Ba Be National Park in Ba Be District, Bac Kan Province. There is a huge amount to explore here, with a vast variety of flora and fauna, as well as interesting geology and landscapes to discover.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the area on arrival is by boat on one of the three lakes - kayaks for the more adventurous or guided motor boat tours for those who want to relax a little. Ba Be National Park has featured in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, forums and blogs, but nothing can prepare you for experiencing its intoxicating landscapes and clear waters first hand. The lakes have a lot to offer, including waterfalls, rivers, valleys, lakes, and caves all set amidst picturesque landscapes. From Ba Be Lake, tourists can also visit other neighbouring attractions such as Dau Dang Fall,
Puong Cave and Tien Pond.
The lake itself is actually three small lakes joined together – Pe Lam, Pe Lu and Pe Leng. The area was established as a national preserved forest and tourist centre in 1978, before being established as Vietnam's eighth national park in 1992. It was recently recognised by UNESCO as the third Ramsar site in Vietnam - an important wetland of the world. Located 145m above sea level, the lake has an average depth of 20-25m and its deepest part is 35m. The lake bed is made up of limestone with millions of crags and crevasses that are ideal for a large variety of marine life - there are over a hundred of species of freshwater fish in the lakes.
Be Lake lies in the middle of the vast limestone mountain range of Ba Be National Park with large and small islands of limestone rising out of the water, many of which can be explored as you kayak around. There are also several caves to find, with beautiful rock formations that have developed over millions of years. Of those, a good example is Puong Cave, through which the Nang river runs under its magnificent limestone structures. It is 30 metres wide, and 300 metres deep with thousands of stalactite and stalagmite structures and a bat colony numbering tens of thousands. Its picturesque entrance lies to the north east of Ba Be Lake, in the hillside of the Lung Nham Range.
With further exploration of Ba Be National Park, tourists will also begin to discover some of the villages in the region. This is best done by joining one of many trekking tours which can be arranged, as they include a guide that will introduce you to the people of the various ethnic communities that are resident here. Bo Lu Village is a great example, and by visiting the village, tourists have a chance not only to admire old stilt houses but also to learn more about culture and daily life of Tay people.
Ba Be was given the designation of National Park in 1992 in an effort to protect this stunning area of rich biodiversity and unique landscapes. As well as this, it also features as an ASEAN Heritage Park. The park itself stretches over 10,048 ha and has many different ecosystems within its borders. BA BE LAKE
The ground and surrounding mountains are made up mainly of limestone karst which is characteristic of the north of Vietnam, and the forests consist of mostly evergreen vegetation with bamboo growing closer to banks of the lake. In the heart of the park is Ba Be Lake which is the largest and highest natural freshwater lake in Vietnam. The lake is made up of three smaller lakes and surrounded by limestones karsts some of which open up into magnificent caves. The park also features many caves which have formed over years of erosion some, some of which have only been discovered recently.
Ba Be is also home to some ethnic minority communities. There is a large Tay population in Ba Be who make their living farming and fishing in the park and mostly live in traditional wooden stilt houses. This culture has been well preserved by the Tay community and can be seen throughout the park. There are also many local legends surrounding the various places throughout Ba Be which add to the magic of the park.
Puong Cave is 30m high and stretches 300 m into the base of Lung Nham Mountain. Over the years, the flow of the Nang River cut into the rock, gradually eroding the surface until it eventually broke through to the other side. The forces of erosion have also created some interesting rock formations within the cave. The craggy mouth of the cave opens up into a tranquil river with stalactites and patterned rocks overhead. From here the river flows through the cave and into Ba Be Lake.
Hua Ma Cave
Hua Ma which was only opened to the public relatively recently is thought to be one of the most interesting and beautiful in the area. The legend behind the name of this cave is dark and mysterious much like its echoing caverns. Hua Ma which translates as Horse's Head refers to the story of an ancient king and his discovery of the cave. Upon approaching the cave on horseback with his men, the king's horse refused to past the mouth of the cave. The king asked the local people for an explanation, and they told him that the cave was home to lost souls who had not made it to the afterlife and whose cries could be heard echoing in the cave at night.
