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Thac Ba Lake

After a four hour drive from Hanoi, I finally reach Thac Ong bridge (literally Sir Waterfall), where the water is so clear I can see the pebble stones on the river bed down below. After the bridge I drive along a winding road through the seemingly idyllic landscape.

Thatched stilt-houses from the odd sleepy hamlet appear by the roadside. Along the road, from time to time a member of the Dao, Tay or Nung communities materialises. Little else disturbs the pastoral scene. After another 30km I arrive at Ngoi Tu village, the largest Dao village by Thac Ba lake. With no hotel or restaurants around, Ngoi Tu village is ideal for a homestay.

There are no private rooms. The long house is divided into three parts, two sections along the windows where there are beds and a middle section for cooking and eating. The owner of the house Thuong is a consummate host. He supplies me with a clean mattress, mosquito-net, pillows and thick quilted blanket. It seems excessive as I’m rather hot after my drive from Hanoi, though he tells me at night time the temperature will drop.

“My house and a few others in the village have been receiving travellers for 10 years now,” says Thuong. “With the help of a Tour, we built a toilet and bathroom with a high level of sanitation to welcome guests, when they come to enjoy our traditional lifestyle and to enjoy the wonderful landscapes of the lake.” After hanging my mosquito-net as well as a cloth curtain, basically I have myself a private bedroom.

The first night is not quite so smooth however. The temperature does drop – drastically. Despite my mosquito-net, I am still a magnet for gnats and ticks. I realize I have forgotten to bring any kind of insect repellant. In the morning I am covered in itchy bites from my head down to my toe. Thankfully Thac Ba by morning is breathtakingly beautiful and soon I forget my woe.

I rise early to the sound of chirping and cock-a-doodle-dos. I look out the window at the resplendent paddy fields and hills and decide to head out to explore the village. A network of small, rough pathways connects the stilt-houses which are scattered around the hillside. A car would be useless here. Besides walking is a wonderful way to enjoy the country air. Even better, perhaps, is floating on the clear and blue water of Thac Ba lake. Thac Ba lake is home to the first hydroelectric plant in Vietnam and is also one of three biggest man-made lakes in the country.

But despite the fact that it is an artificial lake it is also well known as an attractive eco-tourist destination. The lake, which was formed in 1970, covers an area of 23,400ha; it is 80km long, 10-15km wide, and 45-60m deep. On the lake you will find nearly 2,000 soil and stone islets on which you can find numerous beautiful caves, pine forest and grass fields.

After renting a boat we paddle, or rather the boat owner Duan paddles, towards the hydroelectric plant, which was built over a period of 10 years from 1961 till 1971. Then I explore Thuy Tien cave, the 100-metre long cave in which the Yen Bai Provincial Party’s Committee held secret meetings during the war with the US. Afterwards I enjoy the cool atmosphere inside Xuan Long cave where beautiful stalactites of various shapes and sizes can be found, before arriving at Thac Ong Temple.

For me the most pleasurable aspect is arguable just relaxing out on the lake and taking in the view. In the sunshine the water seems to be sparkling. It’s truly magical. You can also swim if you care to dip in the cool waters. I try my hand at fishing, hoping to catch my own supper, but after an hour I’ve caught nothing.

However Duan rows towards a bamboo boat nearby where a bunch of local anglers have cast out their lines. One man reveals a box full of large carp and catfish. After I agree to pay VND100,000, the man fishes out a 2kg catfish and throws it into Duan’s basket. Then we row towards a small islet where Duan suddenly disembarks and disappears into the trees.

After a few minutes, he reemerges with a bundle of firewood and goes about lighting it up. Using a small piece of bamboo as a skewer he grills the fish. “Grilled catfish is the most delicious specialty you can have here,” he says with a big grin. “Everyone who comes here should try it.” One thing I never do when I’m away is disagree with the locals! The fish is exquisite. As we eat gazing out across the lake, nothing seems to stir.

Getting there: Thac Ba lake belongs to Luc Yen and Yen Binh districts, Yen Bai province, over 180km West of Hanoi. You can get to Ngoi Tu village of Dao ethnic minority, Vu Linh commune, Yen Binh district, Yen Bai province by motorbike, car or bus. From the centre of Hanoi, take the highway for Hoa Lac, turn right and head towards Son Tay, then follow the National Road 32 over Phong Chau bridge and turn left, following the Red River to Phu Tho.

Then take National Road 70 for 30km towards Doan Hung town. You can find the sign board of Lavie Vulinh to Ngoi Tu village on your right hand side at the T-junction in Doan Hung town. You can alternatively take a train to Yen Bai city then drive to Yen Binh town then Huong Ly Wharf and take a boat to Ngoi Tu village. (Nhandan)

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