Riding Vietnam Day 190: A 220 Km Detour

Originally I had planned to go to Hanoi after completing the Ha Giang loop but with it only being Friday it would have been pointless to waste another day in Hanoi when the Indian Embassy would have closed for the weekend by the time arrived so I figured why not enjoy some more of the northern outskirts of Vietnam (I plan on getting my Indian visa processed while in Hanoi, which takes 4 to 5 business days). I took the road to Cao Bang, which is the most populated city in the NE and offers a good base to various nearby adventures including the Ban Gioc Waterfalls on the border. Based on how much time it took to get there by day, I became further thankful I did not need to endure that yesterday night. The road from Cao Bang to the waterfalls was beautiful with many crystallized-like shards piercing out from the mounds of limestone rocks dotting the rice fields. The more limestone rock I witness in places I never expected, the more I think the grand finale of Halong Bay with its well publicized karst limestone rock will fall short of expectations. I completed the road quite quickly knowing that I had seen much of this before yet the sight of the bamboo coned hats of innumerable women working under the heat of the sun rearranging the rice plants into neat wide rows capable of absorbing its necessary moisture was a view I will always welcome. None too far from the Falls I found another unique yet ingenius Asian invention created for the purpose of diverting the river water to the neighboring rice fields. A bamboo water wheel spins by way of the powering surge of the river and carries the water itself in many natural bamboo pipes to a built channel that leads to watering the country’s lifeblood crop. With little to work with these people continue to amaze me. After paying the $1 to enter the area, I walked up towards the famous, yet under-visited (for Western tourists) Ban Gioc falls. Sure enough I noticed the strawberry haired hippie cave man Kenny from weeks back which was a slight surprise considering the time and distance I had to make up. After catching up for a short while, I explored the area around the falls by climbing up to reach different leveled panoramas of the upper crests of the falls. Using my travel compass to chart my visual memories of past experiences and sights, I could not help but reminded of Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia but on a less expansive yet more powerfully surging scale. This is not to say the falls were disappointing but Plitvice will always hold a special place in my heart and memory. With the many waterfalls advertised as worthwhile excursions in SE Asia, this one actually lived up to the billing. Ban Gioc rushed over the edges of two tiers before dropping to the river that is used as a natural border between China and Vietnam. I could see the Chinese tourists on their side of the river while at the same time the two countries’ visitors took turns getting pushed around the river on bamboo rafts for a closer view of the falls, resulting in the bordering nations intermingling without crossing over. The surge of the waterfalls was a sight to behold while barely clinging onto the mossy and muddy slippery edge that brought me up close and personal to its majestic natural powers. The short hike up and down the precarious walk path was all that I could do to entertain any greater personal experience with the Falls other than the typical photos thanks to the wounds I have been nursing that killed any thoughts of taking a shower over the neighboring falls and entrenched bath. Next on the tour was a visit to Nguom Ngao cave, which I would have never known about if it weren’t for the trustworthy independent website VietnamCoracle.com run by a British expat that has seemingly covered every worthwhile road in Vietnam. The Nguom Ngao Cave stood 3 km short of the Falls dug into the mysterious green cloaked limestone rock surroundings behind an otherwise nondescript village. The cave only set me back 30,000d ($1.50) for an individualized exploration of one of the best caves I had experienced to date with not a single fellow visitor in sight until I neared the exit. For a short while I felt like I was the first person to discover this underworld with the exception of the reasonably well lit walkway that even broke off in spurts to let me explore on my own with no one around to wag a finger in my face to say no. Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park was undoubtedly more visually stunning but the constant push and rushed procession of fellow tourists, specifically Asians, killed a bit of the vibe. A cave like this in the Western world would cost at least ten times to visit and still be a bargain. It had the typical stalagmites and stalactites as well as a lotus and a white glistening Christmas tree formations. So much of caves remind me of the the underwater world of the sea. I swear some of the same formations that can be found while scuba diving are just as easily seen while caving. It involves similarly minded imagination of the unknown. Frequently I ran across large coral-like towering rocks and rippled, crumbled ridges that look akin to the undertow of the sand closing in on the beach with small humped crests formed by the incoming waves. I would have liked to explore the cave further off the path but not equipped with enough lighting I couldn’t afford to take the risk. From there, I took the road back to Cao Bang with enough daylight to camp out there for the night in a hotel before continuing on to Hanoi the next day. For 200,000d I got an expansive room with a queen bed but most importantly a walkout view of the riverfront and city skyline panorama. Avoiding pho, I went for Com Binh Dan to get a buffet tasting of various fixings including grilled fish unblemished with bone and skin still attached (the skin offering a surprisingly satisfying added crunch). Per usual, I cleaned my wounds and redressed them while still clinging to the hope they wouldn’t require another visit to a hospital; a proper pharmacy visit might do the trick to undo the constant unraveling of the gauze upon my tender, bare wounds. Travel is an adventure in more ways than not even in the most simplified nuances. 

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