Photos: Tuan Nguyen
Discover Ban Viet Lake in Cao Bang province in late autumn or early winter
Cao Bang province is famous for tourist attractions such as Ban Gioc Waterfall, Lenin Lake, Nguom Ngao Cave, Mat Than Mountain, and Thang Hen Lake. Cao Bang also hosts a lesser-known but no less impressive attraction: Ban Viet Lake in Trung Khanh district.
Ban Viet Lake is an artificial freshwater lake hidden among the natural forests of Phong Chau and Tan Phong districts. Aside from its primary function as a water source for local irrigation, the lake is also a popular tourist spot with beautiful scenery. The lake is 5ha wide, 6km long, and 50m deep, with four branches. The area boasts a diverse ecosystem and lush vegetation.
This is a great destination for ecotourism, where visitors can enjoy relaxing activities such as camping, building bonfires, singing, and cycling around the lake. Visitors who prefer more extreme sports can trek through the forests. Nothing beats walking through the woods over a path covered in rustling dry leaves. Here, you can inhale the fresh scents of myriad plants and hear bird songs in the trees’ sun-drenched canopies.
Ban Viet Lake is also a great place to experience exciting water activities. Tourists may travel on rafts as locals guide them into a magical fairyland. Sparkling sunlight shines through the trees, which reflect on the emerald surface of the lake, along with overlapping mountain ridges and floating white clouds.
Visitors should arrive early in the morning to admire the white mist covering the calm waters of Ban Viet Lake. The silhouette of a distant boatman on the calm lake transforms the scene into a watercolor painting. As the sun rises, the scene gradually changes. The early rays of dawn shimmer as they filter through the mist. When the fog lifts and the sun comes up, the landscape appears bright and brimming with life. Tourists will then notice a gazebo sitting peacefully in the middle of the lake. With its bright red tiled roof and white painted walls, this gazebo is a local landmark featured in souvenir photos. As daylight fades, the scenery changes but remains lovely. When the sun sets behind the dense forest, the lake’s rippling surface becomes scarlet-tinted.
Ban Viet Lake is stunning in all seasons. In the spring, flowers and leaves sprout, eager to display their vibrant colors. In the summer, the flora is lush and radiant, basking in the sun. The most beautiful and poetic scenes, however, occur in late autumn and early winter, when the Formosan gum leaves change color from dark green to dark yellow, then red. The entire forest appears to have woken up. The red-leafed Formosan gum tree is a large tree that can grow to a height of 10 meters. This species grows wild in the mountains of Cao Bang, but is most abundant in the forest surrounding Ban Viet Lake. Because Formosan gum leaves are fragrant and edible, they are often used to make five-color sticky rice or served as a garnish. From above, the Formosan gum forest emerges as a breathtaking canvas recently finished by a skilled artist.
The locals who live around Ban Viet Lake have distinct cultural practices. When visiting villages that are home to ethnic Tay and Nung people, visitors can admire their ancient stone stilt houses. They can also discover Cao Bang’s unique cuisine, which features delectable dishes infused with the rich flavors of the Northeast’s mountains, rivers, and streams. Soft and smooth rolls, five-color sticky rice, oily canarium album sticky rice, nam khau (a pork dish with a distinct taro flavor, scented with honey), sausages infused with the smell of kitchen smoke, fresh green herbs with crispy beef, rich-tasting roasted duck, and warm leaf-yeast wine are some of the specialities on offer. When it’s time to go home, don’t forget to buy bags of fragrant, buttery Trung Khanh chestnuts as a warm winter gift.