One of Vietnam’s best-known waterfalls, its image adorns the lobby of many a cheap guesthouse throughout Vietnam. It’s a very scenic spot, marking the border with China, but sees very few visitors. The name Ban Gioc is derived from the Montanan languages spoken in the area, and is sometimes slept Ban Doc.
The waterfall is the largest, although not the highest, in the country. The vertical drop is 53m, but it has an impressive 300 m span; one end of the falls is in China, the other is in Vietnam. The water volume varies considerably between the dry and rainy seasons: the falls are most impressive from May to September, but swimming during this period in the waterholes below may be difficult due to turbulence. The falls have three levels, creating a sort of giant staircase, and there’s enough water any time, most years, to make the trip worthwhile. Half the pleasure of the visit is walking across paddy fields to reach the base of the falls.
The falls are fed by the Quay Son River. An invisible line halfway across the river marks the border, and rafts (per trip 50,000d) pole out the few meters to exactly the halfway mark – and no further – from each side. There’s been some development of tourist facilities on the Chinese side in recent years, including a large resort, but almost nothing except a bamboo footbridge and a couple of bamboo rafts on the Vietnamese side.
There is no official border checkpoint here, but you need a police permit to visit. However, this no longer needs to be arranged in advance and can be picked up at the police office near the falls for just 50,000d.