About a 6 hour ride past the Hanoi airport north on Route 3, and north of Thai Nguyen, you’ll pass through some areas of terraced rice farming that are a harbinger of the stunning mountainous scenery to come.
From the town of Bac Can, you’ll take the western road (a left) toward Ba Be Lake, and from there the track is a winding path carved into the side of a mountain range. As the road climbs toward the park, you experience increasingly picturesque views of the valley among hill tribe villages a left or a right off the main track brings you to terraced rice fields and likely to invitations for tea and friendly chats with locals.
Cho Ra is the small town servicing Ba Be National Park, just 14km to the west. Cho Ra is the best place to overnight before a day tour in the park and an afternoon ride on to Cao Bang (or back to Hanoi). Cho Ra is just a quiet little outpost, one busy main street surrounded by rice fields and mountains. Surrounded by diverse ethnic hill tribes, mostly Thai, the town’s central market is very busy on weekends, when rural villagers trek to town to sell produce, as well as weaving and needlework. Ba Be Park is a great place to enjoy an all-day boat ride and trekking to remote villages in the surrounding hills.
Come prepared for self-sufficiency: There’s no bank, post officer, or Internet in tiny Cho Ra. You can usually pay with U. S. dollars at the hotels, but he sure to also carry Vietnamese dong.
Go by car or motorbike north from Hanoi some 200km (124 miles), and then follow signs to Cho Ra.
Where to Stay & Dine
Dining is pretty minimal in this area. If you stay in the park, there’s a canteen with basic, overpriced grub, but it’s rarely busy, so it’s kind of an ad hoc operation. You’re on your own in Cho Ra Town, really, and any Vietnamese-language basics (“com trung” for rice and eggs, for example) or knack for charades will help out at the few little com (rice) and pho (noodle soup) stands along the main drag near the central market (at the corner where the road splits north to Cao Bang, west to Ba Be Lake, and south to Bac Can).
Ba Be Guesthouse This is the most popular guesthouse in town and the most likely address if you come here on a tour. If the place is full, lots of copycats are nearby (try the Hai Yen, about 1 km down the road heading toward the park), but Ba Be is your best chance to meet up with other travelers and arrange day tours on the river and lake.
In Central Cho Ra. 0281/387-6115. 10 units. No credit cards. Amenities: Restaurant (w/ English menu), In room: A/C, no phone.
Ba Be National Park surrounds central Ba Be Lake, the starting point for adventurous trips to the park’s more far-flung destinations. Best if organized through a tour company, you’ll find many options for rugged travel here. Some start near the town of Cho Ra in a little area called Pak Kaw, and then spend all day on long-tail boats exploring the small river as it snakes among hill tribe villages before emptying into the lake. The remote caves and far-flung villages are all best visited with a guide. Standard group tours commonly hop a boat just past the park entrance.