Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ba Be National Park

Ba Be National Park is about 250 km from Hanoi and is maybe one of the most underrated places in all of Vietnam..….So, don’t tell anyone.

Motorbike touring is one of best things to do here in the North. The countryside is mountainous and full of great vistas. So famous are the roads and towns among Hanoian expats that full-blown bike clubs have been formed around this activity. Hanoi’s Minsk Club specializes in going on these tours with Belarussian bikes of its namesake. Another club, with a much longer name, says it all-Zoom Zoon, Let’s Go To The Countryside.

Our little clan for this trip is made up of two Asian/Americans and five Swiss ladies. We took between us five motorbikes with two teams riding tandem. We spent two days driving-one day up and one day back, and two days enjoying the sites of Ba Be.

Ba Be means three tanks, or three bodies of water, which I cannot really see that well by the map. But I’ll take their word for it. What I do know though is it’s beautiful!

It felt like being in Yosemite for the first time. There is a big valley with a big lake surrounded by tall walls.  And around dusk you can smell the scent of wood burning, not from campfires but from kitchen fires.

The local indigenous folks are White Tay, a gentle and likeable folk. Our guesthouse keeper is Tay and made us feel welcomed and comfortable. His place was the first guesthouse in the valley and it commands the best view, being on stilts and higher on the hillside.

For the rest of the photos click the above links.

I wont bore you with too many of the details because the scenery will speak for itself. But I will enlighten you on a little bit of the logistics.

Firstly, it is unlawful for anyone to drive a motorbike in Vietnam without a license. But, I was told, when getting pulled over by the police in the North, just speak English. They will get frustrated after a little while and let you go. Not too many of the older folks in the North, especially the countryside, speak English. We never got asked to pull over.

Secondly, the roads are very dangerous outside of Hanoi before you’re out in the countryside. As a motorbike driver you’re competing with semi-trucks, kids on bicycles, farmers driving horse or cattle drawn buggies and bus drivers, the worse of the lot. Luckily I think other motorbike drivers know this too because they are also careful out here. God knows what would happen if motorbike drivers in Hanoi came out here and drive the same chaotic way they do in the city. Actually I do know. I think they’ve been scared straight with stories of death on the asphalt.  We survived almost unscathed. Sonja got cut off within Hanoi city limits and hit the pavement. She escaped with minor scratches and bruising.

Lastly, leave early. On our way out we left Hanoi late and ended up getting to Ba Be shortly after dark, which was little scary as a storm was brewing. On the way back however we left early enough to make several stops to enjoy the countryside. We had sticky rice prepared several ways at a few roadside stands. One version was cooked in bamboo and a couple of the others were wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with meat. We even bought local bananas.  And because we were early we could afford to be lost, driving thru a local Tay market and being the town spectacle for a brief moment. (You can see this on the video.)

Remember. Don’t tell anyone about Ba Be.

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