Photo Essay: Bản Giốc Waterfall and the Thang Hen Lake

Three weeks ago, I took a night bus going to Cao Bằng, a small city in Vietnam’s far north.  The town itself doesn’t have much going for it but it is about 40 minutes away (by motorbike) from the Bản Giốc Waterfall, which straddles the Quây Sơn River that separates Vietnam from China.  About the same distance from Cao Bằng is Thang Hen Lake, one of the 36 Ba Be Lakes, around which my traveling companions and I hiked, despite hearing what I’m sure was a tiger.  It’s beautiful.

Bản Giốc Waterfall

The mountain behind the waterfall in the photo above is China.  (I saw China!)

Gold and green rice paddies quilt the vallies.  Farmers were harvesting them a few weeks ago when I visited.  To get up close to the waterfalls, you actually have to walk through rice fields.  A woman was taking a break from her work and let me photograph her baskets.

Lonely Planet tells us that it is possible to hire a bamboo raft to go up close enough to the waterfalls to feel the mist.  The first problem with this statement is that there is no one around to row them if you wanted to hire them.  Second, you can walk up to the waterfalls, climb on the rocks and feel the mist blowing from across the river.  I wouldn’t waste my 100,000 VND but the boats lined up along the river make for a good photo.

Thang Hen Lake

Legend has it that the 36 BaBe Lakes in northern Vietnam were created by a man named Chang Sung.  His mother wanted him to become a mandarin and marry a beautiful woman.  He passed the exam to become a mandarin and was summoned to the royal court.  He was supposed to appear within one week of the summons.  His mother quickly arranged his marriage to Biooc Luong (Yellow Flower).  Chang Sung forgot about his appointment at the palace, remembering only at the last minute.  In his hurry to get to the appointment, Chang Sung used black magic to help him leap and hop to the palace.  As usually happens with black magic, he screwed it up and lept 36 times, unable to control the speed or direction, creating the 36 lakes.  As punishment, he died and became a rock atop Ma Phuc Pass.

Thang Hen Lake remains dry throughout the year, though between May and September, rainy season, the water level is much higher, as evidenced by this boat:

Vietnam seems to be filled with caves–the famous Phong Nha, the caves at Tam Coc, Halong Bay.  Thang Hen Lake seems to be no exception, although I haven’t been in this one.

Naturally, I spied on the neighbors.

But the best part of the trip was the driving, although two hours on the back of a motorbike makes for a really sore bum.  Honestly, I was surprised it wasn’t bruised.  The villages were literally a few buildings, maybe a petrol station and a roadside market


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