BAN GIOC-DIETAN FALLS

Canada & USA share one, Zambia & Zimbabwe share another, so do Brazil & Argentina, can you guess Vietnam’s & China’s one?

The location this week is in an entirely different part of the world- South East Asia; an area of outstanding beauty and palpable cultural heritage. At the border between Vietnam and China lies one of the largest yet relatively unknown waterfalls in the region… the Ban Gioc-Dietan falls.

Now the Ban Gioc-Dietan falls are a set of two-waterfalls on the Quây Sơn River; “Ban Gioc” is the Vietnamese name for the collective group of waterfalls, similarly “Dietan” is the Chinese name. The 300m wide waterfall is composed of at least three distinct drops cumulatively around 60-70m in height. These falls are in fact nestled on Vietnam-Chinainternational border. Interestingly enough, the actual borderdemarcation runs down the middle of the water way leading up to the waterfall, separating the falls into two. This wonderful geographical feature has taken over a million years to form.

Location, location, location

So where can you find this wonder?

The falls can be found in the far remote northeastern corner of Vietnam in the province of Cao Bằng, specifically the Trùng Khánh District. From the Chinese perspective, the southern China province of Guangxi, Daxin County to be precise. Now this area is especially known for its vast mountainous karst formations – which are dissolved limestone structures that assume many shapes: steep towers, pinnacles, large open-aircaves; all densely covered by lush vegetation. Other locations around the area which you can visit we shall suggest a little later along the line.

Journey (Vietnamese side)

Entrance Fee= 40,000-45,000 VND (Vietnamese dong) or £1.31- £1.50 (there might be an insurance fee carry at least £2)

Opening hours: 7.30am-5pm

Despite the falls being seldom visited, this is the most commonly visited side by international tourists and also the least busy side to explore the waterfall.The journey would normally commence from Hanoi (the country’s capital) to Cao Bằng City. I would recommend a 7 to 8 hours by coach or sleeper bus from My Dinh Bus station in Hanoi -*maximum prices are 250,000 VND (£8.17)

From Cao Bằng City, the Ban Gioc-Dietan falls are 87km east. There are many options of transport you could take in the final leg to view the falls. For the motorcyclist amongst you, starting from Cao Bằng City take the QL3 highway road up until the Quảng Uyên intersection then turn left to merge onto the DT206 road; a 2-hour journey all-in-all and a fantastic way immerse yourself within the mountainous topography ofnorthern Vietnam. *motorbikes can be rented for a day from Cao Bằng from around 200,000 VND (£6.54) and parking is 10,000 VND (~33p)

I am far from Valentino Rossi in my motorcycling skills (that being said the journey is said to be beginner level). There is the alternative of reaching Ban Gioc by bus near the BằngGiang Bridge, Cao Bằng.  These arrive at hourly intervals from 5.30am to 6pm and take a travel time of 2-hours. *prices are around 70,000 VND (£2.29) on the return, last buses leave 4.30pm-5pm so be vigilant and also in case your phone time zone switches to Chinese time (an hour ahead of Vietnamese time) you don’t want to cut your experience short.

Lastly, you could opt for an all-inclusive 3-day tour which would normally start from Hanoi and included other sites of interests such as Ngam Ngou Cave and Ba Be Lake. These can be booked online -*prices range starting from around £150, normally inclusive of accommodation in hostels and homestays where you can try North Vietnamese delicacies such as Phở.

On arrival, you can take bamboo rafts up to the waterfalls, the Vietnamese rafts would be distinguished by their red canopies, as opposed to the Chinese raft’s blue canopies. *these cost 50,000 VND (£1.63) but I believe this experience is much more wholesome from the Chinese side – as this includes the majority half of the waterfall.

Optimal time to visit these falls would be between 10am to midday when the upstream damn is open to allow greater waterfall. In regards to seasons, Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate so, the volumetric flow would be much larger during the rainy months of May to September, so might want to visit from September onwards rather than the traditional summer months.

Other interesting activities:

*Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc– This Buddhist Temple and its pagodas are a marvel. There’s also the added advantage of having an overlooking view of the Ban Gioc waterfalls from this vantage point being only 500m west of the falls

*Ngam Ngou Cave – A large limestone cave not to far from Ban Gioc – can be accessed via motorbike or one of the inclusive sites on 3-day tour

Ba Be Lake– The largest natural lake in Vietnam, also a site worth exploring and one of the sites included in the 3-Day tours

Journey (Chinese side)

To experience these falls from the Chinese side. The starting location would be from the city of Nanning, Guangxi. There you could catch the daily shuttle bus from Langdong bus station terminal straight to Ban Gioc. Be aware, the bus departs at 9.00am sharp and return bus to Nanning is at 3.30pm – *prices are 80¥ (yuán) ~ (£9.24)/ Adult, 50¥(£5.78)/Child over 1.2m in height, free for children below 1.2m. If punctuality is not your forte you can chop up the journey in blocks- Nanning City- Daxin County (e.g. Chongzou station)-Ban Gioc Falls.

I am unaware about entrance fees from the Chinese but do carry some spare change to legislate for any extra expenses

Other interesting activities:

*Tongling Grand Canyon – Around 37km from Ban Gioc-Dietan falls, this is a gorge system with an underground river, cave and waterfall – the tall waterfall almost reaches 200m in height; a truly a unique spectacle to visit alongside Ban Gioc-Dietan falls when visiting from the China.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s destination, see you next week!

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