We are ready to get out of busy Hanoi city, we find ourselves after a fast day of arrangements, packed with two rented 125cc Honda bikes, ready to go for three weeks.
Beautiful mountains of North Vietnam, here we come!
10 minutes after take-off next day, still in Hanoi, the trip seem for a black moment to get to an abrupt end. I slide in the middle of the road during a u-turn, with Lin on the back, and we both fall over in the street, hitting the asphalt stone hard! Shock and disappointment flashes through my head in the same moment, what an end of our motorbike trip before it even started! But again we are having angel-guard and big luck; no cars were close by at that moment and some people nearby come quickly running to help us get up and into the side of the street. They are so caring and helpful, finding chairs to let us sit and first aid equipment for cleaning wounds which luckily enough is only minor cuts and some scratches. They bring cold drinks to cool our shaky bodies and help checking the bike, which also lucky enough has no damage. No English spoken, but in this case no need.
After an hour or so, when the worst shock has passed, we decide to continue, one lesson richer as a serious warning to be more careful. Thank you.
Guess who was the slowest driver on the road that day….
Behind stinky trucks and honking trailers with horns blowing your ears off and which make you almost swerve off the road, how long will this crazyness last? Motorbikes and cars in an endless noisy row, all trying to pass each other often at the same time, no matter whether the road is curved or straight, and each one has to honk to the ones he passes. Each and one. A basic traffic rule.
Little by little the noise and amount of cars start to be less hectic and when we take off from main road no. 3 and onto a smaller road direction in direction of Ba Be national park, the landscape starts to open up. Beautiful patchwork of rice terraces in various nuances of lush green are spread out over large areas where you see here and there people with the typical Vietnamese 3-point- hat, working in the fields. In the further distance there are beautiful old wooden houses with roofs of palm leaves, resting on stilts, looking like they have resided there majestic and peacefully for the last 300 years.
Mind and heart seem to open up in tune with the widening horizon.
It is so amazingly beautiful.
The freedom to stop anywhere we want feels just fantastic. Thrilled gazing at the beautiful landscape surrounding us; to take a break drinking a cup of bitter green tea from small cups, offered at every local small place ; to stop to buy sweet locally grown mangos or lychees from smiling women sitting along the road, using hands and smiles to communicate since almost nobody knows even a single word of English.
Everything in slow speed. It is not about arriving but about enjoying being on the way.
About 240 km drive from Hanoi and a couple of nights on the way, we arrive to Babe, a beautiful national park with 3 lakes, rivers and waterfalls,
surrounded by lush green mountains and limestone formations so typical for the North. We decide to stay in Bo Lu, a peaceful village with just a few houses, located at the edge of the lake and where the local boats leave to bring people to the other side.
We find accommodation in a Nha Ngi which means homestay, where its possible to rent a simple room in peoples house, sometimes with food included. The family offers us a large basic room upstairs, with simple mattresses on the floor and mosquitonets, nothing else is really important. The view from the long narrow balcony outside is breathtaking, over open green fields, the dark blue lake and majestic mountains.
The village is a quiet, friendly place. Chickens, ducks and pigs of all sizes are running between the houses, and all along the road an incredible amount of huge black and white butterflies are playing joyfully in the bushes. People are smiling and hospitable, and we soon find our favorite work-spot for the next few days, a small cosy balcony with only 4 tables, green view and the only place with wi-fi in the whole village. It is the home of Duyen and Linh and their 3-year old son, an amazingly sweet family which run a small travel agency as well as this small restaurant with the best home cooked food in the village (www.babenationalpark.com.vn), we are soon to be invited to join Linh and his young group of friends for long sessions of rice wine as a symbol of friendship.
Lots of rain with some sun in between, but days are still beautiful in this peaceful place. We hire a local guy to take us across the lake in his boat, and up river to the Puong cave, a very impressive spot full of bats and amazing stalactites. The river flows through it and you can only reach it by water. On the way back we take a dip in the refreshing lake and thereafter our boat guide let us off at the edge of the lake, points to an old path through the jungle which Linh had told us about and we just cross our fingers hoping that the guy knows where he is supposed to pick us up further down.
Fresh earthy smell, a lush narrow trail slowly curving upwards to the highest point, after half an hour revealing a rusty 20m tall observatory tower with steep steps, with gaping holes where some steps are missing. Careful climbing all the way, and there we are. Wow. The view is breathtaking! The blue lake, the sprawling vegetation in all nuances of lush green, and layer after layer of steep limestone mountains, one after the other wrapped in a haze of magic.
Moments of pure bliss and appreciation of how lucky we are to experience beauty like this!
Difficult to leave this amazing spot…….., but the boat is waiting.
Caves are always exciting, and when you have motorbike you can search for them anywhere. The Hua Ma Cave is also in the neighborhood of Babe, but we miss the entrance and do a long detour, nobody seem to be understanding a word of what we ask, with or without phrase-book. Finally arriving at the place, it is amazing cave, we love to wonder and get lost in this huge space.
We decide for a rather time for a light lunch instead of the skipped breakfast after entering the dark cave, and there is only one place around. We order 4 vegetarian soups and hang around to wait.
Further up, beside another house we see somebody busy with a fire, with 4 sticks peeping up from the flames. It takes a short while to focus our eyes, until we realize what they are grilling; a dog! In vietnam this is a delicatessen, served in many restaurants, since dog meat is regarded to be warm food giving energy.
Emotionally it is quite challenging and we escape inside. Definition of delicacies of course is a cultural and mental thing, but still…..
Soup is served few minutes later, but appetite is not quite the same…A short while thereafter, we smell a terrible burned sweet odour, and realize that just beside the opening of the restaurant, beside the door to the kitchen, the owner is now cleaning the charred body of our 4-legged friend with a waterhose, and start thereafter enthusiastically to part the body.
That was the final end of our meal. And probably the start of their preparations for lunch….
Never have we been so 100% convinced being vegetarians!
But the cave was well worth the visit. Not so big, but with lot of very impressive and beautiful stone formations.
Babe National Park was fantastic. Such a intimate peaceful place. Thank you Linh and Duyen for making us feel home!
Ha Xiang province and the mountains towards China next….