Cao Bang and Ban Gioc Waterfall are quite far from Hanoi (300km to Cao Bang and another 100km to Ban Gioc) so there is no way to avoid a long drive. In four days you will still be able to see some great places and drive some great roads. It is just enough time.
Cao Bang is a long way from Hanoi and you just need to make the distance. There are two or three choices of day trips, once you are in Cao Bang and then a suggestion to head over to Ba Be Lake. You could choose to skip the lake or one of the days trips and this would mean there is less distance to cover on the tour. You can choose whether to spend two nights in Cao Bang or Ba Be Lake. This will depend on a lot of factors, so use your own judgement for this.
You could also choose to head straight to either Ban Gioc Waterfall or Pac Bo Cave and then over to Ba Be Lake, avoiding Cao Bang altogether. These are decisions that you can take on the road. After studying the maps and reading the descriptions, you will be better placed to make the judgement.
Distance / Duration
The assumption here is that you will be averaging around 40km/h once you factor in time for pit stops. Also, no time is included for how long you choose to stay in any one location to do ‘tourist’ stuff.
Hanoi to Cao Bang via Bac Kan is just under 300km and it will take about 8hrs
Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall is anywhere from 90 to 110km and will take around 3 hrs driving time.
Cao Bang to Pac Bo Cave is around 50km and it will take a bit more than 1 hr to get there.
All of the roads here are generally good tarmac roads. They will vary in size, how much traffic and the amount of wear and tear.
The route to get to Cao Bang via Bac Kan is on pretty large highway. It is dull but fast and it gets you where you need to get to. Watch out for the larger trucks. They often can’t see you.
The smaller roads to Ban Gioc Waterfall and Pac Bo Cave are much more pleasant and interesting to drive on. However, there is still some border traffic so don’t get complacent.
You can take any road legal bike on this trip as the roads are tarmac and easy enough to deal with. Yes, there are areas that are a little bumpy or potholed but these pose no problems at all. That said, DO NOT take a Honda Cub on this kind of trip as it is woefully underpowered, so cold be dangerous on the bigger roads, and will definitely not be very comfortable.
I would recommend anything from a Honda Wave up, particularly the Honda Future. If you want to use a manual bike, then the Honda Master or the Honda XR 150 would be a good choice.
Remember a lot of the areas that you will be visiting border China. So, if you fancy ‘sneeking’ over to take a picture, do it in a place where no one is around, unless you like police stations.
For the most part, you will be driving a LOT on this tour, so it is for more experienced riders.
Full Route Map
Day 1: Hanoi - Cao Bang
280km / 7 - 8hrs
This day is a long day. As you can see, Hanoi to Cao Bang is around 280km and you might choose to go straight to either Pac Bo or Ban Gioc Waterfall. This would add 1 to 2 hours to the journey.
Be careful and choose wisely when you are in Cao Bang. As you progress, the roads will become smaller and slower, you will be getting tired and it may be getting dark. You could find you are driving slower or are under time pressure to get to your destination.
The first leg, up to Thai Nguyen will be on highway and will be quite fast but crowded. This is not much fun but getting out of Hanoi just isn’t. Make sure not to take the CT07 as motorbikes are not allowed on this road. After Thai Nguyen the road will become a little quieter and more pleasant. It is still quite fast and you will make good time. Stopping in Bac Kan for a snack, Brunch maybe, is a good idea.
Then, up to Cao Bang is quite simple. You follow the QL3 and it is a pleasant and fast drive. You are still on the highway but you need to be so that you can make good time. There are more choices of things to do/eat and hotels in Cao Bang so you may choose to set up base here. However, you will have to do this VERY early if you are to have enough time to get to Ban Gioc Waterfall or Pac Bo Cave and back. You need at least half a day to do this, but you will be missing the crowds.
Cao Bang to Ban Gioc Waterfall
Around 90km - About 2.5 hrs
From Cao Bang you can head for Quang Uyen and then Trung Khanh. The road is easy to follow and it is not too busy. There are some trucks that are heading to the border with China so you do still need to be careful. Once you get to Ban Gioc, you can take a look at the falls, visit the small pagoda on the hill nearby and perhaps visit Ngo Nguom Cave. There are several homestays nearby which are all of similar standard and there is also the Saigon Tourist Resort. Staying near the falls is probably the best idea.
If you decide to return to Cao Bang, then it is best if you take the same route. There is an alternative option but it is too slow and tricky to do in the dark.
Cao Bang to Pac Bo Cave
About 50km - Roughly 1.5hrs
This is quite a quick, easy drive and there is a way that you can make a loop of it. if you do get to Cao Bang early this is potentially a quick trip that you can take. Pac Bo will close at 6pm so be aware of that.
