The best way to explore the north-eastern province of Cao Bang is by motorbike. You could easily do a day trip to the Ban Gioc Waterfall, or Pac Bo. However, for a really memorable experience try to see more of the province. This is why I would recommend the Cao Bang Loop.
This is great trip covering Pac Bo cave in the north, Ban Gioc waterfall in the east, and the southern road back to Cao Bang. This loop can be done in 3 days, or more if you want to explore more of the side roads. However, I only cover the 3-day journey below.
One slight challenge could get a motorbike in Cao Bang. I found one motorbike rental place opposite the Than Loan Hotel on Vuon Cam. You might need to ask someone to call the owner of the rental place. The reception of the hotel could be helpful. Check the bikes, as they vary in quality. Price was between 200.000 and 250.000 Dong, with a 10.000.000 Dong deposit. To be honest, I was not impressed with the bikes.
An alternative is Khách Sạn Bằng Giang hotel. The receptionist Ana helped to arrange a semi-automatic motorbike in good condition for 300.000 Dong, but only a 5.000.000 deposit required. I would recommend getting a bike here first.
I split the Cao Bang Loop into three sections – each could be done in a day. This pace would allow time to see a bit of the area, and not just rushing the motorbike through the province.
1. Part: Cao Bang – Tra Minh (95km)
2. Part: Tra Linh – Ban Gioc (80km)
3. Part: Ban Gioc – Cao Bang (110km)
Part 1: Cao Bang – Pac Bo – Tra Linh
The first section of the Cao Bang Loop is nice relaxing ride on flat road for about 50km to the Pac Bo cave, before heading to the mountains to hug the Chinese border for a 45km ride to Tra Linh. If you want to include a few stops on the way (including a longer one at the Pac Bo cave) this is a good distance to travel without rushing.
Getting out-of-town is quite easy. Assuming you start from Khách Sạn Bằng Giang hotel turn left at the hotel, and turn right at the traffic light, leaving the market and bridge behind you. Cross a small bridge and turn right. At the end of that road turn left at the traffic light and follow the road (it is the Q3) until you get to a big roundabout. Take the second exit and you get onto the TL 203, the road that head north towards the Chinese border. If you are not sure, ask locals “Pac Bo” and they will point towards the right direction.
Once you are on the TL2013 you are on a nice road in great condition, with rice paddies on both sides of the road while passing little villages on the way. It looks a bit like the Mekong Delta here, and only the mountains in the distance reminds you where you are. Except of taking a break for food or drinks you can easily ride the road in between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. Just follow the road.