Through the ups and downs of natural processes over millions of years, Ba Be Lake, located right in the heart of Ba Be National Park, still manages to remain in all its primitive wilderness and aesthetic characteristics. The splendid vistas of vast mountains, serene lakes, an enigmatic cave system, and sublime waterfalls are draped with natural and earthy colors.
Ba Be Lake (Source: Internet)
Sheltering diverse terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems with over 1,800 living species of flora and fauna (including some that are endemic, rare, and endangered), Ba Be was recognized as an Asian Heritage Park in 2004. A Northern Vietnam group tour navigating this masterpiece of nature will guarantee you absolute peaceful bliss and total rejuvenation of the body & mind.
Enjoying a boat trip plowing the waters of Ba Be Lake
Formed by tectonic forces over 200 million years ago, Ba Be Lake lies wholly on a limestone mountain at an elevation of 145m above sea level, 223km north of Hanoi. Sprawling over 500ha with a volume of 90 million cubic meters, it was recorded as one of the 100 largest natural freshwater lakes in the world, and the largest one in Vietnam. In 1995, Ba Be made it to the list of the 20 most special natural freshwater lakes that need protection.
The multicultural Ba Be (Source: Internet)
The name Ba Bể means three lakes, originated from the name Slam Pé (Pé Lèng, Pé Lù, and Pé Lầm) in the Tay language. In reality, numerous streams and rivers feed Ba Be, including the Nang, Ta Han, and Nam Cuong Rivers. As you glide on the emerald waters, you’ll see the whole wonder of nature unfurl right before your eyes. The scenic landscape of Ba Be has a therapeutic effect, allowing its beholders to rid themselves of mundane concerns and vexations. Don’t forget to pay a visit to An Mã Temple situated on a small timbered island in the middle of the lake.
Praised as ‘the jade of the northern corner of Vietnam’, Ba Be Lake takes on different colors and tints all day long: a striking azure blue hue at noon turns dark moss green as hazy clouds obscure the golden skies. All of the things out there and above the lush foliage and the billowing clouds - are captured and reflected vividly in the depths below. Ba Be is the most ethereal in the morning when the first morning rays slant through the drizzling mist hovering above the lake. The musty tropical smell, along with the rich symphony of the steamy forest, is something you will want to bottle up and bring home.
Saturate yourself with the delectable delights of Ba Be
Just like anywhere else in Vietnam, aside from the splendid scenery that astounds both experienced and novice travelers, the unique culinary scene of Ba Be is also what wins people’s hearts.
Ba Be grilled fish and shrimp
With a diverse marine ecosystem of hundreds of freshwater species, Ba Be fish and shrimp are not only a comfort food but are also a snack of the locals. You can easily catch sight of grilled fish and shrimp on bamboo skewers for sale everywhere near the wharf.
Skewers of Ba Be fish and shrimp (Source:Internet)
After being cleaned and gutted, the fish are seasoned with turmeric and spices, clamped between bamboo sticks and grilled on a charcoal fire until golden and aromatic. Small anchovies that are about the size of two fingers are the favorite type of fish here, as they are naturally sweet with a rich texture, and their bones are soft enough to be eaten.
Ba Be sour shrimp
Ba Be sour shrimp (Source: Internet)
In the old days, there were a lot of fish and shrimp in the lake, and fermentation allows food to stay edible for longer. Ba Be sour shrimp is different from that of Hue and other coastal regions. It is less sugary, less spicy, and naturally sweeter. Sour shrimp is best served with boiled pork trotters and a cut of pork. The shrimp must be alive and of the same size; rinsed thoroughly; and seasoned with ingredients like chili, garlic, and galangal; before leaving for fermentation.
Aside from fermentation, hanging the food on the stove is another tactic Tay ethnic people use to stop it from spoiling. Nowadays, the naturally sweet and chewy smoked pork is considered a luxury dish, reserved for big celebrations and serving special guests.
Because part of the fats starts to melt and drips down at high temperatures, smoked pork doesn’t taste greasy. The smoke infuses its flavor to the pork as soon as it contacts the meat’s surface, giving it a unique aroma and taste. To prepare smoked pork, the cook roasts it over a fire, rinses it, and cuts it into thin slices. It can be cooked with many other ingredients into mouth-watering dishes such as fried with mustard greens or tomatoes, or braised with garlic leaves, etc.
