Dotted with countless tiny islands, stratus clouds blurring the horizon, the helmsman led me to heavenly Na Hang Lake in northwestern Tuyen Quang Province.
Situated between Na Hang and Lam Binh districts, over 8,000 hectare Na Hang Lake is praised for its serenity.
Before embarking on my trip, a friend told me the destination was not worth the effort. During my one-year cross-Vietnam journey, I was happy to disprove this notion.
Na Hang Lake mirrors the cloudy heavens. Photo by Luu Minh Phung.
After a disappointing five day boat journey with ethnic Tay on Ba Be Lake, a destination well-praised for its natural beauty in neighbouring Bac Kan Province, I decided to visit Na Hang Lake via National Route 279. It struck me how deserted the route was, easily counting the number of people I passed during the a 130-km trip. Travelling along a road so isolated proved challenging, I thought.
Slowly, the wooden lodges of ethnic group Mong appeared against a hillside of the immense valley. A bluish, serene lake spread out before me, its breathtaking beauty leaving me trembling with excitement.
Standing the mesmerized, I continued on to Thuong Lam Commune in Tuyen Quang Province's Lam Binh District, where I would spend the night before commencing my exploration.
I reached the homestay at 5 p.m from Ba Be Lake, which I had left at 7 a.m. that morning. It had taken me much longer to reach my destination, having spent quality time stopping to admire the route.
Reaching the wooden homestay, I had tea with my host before retreating to rest. Dinner included many ethnic Tay specialities like ant-eggs, steamed with bamboo sprouts, stir-fried with jungle vegetables, or made into a pie, accompanied by local corn wine and a musical performance.
Tay musicians in traditional black attire swayed all in attendance with their unique melodies. Following traditional Then songs, performers danced with palm-leaf hats and woven baskets, highlighting activities associated with daily custom. The beautiful dance inspired one French guest to join in song. With friends of different nationalities holding hands, we closed the night with a round of bamboo dancing.
I woke early the next morning to savor the scenery, before enjoying a traditional breakfast of sticky rice and ant eggs. After, my host Tong took me for a ride across the lake.
Capable of carrying 30-40 guests, on the day, our boat held only me and four foreigners. Sharing the cost of the ride VND1.2 million ($52), we headed to Coc Vai Pha rock, Nam Me waterfall, Khuoi Sung waterfall, and Khuoi Nhi waterfall.
Coc Vai Pha rock is, according to a traditional fairy tale, the stake where the Tai Ngao giant fastened the reigns of his buffalo.
Famous Coc Vai Pha rock on Na Hang Lake. Photo by Xu Kien.
As the boat sailed, a gentle rain fell, further cleansing the pristine air. Taking a deep breathe to cleanse my lung, I grew hypnotized by the stratus clouds covering the horizon.
Tong, our helmsman, took us to Khuoi Nhi waterfall. Before entering, we passed along a rocky, winding path, requiring plenty of energy.
Khuoi Nhi waterfall, featuring a vertical drop of 3 km, left me both transfixed and humbled by the greatness of nature.
The great Khuoi Nhi waterfall. Photo by Xu Kien.
My foreign friends could not bear the excitement. Removing some clothes, they dived into the small lake, yelling with glee in their mother tongues.
Unable to swim, I enviously stood on the shore. Dipping my legs into the chilly water, I discovered tiny fish nibbling at my dead skin.
After an hour, my foreign friends and I, neither tired or bored, left for the homestay with much regret.
Passing many rocks, our helmsman stopped at a small, grass-covered isle. For some reason, the surrounding water was even more transparent than the rest of the lake, revealing the submerged world while also reflecting the upper greenery.
I spied a few lodges situated by the water, which our helmsman explained suit guests wishing to fish. However, we decided not to stop there, not this time at least.
We enjoyed lunch on the grass-covered isle, putting together a splendid barbeque that added much flavor to the experience.
We returned to the homestay in the afternoon, from where I rented a bicycle to explore the local village.
The author of this article, Xu Kien, in Na Tong Village in Tuyen Quang Province. Photo by Xu Kien.
I passed Na Tong village’s 100-year-old wooden Tay house, then through local paddy fields, and cornfields. As I reached Na Tong’s tall, majestic mountains, I stopped, feeling at peace. Is this the sensation I am after on my backpacking journey, a peacefulness of mind and a serenity in soul?
As I left, I knew I would also long to return to Na Hang Lake.
*A few noteworthy details to make your Na Hang visit better
I would recommend traveling here by motorbike, as the route is very beautiful.
If you prefer public transport, you can take a coach too. A few common coaches include Lien Hoa, Truong Bich (VND150,000 or $6.5) or Bao Yen, Hieu Nga (VND140,000) from My Dinh Bus Station in Hanoi.
There is a wide variety of lodgings in Thuong Lam Commune of Lam Binh District. I would recommend Hoang Tuan Homestay (Tel: 098 328 6283) in Na Tong Village at which I stayed. The hosts offer many services including traditional clothes renting, bicycle rental and boat rides.
Kayaking is a great additional service here not to be missed. Please don’t get lost!
Please check the route carefully to avoid traveling at night. The route to Thuong Lam Commune is very secluded, which makes night traveling quite dangerous.
You can wear what you like, with consideration for the weather. I would recommend bringing a pair of sneakers or sandals for easier climbing when you visit the waterfalls.
*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.