Road trip: Hanoi – Bac Kan – Cao Bang – Lang Son

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My travel group of 6 people, all Vietnamese

After the motorbike road trip in September to Mu Cang Chai and Sapa, our travel group set off again for the new year holidays. This time our trip covered a famous route in the North of Vietnam: Bac Kan – Cao Bang – Lang Son (Cao – Bắc – Lạng). It was almost a border road trip because we drove mostly along the border between Vietnam and China. Roughly 1,000 km (620 miles) in 4 days! And each of us spent less than 1.5 million VND (USD 75) including petrol, food, drink, guest house, etc.

Day 1: Hanoi – Bac Kan, 230 km (143 miles)

We had an unlucky first day. It was drizzling the whole morning so the road was super dirty. However, we were totally aware that dirt was a certain part of a motorbike road trip so we didn’t bother too much.

We left Hanoi around 8am and arrived in Bac Kan in the afternoon. The destination was Ba Be Lake (Hồ Ba Bể), the biggest lake in Vietnam.

You can take a canoe to go around the lake and explore the small islands. The whole package will take 5 hours. We didn’t have time since it got dark very quickly in winter, thus, we cut the canoeing time real short to only 1.5 hour.




Day 2: Bac Kan – Cao Bang, 240 km (150 miles)

On the way from Ba Be Lake, we stopped for a pose on top of Wind Pass (Đèo Gió).


The route from Bac Kan to the main town of Cao Bang was about 140 km (87 miles). I have to say Cao Bang is such a small little lovely town, very peaceful, quiet and clean. We got to the town at around 12.30pm then stopped for a quick lunch, checked in and dropped our backpacks in a hotel. At 2pm we started to head to Pac Bo (Pác Bó), a tourist attraction of Cao Bang province, which was situated right on the border Vietnam – China. That was also the place where our national hero, Ho Chi Minh, spent a few years before the revolution against French army.

Pac Bo (Pác Bó) is 50 km (31 miles) away from Cao Bang main town. Entrance fee is VND 15,000 (USD 0.75). The site comprises a beautiful stream, a cave, jungle and mountains.





Day 3: Cao Bang – Lang Son, 230 km (143 miles)

Actually we spent most of our 3rd day still in Cao Bang, where we drove to another attraction site called Ban Gioc Waterfall (Thác Bản Giốc), 92 km (57 miles) away from the main town. The waterfall itself is half Vietnamese half Chinese. Once here, you will see loads of Chinese boats on the stream and zero Vietnamese boat(!) Of course I don’t need to “advertise” much about my country’s poor tourism infrastructure.  Looks like it’s our generation’s job to extensively enhance it. By the way, entrance fee is VND 20,000 (USD 1).





We also visited Nguom Ngao Cave (Động Ngườm Ngao), which was about 2km (1.2 miles) away from the waterfall. This is probably one of the most beautiful caves in Vietnam and can even be compared with world’s heritage Phong Nha – Ke Bang Cave. Totally magnificent but sadly very poorly promoted and almost no infrastructure at all. Entrance fee is VND 25,000 (USD 1.25).





By the way, did I mention that the road from Cao Bang main town to Ban Gioc was horrible? Totally the worst road you can find in Vietnam for now. Hopefully they will finish building it in a year or two..

We finally left Cao Bang for Lang Son in the afternoon and spent a night in That Khe (Thất Khê), a small town 60km (37 miles) away from Lang Son main town.

Day 4: Lang Son – Hanoi, 260 km (161 miles)

On the last day, we visited Mau Son Mountain (Mẫu Sơn). This is a famous destination in Lang Son province. People said that there would even be snow here in winter sometimes. It was very cold but no snow or ice when we came. My travel mates were a bit disappointed since they were longing for a snow show. As for me, I could wholeheartedly say: “no snow for me please, I’ve got enough!”




End of day 4. We arrived at home in Hanoi at about 8 pm, just in time for me to join in a family party.

It was an awesome trip. Extremely cold and challenging but wonderful! My apology that there is no picture of the roads, but my hands were too frozen to function properly.

17 thoughts on “Road trip: Hanoi – Bac Kan – Cao Bang – Lang Son

    hktphotography said:
    January 3, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    What a trip!!! 620 miles is a lot of mileage on a scooter. Out of curiosity, how many km are typically on those scooters in Vietnam? It’s not totally uncommon even though it’s still a feat to have a car with more than 200,000 miles or 320,000 km and it just got me curious as to how long these scooters last, I know people in Vietnam are really resourceful and can fix anything. The last time that I was there in 1994, we had a Honda 50cc scooter from 1979 and it ran like a champ.

