How to Get to Cao Bang

How to Get to Cao Bang

These 4 routes to Cao Bang will get you there in 1 to 2 days. You can make the choice of how long it takes depending on how much time you have so one of these will fit. Cao Bang is a great place to visit because there are less tourists and still some great site to see. There are also a lot of back roads and single tracks out there if you care to find them.

Cao Bang is an excellent place to visit, in its own right, and you can easily combine it with tours to other places such as Ba Be, Ha Long and Ha Giang.

About Cao Bang

Cao Bang has a long history of battle and changing hands between the Chinese and Vietnamese. It has also been the site of many revolutionist uprisings and is the most famous sight is that of Pac Bo where Ho Chi Minh stayed on his secret return to Vietnam. All through French rule there were troubles and insurgence and it is considered the cradle of revolutionism in the North. It was also the battleground with the Chinese in 1979 as suffered from a scorched earth policy.

The majority of the people in the province are rural dwellers and from ethnic minority groups (Tay, Nung, Dao, and Hmong) which doesn’t help with administering control from Hanoi.

4 Main Routes to Cao Bang

Generally speaking, you will have a choice of taking 1 or 2 days to get to Cao Bang. You can take the direct route (pink), which is kind of dull but gets you there in good time or you can choose to stop of on the way. 

Ba Be Lake, Bac Son Valley and Lang Son City all make decent stop off points where you can easily find food and accommodation. Ba Be is by far the most interesting and has a lot to see and do. You may wish to spend one or two nights there. Bac Son and Lang Son are decent stop overs and there are one or two sights to see but most people just get on their way and do not look around too much. 

One Day Options

It is perfectly possible to get to Cao Bang in one day and for that most people will choose to take the direct route. However, this is a fairly dull highway ride and there are other (longer) options. 

Route 1 (Pink)- Hanoi – Bac Kan – Cao Bang

This is the fastest way to get to Cao Bang. You cannot take the highway directly out of Hanoi as it is a CT Road. You have to head for Thai Nguyen on the QL3 which isn’t so bad. Then after Thai Nguyen you get to continue on this road but it opens up into really nice two lane highway and is very fast. As you progress North the road becomes smaller and winding; it is a good drive. You should make good progress and easily be in Bac Kan by lunchtime.

There is not much to see or do in Bac Kan, so it is little more than a lunch stop. There is a bypass around the town which you can take or alternatively go really slow through the town.

Note: If you do have a late start from Hanoi, you might want to stop in Bac Kan rather than risk having to drive at night time.

Then you are back onto the highway which is small and winding all the way up to Cao Bang. You will need to be careful at Na Phac as you have to turn right to stay on the QL3 and avoid the 279 but it is well signposted. After this, is where you will take the road over the mountains and this is a beautiful drive. You may need to wear something warm as it gets quite chilly up here at times. Then, before you know it, you are in Cao Bang.

Route 2 (Red) – Hanoi – Bac Son – Cao Bang

This route is really long and a lot of it is on road sections that are either slow or scenic so you will not really want to drive too fast. It can be done in one day but we do recommend you take 2 so that you can really enjoy it. 

You take the Highway 1 up to and past Bac Ninh up to Bac Giang, which is probably a good place to stop for a break and to make sure that everyone is together. You then head for the turn off onto the DT 243 (look carefully for that!) and head to Huu Lung where you can find VietClimb’s Rock Climbing Centre. 

All you do now is follow the 243 until you come to Bac Son Valley and Quinh Son Village. The road is small and windy but tarmaced and of reasonable quality. You will pass through little clusters of hills where custard apple trees are grown. It is a lovely drive. 

After Quinh Son you turn on to the QL1b and head for Binh Gia where you follow the DT 226 all the way to That Khe on the Highway 4A. From here on, you stay on the 4A past Dong Khe and in to Cao Bang. This road is good condition and quite fast but remember not to rush the last section just to get in to town quickly. That can be dangerous!

