Have you ever dreamed of visiting the beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall? Then you have come to the right place! In this destination guide, I would like to give you an overview of my travel experiences there and provide recommendations for your visit to this incredible destination in Vietnam.
But first, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Arijana Tkalcec and I’m a travel journalist from Croatia. Together with my boyfriend, Matej Span from Slovenia, I run a travel blog called Shipped Away. We write blogs about our experiences and produce guides for independent travellers.
I grew up in a village in Croatia and have always dreamed of travelling. My mum used to tell me stories about her one month trip to Canada when she was 17. I admired that so much and always wanted to move from Croatia.
A regular job and having a family never seemed something that would fulfill me. When I told people that I would never get married and that I would travel the world, they never believed me. They were telling me that it would just be a phase, etc. Well, I guess they were wrong in the end!
I also used to watch a travel documentary with mum called “Let’s Travel with Goran Milic”. I always joked that people would watch the same documentary one day but with me as the host! Since then, I have wanted to be a travel journalist and was thinking of doing investigative journalism.
It became clear to me, though, that it wouldn’t happen until I got a masters degree in journalism. I came to realise that investigative journalism wasn’t really appreciated that much in my country. Soon after college began, I started working with my brother on video production. After a few years, I realised I wanted to focus more on what I loved the most – writing.
Soon after, I matched with my boyfriend on a dating app and we started going on trips in the first week of seeing each other. We went from camping on the seaside in Matej’s car to camping in a VW van. A few months later, we semi-converted an old Citroen C25D Kombi into a campervan office. That is when I started photographing our travels!
We sold our van a few months after just before we left for Asia in January, 2020. Since then, we have been full-time travellers. It wasn’t the best timing I guess but we would still call it a success as we have been on the road for more than a year now despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
I dedicated myself to photography while in Vietnam and experimented more and more as we travelled the country. I absolutely love it – especially portraits of interesting characters. Travel photography is not always my main focus. We combine photography, writing and informative travel-centered journalistic pieces. I fully embrace my role as a travel journalist.
Our Incredible Year in Vietnam
Both my boyfriend and I dreamed of travelling when we were young. When we met, we clicked and started travelling on day one of being together. We wanted to travel and so when I graduated we were free to go.
Matej and I had visited Asia before this current trip. My boyfriend took a one month solo trip across Indonesia in 2016 and I visited Bali in 2018 and Sri Lanka the following year. We both fell in love with Asia on those trips and decided to start our full-time travel adventure in Southeast Asia. Of course, Vietnam was one of the countries at the top of our bucket list.
I wanted to visit Vietnam ever since I saw photos of the Ban Gioc Waterfall. Southeast Asia is also relatively cheap compared to most other countries. That was another reason to visit as we are budget travellers.
The original plan was to spend a month in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and then three months in Vietnam. We decided that Vietnam deserved a bit more time as the country is long, plus we had the option of a three month tourist visa there. Our trip began in Bali where we spent a month (so we could prepare ourselves) before leaving for Vietnam.
But now we have been in Vietnam for a full year due to COVID-19, as we decided to stay until the situation improved. In the two weeks we had in Vietnam before COVID-19 hit we visited the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City and Mui Ne. After the Lockdown in April, 2020 we visited Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, Ninh Binh and kind of based ourselves in Hanoi for six months.
From there we explored quite a lot in the north – visiting Mu Cang Chai, Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Sapa, Mai Chau and Phong Nha. As it got colder, we returned to the south and revisited Ho Chi Minh City, celebrated the New Year in Mui Ne while surfing and now we are in Nha Trang. We based ourselves in Nha Trang for a month because of Tet – Vietnamese New Year.
Tet is the most hectic time in Vietnam. Everywhere is full of local tourists, especially now because nobody can leave. As prices also go up at this time, it was a smart move to rent a place for a month. After this we will continue to explore the Central Highlands and make our way back up north.
