Ha Giang Adventure Tours

On to Ba Be National Park

Most of the trip was a repeat of the trip up to Cao Bang. It was more hazy, though, so the views weren't quite as nice, but still a breathtaking journey.

I like onions, really. I even make a to-die-for Alsatian onion tart. But riding four hours in a mini-bus with little ventilation and 200 pounds of onion sets in the aisle is a bit of overkill. It took a while to get that scent out of our nasal membranes! Actually, the buses have not been as odoriferous as I had imagined. You would think that so many people crammed into so small a space in 90 degree heat would be awful, but I've only been blown away by body odor twice in six weeks. The Paris metro in December is worse than that!.

Our direct bus from Cao Bang to Ba Be National Park was scheduled to leave at noon. (Confirm this by asking at the desk the day before.) So we were at the station at 11:20, and the bus pulled out at 11:40. We proceeded to drive around town picking up passengers and cargo and left town about 12:15. (I read in another blog that if you show up at the station and your bus is gone, you have someone call the driver, and he will come back to get you.)

Most of the trip was a repeat of the trip up to Cao Bang. It was more hazy, though, so the views weren't quite as nice, but still a breathtaking journey. As we approached our destination the bus pulled over to let an elderly gentleman disembark. We heard cries of "Grandpa! Grandpa!" and saw a child running pell mell for the bus. The looks of delight on both the grandfather's and the grandson's faces made the whole bus break into laughter and smiles. Some things are the same the world over.

The bus dropped us in the small town of Cho Ra. It is another 17k to the National Park, and the xe om drivers know they have you over a barrel. (Have I explained that xe oms are motorcycle taxis? Hop on and off you go!) 100,000 Dong ($5) per person to go the last bit. We had come all the way from Cao Bang for 90, 000 Dong, but what are you going to do? Even the locals paid it, so while we were being ripped off, we weren't being ripped off anymore than everyone else. Small consolation. Our drivers proceeded to take us to their friend's guest house and tried to get us to stay there, but we insisted they take us to the National Park. This is another example of why you put everything in writing. Without the name of the guesthouse and a price written down, they might have tried to get us to pay more for taking us on into the park, ( an additional 3km) claiming they didn't understand we wanted to go to the National Park guesthouse and that, of course, it is farther, so it will cost more, etc.

The best place to stay in the area, and the only place in the park, is the Ba Be Lake National Park Guesthouse (Vuon Quoc Gia Ba Be). No need to make a reservation in October, the place is nearly deserted. Then again, maybe you should make a reservation, so they will know someone is coming. Telephone (0281) 389-6026. That telephone number, by the way, is hard earned. It took three people searching the Internet in both English and Vietnamese quite some time to find it. We opted for the top of the line villa at 500,000 Dong ($25) per night. We got the hardest bed yet, hot water, and air con stuck on 22 degrees, not to mention a toad hiding out in the corner. Lance disposed of the toad (those of you who know me well know how much I appreciated this), and we asked for an extra duvet to keep warm all night at 22 degrees (71 F.) as the one provided didn't cover our feet. 
The whole resort complex may have been lovely at one time, but it's pretty awful now. Two huge swimming pools were full of stagnant water, the grounds were not maintained, stray dogs roamed around. The restaurant wasn't too bad, and we had very decent fried rice and fried noodles with lots of really good chicken. The eggs in the morning were edible. There was only one other group there consisting of about 7 guests. The place has over fifty rooms, so you get the picture. But we hadn't come for the accommodations. It was the lakes (Ba Be means three lakes)

There is a government employee at the park headquarters who has our eternal gratitude for telling us how to get a boat to see the lake. His English was very good. In case you find yourself in a similar situation and he isn't working that day, here is what to do. Ask reception to give you a ticket with it's official red stamp for the boat ride (I think this is like a pass into the national park) and then get a xe om to take you to Boc Lam (the boat landing). This will cost you 50,000 Dong ($2.50) per person. A man in uniform will take your ticket and then direct you to a boat driver and you will follow him to your boat. The boat is 560,000 Dong ($23) regardless of how many people go. There was no one else around, so we had our own private boat. This actually was nice as we could go at our own pace. 

The lakes are gorgeous; I could have floated among them all day. Surrounded by rows of mountains, it was all quite hazy, and I kept thinking of the Smoky Mountains in the States. We stopped at Hang Puong Cave, Dau Dang Waterfall, Fairy Pond, the pagoda, and Widow Island. You can have lunch near the waterfalls. We didn't, though Lance, after buying a Coke, had a couple shots of the local white lightning brew with the men (I was not included and bought bananas from a grandmother who was delighted when I grossly overpaid her.) The trip took about four hours and dropped us at a landing 2k from our guesthouse. We weren't sure whether to pay the boat man or whether it would be added to our bill at the hotel. He didn't seem to know either, so we paid him. (Next morning at check out the desk took our word for it.) It was a hot walk uphill back to the hotel. Once again, litter marred the beauty. This country really needs a Ladybird Johnson to clean it up, but I would still recommend this experience. The photos don't do it justice as it was hazy.

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