As a way of freeing the souls, the king erected a temple and ordered his men to float horse's heads down the stream while he recited Buddhist scriptures from within the cave. If this story isn't enough to set imaginations running, then the cave itself will with its captivating display of stalactites and stalagmites whose forms echo that of magical scenes and mythical creatures. The cave is accessed by a 300-meter walk up to the entrance before descending the newly installed steps into the depth of the cavern.
Lo Mo Cave
Lo Mo Cave was only recently discovered by Mr Linh himself! He came across the undiscovered cave whilst trekking in the Hoang Tri Commune. It has a height of 40 meters and stretches roughly 3-5 km underground with two streams flowing through it. The years of erosion have created some incredible rock formations from the spikes of the stalactites and stalagmites to the smooth wave like formations on the walls.
The Nang River
The Nang River is a tributary of a river originating in China which joins Ba Be at the north head of the lake. During the dry months, it supplies water to the lake and during the wet season, it drains the excess; this helps to maintain the lake throughout the year. Riding down the Nang by boat is one the best ways to take in the beautiful scenery of Ba Be National Park as it lined with tropical forests and karst mountains, even passing through Puong Cave at one point. The Nang is home to some species of river dwelling birds such as kingfishers, egrets and herons. The river also plays an important role in local life with people using the river for transport or planting crops along its banks.
Dau Dang Waterfalls
The Nang River also travels over Dau Dang Waterfall. The river cuts through the thick vegetation and flows over the large boulders which block its path creating a picturesque and refreshing scene. This site is also home to a rare species of fish known as ca chien, a type of catfish, which can grow to over 10kg in weight.
Fairy pond is a tranquil haven of still water surrounded by thickly forested cliffs. It is one of the areas steeped in local legend as it is said that it is believed that a local hunter came across some fairies bathing in the pool who cast a spell on him. The beautiful scenery does have mystical feel to it but you are more likely to spot either a local fisherman or some of the varied wildlife than the legendary fairies.
Widow Island is another beauty spot famed for the folklore surrounding its origins. Small but beautifully formed, the island which is topped with a tangle of trees sit in the middle of the calm lake. It takes its name from a kind and courageous widow and her son who were said to have rescued the inhabitants of Ba Be from disaster. The gem-like silhouette of the island looks pleasing against the wild and craggy shapes of the mountains in the distance and makes for some great photographs.
Tay Ethnic Minority Communities
Many Tay communities reside in Ba Be National Park living mostly around the lake in small villages and hamlets. People mostly make a living and support themselves through rice cultivation, farming and fishing in the lake. Many of the villages have retained a traditional way of life, living in wooden stilt houses and maintaining the same cultural beliefs and rituals that have existed for centuries. This way of life here seem to be in harmony with the beautiful surroundings with many of the beliefs and traditions being intertwined with nature.
Pac Ngoi Village
Pac Ngoi Village sits just off the south-east tip of Ba Be Lake. The stilt houses seem to blend effortlessly with the verdant blanket of trees which sit behind it, their wooden structures complementing rather than overpowering the scene. Here you can see the local villagers working hard during and returning to their houses in the evening to share stories over homemade food.
Cam Ha Village
In the north of the lake, where the Ba Be Lake meets the Nang River sits Ban Cam Village. The houses are nestled in a small valley next to the river and the local villagers can be seen fishing on the lake in their traditional dugout canoes. The narrow boats glide effortlessly along the surface of the river maintaining the peace and tranquility of the area.
Bo Lu and Coc Toc Village
Bo Lu and Coc Toc are neighbouring towns on the west side of the land and can be accessed by road or boat. There are still many traditional stilt houses here, and some are used as homestays. The homestays highlight the warmth and hospitality of the local people and offer visitors a fantastic opportunity learn about local culture and make some new friends.