Ba Be National Park is a six-hour drive north and a little west of Hanoi. It is a route through hills, along one of the lesser (meaning lighter truck traffic) routes to China. A drive on Highway 3 through the sizeable town of Nguyen Thai, and then a turn west near Bac Can leads to the park entrance and headquarters. The lake is about two more kilometers beyond. Just outside the entrance is another village, and access to the Nang River. Here, boats can be hired.
There is a village by the lake. Vietnamese national parks are where the land, water, animals, and forest are protected. But there can still be people living within the borders. These people have always lived there. For many practical and cultural reasons, it would not be good to throw them out.
Xuan Hung and I went with our driver to the park headquarters, and then to our small but comfortable guest house nearby.
There was time left in this late January day. The length of each day doesn't shorten nearly as much in Vietnam (22 degrees north of the Equator here, and less than half that in the south) as days do at higher lattitudes. Having some time, we walked a trail deeper into the park from the guest houses. This trail got dimmer and dimmer, and the vegetation thicker. But it was a close look at the forest there.
In the morning, Xuan Hung and I drove back out of the park to the village, where a boat had been arranged. We walked a short distance along a path through rice fields to the Nang River and boarded. Heading downstream between forested hillls, we plunged right into the dark entrance to a limestone cave. But the river soon emerged again, on the other side of a ridge.
Somewhere in this area, we landed and walked up into a small valley that is farmed by the Tay minority. The contoured rice fields were dry and unplanted, but luxurious vegetable gardens were growing. I don't think I saw an adult, but groups of smiling children greeted us.
We passed the channel through which Ba Be lake is fed by the Nang River when the river is high, and through which the opposite happens when the river is low. This continual cycle is important to those who depend on the river downstream for their water. Geologically, I can't imagine it's a situation that will last very long.
Just a short distance downstream, we stopped at an eatery run by a minority family. But before eating, Xuan Hung and I walked a short trail downstream to Dau Dang falls on the river. Here, the water tumbles down in several channels over a barrier of rock.
Hmmmmm.... In thinking about this, I suspect the rock barrier holds back not only the calm river just above, including the channel to the lake, but is also what holds the entire lake in place. Once this plug of rock is removed by erosion (and nature is working hard on it), perhaps Ba Be lake will go off downstream. Catastrophically and completely? I don't know.
We walked back to the Tay eatery and enjoyed a wonderful meal. I remember it as one of the best of the trip. There was a bed of coals on the dirt floor toward the back, and this is where food was cooked. Whole families were eating there that day, seated around tables.
Back onto our boat we went, and through the channel onto Ba Be lake. The first stop was Fairy Pond, where (due to porous ground) the water stands just as high as on the nearby lake. On down through a narrow channel on the lake, it presently opened up again and there was a village on the other side.
At the village, people were setting up for a festival the next day. There was much to eat, including meat and citrus. Targets for throwing contests were being erected. Tents were being put up. Xuan Hung and I stayed there for a while, then hired another boat (ours had gone back home) to cross the lake. We walked the 2 kilometers back to our guest house.
In the morning, there was no breakfast available. The preparers had all gone to the festival out by the lake. So Xuan Hung and I ate in Bac Can, on our way back to Hanoi.