The Detian Waterfall (德天瀑布 [Détiān Pùbù]; Virtuous Heaven Waterfall) was said to be Asia's largest transnational waterfall because it was shared by both China and Vietnam. Surrounded by picturesque karst peaks (more famously present in places like Guilin in China, Phang-nga Bay in Thailand, and Halong Bay in Vietnam), this was definitely one of the more scenic waterfalls we had seen let alone one of the most scenic waterfalls in the country. In addition, the falls was conducive to taking those silky long exposure photos so it was also very photogenic to boot!
The falls consisted of two parts. There was the main waterfall (named Detian Waterfall) on the Chinese side of the Guichun River, and then there was the Ban Gioc Waterfall (Banyue Waterfall [meaning half-way across?] in Chinese) on the Vietnamese side of the river. Julie and I had no trouble seeing both falls from the Chinese side, but we were not sure about actually getting up to the Ban Gioc Waterfall since we didn't actually take a boat across the river (plus I'm not sure if there would be border implications in doing that).
As for statistics, the cumulative drop over the three tiers of the falls was said to be 60m (which might seem a bit generous). The main falls on the Chinese side was said to be 120m wide. However, if you include the Vietnamese side with the Chinese side as one giant entity, then it was said to have 200m in overall width. So if you believe these numbers, then it was said to be the largest transnational waterfall in Asia, but it was certainly not the 2nd largest transnational waterfall in the world as Julie and I had seen was falsely proclaimed in the literature (Iguazu Falls, Victoria Falls, and Niagara Falls were all transnational waterfalls that surpassed Detian Waterfall in size).
In terms of experiencing this waterfall, it was pretty easy to do. A walking path allowed Julie and I to get right up to the main waterfall on the Chinese side. That path ultimately climbed alongside part of the falls until we got up to the bottom of the uppermost tier. Then, the path stopped as we had to be content with taking partial profile views of the falls as well as enjoying the downstream views above the lower tiers of the Detian Waterfall.
The closer to the waterfall that we got, the less of it that we were able to see. But at least we were able to feel a little bit of the spray from the falls to help alleviate some of the discomforting stickiness brought about by the stifling heat and humidity. And regardless of where it was cooler and mistier, there was no relief from mosquitoes.
A separate path branched off the aforementioned dead-end path, which then passed by a small shrine and eventually led us to the 53rd border marker right on the China-Vietnam border. We noticed that there was a little tented market consisting of vendors selling souvenirs as well as some local produce. It was quite interesting to hear both Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese spoken simultaneously.
In addition to the path leading alongside the Guichun River to the 53rd border crossing with Vietnam, Julie and I also branched off the walkway and went up a series of steps (which were quite slippery when wet thanks to the combination of humidity and sporadic showers). The steps ultimately led us to an overlook that provided us with a wide open panoramic view towards the Vietnamese side of the river encompassing the entire Detian Waterfall plus the majestic and ghostly karst mountains in the background. It appeared the path kept going up but we didn't explore further so we can't say for sure what else was further up.
If there was one complaint I had about our visit, it would be that we happened to show up when Detian Waterfall was at its lowest flow of the year (late April). It was almost analogous to saying we were visiting Yosemite Falls in late August when it was either dry or barely trickling.
That said, this waterfall was still flowing fairly well, which strongly suggested that it was a permanent year-round waterfall though I can envision how much better it would have been in late Summer through Autumn when the falls would be its magnificent earth shattering self. Plus, the relative (and I do mean relative since we're talking about China) quiet of this place deep in a humid rainforest flanked by terraces, old fashioned rafts, and jaw-dropping gorges made this a very pleasant getaway from the chaos of the country's cities (where the crush of over a billion people can be a bit overwhelming).
From some of the signage and relics at the Detian Waterfall, it seemed apparent to us that this place had been the site of many conflicts with the Vietnamese. I believe it was said that there was a cannon perched atop one of the cliffs overlooking the area. During our visit, that trading market at the 53rd border tablet certainly was a stark contrast to the more turbulent history of the area. In any case, we didn't feel comfortable straying too far into the other side of the border for we heard that border patrols were quite strict about entering either country illegally.
Julie and I actually spent a night at a hotel on the China side looking right at the Detian Waterfall. This allowed us to experience the falls in both the afternoon as well as the steamy early morning. It also afforded us the ability to enjoy the scenery without being in a rush. The only bad thing about our accommodation was that there were no mosquito nets around the bed, which meant that we were a little exposed to risk of contracting yellow fever or malaria, which Julie and I knew were carried by some of the mosquitoes in the area.
Anyways, perhaps one day we will return to this waterfall in a more reasonable time of year where we can see the falls in its "normal" flow. But for now, check out the photos here and take comfort in the fact that you're likely to have better photos than we did of this wonder.
To get to this waterfall, the nearest hub is in Nanning, capital city of Guangxi Province. The nearest major town on the way here is Daxin (the Big New?).
Julie and I based ourselves in Nanning on an escorted tour, and it took us about 4 hours one-way by car to get here. But I have to caveat that with the fact that our driver went real fast and drove somewhat crazily in his haste to get us here. So it's conceivable that the drive time could be up to 5 hours in a more leisurely pace.
The drive itself was quite scenic with lots of shapely mountains surrounding the road we took (which even included the Shatundie Waterfall), but we didn't get a chance to stop and enjoy much of the scenery due to the hasty pace we were on.
Geographically speaking, Nanning was 377km (4.5 hours drive) south of Guilin. We actually went between these cities by train though I'm not sure how common that was.
Guilin was a 90-minute flight from Hong Kong, 1,531km (16 hours drive or 3 hours flight) southwest of Shanghai, and 1,976km (20 hours drive or over 3 hours flight) south of Beijing.
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What Other Visitors Have Said
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From Vietnam Side We saw this waterfall from the Vietnam Side (Ban Gioc Waterfall)as we did not have visas to enter China .
The view from Vietnam is very different, …