Route 3 (Purple)- Hanoi – Lang Son – Cao Bang

 

This is another rather long route and one that you will have to leave Hanoi early for in order to complete in daylight. 

You follow the QL1A out of Hanoi and head for Bac Giang, just the same as the route above. However, you do not turn off to Huu Lung, instead you continue on to Chi Lang and then Lang Son.  You can head straight in to Lang Son and follow the 1A up to Dong Dang and even go up to see the border with China if you wish. It is about a 20km trip and is fast but there is nothing much to see 🙂

From Dong Dang you need to take the QL4A to get out of town and head for Dong Khe. The 4A will take you all the way up to Cao Bang City. It is a nice road, quite windy and scenic, and is tarmaced. 

Two Day Options

If you have time, taking two days to get to Cao Bang is a much better idea. Cao Bang is some 300km away and that makes for a long day’s driving in anyone’s book. Breaking the trip up into two sections allows you to go leave later in the morning, go slower on route and hopefully arrive early enough to enjoy a couple of beers before dinner. 

Route 1 – Hanoi – Bac Kan – Cao Bang

 

You really cannot do this route in one day, and nor would you want to. To be honest, it would be a good idea to spend two night in Ba Be as there is a lot to do there. The first section take you to Ba Be National Park and the second takes you on to Cao Bang.

As with route 1 above, you head out of Hanoi in the direction of the airport and then on up to Thai Nguyen. You need to stay off the CT07. Then, shortly after Thai Nguyen you can take the left fork and stay on the QL3 heading for CHO CHU.

All you need to do now is stay on this road heading for either Ba Be or Cho Ra. As of 2020 the roadworks on this road are finished and it is now back to its former glory and is a great route to take. 

You will arrive in the park from the lower end near the lake and there are lots of homestay options around here. They range from simple budget options to mid-range. Call ahead to be sure they will have food and cold beer for you on arrival.

Route 2 – Hanoi – Ba Be – Cao Bang

 

You really cannot do this route in one day, and nor would you want to. To be honest, it would be a good idea to spend two night in Ba Be as there is a lot to do there. The first section take you to Ba Be National Park and the second takes you on to Cao Bang.

As with route 1 above, you head out of Hanoi in the direction of the airport and then on up to Thai Nguyen. You need to stay off the CT07. Then, shortly after Thai Nguyen you can take the left fork and stay on the QL3 heading for CHO CHU.

All you need to do now is stay on this road heading for either Ba Be or Cho Ra. As of 2020 the roadworks on this road are finished and it is now back to its former glory and is a great route to take. 

You will arrive in the park from the lower end near the lake and there are lots of homestay options around here. They range from simple budget options to mid-range. Call ahead to be sure they will have food and cold beer for you on arrival.

Route 3 – Hanoi – Bac Son – Cao Bang 

This is a 2 day option. It could be a 1 day option but it would be very long and difficult. I don’t think anyone would choose to do that. The first day gets you off the main road and over to Bac Son and the second sees you back on the (smaller) main road and up to Cao Bang.

It is quite easy to get over Long Bien or Chuong Duong Bridge and then head straight for Bac Ninh. This should be about 45 minutes away and makes a good place to stop for a break. Unfortunately, the road is quite busy as it is a main route to the border with China. After Bac Giang, you can get off the AH1 and onto the QL37. This is abit quieter and you can then wind your way over to Bac Son. The road is small and takes you through little villages and custard apple groves.

Bac Son is a small village that is geared up for tourism. There are several homestays in and around that have large dorm rooms and that serve up good food. There is a hike up to a vantage point that you can take and it gives a great view of the valley.

The next day, you are still on the small back roads until you hit the QL4A which links Lang Son and Cao Bang. You will first go through the Tam Canh Pass which is a wonderful winding road built by guerillas. Then on to the main road, QL4A, but it is not as crazy as most. It is possible to take this road quite easily all the way up to Cao Bang.

