Hoa Binh Lake is one of the largest man-made lakes in Vietnam, formed when the dam blocked the water to build the Hoa Binh hydroelectric power station. You can combine a visit to the lake with the stunning rice fields of Mai Chau.
About Hoa Binh Lake
Hoa Binh Lake is located on the Da River which is formed into a lake by a dam built in the river. The hills and mountains that once stood here were swallowed by the rising water. These tops of these former hills are now islands in the lake.
Around the lake are mountains full of forests where various ethnic minorities live (mainly the Thay ethnic minorities). These minorities use the fertile land for cultivation, such as cornfields and other crops.
Things to do at Hoa Binh Lake
1. Kayaking and boat trips
The best way to explore Hoa Binh Lake is to get out on the water. Boat trips can be difficult to arrange due to the language barriers and it can therefore be useful to arrange this through a homestay or resorts. A boat trip takes about two hours, during which you can also visit a floating fisherman’s farm and there are also caves around the lake that you can visit.
As an alternative to a boat trip, you can also kayak. Kayaks can be rented at resorts and a single homestay along the lake. The best time to kayak is in the late afternoon when the sun is less strong and you can paddle back with a beautiful sunset.
2. Drive around the lake
You don’t necessarily have to go out on Hoa Binh Lake to have a beautiful view. A road runs along part of the lake, which is located in the hills a lot higher next to it. From this road you will find various panoramic viewpoints over the lake. The best way is to go with a motorbike or scooter, but the road is wide enough for cars, so you can also rent a car with driver.
3. Go Lao Waterfall
Just next to Hoa Binh Lake, on the southwestern shores, you will find the Go Lao Waterfall. The waterfall is not huge, but because of the location between the mountains, dense jungle and close to the lake, it is still an impressive place to stop for a while. It is also possible to walk down the stairs next to the waterfall to the foot, where you can take a dip in the natural pools, which is especially lovely on hot days.
4. Ethnic villages
Directly around the lake, but also in the entire area, there are many villages of ethnic minorities. These are mainly the ethnic Thai groups, who live in houses on stilts. Besides visiting the beautiful lake, don’t miss a visit to any of the local villages here. It is a great experience to see how the locals live here in traditional ways with their own unique culture.
5. Stay overnight along the lake
On the southern side of the lake there are a number of accommodation options. A unique experience is staying in a house on stilts belonging to ethnic minorities. These homestays are often quite basic and inexpensive, but give you a unique insight into the local culture. If you have a bigger budget and you like a lot of comfort, you can also choose to stay in one of the resorts around the lake. MaiChau HideAway Resort is the most famous place to stay. There is an infinity pool overlooking the lake, luxury bungalow style homes and kayaks and boat trips can be arranged.
6. Hoa Binh Hydropower Plant
The Hydropower Plant is located on the easternmost part of Lake Hoa Binh, near the town of the same name Hoa Binh and also the closest point of the lake to Hanoi. If you’ve succeeded, the overflow gates will be open, which is an impressive sight. There is also a small museum here that you can visit.
7. Thac Bo Pagoda & Thac Bo Cave
Thac Bo Cave and Thac Bo Pagoda are located on a peninsula in the lake. You can visit these sights both by road and by boat. With a length of about 100 meters, the cave is not very big compared to other caves in Vietnam, but the rock formations and stalagmite and stalactite are nevertheless still beautiful to see. Outside the cave is the Thac Bo pagoda.
8. Thung Khe pass
Not far from the lake is the Thung Khe pass, with beautiful views. The route from the lake to the pass takes you through the countryside and real local life. At the end of the mountain pass, before driving down towards Mai Chau, you also have a beautiful view point over the Mai Chau valley.
9. Mai Chau
If you are not staying in Mai Chau, but directly around Hoa Binh Lake, you should at least make a full day trip to this beautiful valley. It is the pinnacle of the region. Although Mai Chau is a lot more popular than Hoa Binh Lake, life here is still quiet and peaceful. The best way to explore the valley is a bike ride, where you cycle through the rice fields and visit various villages of the ethnic Thay people to admire the local life.
How to get to Hoa Binh Lake
The closest point of the lake can be found in the city of Hoa Binh, which is only 70 kilometers away from Hanoi. With several buses a day, Hoa Binh is easy to reach from Hanoi, but this is not the most atmospheric city to stay in.
There are also a number of direct buses a day to Mai Chau from Hanoi. If you are staying around the lake, you can take a taxi from Mai Chau to Hoa Binh Lake. Another option is to rent a car with a driver that will take you directly from Hanoi to your accommodation around the lake.
If you stay in Mai Chau and want to visit the lake, you can also rent a car with a driver who will drive you around for half a day, including crossing the Thung Khe pass, taking a boat trip across the lake, visiting the waterfall and drive the countryside. Alternatively, you can also rent a motorbike in Mai Chau and do the route yourself.
Accommodation around Hoa Binh Lake
You can stay right along the lake as there are a number of resorts with fantastic views and homestays that give a more local and authentic feel. However, you have to take into account that you are quite secluded here.
Most travelers choose to look for accommodation in nearby Mai Chau. There are plenty of homestays and lodges in Mai Chau, from where you can visit the lake in a day trip, but also do other activities, such as wonderful bike rides through the rice fields and visiting villages of ethnic minorities. In addition, you also have more choice in accommodation and restaurants to eat.