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      Hey thank you Hoan for passing by my blog again.

      I’m not sure how long a scooter can last here. I guess pretty long coz we always try to fix things before having to replace them :-D. And actually the bikes we have are not really scooters, they are manual bikes with gears. I think manual ones last longer than automatic scooters.

      And totally “what a trip!” 620 miles of mountain roads! Imagine! 🙂

    Sơn said:
    January 3, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    ảnh đẹp, cảnh đẹp !!!

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 3:46 PM

      Thanh kiu Sơn đại ca :-P. Chuyện, ảnh em chụp thì chỉ có Tuấn Anh chê thôi =))

    Sơn said:
    January 3, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    mà viết cái bài trên của em sao nó đơn giản, sơ sài thế…nó chỉ là tóm lược_mang tính chỉ dẫn thôi hả???…e viết thêm các cảm nhận dọc đường nữa thì hay hơn….,cảnh sắc, abcd e nữa, hjhjhj

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      January 3, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      Khồng. Kinh nghiệm viết blog là viết dài dòng ko ai đọc, lại mất thời gian, thế nên miễn cho em đi B-). Chỉ có bài Mù Cang Chải là em ngu dại đi viết lai rai từ vụ em với nàng Yến đi mua đồ trong siêu thị trở đi. Không phải nhiều lời, cứ úp hình lên là đc rồi 😀

    […] is beautiful, I think no one will deny that. We have marvelous mountains, waterfalls, beaches and a lot of historical sites, so why are we behind? Reasons at a macro level include: […]

    Hanh said:
    April 17, 2013 at 9:44 PM

    hey your trip sounds awesome. Im thinking doing a similar trip but i have only 3 days: Ha Noi – Tam Dao – Bac Can – (Cao Bang maybe, i love the cave!) HaNoi. Do you think the road is safe for 2 girls on a scooter (can be a mannual one) on this route??? (i realised your blog is not about the road to Tam Dao but just incase you have been there). thanks much in advance.

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      April 17, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      I went to Tam Dao by car a long time ago so I don’t really remember.. Make sure your tires are entirely new to reduce the risk of having flat tire. The way to that cave is Cao Bang is dangerous. It is being built now so it’s veeeery rough, and lots of trucks. Good luck and enjoy ladies 😉

        Hanh said:
        April 17, 2013 at 11:46 PM

        cool. thanks! enjoy the national holidays ahead! 🙂

        Pham Hoang Mien responded:
        April 17, 2013 at 11:53 PM

        yeah, thank you. Pity this national holidays will still be working days for me. No fun, no trips :-(. Have a great & safe trip! And if you blog about it then don’t forget to send me the link!

    Road Trip: Hanoi – Moc Chau – Mai Chau | Mien's Blog said:
    September 11, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    […] – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa (Sep 2012) 2. Hanoi – Bac Kan – Cao Bang – Lang Son (Dec 2012 – Jan […]

    October 29, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    Xin Cao, dear Pham the traveler…

    What a great overland journey! Such an amazing group of friends you have there!
    Anyway, I failed to visit Ban Gioc waterfall when I was at Vietnam last Sept (2013). So, I’ll visit there next time for the second visit.

    But, is there any train or public transport to get to Cao Bang? (Don’t want use any tour)

    Cam on..

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      October 29, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      Hi, thanks for your interest in my blog.

      You can take a bus to Cao Bang from Hanoi at My Dinh bus station. From Cao Bang to Ban Gioc they didn’t have any bus when I visited, but I’m not really sure if they do now. Maybe. Just ask your hotel. If not then you’ll have to rent a bike or a car to get there.. Anyway, hope you had a good time in Vietnam last month and will come back sometime soon 🙂

    Ravi said:
    September 9, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    Cool bro …wata road trip you had …I had a similar one in India 2 years back..thanks for sharing your experience.

    Would like to know if I can do only Ban Gioc in a day and half??
    Say I start to Cao Bang in the afternoon post lunch nd reach there by night.Next day morning visit Ban Gioc falls and again post lunch start return journey to Hanoi.

    For leave restrictions, i cant spare any xtra days…


      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      September 9, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      Guess you’re traveling by bus? Yeah that sounds totally possible for me. But do check the bus schedule carefully. I went by motorbikes so I have no bus information to share..

    […] very excited because I couldn’t think a natural lake site in Myanmar could beat the beauty of Vietnam’s numerous lakes across the country. The road to here is not as picturesque, either. And actually, what’s […]

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