Route 4 – Hanoi – Lang Son – Cao Bang 

This route could be a one say option. It is possible to get to Lang Son quite quickly and have enough time to get to Cao Bang. It isn’t the best choice but the roads are quite large and fast so it can be done. A lot depends on what bike you have and what kind of driver you are.

Generally, people are going to choose this route as a two day option and have a very easy first day up to Lang Son. This is good if you have a late start or if you are unsure of the roads or the bikes. You will be able to take it slowly and ease into things.

Again, you need to head out over Long Bien or Chuong Duong Bridge and then on to the AH1 straight up to Lang Son. It is a big straight road and is quite boring. That is why you can make good time on it. If you feel you have time or are a bit early, you can detour onto the QL234B to take a slower back road in to town.

From Lang Son to Cao Bang you follow the AH1 up to the border post, Dong Dang, and then historical QL4A. It is an easy but winding drive with great scenery.

Places to stop overnight

We have shown you the routes above and so below is a map and some information of the different stopover destinations.

Bac Kan 

This is a small provincial capital with a few local hotels in the centre. I do like the Hotel Mountain States and you could try the Green Hotel and Coffee. There are several to choose from in this general area.

There are one or two homestays located further out of town but I have not tried these out.  

Ba Be 

This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the North of Vietnam. It has a huge range of accommodation options. Good choices are: Mr Linh’s Homestay and Quynh Mai Homestay. There are plenty of things to see and do. You could easily spend two nights here and take the time to go for a boat trip on the lake to see Ba Goa Island, Dau Dang Waterfall, Hua Ma Cave, Puong Cave, Fairy Lake

Bac Son 

There are a few good things to see around Bac Son on the way there and when you are leaving. 

As you approach you will pass through Bac Son Flower Valley and past Mong Luc Temple. You will stay in Quinh Son Village. If you get there early or decide to leave late you might want to trek up  to the Viewpoint. Dang Mo Waterfall is a little out of the way and more of a place for locals and Tam Canh Pass is the one that you will drive through on your way to QL4A

In Quinh Son Village there are several homestays to choose from. I have stayed in both Duong Cong Chich Homestay and Homestay Bac Son and had a fine time in both.  

Lang Son

In the centre of town you have the famous Dong Kinh Market and the Ky Lua Market which is a night market. There is the Flag Pole which you can climb and Tam Thanh Cave that you can enter. This cave is nearby to Nang To Thi which is an interesting rock formation that looks like a girl holding a child. 

Around 30km away is Mau Son Mountain. You might only go here if you want to spend a night at the top or to SEE SNOW IN VIETNAM. It is a good 10km drive up to the top on a winding road and is great fun coming down. There are several small hotels at the top of the mountain but, be warned, you will hear a lot of Karaoke. 

Lang Son is a major town but there is a limited range of hotels. I would choose Song Long Hotel for a slightly better option and Happy Homestay if I were on a budget. 

That Khe 

A really small town (population 5,000) with a few hotels and food options. There is nothing much to see and so it will likely be a quiet night unless you run into some enthusiastic locals. 

You can try to to stay in Nha Nghi Hai Van or the Nha Nghi Bao Duong 2

Dong Khe 

Another small town, smaller than That Khe. This is the site of the ‘Battle of Dong Khe‘ in the war against the French some 70 years ago. There is little chance that you will see any remaining military installations unless you go way off track. 

It is only worth stopping here if you are sure you will not get to Cao Bang in good time to arrange a hotel and dinner. There are one or two small hotels, such as the Thach An Hotel and the Nha Nghi Mai Hien, but nothing that we can give any detail about. 

