Ban Gioc Waterfall: Vietnam’s Secret Natural Wonder

Ban Gioc Waterfall by Olivier Langevin

Although rarely spoken about in backpacking circles (yet!), Ban Gioc Waterfall in Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most awe-inspiring natural sights. This mammoth waterfall is a whopping 30 metres high and spans 300 metres across, making it the widest waterfall in the country!

Whilst you would expect a sight this impressive to be overrun by tourists, that is surprisingly not the case. Although domestic visitors from both Vietnam and China are regular visitors of Ban Gioc Falls, international travellers very rarely get this far off the beaten track… However, slowly but surely, intrepid backpackers (often on two wheels!) are starting to add the falls to their Vietnam Itinerary.

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Update: After two very difficult years out of action due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the legendary Mr Linh is now running Ba Be Lake & Ban Gioc Waterfall Tours again. While Vietnam is still bouncing back, group tours are currently only available on Fridays.
Book your place here!

Ban Gioc Waterfall: Vietnam's Secret Natural Wonder
Ban Gioc Waterfall in all its glory!

About Ban Gioc Waterfall

Also known as the Ban Gioc Detian Falls, this impressive waterfall is located in the Cao Bang province in Northern Vietnam and is around an eight-hour journey, by road, from Hanoi. Much like other famous waterfalls in the world including Niagara and Iguazu, Ban Gioc Waterfall sits on the border between two countries, in this case, Vietnam and China. It is fed by the Quay Son River. 

The waterfall has multiple terraces, which only serves to make it more visually impressive. The surrounding scenery contributes to its wow factor too! Karst peaks and verdant valleys dot the area, making Ban Gioc Waterfall the perfect postcard scene. 

Man stands next to Ban Gioc Waterfall.
The scale of Ban Gioc Waterfall has to be seen to be believed! Photo credit: Aldin Mada.

Best Time to Visit the Ban Gioc Falls

The waterfall receives visitors all year round and is worth visiting in any season (it never dries up!). However, it is commonly suggested that September to October is the absolute best time to visit.

Ban Gioc Falls from side. Juha-Matti Viitanen.
September to October is suggested as the best time to visit the Ban Gioc Falls. Photo credit: Juha-Matti Viitanen.

Visitors who head to the waterfall from June to August need to be aware that heavy downpours can cause the different tiers of the waterfall to merge. As a result, the spray is more fierce which can make it harder to take photos of the waterfall without getting both yourself and your equipment soaking wet! 

Ban Gioc is generally quiet to visit throughout the week but travellers are advised to avoid the weekends and public holidays when local visitors flood the scene! Lunchtime is the best time of day to visit the falls as the dam upstream is usually open. This allows full flow of the water which makes the falls appear fuller and even more impressive. 

Planning Your Visit to Ban Gioc Waterfall 

How to get to Ban Gioc Waterfall

There are various ways to visit Ban Gioc Falls. Which one is best for you will depend on how many days you have to dedicate to the trip, your budget, and your style of travel…

By motorbike

Many travellers visit the Ban Gioc falls as part of a Vietnam motorbiking route, the “Northeast Loop” or an extension of the popular Ha Giang Loop.

For those not wanting to commit to a long road trip and prefer a bus ride from Hanoi, there is also the option of renting a motorbike for the day in Cao Bang from some of the guesthouses there. These cost around 200,000 VND ($10) for the day. (See our recommended guesthouses in Cao Bang below!)

Note: If you are arriving on a motorbike, you will need to pay 10,000 VND ($0.50) to park your bike at the base of the falls.

Travellers on motorbikes heading to Ban Gioc.
Many travellers choose to head to Ban Gioc by motorcycle. Photo credit: Rory Emond.

By public transport (bus)

From Hanoi, take a bus from the My Dinh Bus Station directly to Cao Bang. This journey should take around 8 hours. From Cao Bang, you can take a minibus directly to the falls. These cost 70,000 VND for the two-hour trip and leave hourly from 5.30 am – 6 pm.

The minibus Cao Bang-Ban gioc.
The minibus from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall. Photo credit: Aldin Mada.

Once you have reached Cao Bang by bus from Hanoi, some of the accommodation options in Cao Bang will allow you to hire a driver to take you to Ban Gioc. Always make sure to negotiate this price to ensure a good deal. 

Traveller Tip! If you are looking to return to Cao Bang from the falls using the public bus, keep an eye on the time. One of our readers told us that once he arrived at the falls, his phone readjusted to Chinese time which is an hour later than Vietnamese time! 

With a group tour

Group tours to Ban Gioc Waterfall can be arranged from nearby Cao Bang or Hanoi through hostels and travel agencies. This is a great option if you are looking to meet fellow travellers and explore some of the amazing surrounding countryside in this area at the same time. If you like to plan, it’s also possible to book group tours online in advance.

Recommended Ban Gioc Tour – We highly recommend the Ban Gioc Waterfall + Ba Be Lake Tour run by Mr Linh’s Adventures for its incredible reviews from travellers. As well as the falls, you will also visit the fascinating Nguom Ngao Cave and Puong Grotto, as well as take a boat trip on the off the beaten track Ba Be Lake. 

Tree close to Ban Gioc Waterfall by Juha-Matti Viitanen
Ban Gioc Waterfall still garners little International attention. Photo credit: Olivier Langevin.

Tips for Visiting Ban Gioc Waterfall

Entrance Fee

Visitors who don’t just want to view the falls from afar will also need to pay an entrance fee of 40,000 VND ($2) per person. Usually, you will not be asked to provide any documents when buying a ticket from the entrance kiosk, however, they could and do sometimes ask to see your passport so it is worth bringing it just in case. 

Raft Hire – For a closer look!

