Northern Vietnam road trip: Ba Be Lake to Meo Vac

Day two off the tourist trail in Northern Vietnam

The second day of our northern Vietnam road trip starts quietly along the peaceful shores of Ba Be Lake. With about 150 miles of mountain roads between Ba Be Lake and Meo Vac, we are expecting a long, but scenic day on the road. We are not expecting to ford streams or wait for tire repair, but that does add to the adventure on what becomes another 10 or 12 hour day on the road.

Morning at Ba Be Lake

Day two of our adventures off the tourist trail in northern Vietnam begin along the tranquil shores of Ba Be Lake.

Ba Be Lake Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Ba Be Lake Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Ba Be Lake Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Despite the very basic nature of our guest house, I wished we could have stayed another day to spend more time on the lake and exploring the rest of Ba Be National Park. But – with a warning from our guide that it is a very, very long way from Ba Be Lake to Meo Vac – we are back in the car and on our way farther north right after breakfast.

To assuage (or perhaps sharpen!) the pain of leaving, we drive high into the mountains above the lakeshore for a panoramic view.

Ba Be Lake Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Market day in a small town

Almost as soon as the lake is out of sight, we stop at what seems to be a pretty typical market in this part of northern Vietnam.

market day Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

market day Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

market day Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Since we are near the lake, this market has a lot of fish for sale, along with the usual assortment of vegetables and household goods.

On through northern Vietnam’s rice fields – with a bit of road construction

Back on the road, I can see why today’s road trip from Ba Be Lake to Meo Vac will take so long – this is a very small road!

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

It’s a pretty drive though, with rice fields filling the valleys below the mountains.

rice fields Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

rice fields Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

rice fields Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

The road itself is sometimes better and sometimes worse, but always more of a trail than a real road.

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

(Fortunately we seem to be the only ones on the road this morning.)

As we climb into the mountains, the rice fields begin to rise with the land, climbing the lower slopes of the mountainsides in terraces.

rice fields Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

rice fields Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

And then we hit road construction. Not just minor road construction, either, but the large-scale kind of project that involves detours, flagmen, driving over piles of rock, and fording a stream.

road construction Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

road construction Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

road construction Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Yikes!

Water wheels

Soon the first water wheels begin to appear, telling us we are in an area farmed by Hmong.

waterwheels south of Bao Lac in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Made entirely of bamboo, the Hmong and other mountain people use these giant wheels to move water to their fields. Although they look fragile, this system has been used for generations.

We ford more streams

While the road construction has mostly come to an end, the need to cross streams where there is no bridge remains.

no bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

no bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

There are a few bridges.  .  .

bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

However, there are a number of places where unusually heavy summer rains in northern Vietnam washed away a number of bridges (and roads) which have yet to be replaced.

The river crossings seem to have also gotten progressively deeper, and our driver gives each one an increasingly more thorough inspection before plunging into the river.

no bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Finally we come to one where even our driver hesitates. After studying the water and consulting with others, we are ordered out of the car and directed us to cross via a scooter and pedestrian bridge.

Meanwhile he and our guide get back in the car and cautiously drive into the river.

no bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

On the other side our driver celebrates a safe crossing with a quick car wash!

no bridge in Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Mountain roads and flat tires

The day’s road trip continues as we climb higher and higher into the mountains.

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

It’s gorgeous, but we make few stops even to take pictures because the road construction has delayed us so much.

That is, until we are stopped by a flat tire.

flat tire Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Well, actually, we aren’t stopped for very long. Our driver changes the flat while the rest of us go into a little roadside stand for a bite to eat, but he joins about the time the food arrives.

We needed a lunch break anyway.

The spare gets us through more road construction and to the next real town, but just barely before it too goes flat.

Fortunately we find a garage that is willing to repair the tire immediately. (The first garage we tried said they wouldn’t have time to fix it until the next day).

local garage Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

tire repair Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

Over the mountains into Meo Vac

With the tire repaired, we continue our drive over the mountains into the town of Meo Vac. This area is supposed to be spectacular, but we end up doing most of it as darkness falls.

Northern Vietnam - ExplorationVacation

As we unload the car, my backpack – with my computer – slides out and lands hard on the pavement. Up in our basic, but clean and modern room, I am pleased to discover that I can still load and backup photos even though the computer screen scrolls and flicks enough to make it all but unreadable. My photos are safe and accessible, I have clean cards for the next day, and our guide has a good restaurant picked out for us.

What more does one need at the end of a very long day off the tourist trail in northern Vietnam?

Exploring northern Vietnam in 10 days

Visiting a typical market in northern Vietnam

Vietnam 2015 itinerary

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2 thoughts on “Northern Vietnam road trip: Ba Be Lake to Meo Vac”

    1. Yes, to both. It’s a stunning area, but not one the casual visitor can expect to wander through on their own. Mostly the first two days were exhausting – it got easier after that, as we weren’t traveling as many miles. It was totally worth the effort to get there though!

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