Nothing can prepare you for the first glimpse of Ba Be’s pure, unadulterated beauty. An ancient lake embraced by soaring limestone mountains, which in turn are covered by primeval forest. It looks like an idyllic haven in Vietnam Northeast.
Nestled in the dense forest of Bac Kan, 230 kilometers north from Hanoi, Ba Be Lake is Vietnam’s largest body of freshwater (650 hectares). It was formed around 200 million years ago and comprises three mountain lakes joining together via wide channels. In the language of the Tay ethnic minority, Ba Be simply means “Three Lakes”.
Ba Be Lake
Lying in the middle of a majestic mountain range, Ba Be Lake is a natural sanctuary. A tranquil landscape features fresh air, mirror-like water, and virgin forest. The deep-green scenery is dotted with a few islands (large and small), as well as several stilt houses of the Tay community.
Towering cliffs seem to shield the area from the disturbance of humans, creating habitat for numerous plants and animals. That includes many rare butterfly species and over a hundred kinds of freshwater fish. Due to this high biodiversity, Ba Be Lake has been designated as a protected area since 1978.
While on the lake, I noticed some floating bottles. At first, they irritated me as I mistook them for plastic waste. But our boatman-cum-fisherman explained that they are actually fishing nets. For generations, Tay fishermen have honed their fishing skills. Overfishing is prohibited and only sustainable techniques, such as gill netting are allowed.
The main inflow of Ba Be Lake is the Nang River which originates from the eastern part of Bac Kan. It runs under Lung Nham mountain to Puong Cave, before reaching the confluence. From there, the river separates into two branches: one pours into Ba Be Lake, the other continues downstream to Dau Dang Waterfall.
As our boat traveled upstream, I recalled the trip to Trang An. The scenery is somewhat similar, with forested limestone pinnacles flanking either side of the river. The water also changed from an emerald color to a mud-green tone. The only difference is probably the strong current which forces the boatman to use the motor. After 20 minutes, Puong Cave appeared and I was literally in awe.
Standing in front of Puong Cave, I felt as though I was facing a giant shark. Its jaw-like entrance is gigantic and packed with marked stalactites. The entrance opens up to a very large space that measures about 300 meters wide and 30 meters high. There are also countless stalagmites, crags, and crevasses, making the karst cave an ideal home for tens of thousands of bats.
Dau Dang Waterfall
Leaving Puong Cave behind, our boat went downstream to Dau Dang Waterfall. Here the Nang River is broken by a series of overlapped rocks. The water thunders down for over 500 meters, with dazzling white bubbles all year round. It blends perfectly with the lush green banks, creating a grandiose jungle landscape.
Tips for visiting Ba Be Lake
- So far, a private vehicle is the most convenient and fastest way to Ba Be Lake. The nearest town is Bac Kan Township located approximately 50 kilometres to the southeast.
- There are several accommodations within the vicinity of the national park, ranging from homestays to hotel.
- At an elevation of 145 metres, the temperature in Ba Be Lake is always lower than in Hanoi. It’s similar to the resort town of Da Lat. That’s why a light jacket might be necessary, even in summer.
- All the above-mentioned attractions are reachable by boat. A boat trip usually takes half-a-day (depends on how fast you go) and costs around 800.000 VND (per boat). Hotel receptionists or hosts at the homestay can arrange the trip.
- From the wharf, there is a 20-minutes hike to Dau Dang Waterfall. The path is highly uneven, thus comfortable shoes are required.