Ba Khan – a miniature Hạ Long bay hidden in the mainland hills

September 30, 2016 - 10:10

Any traveller who has trekked through the Thung Khe mountain pass knows enchantment; they know the sight of a vast plain that sits among mountain clouds and chilled fog, among the rocky mountain range and the Đà River reservoir.

Worthy of Monet: Tourists can enjoy water lily flowers along the road in Ba Khan. Photo
Viet Nam News

by Mộc Miên

Any traveller who has trekked through the Thung Khe mountain pass knows enchantment; they know the sight of a vast plain that sits among mountain clouds and chilled fog, among the rocky mountain range and the Đà River reservoir.

This gorgeous plain, known as Ba Khan, is the jewel of the drive from Hà Nội to Mai Châu, the gateway to Việt Nam’s Northwestern mountains.

Everyone who passes through Ba Khan remembers it, but its name and beauty are still unknown to many tourists and travellers.

Looking from the top of the Thung Khe mountain pass, the Ba Khan plain looks like a giant pan with rocks of all shapes and sizes emerging from the water surface. The whole scenery resembles a miniature Hạ Long Bay. With a perimeter of over 20 kilometres along the Đà River, the Ba Khan plain possesses an airy mountainous beauty.

The path to the Ba Khan plain is the one-and-only route that reaches the hydroelectric reservoir through the town centre. Below the Thung Khe mountain pass are villages, where Thái ethnic people have lived for hundreds of years. A unique landscape feature of these villages is the charming small ponds paved by the sharp flat stones, where water lilies grow and shine naturally.

Blue and green beauty: Looking from the mountain slop, Ba Khan looks like a miniature Hạ Long Bay. Photo

Ba Khan consists of three villages: Khan Hạ, Khan Hò and Khan Thượng. The plain is part of Mai Châu Commune of Hòa Bình Province, where Mộc Châu is the focal point of local tourism. Ba Khan, therefore, becomes forgotten. Only a few tourism companies include Ba Khan on their itineraries for their clients.

Veteran travellers/adventurers want to keep Ba Khan a secret to keep it a pristine paradise, free of the common tourist crowd for as long as possible.

Villager Hồ Tiến Thái said that in the recent years Ba Khan has been included in some tourism itineraries offered by some family-run tourism businesses: tourists can enjoy kayaking in the Đà River reservoir and relax a day or two on the boats. These services are still new, however. The plain remains fairly untouched and undoubtedly well-preserved -- fairly free from the commercialization of the tourism business.

On the journey to the town centre, we had to get through the steep slopes that cut through the staggering rocky mountains and cliffs. The tortuous yet beautiful road runs through the middle of the mountain slope along the magnificent Đà.

A particular 10 kilometre section is adorned by two rows of bamboo bushes and small houses that sit precariously on the hills.

Looking down from the mountain slope, the splendid Đà River, the lush green forests, the deep blue water body, the slow movement of fishermen, and the mountains that emerge from the water make for an image uncannily like a landlocked Hạ Long Bay. And like its ocean cousin, the scenery becomes even more spectacular at sunset.

“The space here is just vast and purely serene. I feel like nature is hugging everything and just about to swallow me,” Ngô Thu Trang, my friend, said.
Following the trail at the end of the Ba Khan Valley, we encountered a beautiful waterfall that looked like a floating piece of silk. Like a gem hidden among the green bamboo bushes, the whole picture was peaceful, almost heavenly.

House in the clouds: Local people in Ba Khan live in old and simple stilted houses. Photo

After taking plenty of photos, we were enticed by the locals to go fishing near the waterfall in the lake. They helped us handle the fish: cleaning, marinating and slow-cooking. Under this method, the fish took the whole night to get cooked, which intensified the flavour and minimising burning.

“The spiciness of mắc khén (a Northwest herb) and the naturally sweet taste of the fish really make the dish unforgettable, even if I’ve only tasted it once,” Trần Tiến Dũng, an enthusiastic foodie in the group, said.

Ba Khan possesses every feature of a peaceful countryside: the plain, the lake and ponds, the waterfall. It’s a perfect way to spend a hard-earned weekend: visiting the Ba Khan plain and relaxing at the Mai Châu town nearby.

One can visit the plain in spring, summer or autumn, but the plain is most beautiful during autumn, when the water in the Đà River turns deep blue, and the bamboo bushes start shedding old leaves. One can visit Ba Khan in early summer to enjoy the view of the golden ripe rice fields and breathe in the subtle scent of the burning rice plants on the terraced rice fields after harvest.

With this range of options, you’ll get variety, but you’ll always get something peaceful, gorgeous, and -- for now -- untouched. — VNS