At Cao Bang you join Highway 4, an ambitious road that was originally part of a French military network linking the isolated garrisons right across northern Vietnam’s empty mountain country. This road is more subject than many others in the north to falling into disrepair, and the 140km journey to Lang Son takes about four hours, depending on conditions. Beyond Dong Khe, a nondescript town roughly 40km out of Cao Bang, the virtually traffic-free road climbs through a gorge of sheer limestone cliffs before cresting the dramatic Dong Khe Pass. In 1950 this pass was the scene of a daring ambush in which the Viet Minh gained their first major victory over the French Expeditionary Force. In the ensuing panic, forts all along the border were abandoned, an estimated six thousand French troops were killed or captured, and the Viet Minh netted 950 machine guns, eight thousand rifles and a few hundred trucks.

That Khe lies exactly halfway between Cao Bang and Lang Son, and beyond here the road winds through Na Sam, an attractive town snuggled beneath a dramatic setting of outcrops. The villages in this area are inhabited by Nung and Tay; their bamboo rafts and huge wooden waterwheels, which form part of sophisticated irrigation works, grace the river that weaves along beside the road. Unfortunately this rural idyll comes to an abrupt end, as the speedy Highway 1 from Dong Dang brings you hurtling into Lang Son.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Vietnam features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: 6 places you need to visit in Vietnam

Video: 6 places you need to visit in Vietnam

Vietnam has long been a favoured haunt for backpackers – and it's little wonder. The fragrant food markets, leafy tea plantations and generous stretches of un…

08 Jun 2018 • Colt St. George videocam Video
How graffiti is saving the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City

How graffiti is saving the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City

The world’s rhino population is in stark decline: in the last forty years it has plummeted by 95 per cent. Yet, in Ho Chi Minh City there's a fightback brew…

13 Mar 2018 • Freya Godfrey local_activity Special feature
Motorbiking through Vietnam: a nation at a crossroads

Motorbiking through Vietnam: a nation at a crossroads

Vietnam is at a crossroads. A country where gleaming megacities in the making are encased in a countryside of cascading rice paddies and hill tribe villages. N…

03 Jan 2018 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs