The breathtaking landscape around Hoa Binh Dam and the unspoiled beauty of the Da River are indelibly etched in every visitor's mind.
It takes two hours to drive the hundred kilometers from Hanoi to Hoa Binh Province along National Highway 6 and reach Vietnam's biggest hydroelectric dam on the Da River, known as Song Da in Vietnamese.
Since the dam was completed in 1994, the rising waters of the reservoir have turned a great number of hills into picturesque islands.
The view looking upstream from the dam wall takes in the bumpy roofs of tranquil Hoa Binh Town and a seemingly endless mountain range behind.
"Many young people are captivated by the imposing landscape of the northwestern mountains as well as the unique cultures of Hoa Binh's ethnic minority groups," tour guide Hung Thuan said.
Eponymous Hoa Binh, a student at the Hanoi University of Culture, likens going to the Da River to opening an escape hatch and climbing through to another world.
"It's so spectacular when the water pours over the spillway. And it's amazing to realize the power that humans possess in the conquest of nature here on the Da River," he said.
Ha Long Bay in the mountains
Thirty kilometers from the town of Hoa Binh is Thung Nai Commune with its hundreds of beautiful islands and a large number of Muong ethnic people.
Travelers who stop at the Muong Village of Ban Mu in Thung Nai like to go hiking in the forest, and never miss out on a boat trip up and down Hoa Binh's enormous reservoir and the chance to fish in the still waters and visit the isolated islands.
To some people, it's reminiscent of Ha Long Bay on Vietnam's far north coast.
Hiring a boat able to fit 30 people costs around US$4. It's best not to book ahead as the lake can be covered in mist in the morning. Just turn up and hope for the best.
Sunset is another story as the calm surface is soaked in purple hues as it reflects the stunning colors in the sky.
A trip to the Da River is part of the Northern Trekking package tour from Hanoi (from US$30). Book at:
ASIA PACIFIC TRAVEL
466 Hang Than St., Ba Dinh Dist., Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3836 4212 - 3756 8868
Fax: (04) 3756 7862
127 Ban Co Street., Dict. 3, HCMC
Tel: (08) 2672 9925 Fax: (08) 3833 4083
VIETNAM OPEN TOUR
49 Hang Be St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi
Telephone: (04) 3926 2328
Fax: (04) 3926 2329
"The view of the islands and the 'bay' is splendid. When the moon is full, the whole river is inlaid with gold," tour guide Hung Thuan said.
When the sun's rays first appear in the morning, the sound of birds singing far away and wind whistling through the trees can wake you up.
Every Sunday morning, large boats head to Bo Floating Market, where they offload goods from the lowlands to sell to the local people.
Nearby is the temple of Ba Chua Thac Bo, a deity who protects the farmers and makes sure they have enough water for their fields.
There's plenty else to see in Hoa Binh Province, places like Gia Mo Village, Lan Island, Ngoi Hoa Cave and Bo Cavern.
Song Da is one of the chief tributaries of the mighty Red River.
It flows for 568 miles (910 km) from Yunnan in southwestern China into Vietnam on a course parallel to the Red River. Passing through the provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh and Phu Tho, the Vietnam section is about 540 km long.
The river valley is rich in minerals and possesses specific ecosystems with a variety of plants and animals.
Hoa Binh Dam was formally commissioned in 1988, but the power station was not completed until 1994. The 1,920-megawatt plant generates a significant portion of Vietnam's electricity.
Song Da Urban & Industrial Zone Development and Investment Joint Stock Company (Sudico) is building an international-standard resort called Song Da-Ngoc Vung Ecotourism Site in the area.
The VND250-billion ($14 million) project on 39 hectares between the Da River area in Hoa Binh Province and Ngoc Vung Island Commune in Quang Ninh Province is scheduled for completion in 2011.
It will include a high-rise hotel, lakeside pleasure houses and parks, and will form part of the Ha Long-Bai Tu Long Bay Tourism Complex.
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