Where to stay in Cao Bang

There is a huge range of options in Cao Bang, ranging from budget mini hotels to larger government run resorts. There are also some boutique hotels which offer a good mid range option. I am a big fan of Song Bang Hotel and I have also enjoyed staying in Max Boutique Hotel

You could find a homestay a little way out of town such as Luong Son Homestay or TH Homestay. Or, there are places up by Ban Gioc Waterfall, which are quite nice such as Khuoi Ky Ban Gioc Homestay or the plush Saigon Ban Gioc Resort. They are very easy to find. 

Things to Do Around Cao Bang

You can easily spend 2 nights in Cao Bang using it as a base to go off and see what is in the province. The most significant things to visit are: Ban Gioc Waterfall, Nguom Ngao CaveMa Phuc Pass, Pac Bo and Mat Than Mountain, but you may also be interested in Thang Hen Lake, Cao Bang War Memorial and Lo Ren Knife Village. There are also several pagodas and caves that you might like to visit.  

Driving Tips

  • Remember that CT roads are off limits. You cannot take a motorbike on CT roads. They are for 4+ wheeled vehicles only.
  • Set Google Maps to ‘motorbike’ option. This will then route you on suitable roads i.e not on CT roads
  • If you don’t have the ‘motorbike’ icon, then you can go into Route Options and hit avoid highways, avoid tolls and this will then route you on the right roads for a motorbike.
  • Drive slower than you normally would. The speed limit will be 40kmh in town and usually 60kmh out of town. This is because there are lots of hazards on these roads.
  • Respect the speed limit. The cops are quite happy to pull over foreigners nowadays and they are happy to fine them, too. Fines can be several million VN Dong so they worth avoiding.
  • If you are riding in a group, rotate the back rider. So, every 5 or 10km have the back rider come up to the front so that no one gets left behind.
  • Stay in touch through apps and set regular stops be them 1hr or 50km intervals. This way you should all slow down and group up.
  • Don’t Drink and Drive. Obviously, this is not a good idea, however, you may be unware that the legal blood alcohol level in Vietnam is ZERO. So, not even a sniff of booze is allowed. 

How to get to Cao Bang

All in all, it is easy to get to Cao Bang and you have several options. And, now you have the information you need to make a decent decision on which route to choose and why.

A trip to Cao Bang can be an excellent adventure. There are plenty of places to visit along the way and the province itself has enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

By Car

You can either drive yourself, if you have a vietnamese driving license and a car or access to one. 

Most people prefer to hire a driver as it saves the stress of driving in towns. It is easy enough to find a car with driver that will take you on a trip like this. 

All of the routes shown above are good for cars and they have the advantage of being able to use the highways (CT Roads) which can really bring down journey times. 

One disadvantage is that you can feel a little travel sick when on the windy mountain roads.  

By Motorbike

If you have your own bike, then just take a look at our maps and get on the road. It is not a problem. 

Renting a motorbike

Rentabike Hanoi

Excellent bikes and good service. The guys here have been around for a long time and are very good. They have a lot of experience dealing with any problems on the road. Highly recommended.

Flamingo Motors Hanoi

Also, a long-standing rental firm in Hanoi and they have larger CC bikes.

QT Motorbikes Cao Bang

One good option in Cao Bang is QT Motorbikes. They have semi-automatic and fully manual bikes. They are a reliable choice.  

Hotels and Guesthouses

Most hotels will have a semi-automatic or automatic option for you to rent. This is often just the bike of the staff, which can be an option, but it does mean that you will get less support than from a rental shop.

By Bus

If you do not wish to drive a bike all the way up to Cao Bang you can easily take the local bus. There are day and night buses and they cost around 200-240,000vnd per person. You can get them from the My Dinh or the Gia Lam bus station in Hanoi and the journey will take about 6/7hrs.

When you get to Cao Bang you can easily find a rental bike there.

Danny
Danny
Danny's been living in Vietnam for more than 16 years. He's toured the country from top to bottom, and is always excited to share his advice and discoveries with fellow travellers. He also runs Rent A Bike Vietnam, one of the country's most trusted motorbike rental companies, with shops in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City!

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