Ba Be lake – The Vietnamese Geological heritage

Ba Be National Park is centred on Ba Be lake. The name Ba Be means “three lakes”, although the lake is one continuous water body, 8 km long and up to 800 m wide. At an altitude of 178 m, Ba Be is the only significant natural mountain lake in Vietnam. It is up to 29 m deep, and contains numerous small limestone islets.

The site ranges in altitude from 150 to 1,098 m. The geology of the area is predominantly limestone, with numerous rugged peaks and deep, steep-sided river valleys. The limestone karst landscape contains many caves(Halong Ba Ham caves)the largest being the 300 metre-long Phuong cave, through which the Nang river passes.

Ba Be lake is fed by the Ta Han, Nam Cuong and Cho Leng rivers, which form the above-ground hydrological system in the southern part of the national park. The lake drains into the Nang river, which flows through the north of the park. The Nang river then flows southwards, eventually meeting the Lo river in southern Tuyen Quang province, before joining the Red River west of Hanoi.

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Ba Be lake Biodiversity values

The forest at Ba Be can be classified into two main types: limestone forest and lowland evergreen forest. The limestone forest is distributed on steep limestone slopes with shallow soil, and covers a large proportion of the national park. This forest type is dominated by Burretiodendron hsienmu and Streblus tonkinensis. Lowland evergreen forest is distributed on shallow slopes with deeper soils. This forest type has a higher tree species diversity than limestone forest and has a richer ground flora.

With regard to mammals, the site is of particular interest for the presence of the globally vulnerable Owston’s Civet Hemigalus owstoni and Francois’s Leaf Monkey Trachypithecus francoisi, although it appears that only one group of 7 to 13 Francois’s Leaf Monkeys remains.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the globally critically endangered Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey Rhinopithecus avunculus continues to occur within the core zone of Ba Be national park (Cuc Phuong national Park). Information from Ba Be National Park staff suggests that the species may have occurred in the north-west of the national park as recently as 1997.

However, surveys by BirdLife International and Fauna & Flora International on behalf of the Creating Protected Areas for Resource Conservation Using Landscape Ecology (PARC) Project, in 2002 and 2003, provided no evidence in support of the supposition that the species remains at Ba Be.

Ba Be is unique amongst Vietnamese protected areas for the diversity of freshwater habitats. This is reflected to some extent in the diversity of fish species found at the site. Although recent surveys by the PARC Project have documented the existence of several endemic fish species, more work needs to be conducted in this area.

Ba Be also supports a high butterfly species richness. During surveys in 1997 and 1998, a total of 332 species were recorded at the national park, of which 22 were new records for Vietnam.

Ba Be lake is a popular tourist destination. A total of 8,733 visitors stayed at national park accommodation in 2003, 10% of whom were international visitors. Together with the river network, the lake is also an important means of communication for local communities, and the road heads on its eastern and western shores are linked by ferry. However, the construction of the new road around the lake has minimised the need for a ferry. The lake is also an important source of fish for local communities, and plays an important role in the regulation of flooding of the Nang river. Ba Be lake, therefore, has numerous economic and environmental functions, both locally and on a wider scale.

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Ba Be National Park lies in the Tropical Southern China area of the Indo-Malayan Realm. This region is characterised by steep limestone mountains, interspersed by lowland non-limestone areas. The underlying geology of the national park is limestone with topography being strongly separated and comprising many high mountain peaks, steep hill slopes, caves, valleys, streams and rivers. Ba Be Lake, which the national park is centred upon and after which it is named lies at 150m above sea level and the surrounding mountains rise up to 1,098m above sea level. The lake is mainly fed by the Ta Han, Cho Leng rivers and Bo Lu rivers.

Vegetation coverage mainly includes two types of forests: limestone and evergreen forests. Limestone forests are distributed on steep mountainsides where the soil is thin and cover most of the park area. Evergreen forests are distributed on low earthen hills covered with a thicker soil layer. The species diversity of the lowland evergreen forests is usually more diverse than those found on limestone mountains. The dominant limestone species include the threatened Burretiodendron hsienmu, Streblus tonkinensis among which climbing bamboo (Ampelocalamus sp) is endemic to the region and often found on hill slopes that lie adjacent to the lakeside.

The forests play an important role in watershed protection. Without this mosaic of plants, the land could likely be eroded due to intensive water flows and water restoration of the lake could therefore be weakened in the flood season. This would cause drought and flood every year, which threaten the lives of local communities in downstream of the Nang river.

Of the fauna in the national park, the most important mammal species for conservation are the Francois’ langur (Trachypithecus francoisi) and Owston’s Banded Civet (Hemigulus ownstoni). The Francois’ Langur was first found in 1995 along the second bank of Ba Be Lake and, in 2001 rediscovered nearby along the Nang River.

The Vietnamese Salamander (Paramesotriton deloustali) was recently discovered in streams in the buffer zone of the national park. These were the first records for this endemic species outside of Tam Dao National Park and considerably extended its range.

The national park is also notable for its considerable butterfly diversity, for which to date over 300 species have been recorded.

Without doubt, the national park plays an important role in wetland biodiversity and habitats conservation, in particular for freshwater fish, including several species listed in the Red Data Book of Vietnam.

Ba Be national park tourism

Ba Be National Park is the premier tourist site in north-east Vietnam. A six hour drive from Hanoi it offers a unique natural environment in Vietnam. Ba Be Lake is the centre piece of a landscape dominated by limestone mountains covered in thick mountainous forest.

