CAO BANG, BAN GIOC WATERFALL, AND BA BE LAKE
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e are back in Hanoi now, catching some downtime at a peaceful AirBNB overlooking one of the lakes in Tay Ho, near the West Lake. For all its craziness and unrelenting energy, arriving back in Hanoi felt like coming home. We came back for one night at the same BNB we had stayed in the previous week, and were welcomed back like old friends.
“A group of drunken Vietnamese men were singing Karaoke at the top of their lungs, at a Pho stall in the middle of nowhere.”
The last few days have been an incredible, eyeopening, and exhausting adventure, driving huge distances through winding mountain roads, to see some of the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen. We drove through beautiful terraced areas covered in rice paddies, past soaring peaks covered in jungle, through ramshackle country towns, along windy roads that went on forever. Our driver, a smiling man named Tuan, who didnt speak a word of English, was lovely. We were able to have basic conversations with the aid of the Google translator app. After driving for about 6 and a half hours on the first day, including a short break for a delicious lunch, and a toilet stop where a group of drunken Vietnamese men were singing Karaoke at the top of their lungs, at a Pho stall in the middle of nowhere, we arrived at Cao Bang, a small agricutural city not far from the Chinese border. We went for a wander at about 5:30, hoping to find food, but discovered that Cao Bangers eat much later than us. On our walk we came acoss a plaza where  a dozen vendors were hiring out childrens toys, in particular motorised and remote control sit in toy cars. Arch had a great time roaring around the plaza in a truck. We wandered on, and eventually found a dodgy faux western place where we had pizzas and burgers. That evening Stevie’s temperature started to rise, so we decided to stay in Cao Bang an extra night, rather than push on through with the massive day 2 we had originally planned. We were planning on heading 2 hours out to Ban Gioc waterfall the next morning, and from there another 5 or 6 hours back to Ba Be National Park.
CAO BANG. Wandering  through Cao Bang on our first to find some food on our fisrt evening, we stumbled upon a plaza where there were vendors lined up hiring out playthings, including this car which Arch took a spin in, for 10,000vnd.
BAN GIOC WATERFALL. Located right on the border of Vietnam and China, literally half in Vietnam, half in China, Ban Gioc is the fourth biggest waterfall in the world. Getting there takes about 2 hours from Cao Bang, driving through picture perfrct mountains and rice paddies. When we arrived it was raining, and as we walked past the vendors selling trinkets, clothing, and food, we had to jump across muddy puddles to get to the base of the waterfalls. Entry to the waterfall was 40,000vnd per adult, children free.
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ay two, and Stevie’s temperature was settling down, so after some deliberation, we decided to go ahead with the plan to visit Ban Gioc. We are so glad we did, the scenery was jaw dropping all the way from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc. The mountains were incredible, prehistoric, majestic peaks, covered in wild jungle. At the base were plains, covered in perfectly manicured rice paddies, and lakes where Water Buffalo grazed by the shores. As we drove into Ban Gioc valley, a magnificent Buddhist Temple came into view, overlooking the whole area.
When we arrived at Ban Gioc, it was raining heaviliy, but the glimpses of the waterfall we saw from the car park were so tempting that we couldnt wait. We donned raincoats, bought our tickets, and traipsed down the muddy track, past trinket and food vendors, to emerge to one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen. Ban Gioc is breathtaking. Spread out across a huge area,  it drops a total of 60m. The biggest drop, of 30m, towered over us, and above we could see many more waterfalls cascading down the slopes. We were fortunate to be there at the end of the rainy season, and it was in full flow.
Ban Gioc is the fourth largest waterfall in the world marking a national border, after Iguazo, Victoria and Niagara falls. It sits on the border of Vietnam and China, half in eah country, and is known as Detian by the Chinese.
PAC NGOI VILLAGE, BA BE NATIONAL PARK. Pac Ngoi Village sits on the shores of Ba Be Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in Vietnam.
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e left Cao Bang early on day three, and drove about four hours along some very windy mountain roads, to get to our next destination, Pac Ngoi Village, in Ba Be National Park. The roads left us all feeling a little queasy, and a few stops were required to get us through the day. The mountains between Cao Bang and Ba Be reminded both Kate and I of Northland, New Zealand, and at times we felt like we could be driving through the Waipoua Forest, until we spotted more rice paddies, or drove through a very Vietnamese village or town. We found it quite amazing that even in the middle of nowhere there were little roadside shacks will billboards saying “Com, Pho” (Rice, Noodle Soup), or fruitsellers sitting beside the road with baskets of bananas, melons, or dragon fruit for sale. Eventually we arrived at Ba Be National Park. Getting to our homestay took another 15 minutes or so, driving along a pot hole filled road, through the forest, beside the lake. We finally emerged at Pac Ngoi, a rustic lakeside village with a real Vietnamese country charm, towered over by limestine cliffs. We pulled in to our homestay, a lovely little stilt house by the lake, got set up, had a short stroll through the village, then took a four hour boat trip along the lake, in a flat bottomed motor boat, to Hua Ma Cave, a hung cavern with a ceiling height of about 50m. The cave was pretty cool, but the boat trip was magic, surrounded by jungle covered mountins, past islands and villages, fishermen out on their boats. There was a wedding happening on one of the islands as we cruised by. The kids took to the boat immediately, very comfortable wandering up and down, taking in the sights along the way. When we got back, our hosts had prepared an amazing meal of fresh fried fish from the lake, stirfried beef, delicious springrolls, beans in garlic, and hot chips for the kids, washed down with a couple of shots of home made rice wine for the grown ups. Wine is a very loose term for this, it felt more like whiskey going down. We were a bit disappointed that our hosts ate separately, we were hoping for a more traditional shared meal experience, and to get to know our hosts a little, but we couldn’t complain, the food was magnificent. We sat around after dinner and chatted, with the aid of Google translate, with our driver, Tuan. Stevie hadnt warmed up to him until then, but she spent that evening hanging out with him, watching videos on his phone, drawing pictures, being a little flirt. It was lovely to watch
STEVIE GETS TO KNOW TUAN. It took her a while to warm up to him, but eventually Stevie formed a lovely friendship with Tuan, our driver.
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ext morning, after a breakfast of pancakes, bananas, and dragon fruit, we hit the road again, for another 5 hour long haul back to Hanoi. Apart from a lot of grumbles from both the kids, and a lot of effort put in to keep them from losing the plot, it was a fairly uneventful drive home. All of a sudden we were back in the thick of the madness of Hanoi, saying a quick goodbye to Tuan, greeting our hosts from Hanoi Old Quarter Homestay, who felt like old friends after our last stay. We were pretty much exhausted, so we spent most of the afternoon chilling in our room, regathering, sorting out bags etc… Apart from a couple of outings to find activities for the kids, we’ve spent a lot of the last three days chilling out in our current AirBNB, a fourth floor apartment overlooking Ho Quang Ba, a little lake near Westlake in Hanoi. We’ll be heading off on our next adventure tomorrow, 5 night on Cat Ba Island, which lies between Ha Long and Lan Ha Bays.
PAC NGOI VILLAGE, BA BE NATIONAL PARK. Pac Ngoi Village sits on the shores of Ba Be Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in Vietnam.
HA QUANG BA. Fishing on Ha Quang Ba, a small lake near the nortern end of Ho Tay, or Westlake.
BA BE LAKE. The view from inside Hua Ma Cave, in Ba Be National Park  
BA BE LAKE. A fisherman poles his boat along the lake side