By Andrew Daniels – TeamDaniels
Add Detian Waterfalls To Your Travel Bucket List – Spectacular and Virtually Unknown
Detian Waterfalls (a.k.a. 德天瀑布 in Chinese or Ban Gioc Waterfall in Vietnamese and pronounced DEH-tee-en), located on the Guichun River are Asia’s largest waterfalls and one of the largest transnational waterfalls in the world, separating China and Vietnam. After being to mainland China about a dozen times since 2017, Detian Waterfalls ranks near the top of my China travel list. I’m therefore shocked that it is virtually unknown to Western tourists.
In a sense, Detian Falls combines the karst peaks better known in China’s Yangshuo/Guilin region with the picturesque falls better known in Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park. Detian Waterfalls is a truly epic scenic area, and is a must-have experience for those comfortable venturing outside of China’s typical tourist attractions. That said, since Westerners are quite unfamiliar with Detian Waterfalls, traveling there and getting around are quite difficult.
I traveled here in April, so the pictures you see on this page reflect Detian Waterfalls during the dry season. During April, temperatures in the region vary between 20°C and 26°C (68°F to 79°F). If you want to see Detian Falls in its full form, check it out between July and November, which I imagine would make the falls even more awe-inspiring. However, keep in mind that you may have less luck staying dry. If you have any questions or comments about all this, feel free to leave any comments or questions below.
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How To Make the Most of Detian Waterfalls
While there is a direct bus departing each morning from Nanning, I’d highly recommend you arrive the previous day in order to get an early start and avoid the crowds, which will get worse as the day goes on. I stayed at Aiwu Inn Daxin County Waterfall, a simple and affordable hotel in the nearby town of Shuolong, which is approximately 15 minutes by car from the Waterfalls’ entrance. While the owners do not speak English, they are incredibly helpful and can also help book tickets and transfer.
Detian Waterfalls Park Info
The park is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily and entrance costs approximately 100 RMB. It’s easy to stroll around the park. If walking isn’t your thing, there are also electric-powered carts that will take you around to the various viewpoints for a fee. You don’t need a full day tour to explore the entire park, but I’d recommend spending at least three hours there, which will give you time to soak in the epic views and experience one of China’s magnificent sites. Swimming is not allowed, but there are bamboo rafts that you can hop on for approximately 50 RMB. The captain will take you up to the Waterfalls, where you’ll get soaked. There are countless shops selling food and souvenirs throughout the park, so don’t worry about bringing food to the park. Temporarily sneaking into Vietnam is a possibility, but do so at your own peril!
Overall, Detian Waterfalls is certainly one of mainland China’s hidden gems. The spectacular scenery contrasts heavily with the sometimes overwhelming cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Traveling to these off-the-beaten-path destinations has had a profound impact, instilling an appreciation for Chinese citizens’ kindness and altruism that I know bodes well for the country’s future.
Getting To and From Detian Waterfalls
While Nanning is not one of the largest cities in China, it will be your Detian Waterfalls entry/exit point. A city of approximately 7.5 million people, Nanning is a pleasant and broad city, which contrasts nicely from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, where I reside. There are flights to Nanning Wuxu International Airport (NNG) from the region’s largest airports, including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. You may decide to explore Nanning at the beginning or end of the trip.
There is no public bus to Detian Waterfalls, or the nearby town of Shuolong, direct from Nanning Wuxu International Airport (NNG). Instead, you’ll first need to transfer to the Langdong Long Distance Bus Station. To get to the bus station, I used DiDi (iOS / Android), China’s Uber equivalent, but you can also use public transit options, including the bus/train networks.
The Bus to Detian Waterfalls
Each day, at 8:30am, there is a direct bus from the Landong Long Distance Bus Station in Nanning to Detian Waterfalls. At the time of writing, it costs ~80RMB and takes about 3-4 hours. If you don’t make this bus, there are frequent bus rides to from Langdong Long Distance Bus Station to Daxin (~60 RMB, 2.5 hours), where you can then take another bus to Shuolong/Detian. This option takes about 2 hours and is ~20 RMB.
The Bus Back to Nanning
There is a direct bus departing at 3:30pm each day to Nanning from Detian Waterfalls. The bus station, where you can buy your ticket, is located directly outside the park entrance (see below picture). Alternatively, there will be many salesmen selling bus tickets to Nanning that depart earlier, though they may include a stop. If you have more time, you can check out Tongling Grand Canyon, located about one-hour away by car where the highlight is a towering 170-meter-high waterfall.
Other Transit Options
If you don’t want to use the busses, you can arrange for a private car through your hotel or use DiDi to go direct from Nanning Wuxu International Airport to Shuolong, but the three-hour journey is likely to cost more than 50 USD. I’d recommend catching a bus during daylight to witness the spectacular landscape that is comparable to more famous locations like Yangshuo.
What You’ll Need
- In general, foreign credit cards do not work in China. There will be ATMs in Nanning and Daxin, but don’t expect to find them in Shuolong or in the park. Locals rely exclusively on WeChat Pay or AliPay for all transactions, especially in the more remote areas. Unfortunately, you must use a mainland Chinese bank account for WeChat Pay or AliPay. Consequently, foreigners are restricted to cash. Bring more cash than you think you need. I’m saying that from experience, as I ran out of cash and went without food for nearly two days!
- Download DiDi Chuxing, the Chinese equivalent of Uber or Lyft, on iOS or Android. This will be critical as you’ll be traveling to relatively remote areas, where public transportation is not available. Moreover, you’ll know the price at the time of booking. This will mitigate the risk of being ripped off by a taxi driver, which can happen in China. If you do use a taxi, make sure to watch the meter closely or agree to a price beforehand.
- Note: DiDi does allow you to load and use a foreign credit card as a payment method.
- If you are in Hong Kong, only the Chinese version of DiDi works. Once you cross into mainland China territory, you can switch to the English version of the app. This website can help you change the app settings.
Cell Phone Service
- If you do not speak Mandarin, I highly recommend you get cellphone service so you can converse with locals. Moreover, you’ll need cell service to use DiDi.
- Note: If you have a foreign SIM card, oftentimes you will not be subject to the Chinese Internet Firewall.
Explore Detian Waterfalls On Your Own
Detian Waterfalls should certainly be near the top of your China travel bucket list. The karst peaks overshadowing the picturesque waterfalls contribute to spectacular scenery that is unlike any other in this world. Since the falls are truly awe-inspiring, it’s likely Westerners will discover them quite soon.
Thus, I’d encourage travelers to check them out soon, as that will lend to a richer — and more authentic — Chinese cultural experience. That said, the fact that Detian Waterfalls are located in rural China and are very much off-the-beaten path to Westerners means that they are suitable only for travelers who are willing and able to venture outside their comfort zones. Even travelers who believe they will be comfortable in rural China need to come prepared: Bring more cash than you think you need, ensure you have cellphone service, and be patient in case there are issues along the way. Safe travels and have fun!
Andrew is an American based in Hong Kong working in investment management. He is an avid outdoorsman and traveler, having been to nearly 50 different countries on all seven continents, and most recently Antarctica. Since moving to Hong Kong, he’s leveraged Asia’s world city to travel to off-the-beaten-path locations, and looks forward to sharing his experiences with readers who may follow suit. Follow him on Instagram (@TeamDaniels) to keep up with his whereabouts.