Quan Son Lake, with its many small is-lands surrounded by forests and hundreds of limestone peaks, retains its wild and tranquil beauty as an idyllic out-of-the-way picnic spot in My Duc District, 50km from central Ha Noi.
Still waters: Travelling by boat is the best way to tour the islands and passages in the lake. — VNS Photos Minh Thu
Blooming: Lotus on Quan Son Lake, which is also home to many different types of bird species.
The lake is considered a small Ha Long Bay on land.
Passing the East Bridge, visitors reach a wharf where, for only VND60,000 (US$3), they can be taken around the 850ha lake area by an enthusiastic boatwomen.
The interesting tour gives tourists a chance to behold the captivating scenery and enjoy the fresh air. The site is also the home of many varieties of birds, including the white egret.
During the trip, tourists will also see unique white flowers floating on the surface of the lake. It's a strange plant native to the lake, with leaves as round as the moon and blossoms shaped like starfish.
Our boatwoman, Ngo Thi Huyen, told us a story about this flower. It was once called hoa tien si (scholar's flower) because, in the old days, poor students in the region couldn't afford to buy paper to study. They often sat at the lakeside, wrote on the plant's leaves, and studied under the moonlight in the hope of passing examinations. When they were successful and became scholars, the plant was renamed in tribute.
In Quan Son, there are many wonderful destinations, including Trau Trang (White Buffalo) Mountain, Su Tu (Lion) Island, Doc Lap Island, Voi Phuc (Kneeling Elephant) Hill and Hoa Qua Son (Flowers and Fruits Hill), each with its own natural attractions.
The area is also famous for Linh Son and Ngoc Long caves, which are not large but are dramatic, with stalactites and stalagmites in various shapes of eagles, dragons, phoenix, unicorns and tortoises. Tourists who arrive in the rainy season in June and July may not have a chance to visit the caves, because the water level rises.
But in this season, waterfalls run down into the lake from the high mountains, creating white spumes that add to the splendid scenery.
After the boat tour, a rest on the islands is suggested, where stilt-houses serve as places to stop for a picnic. Visitors can bring meals from home or ask the ferrywomen to buy food for a delectable midday feast. Local specialities include chicken and goat raised on the island, as well as fish, crab and snails from the lake.
Standing on the shore of Quan Son Lake, visitors marvel at the magnificent and peaceful environment, with imposing cliffs overlooking the green water and flocks of white egrets leisurely stretching their wings.
From October to March, Voi (Elephant) Valley – the bird watching point in Quan Son – is especially appealing, with a great number of species flocking to build nests and shelters.
Next to the valley, Huyen, our boatwoman, led us to an area filled with lotus. She said that we are so lucky to visit this place while the lotus were in bloom. The boat runs slowly through the kingdom of lotus, hindered by roots and sprigs of flowers and leaves. We were charmed by the perfume of the blossoms. Huyen suggested that we pick a leaf and use it as an umbrella to shade us from the sun. Because there were plenty of flowers, we were allowed to pluck a small bunch to bring home.
There are also some pagodas in Quan Son, such as Cao and Ham Yen. However, Linh Son Pagoda, built during the Mac dynasty in the 16th century, is located at the foot of the mountain near Linh Son Cave and reflects on the surface of the lake.
About 20 rowboats and several motor boats are available at the lake to serve tourists, Huyen said. — VNS