely peaceful.
Cao Bang is a relatively crowded city, hence the hotel price is more expensive. We picked a hotel right at city center for our convenience of food and travel. Jeanne hotel on Kim Dong street was a good choice with the price of 850 thousand VND/ night for 2 people.
The old house Auberge is my favorite guesthouse thanks to its rustic charm and cosy atmosphere. We had a intimate dinner in a chilled weather, enjoyed wonderful food and homemade distilled whiskies while delightedly listening to start-up stories of the young owner, who showed strong passion about his hometown.
Traveled on 30 Sep – 3 Oct 2018