In the very far north of Vietnam, Cao Bang (Cao Bẳng) Province is a phenomenal destination where history and nature collide. Inhabited for thousands of years by ethnic Vietnamese, the province has multiple historic points of interest and incredible natural features, which attract many national and international tourists.
Sharing a border with China, Cao Bang is also an entry point for travelers who are coming from a variety of worldwide destinations.
How to Get to Cao Bang
Not quite the northernmost province in Vietnam, Cao Bang still sits along the international border with China. Covering a total land area of about 6,700 sq km (2,586 sq mi), the province has been nicknamed “High Plateau” for its rugged mountain landscape. Jutting out from green valleys, the mountains in Cao Bang are truly breathtaking.
Interrupting the jagged peaks are fast-flowing waterfalls, rivers, and streams. Predominantly remote, the province’s largest urban area is the capital city, also named Cao Bang. Cao Bang Province is about 278 km (173 mi) to the north and slightly east of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
The province is connected to its neighbors and the capital by a series of roads and railways. Driving to Cao Bang Province from Hanoi using public buses or private cars can take 5.5 to 6 hours. Similar in travel time but more affordable, tourists can also take a train from Hanoi to Dong Dang before traveling the rest of the way, which is less than 2 hours by car.
Tracing history back to the Bronze Age, Cao Bang Province was once a part of the Tay (Tày) Kingdom, which was made up of various Tai tribes that lived in Vietnam’s northern mountains and Southern China.
Beginning in the 3rd century BC, the legends state that Cao Bang (Cao Bằng) City, the provincial capital, was first established when Thuc Phan (Thuc Phán) a Tay Au (Tây u) leader moved his community capital to Co Loa (Cô Loa). The switch led to more people living in the area, which helped Cao Bang develop into the province it is today.
Centuries after the Bronze Age, the territory around Cao Bang was heavily disputed between Vietnam and China. Changing ownership throughout the years, Vietnam finally claimed control during the Ly (Lý) and Tran (Trần) Dynasties. In 1039, the territory around Cao Bang became a part of Dai Viet (Ðai Viêt) when the Emperor expelled a Tay-Nung (Tày-Nùng) leader.
By the 14th century, Cao Bang Province was once again under Vietnamese rule and the Tay Lords. Fast-forwarding to French Colonialism and the Vietnam War, Cao Bang Province has been a seat for Vietnamese revolutionaries to gather and shelter in the northeastern mountains.
Locals heavily resisted all foreign forces and the province would eventually emerge as a stronghold for the Communist Party during the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s past president, Ho Chi Minh (Hồ Chí Minh) even led his guerilla activities from the Pac Bo (Pác Bó) caves.
- Languages spoken in Cao Bang Province include Hmong-Mien, Tai, Kra, and Tibeto-Burman dialects.
- Previously estimated in 2019, the current population of Cao Bang Province is 530,341 people.
- The Cao Band Province is subdivided into 1 city, 9 rural districts, 10 towns, and 161 communes.
On the banks of the Bang Giang (Bằng Giang) River and close to the border with China is Cao Bang City, capital of Cao Bang Province. Once the last stronghold of Vietnam’s Mac Dynasty, the city has become the main tourist destination for travelers in this remote northern province.
Connected by road to Hanoi, travelers can use the city to rest and recuperate before venturing to remote corners of Cao Bang Province. Although Cao Bang is more remote, tourists may be surprised to know that the city has plenty to do and see.
Whether staying inside the city limits or traveling to its outskirts, the best attractions in Cao Bang are the Ban Gioc Waterfall, Nguom Ngao Cave, Tu Lung International Border Gate, Pac Bo Historic Relic, and the Phia Oac-Phia Den National Park. Visiting the local markets and shops is also a great way to explore Cao Bang City and taste some of the regional treats.
Well suited for tourism and business, travelers can choose from a long list of hotels in Cao Bang City to plan their perfect trip. Lacking mega-resorts, this northern city does have a few 3-star hotel options for travelers who want to pamper themselves on their journey. Affordable hostels are also popular options for backpacking tourists.
The best places to stay in Cao Bang City are the Jodevi Homestay Cao Bang, Max Boutique Hotel, Highlands Hotel Cao Bang, Bao Ngoc Diamond Hotel, and the Gia Quy Hotel.
Fried rice cakes and roasted duck are some of the most common foods included on restaurant menus in Cao Bang City. Locals also enjoy green bean cakes or roasted chestnuts. Tourists in Cao Bang should expect to eat mostly local cuisine, although there are a few pizza places around the city too.
Serving up good food, the best places to eat in Cao Bang City are the Nha Hang Nga Ba Song-Lau Thuc Yen Restaurant, Pizza and Beefsteak Chi, Than Hoa BBQ, Huong Viet Palace, and the Nha Hang Thai Bao Restaurant.
Famous Places in Cao Bang ProvinceOutside of Cao Bang City, destinations in this northern province are known for being rugged and remote. Areas of the province that have attracted tourist attention are the Trung Khanh (Trùng Khánh) District, Ha Quang (Hà Quảng) District, and the Phia Thap Village. Home to small communities, these places are tourist attractions because of their beautiful natural features and rich culture.
Trung Khanh District
Deep underneath the Trung Khang District, the landscape changed from green mountains to jagged caverns. Famous for its caves, this district in Cao Bang Province attracts tourists with Nguom Ngao. A vast cave, travelers can tour the area with the assistance of a local guide. Additional activities in Trung Khanh are homestays and village tours.
