Ban Gioc: The Most Impressive Waterfall in Vietnam

Tiếng Việt

Looking at the map of Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall seems a long way from anywhere. It’s 360 kilometres from Hanoi, and the distance to the nearest town is 60 kilometres away. But that doesn’t stop people to visit this masterpiece of nature. With jade green water thundering down multiple levels of rock setting, Ban Gioc Waterfall is easily one of Vietnam’s most remarkable sights.


Leaving Ba Be Lake behind, my journey continued on to Cao Bang – a mountainous region sharing border with China. The province is largely known for its gentle landscape where limestone hills embrace leafy valleys. Yet the main reason that lured me to this northeastern corner of Vietnam is something far more dramatic.

Verdant landscape of Cao Bang

Ban Gioc Waterfall

Measuring 30 metres in height and 300 metres in width, Ban Gioc is the world’s fourth largest waterfall along a national border; after Iguazu, Victoria, and Niagara Fall. It can basically be divided into two parts: thác chính (Main Waterfall) and thác phụ (Subordinate Waterfall). While the former straddles the line between Vietnam and China, the latter belongs entirely to the South East Asian country. The site had not always been peaceful until the land border dispute was officially resolved in 2001. That’s why Ban Gioc is still under the radar to many visitors to Vietnam.

A classic view of Ban Gioc Waterfall
Ban Gioc, Subordinate Waterfall

After four hours on the winding road, I started hearing the rumble of water hitting the cliffs. Even from afar, the thundering effect is clearly audible. Then, behind a veil of white mist, Ban Gioc Waterfall gradually took shape. It is more imposing than I expected, with multiple levels of rock setting. The water cascades down the limestone rocks before plunging into a jade-coloured natural pool. Both the cliffs and the rocks are cloaked in green moss, which contrasts nicely with the dazzling flows. It resembles a giant doorsteps made by Mother Nature. The waterfall settles into an impressive backdrop of green mountains and bamboo groves, creating a splendid jungle landscape that no ther place in Vietnam can compare.

Water flow at Ban Gioc Waterfall
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Nguom Ngao Cavern

Despite its wild beauty, Ban Gioc is not the only natural wonder in Cao Bang. Just five kilometres from the waterfall, there is an astonishing cave system deeply carved into a mountain. It’s named Nguom Ngao, which in the language of the Tay ethnic minority means “Tiger’s Den”. The cavern was discovered in 1921, but it has only been opened to public since 1996.

Nguom Ngao Cavern

Created by an underground river, Nguom Ngao Cavern extends for over 2100 metres underground, of which 900 metres are visible to tourists. It reaches a height of up to 60 metres and consists of multiple chambers, as well as three main entrances. The size of the cavern is comparable to the Heavenly Palace in Halong, yet its appearance looks more sophisticated.

Stepping in Nguom Ngao Cavern, I felt as though I’ve seen a subterranean palace, with majestic stone columns and wonderfully hanging stalactites. Along the way are stalagmites of all shapes, such as a giant cactus, terraced rice fields, and even a smaller version of Ban Gioc Waterfall. For millions of years, wind and water have dissolved limestone in this cavern, creating countless unique figures.

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Crafting Villages

En route to Ban Gioc Waterfall, I made a brief stop at Pac Rang where villagers have practised forging for generations. It’s one of the two best known crafting villages in Cao Bang. The other is Phia Thap which specialises in making incense. Though not as popular as those in Hoi An, these villages provide a glimpse into the culture of the Nung An ethnic minority.

Pac Rang Village

It’s said that the village of Pac Rang has been around since the 11th century. Back then, they forged weaponry for the local militia to fight against the Song army. When peace resumed, their production switched to farm and domestic tools. Things continued on like that during the wars in the 20th century. These days, the flame of smithery is kept alive by 51 households. They are using scrap metal, mostly car’s parts, to make knives, scissors, axes and other domestic tools. The appearance of these items isn’t as shiny as that of industrial products. Yet its sharpness is more or less equal.

Practical Information about Ban Gioc

  • It’s recommended to bring your ID or passport when visiting Ban Gioc. I’ve heard that some tourists were asked to present their papers. But I couldn’t verify this information because I didn’t get checked.
  • For 50,000 VND, boat owner will punt you close to the waterfall. The ride takes about 10 minutes, including a few minutes on the Chinese side so that you can view the cascade from there. Do expect to get wet, though!
  • Please note that only authorised drones are allowed to fly in this borderland. For a bird’s-eye view of the site, you can hike to the nearby Zen Buddhist temple which was built on the mountain slope.
View of Ban Gioc from Zen Temple
Zen Buddhist Temple in Ban Gioc
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11 thoughts on “Ban Gioc: The Most Impressive Waterfall in Vietnam”

  1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I love how you include people in some of the photos of Ban Gioc as they give a scale of how big the waterfalls are. This is the first time I learn about these large cascades and it looks like they worth the long trip. It’s nice how the pandemic allows you to explore more of your countries.

    1. I guess it’s the only positive side of the pandemic. Hope you are doing well, Bama! And a belated Happy New Year 🙂

  2. Orvillewrong – "I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
    Orvillewrong says:

    I’m certain that the journey was worthwhile judging by your wonderful photographs!

  3. Len, I’m really enjoying posts from your beautiful home country. This waterfall is stunning and I love the view from the temple. Is the water flow volume good for visiting throughout the year? Vietnam has been near the top of our travel list for sometime, and your posts are taking it to the very top. I’m thinking once travel opens up again it may be a much safer options than other places on our list.

    1. I’m glad that you enjoy my posts about Vietnam, Caroline 🙂 I visited the waterfall in late October. It’s just the end of the rainy season, so the flow volume is quite good.

  4. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    What a beautiful place. I’m as smitten with the cavern as I am with the waterfall. Gorgeous photos!
    Alison

  5. Jane Lurie – Hello! I love photography. Always have. I delight in the personal challenge of paring a scene down to its essentials: a telling expression, a ray of light, a fine detail or a stunning contrast. The "art of seeing" is something that I try to practice every day. I am always looking... for the light, the landscape, nature's beauty or that special face.
    Jane Lurie says:

    Hi Len, Amazing waterfall photos and caverns. Terrific post. One of my most favorite trips was to Vietnam. Maybe one day again.

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