Often referred to as the Ba Be Lakes, Ba Be National Park was established in 1992 as Vietnam’s eighth national park. The scenery here is breathtaking, with towering limestone mountains peaking at 1554m, plunging valleys, dense evergreen forests, waterfalls, caves and, of course, the lakes themselves.
There are 13 tribal villages in the Ba Be region, with most belonging to the Tay minority, who live in stilt homes, plus smaller numbers of Dzao and H’mong. A village homestay program is now well established, allowing travellers to experience life in a tribal village.
Ba Be Center Tourism is Tay-owned and can arrange homestays, boat trips and multiday tours of Ba Be National Park, including trekking and kayaking.
The park is a rainforest area with more than 550 named plant species, and the government subsidises the villagers not to cut down the trees. The hundreds of wildlife species here include 65 (mostly rarely seen) mammals, 353 butterflies, 106 species of fish, four kinds of turtle, the highly endangered Vietnamese salamander and even the Burmese python. Ba Be birdlife is equally prolific, with 233 species recorded, including the spectacular crested serpent eagle and the oriental honey buzzard. Hunting is forbidden, but villagers are permitted to fish.
Ba Be (meaning Three Bays) is in fact three linked lakes, which have a total length of 8km and a width of about 400m. More than a hundred species of freshwater fish inhabit the lake. Two of the lakes are separated by a 100m-wide strip of water called Be Kam, sandwiched between high walls of chalk rock.
Park staff can organise tours. Costs depend on the number of people, starting at about US$35 per day for solo travellers and less if there’s a group of you. The most popular excursion is a boat trip (around 650,000d) along the Nang River and around the lake – keep an eye out for kingfishers and raptors. The boats can accommodate up to 12 people and the tour usually takes in the tunnel-like Hang Puong (Puong Cave), which is about 40m high and 300m long, and completely passes through a mountain. As many as 7000 bats (belonging to 18 species) are said to live in this cave. Further stops can be made at the pretty Tay village of Cam Ha (where every timber house has a satellite dish) and the startling, circular, jungle-rimmed lagoon of Ao Tien, before finishing at An Ma Pagoda, situated on a little island in the middle of the lake.
The Thac Dau Dang (Dau Dang or Ta Ken Waterfall), consisting of a series of spectacular cascades between sheer walls of rock, is another possible destination. Just 200m below the rapids is a small Tay village called Hua Tang.
Other options include dugout-canoe tours or combination cycling, boating and walking possibilities. Longer treks can also be arranged.
The park entrance fee is payable at a checkpoint on the road into the park, about 15km before the park headquarters, just beyond the town of Cho Ra.