My cousin, Nguyen Thanh Tra, who’s finicky by nature, kept going back and forth about places to visit. According to her, there’s nothing but trees in the mountains and there’s nothing to do on the beach except play in the water.

3

Women are so hard to please!

It was then that I suggested, “Only an ocean on the mountain would satisfy you!”

“Maybe so. You reminded me of Bien Ho Lake in Pleiku City! Why don’t we plan a trip to Tay Nguyen, wouldn’t that be fun?” Tra replied.

I am an enthusiastic backpacker. Her idea appealed to me. We set off for the highlands on my old motorbike right away. Just three hours from Quy Nhon, we soon arrived at Bien Ho or T’Nung Lake, or “Pleiku’s eyes”, as described by a famous musician. This magnificent freshwater lake is located in the south of Pleiku City in Gia Lai Povince in the Tay Nguyen area.

As soon as we arrived, I understood where the name Bien Ho (a lake as big as the ocean) comes from. The oval-shaped lake, some 30m deep and spread over 230ha, is one of the biggest and most beautiful lakes in Tay Nguyen. Both Bien Ho and T’Nung mean “ocean on mountain”. This reflects the longing for the sea of people living here.

Our first impression was of Bien Ho’s crystal clear water and the gentle cool breeze, blowing away memories of heat in the coastal areas where we had come from. Tay Nguyen is usually hot and humid in the summer. Now the atmosphere was truly pleasant. We filled our lungs with sweet fresh air.

The path leading to the lake is picturesque. It is surrounded by seemingly endless evergreen forest. My cousin was captivated by the scenery and at one with nature.

“If only my boyfriend were here with me, it would be lovely,” Tra said.

Hearing this, my ego was crushed. I made time for this trip. And she stood there making nonsensical wishes, instead of showing me some appreciation and gratitude.

I strode quickly to the end of the path that led to an elevated terrace through a rocky area. Standing on that terrace built on a hill right in the middle of the lake, I feasted my eyes on the stunning scenery – the water’s surface was like a gigantic mirror Mother Nature had given to the women of Gia Lai. Far away, lush forest camouflaged a hard mountain range and concealed stilt houses typical of the local culture in Tay Nguyen.

Bien Ho is a reserve with many varieties of rare beautiful flowers and many species of endangered birds and fish.

Reflected on the surface of the lake is the very tall Ham Rong Peak. The duality of Ham Rong Peak and Bien Ho Lake implies fertility. The ’erection’ of HàmRồng Peak – and the concave ’womb’ of Bien Ho Lake – resemble Linga and Yoni. Ham Rong is yang. Bien Ho is yin, deep inside Mother Earth. These extraordinary masterpieces nature reflect the longstanding beliefs and culture of the people of Tay Nguyen.

According to a legend passed from one generation to another and believed even today, Pleiku was once a bustling town. Unfortunately, all the buffalos and cows in the town died one year. Thinking they had angered Giang (God), the villagers went to the forest to capture a deer for sacrifice. Right after the ritual, the ground began vibrating strongly. The whole village collapsed and fell into the huge newly-formed crack in the ground. The entire area was flooded and everyone drowned. Except the Mac May family. They were away visiting distant relatives, and hence saved from the catastrophe. This is how Bien Ho Lake was born.

On our trip, we hired a guide take us for a ride on Bien Ho Lake in his dugout canoe. The old man told us mystical stories of this legendary land while we relished this moment, surrounded by the enchanting landscape.

Now we also understood why Bien Ho is called ‘the jade stone’ or ‘the eye’ of Pleiku.

“Now you have enjoyed both ocean and mountains, as you desired, my dear,” I bantered playfully.

“It is only you who indulges me the most!” Tra said with a giggle. In the background, dusk settled over Bien Ho.

VNS