Those wanting to get up close to the falls have the option to pay for raft hire. The rafts on the Vietnamese side have blue canopies whereas the rafts on the Chinese side are green. The boat owners will punt you close to the falls on a bamboo raft for a cost of around 50,000 VND ($2). The journey lasts around 10 minutes and they will take you close enough to the falls that you will get wet!  

Although many people swim at Ban Gioc Waterfall, there are signs in Vietnamese urging people not to do this. As the waterfall is on the border of Vietnam and China, it is actually illegal to swim in the falls.

View from raft, Ban Gioc Waterfall.
The rafts can take you up close to the falls. Photo credit: Ann De Munck.

Chinese side vs Vietnamese side

The Chinese side of the falls is often much busier than the Vietnamese side so it is usually possible to get good photos if you are visiting from the latter. For a fantastic view of the falls, head to the south side of the road where you can climb up to the Buddhist temple, Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc Pagoda. If you can, definitely head here for sunset over the falls. 

On the Chinese side of the falls, there is a viewing platform, however, nothing has been constructed on the Vietnamese side. It is possible to climb up the sides of the waterfall to get a better view but this is not something we recommend. The steep path is slippery and there is a guard stationed there to prevent access. Even if you can bribe your way through, there are no handrails and only roots to hang onto. It is definitely a dangerous undertaking!

Ban Gioc falls from front by Juha-Matti Viitanen.
There is no viewing platform for the falls on the Vietnamese side. Photo credit: Juha-Matti Viitanen.

Plenty of vendors work close to Ban Gioc Waterfall, selling their wares to tourists. As well as the area featuring several food stalls, it is also possible to rent traditional costumes for photo opportunities and horses to explore the area on! There is a small picnic area where you can eat but to keep this place beautiful, always take your rubbish back with you.

Where to stay near Ban Gioc Waterfall

If you are visiting the falls independently or as part of a motorbike trip, you will likely need a place to stay for a night or two in the nearby town of Cao Bang which has some decent accommodation options.

Bam Gioc falls and surrounding scenery.
The scenery surrounding the falls is beautiful. Photo credit: Juha-Matti Viitanen.

Saigon Ban Gioc Resort 

This new resort recently opened right opposite the Ban Gioc Waterfall. Some guests report that you can get an amazing view of the falls around dusk from here, however, this comes with a price.

The cheapest room is around 1,200,000 VND ($50) so it is not a backpacker budget-friendly option.  Whilst maybe you could justify a cost this high if the hotel was exceptional, this does not appear to be the case either.

Many of the TripAdvisor reviews state that the place is dirty, the staff are incompetent and the breakfast is just made up of leftovers from the night before… 

Khuổi Ky Bản Giốc homestay 

For a more positive experience, head to Khuổi Ky Bản Giốc homestay, located in Cao Bang. Recommended by members of our very own South East Asia Backpacker Facebook community, this homestay provides a personal and immersive visit.  Although the ladies that run the homestay don’t speak much English, they will make you feel at home. Guests also rate the food very highly too! Prices start from $9. 

View from wooden structure of Vietnamese countryside.
There are plenty of budget homestays in Cao Bang. Photo credit: Ann De Munck.

Primrose Homestay Cao Bang

For a first-class host, consider a stay at Primrose Homestay in Cao Bang. The lady who owns the place will do anything she can to help travellers, including giving recommendations about the local area and helping with bike hire. One guest even said she drove them to the bus station as they were a solo female backpacker! Dorm beds start at $6 per person. 

Cao Bang Eco Homestay

When it comes to rave reviews, look no further than Cao Bang Eco Homestay. Located just 0.6 miles from the city centre and bus station, this homestay is a great base from which to explore the local area.  At the homestay, they host family dinners so you can really get to know the people and the culture.

A firm favourite with those travelling by motorbike, the owners of the accommodation buy, sell and repair bikes which can be especially handy if you are planning to do the Ha Giang Loop. A dorm bed starts at just $5 per person. 

What Should I Bring to Ban Gioc Waterfall?

  • Camera
  • Rain poncho
  • Walking shoes
  • Waterproof case for phone
  • Dry bag
  • Passport

Attractions Often Visited With Ban Gioc Waterfall

Nguom Ngao Cave

Located just 4km from Ban Gioc Waterfall, lies the Nguom Ngao Cave system, created by an underground river. Although 1km of this is now open to the public, the caves were previously used as shelters during the war with China in 1979. These caves are well lit but the floor is also slippery so take care when you are exploring. It costs 40,000 VND ($2) per person to enter the caves.

Nguom Ngao Cave
The nearby caves are worth a visit if you are checking out Ban Gioc Waterfall.

Ba Be Lake

Although Ba Be Lake is a 5/6 hour drive from Ban Gioc, the two are often visited together as popular base Cao Bang marks roughly the half way point between the two. Ba Be Lake is the biggest natural lake in Vietnam, located in the heart of Ba Be National Park.

This area doesn’t see a huge amount of tourists, despite the outstanding natural beauty of the area. It is a great place to go trekking and it also offers lots of culture too. The Tay ethnic village is located nearby and there are some great homestays there.

Puong Grotto

Puong Cave is situated in Ba Be National Park. Unlike the Nguom Ngao Caves located close to Ban Gioc, Puong Cave is accessible by boat. The Nang River runs through the cave and has formed some stunning stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is most famous for the large bat colony that lives there.

A Combo Tour?

If you’re looking for a tour that combines all three of the above sites as well as a trip to Ban Gioc Waterfall, be sure to check out the Ban Gioc Waterfall + Ba Be Lake Tour run by the friendly Mr Linh of Mr Linh’s Adventures. What other off the beaten track places and adventures will you add to your Vietnam Itinerary?

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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