Northeast Vietnam

Con Son Den Kiep Bac - Hai Phong - Around Hai Phong - Ha Long Bay - Ha Long City - Cat Ba Island - Bai Tu Long Bay - Mong Cai Chinese Border - Around Mong Cai - Lang Son - Cao Bang - Aroud Cao Bang - Ba Be National Park - Thai Nguyen - Around Thai Nguyen


IDD code: (+84) 281
Often referred to as Ba Be Lakes, Ba Be National Park (tell: 894 014; fax 894 026; admission per person /car 10,000/20.000d) is in Bac Kan province and was established in 1992 as Vietnam's eighthi national park. It really is a babe: a beautiful region that covers more than 7000 hectares and boasts mountains high, rivers deep, waterfalls, plunging valleys, lakes and caves set amid towering peaks. The surrounding area is home to members of the Tay minority, who live in stilt homes. The park is a tropical-rainforest area with over 550 named plant species, and the govern ment subsidises the villagers not to cut down the trees. The 300 or so wildlife species in the forest include 65 (mostly rarely seen) mam-mals, 214 bird species, butterflies and other insects. Hunting is forbidden, but villagers are permitted to fish. The park is surrounded by steep mountains, up to 1554m in height. The 1939 MadrolleGuide to Indochina suggests travelling around Ba Be Lakes 'in a car, on horseback, or, for ladies in a chair', meaning, of course, a sedan chair Ba Be (Three Bays) is in fact three linked lakes, which have a total length of 8km and a width of about 400m. The deepest point in the lakes is 35m, and there are nearly 50 species of freshwater fish. Two of the lakes are separated by a 100m-wide strip of water called Be Kam, sandwiched between high walls of chalk rock. The Thac Dau Dang (Dau Dang or Ta Ken Waterfall) consists of a series of spectacular cascades between sheer walls of rock, and is accessible by boat and on foot during day trips. Just 200m below the rapids is a small Tay village called Hua Tang. It costs 400,000d for a boat here and takes at least four hours. Hang Puong (Puong Cave) is visited on day tours. It's about 30m high and 300m long, and completely passes through a mountain. A navigable river flows through the cave, making for an interesting boat trip. It costs 300,000d for a boat and takes three hours. Renting a boat is de rigueur, and costs from 150,000d per hour. The boats can carry about 12 people (but it's the same price if there are just two), and you should allow at least seven hours to take in most sights. Enjoy the ride: it's lovely despite the noisy engines. An optional guide, worth considering, costs' US$10 per day. The boat dock is about 2km from park headquarters. The park staff can organise several tours. Costs depend on the number of people, but expect to pay at least US$25 per day if you're travelling alone. There's the option of a one-day tour by boat; a one-day tour combining motorboat, a 3km or 4km walk, and a trip by dugout canoe; and there are also combina-tion cycling, boating and walking possibilities. Homestays can be arranged at several of the villages in the park, and longer treks can also be arranged. The park entrance fee is payable at a checkpoint on the road into the park, about 15km before the park headquarters, just beyond the town of Cho Ra.
Sleeping & Eating
Not far from the park headquarters are two accommodation options. Rooms in the newer guesthouse (r 165,000d) are fine, if a bit pricey. There are also comfortable air-con two-room cottages (r275,000d). There's a reasonable restaurant (dishes 10.000-30,000d) - note that you'll need to place your order an hour or so before you want to eat. It's also possible to stay in stilt houses (per person 60,000) at Pac Ngoi village on the lake-shore. The park office can help organise this, Food is available at the homestays, which can include fresh fish from the lake. and prices are reasonable. Take enough cash for your visit - there are no money-exchange facilities, although there are banks in Bac Kan, the provincial capital en route from Hanoi.
Getting There & Away
Ba Be National Park is in Bac Kan province not far from the borders of Cao Bang province and Tuyen Quang province. The lakes arc 2-l0km from Hanoi, 61km from Bac Kan and 18km from Cho Ra. Most visitors to the national park get there by chartered vehicle from Hanoi. Since the 2000 opening of a new road into the park 4WD is no longer necessary, the one-wa\ journey from Hanoi takes about six hours most travellers allow three days and two nights for the trip. Reaching the park by public transport is possible, but not easy. Take a bus from Hanoi to Phu Thong (50,000d, five hours) via Thai Nguyen and/or Bac Kan, and from there take another bus to Cho Ra (15,000d, one hour). In Cho Ra arrange a motorbike (about 40,000d) to cover the last 18km.
A tiny islet in the middle of Ba Be Lakes is the source of a local legend. The Tay people believe that what is a lake today was once farmland, and in the middle was a village called Nam Mau. One day, the Nam Mau residents found a buffalo wandering in the nearby forest. They caught it, butchered it and shared the meat. However, they didn't share any with a certain lonely old widow. Unfortunately for the villagers, this wasn't Just any old buffalo. It belonged to the river ghost When the buffalo failed to return home, the ghost went TO the village disguised as a beggar. He asked the villagers for something to eat, but they refused to share their buffalo buffet and ran the poor beggar off. Only the widow was kind to him and gave him some food and a place to stay for the night. That night the beggar told the widow to take some rice husks and sprinkle them on the ground around her house. Later in the evening, it started to rain, and then a flood came. The villagers all drowned, the flood wased away their homes and farms, thus creating Ba Be Lakes. Only the widow's house remained it's now Po Gia Mai (Widow's Island).