CAO BANG, A CAPTIVATING REGION TO TRAVEL OFF THE BEATEN PATHS
Located in north-east of Vietnam and bordering China, Cao Bang is a remote mountain region with wild nature, uneven landscapes and limestone piton forests, some of which might be among the most beautiful sceneries of Vietnam. An off beaten track destination, home of many ethnic minorities, it will delight every traveler seeking adventure into the unknown.
A high-historical-value region
The bloody battle on the colonial route 4 happened from September to October 1950 as the Vietminh opposed the French Expeditionary Forces. It was one of the greatest battles of the First Indochina War and ended in a French defeat. The colonial route 4, or RC4, was a strategic route following the Chinese border, linking Cao Bang’s garrison to Mong Cai, in the China Sea, passing through several stronghold cities such as Lang Son, That Khê and Dong Khê. Called “The Bloody Road” because of the repeated attacks the Vietminh army launched on French convoys, the CR4 became the battlefield that started as a military operation, conducted by the French Expeditionary Force, to evacuate the cities of Cao Bang and Lang Son and every army post located on the road. That operation ended up in a disaster since the Expeditionary Force got destroyed by Vietminh forces. This bloodbath counts over 5000 French soldiers killed in one night in Coc Xa. Today, if you take that Cao Bang – Lang Son road, you can understand the background of this terrible battle and might discover remnants of the Indochina War.
The Pac Bo Historic Site is located in a beautiful natural scenery at 60 kilometres north of Cao Bang. The green valleys hide the Coc Bo cave, where in 1941, back from 30 years abroad, the Father of the Nation, Ho Chi Minh, found refuge and started a long fight for Vietnam’s Independence. Right next to that cave, you will find the barrack of Khuoi Nam where President Ho Chi Minh, in May 1941, chaired the 8th Plenary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
The amazing Ban Gioc Waterfalls
Ban Gioc Waterfalls are actually spectacular views in a small site. Located on the Chinese frontier, the waterfalls are 30 metres high and composed of three groups separated by rocky outcrops spread across 300 metres of width. These cascades stand in a grandiose scenery, at the heart of a circus of karstic pitons covered in a luscious vegetation. At 85 kilometres from the city of Cao Bang, an outing to the Ban Gioc Waterfalls is an opportunity to walk through the gorgeous Vietnamese countryside and the limestone landscapes overflowing with raw beauty.
The cave of Nguom Ngao, natural wonder
Naturally dug over the millenniums in a karstic mountain chain, the cave of Nguom Ngao has underground, aerial and underwater parts. A structure of stalactites and stalagmites, this cave was found in 1921 but opened to tourists only in 1996. It is over 2 kilometres long, which makes it one of the most impressive caves in Vietnam. The Nguom Ngao cave is also called “The tiger’s cave” by the local population for legend says several tigers used to live in it. At only a few kilometres away from the Ban Gioc Waterfalls, visiting both during the same day is easily doable.
The magnificent lake of Thang Hen
25 kilometres from Cao Bang, the provincial capital, is the lake of Thang Hen. A beautiful lake on a mountain, perched at more than 1000 meters above sea level. This lake is actually a combination of 36 smaller lakes, spread in a grand scenery of limestone pitons.
Cao Bang, land of hiking
This wild region will thrill hikers who love a good off the beaten tracks walk. Several itineraries are available, from the simple walk lasting a few hours to the challenging trek of several days with overnight in local villages. This last option will give you the opportunity to go deeper in the spectacular limestone maze and meet some of the numerous ethnic minorities inhabiting this rugged land such as the Tay, the Nung or the Dao. By spending the night at a local’s home, you will learn about these local cultures who managed to preserve their ancestral traditions.
Best season to go: April to November and if you want to see the Ban Gioc Waterfalls, the best is to go in September or October after the rains of the summer monsoon.