“You are so beautiful, Pleiku/Breaking my heart into pieces/I don’t dare to see in your eyes/Pleiku’s eyes like full Bien Hoà (Sea Lake)”
While drinking coffee in a small cafe in the beautiful Central Highlands city of Pleiku in Gia Lai Province on a foggy morning, I suddenly hear this passionate ballad by musician Nguyen Cuong. Immediately, it captured my soul and I thought of Sea Lake as a must-see destination for me.
A visit to Sea Lake and its surrounding mountains and pines is really an escape from the chaos of the city. Situated some 5km north of the centre of Pleiku city, Sea Lake is as immense as an ocean and a nice destination for people who love both mountains and the vastness of the open sea.
Created on the mouth of a volcano millions of years ago, Sea Lake is an important archaeological site from the last Stone Age. It has a total area of 460ha, with water covering 250ha. Surrounded by mountains and pine forests, this oval lake is split into two parts by a small highland peninsula along the central part of the lake. In the rainy season, the lake’s surface can be spread to around 400ha with depths of about 40m. The main lakeside is nearly bordered on one side with a basalt cliff.
The name of Sea Lake reflects the wishes of people in Pleiku. Pleiku Plateau is more than 1,000m above sea level. As usual, there isn’t any water in these mountain peaks. For this reason, people crave water and the sea. Legend has it that the water from the lake flows directly into the East Sea and wood exporters in the highlands have only to drop timber into the lake then catch it at the Quy Nhon sea the following morning.
Formerly, Sea Lake was called To Nung, an old legendary village. It is said that this village was very big and beautiful. Villagers lived peacefully, but one day a volcano erupted causing the deaths of many people. Those left living went to cry over the hole and when their tears filled in the hole, it became To Nung lake.
In 1988, Sea Lake was recognised as a national scenic spot by the Ministry of Culture. The way to Sea Lake is picturesque because of the two green lines of pines leading up to it. At the bottom of the slope, there is a watchtower with a spectacular mountain view and simple boats for hire to cruise around the giant lake for an amazing summer experience.
The landscape around the lake is very poetic with various forest-flowers such as orchids, wild sunflowers, and primula. Many colourful butterflies fly along the streams, perch on the flowers and then fly over. Sometimes, there are some piraguas, which are canoes, made from hallowed out tree trunks, surfing on the lake.
Nguyen Thanh Nam, a resident of Pleiku city and regular visitor of Sea Lake said, “This beautiful spot hasn’t been exploited much; it keeps many natural features. I often go there to unwind after a day of hard work. I also often take my family to Sea Lake in the weekends.”
“My friends also like to come here. It is an ideal place for picnic,” Nam added.
If you like adventure you can go on a piraguas to surf on the lake or wander in the forest to discover the impressiveness of the surrounding mountains, see birds such as quail and wild geese. Also, lotus grow in some corners of the lake and make the space more lively. Go on the lake’s surface you can enjoy vast nature and forget the tiredness of the day.
The lake is an ideal place for young people to date, sing together, and make promises of marriage under the moonlight.
The water’s level is never changed and often quite high. The lake’s water is so limpid that one can see fish swimming under the water.
Sea Lake is called the eye of Pleiku, a sapphire of the Central Highlands. This important ecological tourist area of Gia Lai Province is still intact because of good management.
“At present, we still keep the lake pure because the lake supplies fresh water to the whole Pleiku city and the surrounding areas. No one is allowed to go fishing in this area,” said Dao Duc Diep, tourism manager of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Diep said they decline projects that might injure the lake’s environment as restaurants, hotels, and parks.
From the lake, you can visit other famous places of Gia Lai such as Phu Cuong Waterfall or Yaly Falls, some of Viet Nam’s most spectacular waterfalls. Nearly all the water has been diverted to a hydro-power plant. — VNS by Thanh Nga
Must see: Created at the mouth of a volcano millions of years ago, Sea Lake is an important archaeological site from the last Stone Age.
Poetic: The way to Sea Lake is made more picturesque by two columns of pines leading up to it.