Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of Vietnam’s best-known waterfalls, and its image adorns the lobby of many a cheap guesthouse. The falls, fed by the Quay Son River that marks the border with China, are an impressive sight and in a highly scenic location.
A police permit (200,000d for up to 10 people) is required to visit this region but the permit can be purchased at the police station here beside the waterfall. You’ll need to show your passport.
Frequent buses link Cao Bang and the waterfall, a trip of two hours (80,000d, hourly from 5.30am to 6pm).
Boat owners here will punt you on bamboo rafts (100,000d) close enough to the waterfall so you can feel the spray on your hair (bring shampoo!) and skin. Rafts on the Vietnamese side have green canopies, and on the Chinese side canopies are blue. You’re allowed to swim in the large natural pool on the Vietnamese side, but not in the river or close to the main waterfall.
There are numerous souvenir, snack and drink stalls by the cave and waterfall, and the only accommodation in the immediate area is the Saigon Ban Gioc Resort.
In this guide, I’ve written a description of the waterfall and surrounding area, including places to see and things to do, followed by information about accommodation, food and drink, and transportation, and my annotated map of the region. The waterfall can be visited at any time of year, but, in my opinion, the best time is from September to October, when the summer rains that feed the falls are less frequent and the harvest is in full swing. Ban Gioc waterfall can be combined with a visit to the nearby Nguom Ngao caves (which are included in the guide below) and as part of my Northeast Loop.
The Waterfall & Caves:
At Ban Gioc, the Quay Son River forms the border between Vietnam and China. Consequently, the falls are half in Vietnam and half in China. Both countries have bamboo rafts that punt visitors around the base of the falls for better views of the cascade: you can literally shake hands with Chinese tourists on the other rafts.
Ban Gioc waterfall is roughly 360km from Hanoi, reached via a good national highway to Cao Bang City, and then several recently upgraded provincial roads, leading through fantastic countryside to the falls (see Transportation). It’s now easier than ever to visit Ban Gioc, but still very few people, especially foreign travellers, make it here. A perfect destination if you’re on a motorbike road trip following the Northeast Loop, or an independent traveller looking to get off-the-beaten-track, this waterfall is a favourite destination of mine and is bound to be a major draw-crowd in the future.