Our first destination was Ban Gioc waterfall in the northeast of Vietnam. Ban Gioc is on the border with China and is the 4th largest border waterfall in the world (yeah, I didn't know that statistic existed either). The waterfall was spectacular and extremely cool because you could take a bamboo raft right out to the falls. What was even cooler though was edging right up to the Chinese border and waving at Chinese tourists. We were literally about two feet from four Chinese twenty somethings at one point. I don't know why I find this so bizarre but I do. This waterfall divides Vietnamese people and Chinese people. On our side of the waterfall people were speaking Vietnamese and just a stone's throw away people were speaking Chinese. It was like the bizarre Niagra Falls except between two countries that speak different languages.
I had read in Lonely Planet that you need a permit to see the waterfalls but that you could attain it at the waterfall office. Well, that wasn't true. When we got there, an army officer told us that you need to get a permit in Cao Bang city which was a few hours away. Huyen, quick on her toes, told the guy that she was my tour guide and that we hadn't passed through Cao Bang (the second part was true). She said that we drove a long way and would really appreciate it if we could go to the falls. Permission was granted (shockingly without a bribe!) and we headed down to the falls. We hired our own private bamboo raft for $5 and got an up close and personal look at the falls: