Ba Be National Park highlights and travel guide

Ba Be National Park highlights and travel guide

Things to do - general

Ba Be National Park highlights and travel guide

Ba Be overview,
Ba Be National Park sits peacefully in the northeast province of Bac Kan, a haven of extraordinary scenery, fascinating biodiversity and rich culture.
The ethnic minority communities live in small hamlets throughout the and still maintain a simple way of life, living off the land and fishing from the lakes and rivers. As you adventure through the national park you will have the chance to meet the local people and discover their history and culture. The many different areas of the national park are steeped in mystery and legends, the stories handed down through many generations.
The name Ba Ba translates as Three Lakes, referring to the three parts of the lake: Pe Leng, Pe Lu, and Pe Lam. The lake is the largest freshwater lake in Vietnam spanning over 500ha. It is also the highest, sitting at 150 meters above sea level. The vast lake is surrounded by impressive karst peaks that make up the Pia Booc mountain range and thick, evergreen forests.

A viewpoint of Ba Be Lake, Ba Be National Park

This is the perfect place for any keen adventurer. Here you can trek through the thick jungle, explore mystical caves, kayak down the rivers, and swim in the lakes. The incredible range of terrain will keep you on your toes and keep your excitement piqued.
The national park itself was only established in 1992, making it feel as if you are exploring unchartered areas. Many caves have only been discovered recently and are providing new information about the geography and biodiversity of the area.

As well as the incredible scenery, this national park is home to a staggering 1268 species of flora and fauna, some of which are rare species. This really is a paradise for any nature lovers. Researchers  have discovered 65 species of mammals, including Chinese pangolins, flying squirrels, macaques, langurs and bears. As well as the incredible mammals living in the area, researchers have discovered 106 species of fish, 223 varieties of birds and well over 300 types of butterfly.  You could easily while away your time simply looking for these incredible creatures.

See and Do
One of the best ways to experience the incredible beauty of Ba Be is from the water, from here you can explore the rivers, lakes and caves that make up this area of stunning beauty. You can take a boat trip on one of the small boats to take in the highlights of Ba Be or, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can take a kayak and explore the area. Kayaking has the added benefit of being able to get closer to nature which will give you a more intimate experience.
One of the places to visit on your waterborne adventure is An Ma Temple which sits peacefully next to the lake creating a serene ambience. Here you can bathe in the relaxing atmosphere and learn about the religion and rituals of the local people.

Ba Be lake

Boat trip on Ba Be lake

Another peaceful spot on the lake is known as Fairy Pond, which is situated in the third section of the lake. The name is well suited to the area as it certainly has a magical feel about it. Legend has it that some fairies, who had been bathing in the secluded waters, lured a local huntsman and put a spell on him. The local fishermen, however, are not put off by this mystical tale and often enjoy fishing peacefully in the waters.

One more spot shrouded in local legend is Widow’s Island which sits in the middle of the lake, inviting you to explore its tangle of rocks, roots and branches.  The large chunk of rock topped with a thick green forest has an air of mystery surrounding it as it sits alone in the middle of the lake. The name of the island originates from the story of a kind widow and her son who once lived on the island. It is believed that they saved many people from the natural disaster that created Ba Be using only two husks of rice from a fairy.

Puong cave, a large, dark cavern in Ba Be cave’s system

Ba Be also has a fascinating collection of caves just waiting to be explored. One of the most impressive caves in Ba Be is Puong Cave with a height of 30m and length of 300m. This large, dark cavern sits at the bottom of Lung Nham Mountain and was created by years of erosion by the Nang River. This tunnel cave looms over the river and visitors can explore the cave by boat. The dark mouth of the cave leads to a magical maze of stalactites and stalagmites which cast shadows across the tall limestone walls. This amazing hidden world is also the home of thousands of bats. The colonies living amongst nature’s sculpture are made up of an impressive 18 species.

Another extraordinary cave is Hua Ma Cave, which is not only stunningly beautiful but also has a haunting and fascinating back story. Local people named the cave Hua Ma, meaning horses head because of the legend that precedes it. The story is that a king and his staff were travelling through the area, but when the king’s horse approached Hua Ma cave it became paralysed with fear and refused to cross a stream near to the cave. Frustrated by the horse’s behaviour, the king asked the local people about the area and discovered that the cave was inhabited by the spirits of innocent people who had been killed. The locals described the harrowing cries that emanated from the cave after dark and the King, moved by the tragedy, decided he would find a way to free the lost souls from the dark cave. He ordered his soldiers to behead horses and send their heads downstream and he himself took to a temple to recite Buddhist scriptures. Since the King freed the souls, no cries have been heard from the cave. For many years this haunting tale kept many local people away, but now, those brave enough to enter the cave will be rewarded with stunning views of rock formations. Recently, developments to the cave have made more easily accessible and the 300 m climb to the entrance is well worth the effort. As you ascend into the dark recesses of the cave you are met with an otherworldly  melee of stalactites and stalagmites which appear to morph into different objects as you pass by.

Lo Mo cave, a rive cave was discovered in 2016

The karst cavern of Lo Mo Cave follows an underground river for around 3000 meters. In the dark recesses of the cave, stalagmites and stalactites cut through the cool air, some reaching up to 40 meters in height. The towering columns shimmer in the lights used to light the way and cast shadows which appear to morph seamlessly from one thing to the next. The cave is also a flourishing ecosystem, providing a habitat for some rare species of flora and fauna. Although this cave is not yet open to the public, due to its very recent discovery, plans are underway to have the cave open to budding explorers in 2017.

Dau Dang waterfall

A short journey from Ba Be Lake, approximately 3km away, are the sublime Dau Dang Waterfalls. This 1km stretch of rapids is located at the point where the Nang River enters Tuyen Quang Province. Large boulders topped with erratic plantlife block the Nang River creating a flowing cascade. Here the water turns from green to white as it crashes off the rocks. This area also has magical origins as it is believed that a giant discarded the stones here after he hollowed out Puong Cave. As well as the waterfalls, you may also have the chance to spot the rare Ca Chien fish that inhabit the waters, some of which can grow up to 10kg in size.

Cultural and Arts
Tay, Dzao and H’mong ethnic minority communities constitute the majority of the scattered villages in and around Ba Be National Park. These small hamlets range from just a cluster of just a few stilt houses to larger communities.The Tay people, famed for their wooden stilt houses, inhabit the villages of Coc Toc, Pac Ngoi and Ban Cam. The simple, wooden structures sit peacefully on the banks of the river, blending harmoniously with the mountains and water. They rely on farming and fishing for sustenance and can be seen fishing or travelling in their dugout canoes named doc moc. Local people skillfully craft each canoe from one tree trunk, and although extremely narrow, they glide effortlessly through the water. As well as being talented woodworkers, the Tay people are known for having some of the most sophisticated looms. You can see the women weaving the exquisite fabrics in the fresh air underneath the stilt houses. You may also get to experience the traditional singing and folk dances which bring these villages to life.

Tay ethnic group. Ba Be lake

Ba Be is also home to H’mong communities who live an agricultural lifestyle, farming pumpkins, maize, soya and rice. These communities tend to be more isolated and have a strong sense of community which is visible in their distinctive traditional attire. The women work outside weaving the intricate brocade that makes up the colourful outfits, working tirelessly with their children playing around them.

Another village in which to meet some friendly and welcoming local people is Na Nghe Village. This small Dzao village is well worth the hike, after trekking through the wilderness with only the sounds of nature you will be rewarded with stunning views of the valley below. The village itself is made up of traditional Dzao, wooden buildings where families eat, sleep and live together. Here you can see the women preparing the mouthwatering evening meals made up of a medley of tasty dishes. A traditional Dzao method of relaxation, are the fragrant and cleansing herbal baths. Large cauldrons are filled with steaming water and a ion of herbs, chosen for their different healing qualities. The steam is trapped using a large blanket as you bask in the aromatic steam, letting the healing herbs work their magic.

Food and Drink

Because of Ba Be’s favourable farming and fishing conditions, the food found here is varied and fresh. From locally grown vegetables to free range meat and fish from the lakes and rivers, the feasts you will enjoy with your hosts are sure to leave you wanting more.One such dish is Lon Cap Nach which translates to pig carried under the arm, so called because of the size of the pigs. These pigs are around just 10kg in weight and are raised wild in the surrounding fields and forests and have a sweet and tender meat. Here you will smell the fragrant spices as the meat is grilled or roasted ready for the evening meal.

Cuisine of Tay ethnic in Ba Be including Chicken, Tofu and vegetable.

All meals are served with a ion of freshly prepared, nutritious vegetables. One such side dish is chayote served with sesame. The mild sweetness of the green vegetable beautifully compliments the earthy nutty flavour of the sesame.

Another accompanying dish, eaten en masse across Asia is, of course, rice. Here you can find the northern speciality of com lam. For this dish, young bamboo is stuffed with a mixture of rice, water and sometimes coconut water. The package is then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on a fire. The end result is fragrant, sweet and sticky rice which is the perfect accompaniment to the succulent meats and fresh vegetables.

After a delicious and satisfying feast, when the sun has faded over the mountain, it is time to relax and enjoy a cup or two of Noc Suong the local rice wine. This powerful homebrew is a popular way to unwind and bond after a hard days work. Served from plastic water bottles while you sit atop tiny chairs, this clear spirit will keep you warm on the coldest of nights and make for a unforgettable night!

Festivals and events

One of the biggest festivals in Ba Be is the Long Tong Festival. This is a grand celebration in honour of the first rice crop of the new lunar year. On the 9th and 10th days of the first lunar month, people from all of the ethnic minority villages descend on the river bank, all dressed in their finest traditional outfits. The bright colours of the embroidered attire, the waving flags and the traditional decorations awaken the area with festival spirit. The fields are packed with stalls selling local delicacies which fill the air with mouthwatering scents. The festival features traditional rituals such as ceremonial offerings of local produce to the gods in order to pray for a prosperous year. This is one of the biggest social events of the year friends are reunited and enjoy catching up and joining in with the exciting activities. Here you can see a whole host of traditional games, music and dancing, everyone joining in with the jovial atmosphere. The stunning back of the mountains and lake make these celebrations extra special. As night crawls over the field, the celebrations are lit up with delicate, floating flower lanterns and a raging bonfire to ward off the cold.

Long Tong or spring festival. A grand celebration in honour of the first rice crop of the new lunar year

Later in the year, sometime in March or April, after the first of the rains, the rare Ca Chien fish, known for growing up to 10 kilograms in weight, perform and exciting display as the fish splash through the waterfall in what looks like an intensely competitive race to the other side.

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