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The trip to the Far North Thai Nguyen Ba Be Lakes in Bac Kan province
Cao Bang town Lang Son  


The trip to the Far North

moutain roadin Northeast VietnamParts of the Far North are particularly isolated and difficult to visit. However, this isolation adds to the region's beauty as many areas are still extremely unspoiled and distant from the popular tourist trails. To reach Ba Be lakes in Bac Can province is a challenge but one well worth pursuing. The road between That Khe and Lang Son, whose beautiful plunging ravines and is riddled with caves, hides a grim and bloody past and is also worth the effort to visit. To the North of Cao Bang is Pac Bo which is very near the cave in which Ho chi Minh lived when he first returned from China. The Far North of Vietnam is also the home of numerous ethnic minority tribes. They live in some of the most isolated places while subsisting through traditional means. Some of the tribes you may encounter on a visit to the Far North are the Tay, Nung, Zao, H'mong, and the San Chi tribes. Farther away in Ha Giang province, there are a variety of hill tribes numbering from several thousand members to only a few hundred people.

This trip to the Far North follows an itinerary which begins in Thai Nguyen, to the North of Hanoi, then heads North to Bac Can and the Ba Be lakes before moving Northwest to Cao Bang. From there the itinerary heads in a Southern direction through Dong Khe and That Khe to Lang Son, the other main gateway between China and Vietnam open to foreign visitors.

Thai Nguyen

Without being sarcastic, the only reason you would want to stay in Thai Nguyen was if there was a flood and all the roads were impassable! Yet, if did want to or happened to be in Thai Nguyen, there are the remains of an old citadel from the early 1800s, and a Museum with exhibits of the various ethnic groups of the Northern region. Thai Nguyen also plays an important part in Vietnam's steel industry.

Ba Be Lakes in Bac Kan province

ba be lakeThe road from Thai Nguyen to Bac Kan is in pretty good condition and meanders through some very scenic areas, especially the bowl-shaped tea hills. Amongst all of the regions where you can find green tea plants for domestic use and export in Vietnam, Thai Nguyen is the best. The tea from that region is called "Thai tea" and sometimes visitors to Vietnam think that the people of Vietnam prefer foreign tea as they keep talking about the excellent "Thai tea".

The best place to visit in Bac Kan is Ba Be Lakes. It is situated 230km from Hanoi and 80km to the Northwest of Bac Kan town. "Ba Be" means "three seas", an ornate _expression when one considers that in this context it means the three big lakes. There are several kilometer between the Ba Be Guesthouse and the Main Wharf. There you can rent a boat and row along the Nang River. The river trip is a marvel. There are two flows on the river as you proceed; a clear flow of water and a muddy flow of water, which incredibly do not mix. You can either jump in the clear water for a swim or simply lay in the boat and contemplate the wonderful untouched surrounding landscape with its bamboo clusters, lianes and flowers along the riverbed. You can also watch the fishermen in their piraguas. After 3km you will reach Puong Cave, a mysterious sight with twilightful stalactites and stalagmites, which seems to signify that you are at the end of the river. But if you proceed by boat some 300m inside the cave, you will open once more unto the river as you move out and away from the cave. From that point it will take you an hour or so to reach Dau Dang Waterfall that is quite spectacular and worth a visit. To reach the lakes you must go upstream from Dau Dang, turning right then proceed for another 1km.. The Lake Zone is 8km long and 3km wide. It is set in a picturesque national park and made up of three lakes surrounded by vertical walls of rock, from which many water currents fall into the lakes with all sorts of creepers clinging to the walls and a wild forest where many species of birds abound.

If you have time, you can also visit a village-on-stilts. Take a boat at the Main Wharf and turn left this time. Go for 4km till you reach the small village's watering place and there you will be able to experience a typical working day of farmers and fishermen from the village.

Cao Bang town

cao bangCao Bang town is in the proximity of the Chinese border which recently made it a veritable boom town with quite new flash development. The only reason to stop at Cao Bang is to recharge your batteries for a bit before reaching other sightworthy points in the neighbourhood, of which Ban Gioc Waterfall is the best. Located right on Quy Son river which divides the two countries, from where you can either see and reach China.


Ban Gioc is a bone of border contention. At over 90 km from Cao Bang and more than 2 hours driving each way, it worths a full day's outing and looks spectacular in the rainy season, i.e. May to September, but not so exciting in the rest of the year. Another attraction is Pac Bo Cave, 54 km to the Northwest of Cao Bang, also next to the Chinese border. It was the base of Ho Chi Minh and his comrades after he returned to Vietnam in 1941 after 30 years living and acting in revolutionary movements overseas to encourage all supports for the Vietnamese patriots.

Lang Son

Tam thanh Nhi thanh cavesLang Son VietnamLang Son is the chief town of the province under the same name, yet it mainly serves the travelers as a point to stop off on their way to somewhere else. This is a popular place to cross to and from China, esp. after the two countries reopened the border. The town still contains the remains of a citadel built in 18th century, and there are numerous hilltribe villages around this area, particularly those of the Tay, Nung and Zao. The Vietnamese tourists also stop here to visit Buddhist pagodas built inside Nhi Thanh and Tam Thanh Caves, which are believed to have echo twice (Nhi Thanh) or three times (Tam Thanh). Lang Son is also famous for winter fruits like peaches, pears, plums and persimmons and for grilled ducks and porks, which evidently bear the influence of Chinese Guangdong cuisine.

To cross to China from Lang Son is passing over Dong Dang bordergate which is 20 km from Lang son. If you are entering Vietnam from here, you MUST have the correct entry point (Dong Dang) marked on your visa, otherwise you may be turned away. This can create a problem as you would have already officially left China.

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