Take the QL3 out of Cao Bang and get on to the TL 203/204/208. This road changes name several times but it is unimportant, you just need to follow the milestone markers to Pac Bo.
As you can see on the map, you have the choice of taking an out and back, or you can loop around on the T208. This loop is simple enough to follow and easy to drive.
Day 2: Cao Bang - Ban Gioc Waterfall
100km / Around 2 - 3 hrs
These are the places that you will head for on the route . You can follow the route on the map or you can plug these place names into Google Maps and go from there.
- Cao Bang
- Ma Phuc Pass
- Quang Uyen
- Trung Khanh
- Ban Gioc Waterfall
The direct route from Cao Bang to Ban Gioc is around 90km and it should take a little over 2 hrs. However, if you are going to spend the whole day on this you might want to either loop back on the DT207 or go to visit Na Ma Mountain.
You head out of Cao Bang and onto the Ql3. From here, you keep driving until you see the Ma Phuc Pass. You drive up this and you will see the left turn that takes you to Na Ma Mountain. Follow the road right at the fork and head for Quang Uyen. The road is quite busy with trucks heading to the border and although the Pass is scenic it may be ruined by this. Be careful not to get stuck behind trucks. Choose to either overtake or to hang back unless you want to eat dirt.
It is after Quang Uyen that you will turn off the QL3 and on to the DT 206 to take the road to Trung Uyen. It is still quite busy with trucks. You will probably pass a long straight stretch of new road with several large truck stops on it. It is just after here that you head for Ban Gioc Waterfall. It is easy to see the signposts. Just be careful not to take the road to the border.
Ban Gioc Waterfall to Cao Bang
You have three choices for this, and they are: back the way you came, loop round past Na Ma Mountain, take the back road loop.
Obviously, going back the way you came is quite simple. It is also the fastest route. You should do this if you are returning after around 2pm.
Looping back past Na Ma Mountain will involve going back to Trung Khanh and then a little further to find the DT211. This is a small road and is tricky to follow, hence I suggest you make sure you have enough time to get lost. You can head for Tra Linh and then the mountain from there. Allow yourself around an hour to walk around the area as you will want to get in close and have a look. In the Summer months there will be a lake but in Winter it is an open field. The route back will take you to the Ma Phuc Pass and then on to Cao Bang.
The back road, DT207, back to Cao Bang is a bit tricky to follow but it is generally in good condition and easy to drive. A bike with good suspension would be very valuable here. You head South from the falls along the river before heading for Thanh Nhat and then Quang Uyen. From there it is back to the Ma Phuc Pass and on to Cao Bang.
Day 3: Cao Bang - Pac Bo Cave
50km / Around 1.5 hrs
This is a really relaxed and easy half day or full day trip. The ride out to Pac Bo is easy and there is not too much traffic. he road is good quality and directions are not difficult. You may have a little trouble following the loop but there is plenty of time to get lost 🙂
You head out of Cao Bang on the QL3, but very quickly turn on to the DT203. You follow this small road up until Nam Thoong, where you need to be careful to take the correct route to Pac Bo and not the border with China. Head for Na Giang, even though it is not signposted, and then turn off to head for Pac Bo.
You can return to Cao Bang the same way that you came or you can try to take the loop back. This is quite tricky to follow and expect to get lost and need to ask for directions. You will need to allocate extra time for this, but as this is such an easy day trip, you should have plenty of time.
The loop is only short and you should soon find your self back on the road heading towards Na Giang and then Cao Bang.
Day 4: Cao Bang - Ha Noi
200km / Around 6 - 7 hrs
The first thing to say is that the direct route from Cao Bang past Bac Kan and Thai Nguyen is the fastest and probably the best route.
This is a simple retrace of day one. Remember that it is around 300km so it is a good idea to leave fairly early. The section of road to Na Phac is quiet and a pleasant drive. Then, down to Bac Kan is a little busier but still pleasant.
After this, you head along the main highway, QL3, down to Thai Nguyen and back home to Hanoi. The road at this point, Yen Do, is still not too busy but it is a highway. It will get more crowded as you get further along towards Hanoi until you are about 60km from town. At this point, it is busy and unpleasant but you have to take it to get back home.
In a Nutshell
Hanoi to Cao Bang - 4 Day Tour
Cao Bang and the Northeast in general is a great place to visit. There are plenty of interesting places and much fewer tourists. If you do not enjoy crowds of tour buses, then this could be the area for you. The roads are generally a little quieter except for the main routes to the border crossings and the people are a little more interested in meeting new faces.
A 4 day tour give you enough time to see some of the sites but it is still really not enough. Consider an extra day or two so that you can see more in Cao Bang and stop over in Ba Be Lake on the way back to Hanoi.
You can see more itineraries on this route or plenty others on our site. Look below for some suggestions.