The road to Ba Be Lake is winding and crooked.
At times concrete gives way to dirt and I begin to wonder why I’m travelling 240
kilometers northwest of the capital’s comforts.
By car, this trip can take seven hours.
Perhaps it is this treacherous road that keeps the mountains surrounding Ba Be
Lake primitive and unspoiled.
As we neared the lake, the sky opened up and a powerful mountain rain began to
fall. I was overwhelmed with the strength of this rain, which seemed to blur the
soft green lines of the forest.
As the rain reached a frightening ferocity, Ba Be Lake appeared below us. The
lake emerged through the tree branches like a powerful aquamarine monster.
Stalks of vermillion corn and rice lined its banks while a patch of floating
grass hung on the watery surface. The lake continued to peer at us through the
trees as we inched seven kilometers down into the valley toward our home stay at
the water’s edge.
Ms. Ho, our Tay host was waiting patiently in her raincoat. Behind her, a large
wooden house loomed on stilts. Like other traditional Tay homes the main house
is situated next to the kitchen. Family life takes place on the second floor
while the ground “floor” acts as a kind of barn for water buffaloes and
Our terrace overlooks a small green field and a winding river that empties out
onto Ba Be Lake. From here, the neighboring houses peek through the sprawling
green like tiny mushrooms in a damp field. Before long, night falls and
tranquility settles over the valley.
Sleep comes to me so softly.
The next morning we awake to the quacking of ducks. Our breakfast consists of
fresh vegetables from the garden and fish caught in the small river in front of
the house. “It rained heavy yesterday so the fish came up from the river bed. We
caught a lot of fish with our vó (lift net, a traditional fish trap),” Ho said.
The pleasant mother said her family began opening their home to guests years
ago, but they still maintain land for cultivation. Their days are spent in rice
paddies, corn fields and their home vegetable garden.
They keep chickens and ducks. Sometimes her husband takes tourists out for a row
on the lake. Life here seems simple and good.
In the morning, before making our way out onto Ba Be Lake we attempt to catch
fish using the vó. We set the four bamboo sticks lined with the netting into the
water and wait. When we feel a little movement, we yank the contraption out of
the water. All around us, we see fishermen engaged in the same hunt.
In the end we catch a few small fries and spend a while under the trees snacking
on our catch. “We should come back here tomorrow with some books,” my friend
said as we wandered through rows of trees that seemed ready to fall into the
At 2 p.m., our boat was ready. Because we wanted to see a lot, we opted for a
motorboat over the traditional long boats rowed by locals.
The midday sun had transformed last night’s big green “monster” into a giant,
sparkling diamond. “We are on a lake 150 meters above the sea level,” I nearly
shout, just to hear my voice echo through the valley.
The lake is so big that sometimes we have the feeling we are at sea. The shape
shifts as it curves though channels lined with ancient evergreen forests. We
float along on a deep blue; above us, white clouds cling to the mountain tops
like the last remaining bites of cotton candy on the cone.
I try to picture myself in this place. Farming. Fishing. Picking fruit in the
forest. The boat passes by a stand of v^i trees (a kind of plant whose buds and
leaves can be used to prepare a drink like tea). My friend dives into the cool
water and begins a slow swim. I step onto the bank and begin picking v^i buds to
make tea back in Hanoi. As I begin plucking the buds, our guide tells us about a
python that swallowed a whole goat on a nearby hill. I step nervously back into
the boat, leaving the v^i trees alone.
The boat man tells us that we are approaching the Dau Dang water fall. Here, a
stream bloated by last night’s rain feeds red clay rain into the deep blue.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the quiet streams leading off the
lake, following the gentle sounds of the falls, fishing and wandering through
About Ba Be
The 23,340-hectare Ba Be National Park is situated in the northern border
province of Bac Kan. Neighboring hills rise up to 1,098 meters above sea level.
Ba Be mean three lakes in Tay language, Ba Be Lake is nine kilometers long and
averages one kilometer across. The lake’s deepest point measures 35 meters.
At nearly 150 meters above sea level, Ba Be is Vietnam’s highest and biggest
lake. It remains full all year round.
How to get there
Some travel to Ba Be by motorbike while others book their use a travel agent who
can also help book home stays (around VND120,000 including breakfast).
Source: Reported by To Van