Monday, February 18, 2013

Ba Be Lake – A haven of serenity

Ba Be, a pearl amidst the evergreen Tay Bac forest, is considered a must-visit destination with its splendid landscape and mystical legends. The beautiful lake in the northern province of Bac Kan is listed as one of the world’s 20 largest freshwater lakes in need of preservation.

After departing from the capital city, the passenger car took me to Bac Kan Town on Road 3. Viewing the passing hamlets in the car, I was sunk in divergent legends of Ba Be Lake. One legend says that this area used to be a very large valley sheltering the Nam Mau Village. Each year, the villagers gathered to hold an offering ceremony for Buddha. 

One year, a leprous old woman came to the ceremony but was neglected and asked to keep away from the others. Luckily, a widow welcomed her and gave her food. The old woman, who later turned out to be a fairy mother, paid respect by granting the widow a handful of ash and a seed of rice.

The next day a monsoon overwhelmed the valley but the hoof the widow was somehow raised above the water line and protected. Following the fairy mother’s words, the widow scattered the handful of ash around the hoand water could not flow into her house; she threw the cover of the rice seed into the water, and it turned into a dug-out canoe which helped her float.

After that, the flooded valley turned into three lakes which today form Ba Be Lake. Ba Be, meaning three lakes, was created by the confluence of river tributaries Pe Lam, Pe Lu and Pe Leng (Pe means Lake in Tay language) after earthquakes tens of millions of years ago.

Passing through the reed grasses, downstream from the serene Nang River, I saw many dug-out canoes like the kind mentioned in the legend. For local people living along the Nang River and Ba Be Lake, they are popular means of transportation. A dug-out canoe looks like the cover of rice seed. It's dedicated and long. It can glide fast and even downstream without energy-consumption, and it never leaks. Dug-out canoes are indispensable when people want to catch small fish in the lake.

The canoe drifts through the bends of the river and past scenic high cliffs through Lung Nham Mountain to reach Puong Cave. Inside the cave with the poor light there exist many stalactites in different shapes overhead. Ba Be Lake is surrounded by many ancient trees, from which several varieties of precious wood are obtained. Up to 30 animal species such as wild pigs, bears, panthers, monkeys, and birds inhabit the area. Scenic high limestone cliffs around the lake with the height of several thousands of meters look like skyscrapers amidst the city. Along the two riverbanks lie many hamlets of the Tay, Red Dao and White H’mong ethnic minorities.

Riverside trees swayed in the wind to welcome me back to the crossroads between the Nang River and the way to Ba Be. I turned right into the tributary of light blue water and then headed for Ba Be Lake which is 4km from the cave. The 8km long and 3km wide lake covers an area of 650 hectares. According to scientific research, Ba Be Lake was formed approximately 200 million years ago due to geological constitution. The lake, located 145m above sea level, is surrounded by limestone cliffs. This biodiversity reservoir is the habitat for fauna and flora thousands of years old. The surface of the lake is so tranquil that people can see even see the lake bed. It is home to 106 fish species and is surrounded by many ancient trees.

After having taken a tour around the lake, I went to visit a temple on An Ma Island to offer incense. On the way back, I stopped to enjoy wine and fried fishes made by local women at a tent at the Ba Be lakeside. With its original and unspoiled landscape, Ba Be still offers a haven of peace and tranquility away from the bustle of city life. In addition to the river and lake tour, visitors can trek to local villages where Tay and Mong peoples live and keep their traditions.

Further information: 
Ba Be Lake is nearly 300km from Hanoi and 50km from Bac Kan municipality. From Hanoi, you can drive motor or take passenger car to Bac Kan. Upon arriving in Bac Kan, drive further 35km to reach Ra market, turn left onto National Highway 279, then travel another 10km to arrive at Ba Be Lake.

Tourists can stay at guest building of Ba Be National Park which is price at 200,000/2 persons per room; or stay at stilt hoof Tay ethnic minority in Pac Ngoi and Po Lu hamlet with the price of VND15,000-20,000/person.

Famous specialty here is fish hot-pot, fried fish, roast chicken and goat meat enjoying with local sticky rice. Tourists will have the opportunity to take part in many folk games performed by local artists. In addition, visitors will have an unforgettable stay in the mountains by the lakes, enjoying sightseeing boat trips, hikes, water sports, and discovering the traditional customs of different ethnic minorities in the region.

Thanh Hai Water Puppetry

Water puppetry is a mainstay of the performing arts in Viet Nam. In villages, it is often performed on the pond that is located close to the communal house and attracts thousands of spectators from near and far.
  • As the lunar year draws to an end, members of the Thanh Hai Puppetry Troupe in Thanh Ha District in the northern province of Hai Duong, jump into action and diligently prepare for their upcoming performances. Preparations not only include rehearsing, but also maintenance on the puppets.

    With its more than a 300-year-old history, Thanh Hai water puppetry is performed at most major festivals and celebrations nationwide, including the cultural festival in Hue, the National Water Puppetry Festival and the yearly Hung Kings’ Temple Festival. Stories about the Thanh Hai Water Puppetry Troupe, which includes an outstanding collection of amateur performers and has won numerous prizes for their programme, attract the attention of researchers, cultural organizations and individuals interested in the art of Vietnamese water puppetry.

