The Mission to Ban Gioc Waterfall

Situated at the border right between Vietnam and China, the ever so gorgeous Ban Gioc Waterfall graces us with her multi-tiered beauty. Located 223 miles north of Hanoi, I knew it was going to be a mission to get to her.

I had just finished up my visit in Sapa and I had one week left in Vietnam before I had to flee the country. Going to Cao Bang from Sapa was not a popular route so there wasn’t a simple tourist bus that would take me directly all the way there. I would have to take multiple local buses through the remote of mountains northern Vietnam where nearly nobody spoke english. In that moment I knew it was going to be an adventure. Fuck it. I had a week. Bring it!

northern vietnam map

Day 1: Sapa to Lao Cai

One hour on a local bus from Sapa to Lao Cai for $2usd. The bus leaves from the local bus stop every hour or so. It will say Sapa/Lao Cai on the windshield.

The crazy dirt roads through Northern Vietnam

The crazy dirt roads through Northern Vietnam

I made it to Lao Cai and was surprised at how small of a city it was. I was trying to find a bus to take me all the way to Ha Giang (five hours away) so I didn’t have to stay in Lao Cai but it was already late afternoon and there were no more buses to Ha Giang so I had to stay the night in Lao Cai. I was walking down the street looking for a cheap guesthouse. I was offered a room at some random one for $9/night but it was SHIT. I’m cheap, but I definitely didn’t want to stay in a shit hole so I continued down the street and found Kim Cuong Hotel for $18/night. It was rather nice (for my standards, at least HA!). Since it was just one night I figured I could splurge. Hey, treat yoself right?! Anyway. I wanted to arrange for a bus to Ha Giang and it was difficult because absolutely NO ONE in Lao Cai spoke english. It was the first time during my travels that I actually had to whip out my Google translate. It worked like a charm! Got all set up for the 6am bus from Lao Cai to Ha Giang.

Day 2: Lao Cai to Ha Giang

6am and the bus stopped by my hotel to pick me up. Another ride on a local bus for $6usd. It was all locals on the bus except for me and one white guy.

As usual, they packed the bus to the brim.

As usual, they packed the bus to the brim.

Luckily I’m small so I can fit in the most compact of spaces no problem. The white guy was pretty tall so he was squished between two local men, it was hilarious! Five hours later, we made it to Ha Giang. I stayed at Kiki’s house and met some pretty cool folks. Most of the locals didn’t speak much english here. I was trying to set up a bus ride to Cao Bang but boy oh boy was that difficult. Nobody could tell me what time the bus goes, where the bus leaves from, what route it takes, etc. Luckily a girl I met at the hostel had came from Cao Bang opposite way so assured me that there is definitely a bus that goes between Ha Giang and Cao Bang. The hostel guy spoke very little english and told me he would have the bus pick me up from the hostel at 1pm tomorrow. At least that’s what I think he said?

Day 3: Ha Giang to Cao Bang

1pm comes and no bus. I wait and wait, still no bus. The hostel guy said, “Oh maybe they forgot.” Umm? ok? This is when patience and understanding comes into play (ha!). I wasn’t in no time crunch so I stayed another night and reconfirmed that I can get on the very next bus to Cao Bang. This time he said 6:30am from the bus stop. But another local say 5:30am. Well, which one was it? Guess we'll see tomorrow. In the meantime, I went out and hiked up to Ha Giang Viewpoint.

Overlooking Ha Giang, Vietnam

Overlooking Ha Giang, Vietnam

Day 4: Ha Giang to Cao Bang *TAKE TWO*

I’d rather be early than late so I woke up at 5am and jammed in a taxi to the bus stop. Thank god I assumed the earlier time because when I got there at 5:20am the bus was nearly full and took off as soon as I boarded! Another ride on a local bus for $4 got me from Ha Giang to Bao Lam.

This is the Ha Giang to Bao Lam bus. Once in Bao Lam, transfer to a new bus that says Cao Bang.

This is the Ha Giang to Bao Lam bus. Once in Bao Lam, transfer to a new bus that says Cao Bang.

In Bao Lam I had to transfer to a different bus to get to Cao Bang. Third local bus for $4 and I arrived in Cao Bang! Yippie! I walked down the street looking for yet another cheap guesthouse. All I saw were hotels. Hotel after hotel, sold out everywhere. Upon my seventh or so hotel, I finally found a room for $14usd. Showered and settled in, now off to eat dinner, I was starved. Not realizing I spent all my Vietnamese Dong, I needed to find a money exchange to change my US dollars for Dong. The only money exchange was closed until tomorrow. Which meant I was broke until the next morning. I was starving but didn’t have any cash and nowhere in the small town of Cao Bang takes credit cards. So what did I have for dinner? Sleep.

Day 5: Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall

Crossing my fingers that the money exchange would be open and sure enough, it was. Got my cash, got some precious food, and busted out google translate to find a bus that would take me from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall. A local bus goes that route every 30 minutes, lucky me. I just waited on the curb, waved down the bus that sad “Ban Gioc” on the windshield, and hopped in! A one-hour ride for $4usd and I FINALLY MADE IT TO BAN GIOC WATERFALL!!!!!! HORRAY!!!!!!!!

With a $2usd entrance fee, I was in that bitch. This place was PACKED. I mean, there must have been 300-400 people there! Mostly Vietnamese, maybe a handful of foreigners. There were people picnicking, people riding boats, people taking selfies, people eating ice cream from one of the many vendors all lined up in the field. I figured there would be a lot of people but damn there sure as hell were a lot more than I imagined there would be. Anyway, the waterfall was beautiful.

I had seen drone footage of the falls which displays the many tiers between China and Vietnam but from the viewing sections at the base of the falls, you can’t see the top-top and how grand it really is. I spent a few hours admiring its beauty before I hopped on the same bus and headed right back to Cao Bang. After arriving back in town, I arranged to take the 7pm night bus back to Hanoi.

Well, there you have it. One of the most adventurous weeks of my travels. It tested my patience, my understanding, my ability to not eat because I was a broke mf (which actually happened to me more than once lol!). Some people might have said 'fuck this shit, I’m going back to Hanoi.' But I really wanted to test my strength, confidence, and determination. Sometimes, I surprise myself. XOXO MEL

TOTAL COST SUMMARY:

Day 1: $25
$0 breakfast included
$2 bus (Sapa to Lao Cai)
$18 hotel (private room)
$5 dinner

Day 2: $19
$6 bus (Lao Cai to Ha Giang)
$2 breakfast
$2 lunch
$3 dinner
$1 snack
$5 hostel (shared room)

Day 3: $11
$0 breakfast included
$2 lunch
$3 dinner
$1 snack
$5 hostel (shared room)

Day 4: $22
$0 breakfast included
$4 bus (Ha Giang to Bao Lam)
$4 bus (Bao Lam to Cao Bang)
$14 hotel (private room)

Day 5: $22
$1 breakfast
$4 bus (Cao Bang to waterfall)
$2 waterfall entry fee
$4 bus (waterfall to Cao Bang)
$2 dinner
$9 bus (Cao Bang to Hanoi)