The national park offers an inviting environment to relax and enjoy nature. It’s special limestone landscape, centred on the lake and dotted with small villages of different ethnic groups, creates a charming vista of both human and natural beauty. For more on the tourist sites in Ba Be National Park.

To enjoy these sites, there are a range of activities on offer including: Boat tour (Mekong boat tour ) round Ba Be Lake and Nang River stopping off at various beauty spots;

Trekking through the valleys, forests and visits to caves;

Cultural experiences, including visits to local villages, markets and musical performances.
Guides are available to accompany individuals or groups on their trips and to provide additional information to enlighten the visit.

The national park has a range of accomodation to suit most tastes from homestays in local villages to the comfort of the national park’s guesthouses. Other services are also on-hand including workshop facilities, restaurants and some leisure facilities. To find out more about the national park’s facilities click here.

Entrance fee: 11,000 d (less than 1 USD) per person, including insurance.

Ba Be national park ethnic group

Ba Be National Park is home to over 3,000 people from five different ethnic groups. For over 2,000 years, Ba Be has been inhabited by Tay people, who make up the majority. Nung and Dao people may have arrived about 100 years ago and Kinh and Mong are relatively recent arrivals.

There are 13 villages in the national park, some of which are almost exclusively inhabited by one ethnic group as shown in a map of villages around Ba Be National Park. Usually, Tay villages are situated in low-lying areas, Dao villages at mid-elevations and Mong villages in the uplands.

Tay and Nung

The Tay and Nung people both belong to the Tay – Thai language group and have many cultural similarities. Traditionally both Tay and Nung build stilt houses with 4 to 7 rows of columns supporting a living area above the ground and storage space for agricultural equipment and livestock underneath. The house is constructed with a two or four-sided roof made from thatch, palm leaves or roof tiles. Such houses are prevalent throughout Ba Be, although many families have now adopted to build their house directly on the ground.

Tay people throughout northern Vietnam have a long and advanced tradition of rice cultivation, usually along valley floors, in addition to cultivating a variety of other crops. The agricultural calendar is marked by the “Long Tong” (Descending to the rice fields) Spring Festival, which gives thanks for the previous harvest and prays for a successful harvest in the year to come. This festival is held next to Ba Be Lake on the 10th day of the lunar new year and is one of the most important local annual festivals.

Additionally, Tay people commonly raise livestock and around Ba Be Lake they also fish. The traditional Tay dug-out canoe is still used for fishing.
Traditional Tay dress and ubiquitous dug-out canoe of Ba Be Lake
Tay weaving
Tay people are renowned for their tradition brocade weaving and embroidery. It is normally used for room dividers, blankets, baby carriers, backpacks and tablecloths. A brocade weaving is often given as a gift on special occasions such as weddings or for a new-born baby.

Tay looms are among the largest and most sophisticated of the traditional looms found in Vietnam.
The primary materials are cotton and silk threads dyed in a variety of different colours.

Many Tay families in and around Ba Be National Park still weave traditional brocades to generate extra income for the family as well as preserving the tradition for the next generation. However the tradition and quality of the Tay embroidery is not as highly developed as in some other areas.

The eight-pointed star is a typical motif found in Tay weavings. It also features on other Tay handicraft like shutters and walls made from woven bamboo.

Ladies from Pac Ngoi village giving a musical performance.

Music and dance

The Tay have their own musical traditions, which continue to have a strong cultural signficance in the area. The national park encourages local musical and dance traditions and performances are often given by groups from local villages. The most distinctive instrument of the Tay people is the “dan tinh” a long string instrument with a semi-spherical sound box at the end.

Dzao and Mong

The Mong and Dzao belong to the same ethno-linguistic group and share many cultural similarities. They usually live in upland areas and traditionally practice swidden agriculture, moving from an area when the soil becomes depleted of nutrients. This practice is now being discouraged and is completely forbidden in national parks. In Ba Be, Mong usually cultivate their crops on sloping land, but also rely on forest products to supplement their livelihoods.


In Ba Be, Mong houses are always built directly on the ground. The staple crop of the Mong is maize, often ground to make “men men”. Other common foods are pumpkins, soya beans, cassava and upland rice.

The Mong villages here are more isolated than those of other local ethnic groups and the Mong people live in close-knit communities. They have a strong sense of cultural identity expressed most noticeably through their distinctive dress. The main local sub-groups of Mong are the Black, White and Blue Mong.

Dzao Thay Tao in ceremonial costume – Mr. Thieu Huu Tien from Nam Cuong Commune Dzao spiritual life

The spiritual life of Dzao people centres on the worship of ancestors and Ban Vuong their mythical common ancestor. It also draws on elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Most Dzao villages have a spiritual leader called a Thay Tao who acts as an intermediary between this world and the world of the spirits. The Thay Tao plays a vital role in Dzao spiritual life and is a moral support for the whole community.

The Thay Tao in front of this altar is conducting an initiation rite that all young men must go through to signify their entry into adulthood. The holy books he prays from have been transcribed by the Thay Tao himself from scriptures passed down through generations.

The Thay Tao conducts ceremonies for all significant events such as births, weddings, ground breaking, entering a new house, praying for good crops, festivals, funerals and death anniversaries.

Read more List of Vietnamese ethnic groups.

Source: Babelaketravel