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For the Hùng King Death Anniversary Weekend in March 2012, a group of us went to the mountains of Cao Bằng Proving. Beautiful is about all we need to say to sum it up. Also, it's really far away, like Hà Giang, so plan to spend a minimum of 8hrs getting to the town, more for anywhere interesting.
How we got there:
17-passenger van. We rented 17 passenger van, about 8hrs total (including lunch and rest stops) to get from Hanoi to the Cao Bang city in Cao Bang Province.
Where we stayed:
Non-Descript Hotel. We went with a work trip, so I don't know how much it cost per night. It must have been around $30 per night, though. Breakfast was included, although I only ate it once out of the two mornings the blandness of the food and the service underwhelmed me ... and they didn't have real coffee.
The room was mostly clean and the cool market is right across the street. The bathroom was one of those bathrooms where they just hose everything down (including the toilet paper, which gets soggy) to clean it. There is no shower curtain, just a spigot. The room did have a fully stock mini-bar and refrigerator, so we could keep the food we brought cold. That, was a plus.
What we did:
- Cao Bang Market.
- Pác Bó Caves.
- Thác Bản Giốc (Ban Gioc Waterfall).
- Tây Village.
Like Ha Giang, Cao Bang is not a 3-day weekend trip from Hanoi. You need at least 4 days, if not 5, to make it worthwhile. You'll spend 2 of your days driving, so it just depends on what activities you want to do while you're up there. With 4 days, you can do a full day walking in the area, you can visit the Sunday market, and still relax for an afternoon.
The roads are dangerous - we saw 1 two-person fatality, 1 truck flip on its side, 1 truck being hoisted from its resting place 30 feet below the road. Plan accordingly. The road to the waterfall is particularly difficult and terrible, requiring roughly 4hrs to go about 90km (or about 60miles).