We are currently visiting places that we had to skip last time around and are revisiting the areas that didn’t get enough attention. Slow travel is also massive for us – especially now when we don’t feel the pressure to rush. So we are staying in places for a bit longer than other tourists usually do.
Creating Content for the Instagram “Vietnam Travelers”
On this journey we have also had the chance to produce content for Vietnam Travelers (@vietnamtravelers) which began in July, 2020. This has been a surprising element of our travels and I for one love it! Thanks to content creation, we spend more time at places than we normally would. In these times, we fully explore places and find unique angles to shoot.
As a journalist, I love presenting destinations to my audience. We are happy that we can show people real experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly! Because let’s face it – travel isn’t perfect and there is so much more behind those photos that are polished for Instagram. Many people appreciate this.
Exploring the Beautiful Ban Gioc Area of Vietnam
We knew that visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall would be a highlight of our content creation adventures. We had the good fortune of going at the start of September when the rain stops and the falls are powerful. We stayed in the Cao Bang area for a week – Ban Gioc for five days and then two days in Cao Bang. Our goal was to see the rice harvest season as well.
What did we love most about our stay? Everything! The area is peaceful and the people are some of the kindest we met in Vietnam. The Ban Gioc area also borders China. So you can see parts of this Chinese landscape.
I will never forget our drives around the valleys. Being a remote region, there is hardly any traffic and you can admire the scenery in peace. We were speechless when we saw the combo of lush rice fields, a river flowing through a beautiful valley and epic mountain peaks. It was something we imagined seeing in a movie but there it was in front of our eyes!
Best Things To Do at the Ban Gioc Waterfall, Vietnam
Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of the most stunning falls in Southeast Asia! It’s also one of the largest waterfalls in Asia. What many people don’t know is that it’s located on the border with China. One part of the waterfall belongs to China and one part to Vietnam. The Chinese name is Detian Falls.
If you rent a raft to go to the waterfall base, you can high-five Chinese tourists coming from the other side. When we were there, we spent a lot of time waving and yelling ‘hello’ to them! Apart from that experience we would recommend the following things to do once you arrive at the falls:
- Take as many photos as possible
- Enjoy a raft ride to the base of the waterfall
- Explore the Ban Gioc area by motorbike. There are some beautiful valleys located 30-60 minutes away which are definitely worth a visit.
- Visit the Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc Pagoda which offers a beautiful view of the waterfall and the surrounding area. I would suggest going there for sunset to get the best view of the area as it’s situated on a hill.
- Explore the Nguom Ngao Cave/Tiger Cave. This cave is located close to the Ban Gioc Waterfall. Even though Vietnam has more stunning caves, we really enjoyed exploring it. There is a river flowing inside which you can hear once you enter. You can also find a remarkable formation known as the “Silver Tree” with a big shiny rock in the middle of it.
Favourite Memory from Visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall
I have been dreaming of visiting the Ban Gioc Waterfall since I saw photos of it a few years ago. I still didn’t know much about Vietnam but the main thing I knew was that the country was home to this majestic waterfall, similar to Plitvice Lakes National Park in my home country of Croatia.
I find it funny that tourist agencies here use photos from Plitvice to represent the Ban Gioc Waterfall! They have some similarities but I don’t know how you can mix these two up – especially if you have seen both.
Anyway, we had this adventure on our way to the falls which I would like to share with you. After a seven hour bus ride from Hanoi to Cao Bang, we rented a motorbike and were supposed to drive another two hours to reach the village. Although as soon as we hopped on our bike, it started raining.
We waited for a bit but it was clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop. There was no other choice but to continue our journey. In the end, it took us five long hours to get to Ban Gioc. We were completely soaked and had to stop often at random people’s houses to check if our gear was still dry.
At one point, we drove through ankle-deep water! When we finally reached Ban Gioc, we were super tired and fell asleep right away. The next day, I woke up in the late afternoon and when I heard the sound of the river directly across from our homestay, I realised that I was finally there in Ban Gioc. I immediately started crying tears of joy. What a journey it was!
