a journey good for the eyes
leaving hanoi with eyes wide shut (read earlier blog here), we were happy to see padi fields adorning the landscape, as we traversed one mountain after another. in the distance, peaks of green stood, like they came straight out from a chinese ink painting.
that’s how we didn’t sleep a wink during the 81/2 hour journey to cao bang: everyone was busy snapping away.
the ride from cao bang to ban gioc took 21/2 hours (about 90km), almost touching the border between vietnam and china. the ban goic falls straddle this border; which was why duk reminded us to bring our passport, in case we decide to see the falls from the china side.
the ban gioc falls
ban goic is little known. when it comes to vietnam, it has always been halong bay. sadly, halong is as commercialised as fastfood and as souless as kpop. perhaps, in its heyday, halong had been exotic and beautiful but now it is just crowded and kitschy. maybe, my impressions might have been different if i’d taken a multi-day luxurious junk package instead of shrink-wrapping it into a day trip from hanoi (how big is the bay anyway?). all i remembered was that i was bored, and i couldn’t wait to get-outta-there.
but ban gioc was different. even as the van pulled up at the cul-de-sac, we could already see the falls from a distance and felt something swell in our chests. the air was fresh, the sky was clear; there were no pushy touts and no bracing for a tourist stampede.
the majestic main falls is 3-tiered and fanned out across the valley. there should be trails or paths leading to a vantage point to observe the falls from top down (ask around). we weren’t aware of this option but then, we were too busy getting awed and taking selfies.
the secondary falls on the left looked smaller in comparison but were easily more than 10m high. the 2 falls would sometimes merge into 1 when there’s sufficient water.
after lunch, duk gave us 2 options: cross the border to see the falls from the china side or visit a nearby cave. all of us voted for the cave. not that we were cave fans but we were satisifed with the waterfalls and had our fill from ogling at them.
nguom ngao, also known as tiger cave
none of us knew anything about the cave (how big, how long etc). the van brought us to a muddy concourse from where we had to walk up a rock-strewn trail to the cave entrance. we rented plastic boots (10,000 dong) because the trail looked mushy.
we entered the cave not expecting anything but soon realised that it was really cavernous and special. i was surprised there hadn’t been much literature written about it. in my humble opinion, this cave bests even the ban gioc falls.
our 300km journey had been very worthwhile indeed.
duk told us that the cave was discovered not too long ago, after locals went after a tiger and chased it into the cave. hence the name, tiger cave.
inside, it was properly paved and well lit (none of those tacky coloured lights found in halong’s caves). the structures were in excellent condition probably because there hadn’t been much footfall – yet. our group was the largest that day; the others were all local day trippers who came on their own.
nguom ngao reminded me of the skocjan caves in slovenia (visited more than a decade ago). it might not be as deep as skocjan but nguom ngao possessed the strangest, most beautiful limestone structures i’d ever seen.
we were constantly astounded by the variety of shapes and sizes of the stalactites/stalagmites. one resembled (either) a huge onion (to some) or the dome-shaped tops of the famed st. basil’s cathedral in moscow (to others).
the entire walk was almost 2km end to end; we lingered here and there, spending a good 1.5 hours inside. one of the guys said he was so glad he did not choose coffee over the cave: he had earlier contemplated waiting for us outside, with a cup of vietnamese coffee. yeah, we thought so too.
goodbye cao bang
it was another long ride back to cao bang and to hanoi. the weather was good: we saw farmers bent over their rice saplings in the fields. the scenery that passed us by were still beguiling: there’s beauty hidden anywhere, if we’d care to look (conserve and less rubbish please!).
nature’s creations are really amazing.