Thanh Hai water puppeteers standing in water behind a bamboo curtain manipulate the puppets.
Water puppetry performances mainly reflect the daily activities and life of residents living in the northern river delta. Nguyen Van Huan, who was head of Thanh Hai Water Puppetry Troupe, said: "Thanh Hai water puppetry has developed over hundreds of years thanks to the local villagers who wholeheartedly support this art of their native homeland and to the devoted performers who constantly renew the vitality of this traditional art."

Pham Khac Xoa has manipulated the puppets since he was a little boy. Now at 36, he is entrusted by the elderly villagers to be head of the troupe. Xoa said: "Experience handed down to us from the elderly villagers-performers is an invaluable treasure. We want to keep the troupe alive, so often exchange ideas with other troupes around the country. By doing so, we preserve and develop this traditional art.”

  “Legend of the Sword Lake” item
Water puppetry certainly isn’t an easy art to perform. The show is held in a pond or lake, and the puppeteers have to stand behind a bamboo curtain and in water, sometimes waist deep. The puppet is attached to the end of a long bamboo pole that has a string or cable running up the centre of it that is pulled or pushed to control the puppets' hand and leg movements.

Thanh Hai water puppeteers have regular meetings to rehearse the old repertoire, compose new skits or make new puppets. Starting with only five acts, Thanh Hai troupe has now a rich repertoire with dozens of acts, some of which are very unique and had won prizes at the national puppetry festivals, such as the frog-catching man, tiny firecrackers, going-to-the-field festival, etc. It also has hundreds of puppets for diverse and interesting performances.

Thanh Hai troupe now has 36 members, of whom 18 members often go to perform in many localities, including Hanoi, Hai Phong and Quang Ninh Province. In recent years, the troupe participated in many festivals nationwide, including Thua Thien-Hue Provincial Puppetry Festival and the National Puppetry Festival. In 2005, at the First National Amateur Water Puppetry Festival, the Thanh Hai Water Puppetry Troupe was awarded the First Prize. The success has been attributed to the great effort made by the local water puppetry artisans and performers.

 “Procession of Firecrackers”
Like other villages in the Vietnamese northern delta having symbolic images, such as the communal house's steep roof, the landing place and the old banyan tree, Thanh Hai Village is further known for its long-standing water puppetry performances. During the village festival or other celebrations, there is always water puppetry shows with animated puppets, cheerful music and skilful performers, who are hard working farmers, and optimistic and skilful artists at the same time who help in preserving the traditional art of water puppetry.

Xa Loi Pagoda - The First Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City

Xa Loi Pagoda was established to worship the Great Buddha and it is known as the first pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City and also a rather modern pagoda. Tourists in Vietnam travel visiting Xa Loi are interested in its beauty of new architectural style with an altar above and an amphitheatre staying lower.

 Xa Loi Pagoda- The First Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City
Xa Loi Pagoda is a large pagoda and also a relic at the city level of Ho Chi Minh City, lying at the corner of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street, District 3 with the huge precinct of 2,500 square kilometers.
The pagoda was started to build on August 5th 1956, following the drawing of the architects Nguyen Van Duong and Do Ba Vinh. And the engineers Du Ngoc Anh and Ho To Thuan were responsible for the construction site. The pagoda building then was finished on May 2nd 1958.

The pagoda was established to worship the Great Buddha and was called with the name "Xa Loi" for short by common people. For that reason, in inaugurating day, the superior Buddhist monk has named it "Xa Loi Pagoda".

This pagoda used to be the main headquarters of the Association of Buddhology of Vietnam from 1951 to 1981. After that, from 1981 to May 1993, it became the headquarters of Buddhist Church of Vietnam (the second office).

Xa Loi Pagoda is the first pagoda of the city which was built in a new style of architecture with an altar above and an amphitheatre staying lower. The design of the pagoda includes a sanctum worshipping Buddha, an amphitheatre, a bell tower, a library, monks' quarters, purifying house, office, a room publishing prayers and bibles, guests' room and an area for travelers staying.

The pagoda worships a huge statue of The Sakyamuni which is made by the School of Fine Arts Bien Hoa. In 1969, the statue was restored with the whole body made of gold and has the shape like today. The sanctum at the upper floor is decorated with a set of big pictures including 15 pictures created by the professor Nguyen Van Long of the School of Fine Arts Gia Dinh. Those pictures have described the life of the Sakyamuni, from newborn time to the time of entering Nirvana.
 Xa Loi Pagoda- The First Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City
Xa Loi Pagoda- Ho Chi Minh City
The bell tower Xa Loi was opened in 1961. It is 32 metres high and has 7 floors. This is the highest bell tower of Vietnam. Inside the tower, on the highest floor, there hangs a great bell which weighs 2 tones and was casted according to the model of the bell in Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue.
 You, tourists in Vietnam travel, should not miss to visit Xa Loi Pagoda when you are in Ho Chi Minh City. The pagoda is opened daily from 7 to 11 am and from 2 to 5 pm.