Only an hour and a half outside of Cao Bang City, the district is perfect for a day or weekend trip away from the crowds.
Ha Quang District
Gorgeous landscapes and historic sites make the Ha Quang District an interesting tourist destination. One of the most stunning places and an important historical site is the Pac Bo (Pác Bó) Cave.
Many tourists will travel to this remote district by motorbike before linking up with local guides to tour the cave. Small communities in the district are friendly to tourists and some villages may even offer the option of staying overnight with a local family.
Phia Thap Village
A handicraft community, Phia Thap Village is a famous tourist destination in the Quang Hoa (Quảng Hòa) District. Home to the Nung ethnic minority, there are about 50 families living in the village. Produced by the locals are sticks of incense, which are then exported on a national and international scale.
The incense is made using locally sourced products throughout the year, but production especially ramps up just before the Lunar New Year. Additional attractions in the village include the surrounding farms and rice paddies.
Nature is in the spotlight in Cao Bang Province. The remote wilderness harbors some of Northern Vietnam’s most beautiful scenes. Ecotourism is a significant part of the economy as eager travelers head to destinations like Phia Oac-Phia Den National Park, the Non-Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark, Ban Gioc Waterfall, Pac Bo Cave, Nguom Ngao Cave, and Thang Hen Lake.
Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark
Recognized as a UNESCO site, Non-Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark covers thousands of square miles and spans through most of the province’s 9 districts. Valued for its geography, visitors can view the numerous limestone mountains, valleys, caves, lakes, and rivers that are found in the geopark.
One area in the park that has garnered lots of attention is the Quay Son River and the local communities that live on its banks. Many of the province’s top destinations, including the Ban Gioc Waterfall, are also within the geopark’s boundaries.
Phia Oac-Phia Den National Park
Created in 2018, the newest protected area in Vietnam is Phia Oac-Phia Den National Park. Used for research and eco-tourism, the park provides crucial habitats to some of Vietnam’s rarest flora and fauna. Open to solo travelers and guided tours, Phia Oac-Phia Den is a great place to hike with trails leading through the valleys and to the summit of two mountains.
Tinh Tuc is the closest inhabited area to the park, but its small size isn’t suitable for mass tourism. However, local families are very hospitable and many will happily host travelers for the night.
Another option is to stay in the provincial capital, Cao Bang, which is less than 2 hours away. Tour companies, buses, and taxis are all transportation options from Cao Bang City to the national park.
Ban Gioc Waterfall
The most famous attraction in Cao Bang Province is Ban Gioc Waterfall. Falling from nearly 30 m (100 ft) and at almost 300 m (1,000 ft) wide, multiple cascades make up the waterfall. In the backdrop, verdant mountains make for a captivating sight.
The falls are about 2 hours outside of Cao Bang City and with so much to see in the area, many tourists will book a 2 or 3-day tour to Ban Gioc. Tourists in Vietnam will have to keep to the western side of the falls as the eastern side belongs to China.
Pac Bo Cave
Once used by Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War, Pac Bo Cave is both a historical and natural attraction in Cao Bang Province. Truly a stunning destination, caverns aren’t the only attraction at Pac Bo. Also in the area are the Lung Lan Cave, Uncle Ho Commemoration House, and Lenin Stream.
Nguom Ngao Cave
Less than 10 minutes from Ban Gioc Waterfall is Nguom Ngao, also known as Tiger Cave. A few miles long, only a portion select portion is open to the public. Legend of the cave and the inspiration for its name states that tigers used to shelter in the caverns. Now, Nguom Ngao is famous for its stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Thang Hen Lake
An area consisting of 36 lakes, Thang Hen sits deep in the mountains where once dry valleys have been flooded with water. Varying in size, the lakes are a stunning shade of jade green. Activities in the Thang Hen Lake Area include boating, swimming, and hiking. Tours are a great way to unlock the lake’s secrets as local guides can take visitors to the nearby hidden caves and trails.
Centered around the province’s unique attractions, the Ban Gioc Waterfall and Pac Bo Festivals are major celebrations that have helped promote tourism in Cao Bang Province. A 2-day event in the early days of October, the Ban Gioc Waterfall Festival kicks off with a water procession ceremony, photo exhibition, and folk singing event.
At night, a show of lights and lasers is projected against the falls. Fun activities that tourists are encouraged to partake in are the folk games like tug of war, sack racing, and chestnut cracking. In March, the Pac Bo Festival was designed to bring awareness to the history of Vietnam and its cultural values.
Celebrations are held at the caves and nearby temples in honor of the former president, Ho Chi Minh. Typical activities during the festival are cake-making contests, folk art performances, and sports games. During the festival, local villages open their homes to the influx of tourists so that everyone has a place to comfortably and safely stay the night.
Since many of the attractions in Cao Bang Province are outdoors, or even underground, the best time to visit the area is during the dry season. From October to April, the weather in the province calms with less rain and cooler temperatures. While mist and light showers occur year-round, torrential downpours are rare during the dry season.
Tourism in Cao Bang dwindles during the wet season, which begins in May and lasts until October. The increase of rain makes the terrain more difficult to navigate and in some places like the caves, the abundance of flooding actually closes the attractions for tourist’s safety.
A primitive province that has earned the nickname the “Green Jewel”, the landscapes of Cao Bang are guaranteed to amaze. From the craggy peaks to turquoise rivers and verdant forests, nature is a thrilling playground where travelers can explore the best that Cao Bang Province has to offer.
Adding to the essence of the province are important historical sites and ethnic communities where culture and tradition are kept alive.
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