Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights, a wonderful tourist spot to complete anyone’s best tour to Sapa, a place hidden from the turbulent development of tourism, from the modern resorts or hotels, from the noisy crowd of tourists.
Ban Gioc Waterfall
Located in the northeastern province of Cao Bang, The falls occur on the Quay Son River, a beautiful jade-blue body of water, flowing through a pastoral landscape of rice fields and bamboo groves, surrounded by limestone pinnacles. 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.
1. How to get to the waterfall
It’s now easier than ever to visit Ban Gioc, but still very few people – especially foreign travelers – make it here. A perfect destination if you’re on a motorbike road trip around northern Vietnam, or an independent traveler looking to get off the beaten track, this waterfall is a favorite destination of mine.
Travel to Ban Gioc Waterfall by motorbike
Before reaching Ban Gioc Falls, the Quay Son River ambles through a sumptuous valley, studded with limestone karsts. I warm to this gentle landscape, and it’s been one of my favorite corners of the country.
2. Best time to visit
The best time to visit the falls is from September to October, when the summer rains that feed the waterfall are less frequent and harvest is in full swing. Farming techniques can’t have changed much here in centuries; save for some mechanized rice threshers, most of the work is done by hand. One piece of ‘technology’ you’ll see along the banks of the river is the bamboo water wheel. This attractive, medieval-looking device scoops up water from the river, carries it up to the level of the fields, and drops it into earth gutters, which channel the water into the fields to irrigate the crops. It’s a hypnotic, peaceful and timeless sight.
Ban Gioc Waterfall in September
3. What to sightsee when traveling to the waterfall
The path threads through rice fields, over wooden bridges above gurgling creeks, and onto an exposed grassy bank at the bottom of the falls. The wide, white cascade is fringed with foliage and framed by sharp tooth-like limestone mountains, which are partly obscured by drifting clouds of vapor from all the spray generated by the waterfall.
The rice fields on the way to Ban Gioc Waterfall
There are lots of beautiful spots around the base of the falls on which to sit and take in the spectacle. Find a place on a pebbly beach or grassy bank, perch on a boulder in a stream or lay in the curving trunk of a tropical tree, and gaze in awe at one of Vietnam’s most romantic sights.
4. A brief look into the history of this region
However, because located at the border of Vietnam and China, this magnificent waterfall has been through a lot of historical events, and mostly wars between Vietnam and China for taking control of this place.
A border marker on the Vietnamese side of the Quay Son River
It’s easy to forget that this province was one of several points along the Vietnamese border where, in February 1979, Chinese forces entered Vietnam under the orders of Deng Xiaoping. There were many reasons for the invasion, but ultimately it was an extension of tensions between the Soviet Union and China (Vietnam having signed a treaty with the USSR in 1978). Thousands of Vietnamese and Chinese were killed and, when the Chinese army departed (or retreated, depending on whose version of events you believe), they laid waste to the land they had briefly occupied. Along the road that follows the border just beyond the falls, there are memorial shrines dedicated to local Vietnamese who died during the 1979 war. Border disputes continued into the 1980s, and included the historic Nam Quan Gate, an ancient gateway between the two countries, which ultimately ended up on the Chinese side. The photo above shows a border marker on the Vietnamese side of the Quay Son River; just 20 metres away, across the river, is China. At some points along this road, the distance between the two countries is as little as 5 metres.
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