Pork belly stew
Khâu Nhục, or pork belly stew, is an indispensable dish in the celebrations of the locals such as festivals and weddings. It has a very appetizing reddish-brown finish, rich flavors, and a satisfying texture. The 5-hour process of making khau nhuc is very complicated and elaborate. The pork has to be boiled and seasoned before roasted. The taro roots must be the endemic type of Bac Kan that are white with a purple tint inside. As the pork is being roasted, the cook must keep basting it with honey until it is golden brown. Pork and taro roots are then placed alternatively in a bowl, and are filled with fried pork and mushrooms before being steamed.
Tips when visiting Ba Be National Park
1. How long should you plan your visit for?
A three day visit is sufficient to thoroughly explore Ba Be, including experiencing all of the popular attractions (Puông Cave, Hua Mạ Cave, Đầu Đẳng Waterfall, etc.) and delights.
2. When to visit?
Ringed by towering karst pinnacles of over 1,500m and exuberant, virgin vegetation, the biosphere reserve of Ba Be is blessed with a gorgeous average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius. With two distinct seasons: the wet season (from May to October) and the dry season (from November to April), Ba Be in every season is a charm in its own right. Take a look at the below list before planning your Northern Vietnam group tour to Ba Be Lake.
- All of the valleys teem with velvety green rice fields from January to early May and from June to early September, and later on turn golden in May and October.
Long Tong Festival in Ba Be (Source: Internet)
- Visiting Ba Be in springtime allows you to enjoy the grandiose greenery and the warm, inviting festive atmosphere of Long Tong Festival, or the festival of going down to the field of ethnic minorities (held on the 9th and 10th of lunar January). When the ritual is over, the merrymaking and festivities take over with many exhilarating activities steeped in tradition, such as bullfighting, blind man's buff, throwing cotton balls, catching ducks on the lake, etc. Feasts are an indispensable part of any festival, and Long Tong is no exception: rice cooked in bamboo tubes, sour shrimp, sticky rice cakes, ant egg cakes, multicolor sticky rice, corn wine, etc. As you enjoy the festive delights, tune in to the sweet melodies of Then, Luon, and Slu tunes, as well as the unique sounds of the traditional panpipe and flute performed by young men and women.
- April and May, filled with warm sunshine, is the peak season for cabbage white butterflies, with millions of these irresistible charmers carpeting the forest floor, weighing down the branches, and flitting on the prow. Also, the benign climate makes this lake a perfect respite from the summer heat and cramped beaches. From June to August, the floodwater engulfs the whole area, feeding the waterfalls and turning the tranquil place into a world of sublimity.
- In October, the leaves turn hues of orange and yellow, cascading onto the forest floor and into the crystalline lake, marking the arrival of fall. The picturesque landscape is shimmered with flecks of golden light, spellbinding you and tugging at your heartstrings! Also, August through October is the best time to try the sweet Quang Thái tangerines. Try planning your Ba Be trip on the weekend if you want to visit the unique marketplace of ethnic people.
3. Where to stay?
There are three accommodation options for you to choose from.
- About 100m from the wharf, there are multiple homestay accommodations equipped with free Wi-Fi at a reasonable price: from 60,000 VND/shared room or 150,000 VND/single room, an extra surcharge will be applied if dinner is included. It’s best to call ahead for a reservation.
- Head towards Quảng Khê Commune if your priorities are exclusivity and service. Many international tourists spend the night here.
- There is a spacious pasture near the jetty, perfect for camping out. If what you crave is lying on the grass, admiring the pitch black sky full of gleaming stars, and listening in absolute silence to the staccato of incests and croaks of frogs, bring your gear and ingredients along. Firewood is for sale here.
4. What to load up on?
- There aren’t many grocery stores and eateries in the village, so remember to pack snacks and water. The best way to avoid any hassle is to make a dinner reservation with villagers.
- Never forget to bring insect repellant and make sure you pack long sleeve tops and pants, as well as an extra jacket as the temperature drops significantly at night and in early morning.
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