It really is a babe: a beautiful region that covers more than 7000 hectares and boasts mountains high, rivers deep, waterfalls, plunging 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 suggests travelling 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 rock, and is accessible by boat and on foot during day trips. Just 200m below the rapids is a small Tay village called Hua Tang. It costs 400, 000d for a boat here and takes at least four hours.
Hang Puong (Puong Cave) 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. It costs 300, 000d for a boat and takes three hours.
Renting a boat is de rigueur, and costs from 150, 000d per hour. The boats can carry about 12 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 noisy engines. An optional guide, worth considering, costs US$10 per day. The boat dock is about 2km from park headquarters.
The park staff can organise several tours. Costs depend on the number of people, but expect to pay at least US$25 per day if you’re travelling alone. 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. Homestays 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 checkpoint on the road into the park, about 15km before the park headquarters, just beyond the town of Cho Ra.