Afterwards, we went for a short drive to get to know the area. I will never forget that feeling of freedom and happiness! The feeling I got when we stopped on the side of the road and visited the waterfall was priceless.
I know this may not sound like some special memory to others but that feeling when you are waiting for something for so long and you finally get it – just indescribable! The three times we visited Ban Gioc Waterfall we were almost alone, not counting the Chinese tourists on the other side.
Where to Stay when Visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall
Ban Gioc is a small village in a remote area. Even though the waterfall is famous (especially on Instagram), it’s still not visited that much. So don’t expect fancy accommodation. There are hotels but I would recommend staying in a homestay as you will get a much better experience.
Most types of accommodation are dorm rooms and there are private rooms available too. Make sure to book in time if you want a private room as they will probably go fast. We stayed in a private room at Lan’s Homestay.
This homestay had a few private rooms and one big dorm room. Honestly, our room wasn’t that amazing. We only had a mattress on the floor. But we still loved it as everything else was more than great! Our host was amazing and she prepared us the most delicious vegetarian dinner every night.
It was some of the best food we tried in Vietnam. Usually, in pre-COVID times, she would make dinner for everyone staying there. Unfortunately, we didn’t experience that as we were the only guests. However, we loved talking with her every night. She had some amazing stories. The location of the homestay is perfect as it’s right across the river where you can bathe!
Other Amazing Places to Visit in Northeast Vietnam
Another region worth adding to your list while visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall in the Northeast of Vietnam is Ha Giang. We did an eight-day loop around Ha Giang with a bike and it was indeed the road trip of our lives. It’s actually our favourite region in Vietnam. Perfect for adventurers and nature-lovers.
The landscapes, people, culture – everything was incredible! You will drive through stunning scenery, gigantic mountains, glorious rivers and rice terraces. This region has it all. Believe me, I am not exaggerating.
The rest of the Cao Bang area where the waterfall is situated is also worth a visit because it holds some natural gems such as the Angel Eye Mountain and some amazing valleys that lead up to China. However, we still have to explore more of Northeast Vietnam. Be sure to check in with us again later this year for more locations. Northern Vietnam has so much to offer!
Travel Tips for your Visit to Ban Gioc Waterfall
The whole area around Ban Gioc Waterfall is more about nature and experiencing local life than anything else. There is no strict to-do list or exciting things, like in some other regions of Vietnam. So keep that in mind if you plan to visit. If you are not the biggest fan of nature and always need organised activities, this might not be the perfect place for you.
But if you do decide to go then please take your time. It takes quite some time to reach the Ban Gioc Waterfall from Hanoi in the first place. We took a bus to Cao Bang which took about seven hours. Then we rented a bike and drove for another five to six hours to Ban Gioc. Usually, that shouldn’t take more than two hours but it got dark and was raining heavily.
The weather is also something to keep in mind as it changes each month. You can always take a bus from Cao Bang straight to the waterfall if you are worried about hiring a motorbike in the rain. However, I would recommend what we did if you are comfortable with driving and taking adventures!
Make sure to drive around spontaneously too. The Ban Gioc area is incredibly beautiful (so is the Cao Bang region) and driving around and observing local life and the beautiful landscapes is a lot of fun. Our favourite days were when we explored the area without any particular plan in mind.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the water flow and colour depend on the month you visit. Usually, when you see that turquoise colour, it’s from the drone perspective which you won’t see from down below. So from the ground view, it might look more green or brown during that heavy flow.
Lastly, know that your phone’s clock will change timezone as you approach the Chinese border. Keep an eye on the time if you are going back by bus, as you don’t want to miss it! That’s all from me. I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on the beautiful Ban Gioc Waterfall. Enjoy your visit to one of the most extraordinary natural wonders of Southeast Asia!