The North Shore
Have you ever heard of the North Shore? Well, get ready for a surprise as the Hoa Binh Lake has a northern shore which is rarely visited by the hoards of backpackers, bikers and young Vietnamese ‘dan phuot’ you tend to see on its southern shore. There are quiet, winding roads that skirt the lake and a whole host of friendly locals. There are a few great homestays in the area, too. It’s about time you tried it out!
As the map below shows, you have a choice of taking an out and back or combining the two out and backs to make a loop. The only issue with this is that you need to organize a boat across Hoa Binh Lake, which could be hit or miss and can sometimes be expensive. With a larger group of 6-8 people, price becomes less of an issue but you still need to find a reliable captain. We know people in the area and can usually help with that. Get in touch.
There are 3 main routes, all of which start off on the CT 08, the main highway out of Hanoi towards Hoa Lac. We do not suggest taking the AH13/Highway 6 out of Hanoi because it is very busy and there is a lot of construction going on—it really isn’t the best start to a trip.
The Fast Route (Black)
This route will take you on the CT08 all the way to Ky Son, where you hit the AH13. Don’t worry, at this point the AH13 is a fast, wide road that is not too stressful to drive on. From here you head straight for Hoa Binh City.
If you like, you can spend time on the Hoa Binh Dam: it is worth a visit, especially if the overflow gates are open. There is a museum there, too.
NOTE: There is a route (marked in light pink) that is another ‘long cut’. If you wanted to head North from Ky Son and take the small ferry across the Black River, you would very easily get to the QL70B. From there, you could wind your way through the small unnamed roads to get out to the DT433 at Da Bac and then continue on your way. If you plan to take this route, just remember to ask for directions to Da Bac and people will usually guide you the right way.
Now, just follow the DT433 until you get to Da Bac. This is where you decide if you want to turn off to take the lake side road. If you are planning to visit Sac Luyen homestay, Sanh Thuan Homestay or Huu Thao homestay then this is your turn off.
Alternatively, you continue on the DT433 until you get to Cao Son. This will be the turn off you take if you are going to visit Thanh Trung Homestay or Xuan Lan Homestay in Xom Sung (Sung Village). Also, you can take this route if you are heading towards Da Bia and the Lake View Homestay or Ngoc Nhem Homestay.
As we said, you can take the earlier turn off at Da Bac to get to all of these places, which means you take the less direct and more scenic route. It is a good choice if you have enough time.
The More Scenic Routes
Around 25km out of Hanoi you may see signs for Chua Thay and notice the limestone outcrops on both sides of the highway. This point is Quoc Oai and you can take a left here on to the TL 412B. Note: you need to turn right of the highway and then pass over the highway on a bridge to Quoc Oai. This is a well-known short cut that will se you out to the AH13 just short of Xuan Mai. This route can be flooded in the rainy season (very heavy rain only) so just check with us first.
You then continue on AH13, which at this point is easy enough to drive on as it is wide and the traffic is a little lighter, until you get to the Toll Gate around 8km further on.
Here you can decide if you would like to turn left onto the ATK road, which is lovely stretch of quite meandering road, or continue full speed on the highway to Hoa Binh. The ATK road will bring you out to the DT12B, which is larger but equally quiet. If you are indeed heading to Hoa Binh, then this would be a ‘long cut’ and you would shoot a little ways past Hoa Binh and have to head back. It is worth it, if you have time.
Now, if you turn left on the DT435, you will head for Cang Thung Nai (Thung Nai Port). You can get boats to the several places on the lake where you can stay such as: Dao Dua (coconut island) or Coi Xay Gio (Windmill Island). It is also possible to get boats to other areas of the lake such as: Mai Chau Hideaway, Lake View Homestay, Da Bia, or even Bai Sang Market, where you can continue a journey to Mai Chai, Moc Chau or beyond. Stopping midway for a swim in the Summer heat is a fantastic idea and you can easily buy refreshments at the port.
So, there you pretty much have it. A few route suggestions and ideas on how to best utilize the northern shore of the Hoa Binh Lake as well as one or two places on the southern side.
Places to stay
There are several places to stay on route, such as Hoa Binh, but we favor the homestays in Da Bac and Hien Luong Is the easiest of these to get to. If you wish to travel a little further then Lakeview Homestay in Da Bia is a great choice. These homestays are part of a community-based tourism project. The local people are encouraged to start up small tourism projects to help make money for themselves and the community. This is the kind of thing RentABikeVN really likes to support.
You could also stay at either Quan Dao Dua or Coi Xay Gio Thung Nai. You can call in advance to book a package that includes accommodation, meals and the ferry across the lake. This is a good option for the less adventurous and those who prefer a crowd as these places get a little busy in the season.
There are more and more places opening up now so you should be spoilt for choice and able to get a place that is relatively peaceful.
Things to do
Around the area, you can visit a few places such as Thac Bo Pagoda or Thac Bo Cave.
There are trails where you can hike or mountain bike and you can swim in the lake or take a boat trip. Other than this there is not much to do other than investigate ‘homestay life’ and watch the locals do their daily thing. This gives plenty of opportunity for fun interactions with you and old alike. The local children are typically curious and entertaining.
If you visit Sung Village (an ethnic Dao village), you may have the chance to take a hot herbal bath and witness their village shaman in action.
So, what are you waiting for? You have a route map, suggestions of where to stay. Rent A Bike and get out there!
There is now a place called ‘Hoa Binh Water Park’ that is situated on the lake near the Thung Nai Ferry Port. It is only a few hundred metres away but you will need to get a boat there. This is easy enough. It consists of a few inflatable bouncy castle type things and some canoes and floating mats. It is good fun for the kids and anyone who is young at heart.
I would not suggest you travel there specifically to visit the park but if you are passing it is worth stopping off. In the heat of summer, the lake is great.
There is a standard vietnamese restaurant there so you can get food and drinks easily. You can also overnight on the floating restaurant / guesthouse, too.