Ba Be National Park

Ba Be National Park (Vuon Quoc Gia Ba Be; 894014, fax 894026; admission 10,000d per person, plus 1000d insurance fee, plus 10,000 per car) is sometimes referred to as Ba Be Lakes. It is in Bac Kan province and was established in 1992 as Vietnam’s eighth national park. It’s a beautiful region that covers more than 23,000 hectares and boasts waterfalls, rivers, deep 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 government subsidises the villagers not to cut down the trees. The 300 or so wildlife species in the forest include 65 (mostly rarely seen) mammals, 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 Madrolle Guide to Indochina suggested getting 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 roch, and is accessible by boat and on foot during a day trip. Just 200m below the rapids is a small Tay village called Hua Tang.

Hang Puong (Puong Cave) is another place that 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.

Renting a boat is de rigueur, and costs 40,000d per hour. The boats carry about eight 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 nosy engines. An optional guide (recommended) costs US$10 per day. The boat dock is about 2km from park headquarters.

The park staff can organize several tours. Cost depend on the number of people, but expect to pay at least US$25 per day if you’re traveling alone. It will coast less per person with more people in a group. 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 combination cycling, boating and walking possibilities. Home-stays 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 check-point on the road into the park about 15km before the park headquarters, just after leaving Cho Ra.

Places to Stay and Eat

Not far from the park headquarters are two accommodation options. Rooms in the newly built guesthouses (US$20) are fine, if a bit pricey. There are also pleasant air-con two-room cottages (rooms US$25). Negotiate as the price in dong may be cheaper. There’s an OK restaurant on-site, and you need to place your order an hour or so before you want to eat. Internet access is available for 10,000d per hour.

Ba Be Hotel ( 8761115; fan rooms US$12-15) is in Cho Ra, 18km from the lakes. It’s pretty grotty for the price; you’re better off staying in the park.

It’s also possible to stay in stilt houses at a couple of hamlets in the park. The park office can organize this for about US$3 per person. Food is available at the home-stays, including fresh fish from the lake, and prices are reasonable.

Take enough cash for your visit 0 there are no money-exchange facilities.

Getting There & Away

Ba Be National Park is in Back an province not far from the borders of Cao Bang province and Tuyen Quang province. The lakes are 240km from Hanoi, 61km from Bac Kan (also known as Bach Thong) 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-way journey from Hanoi takes about six hours, most travelers allow three days and two nights for the entire excursion.

Reaching the park by public transport is possible, but not easy. Take a bus from Hanoi to Phu Thong (30,000d, six hours) via Thai Nguyen and/or Bac Kan, and from there take another bus to Cho Ra (10,000d, two hours). In Cho Ra you will have to get a motorbike (about 30,000d) to take you the last 18km, unless you are willing to walk it.