By Hoang Tham in HCMC
Among the glorious beauty of the Central Highlands lies Bien Ho (Sea Lake), a freshwater lake to the north of Pleiku City of Gia Lai Province, which is 900 meters above sea level and covers an area of some 230 hectares.
Locals also call it T’Nung or Ea Nueng, which means a “sea on the mountain”. It used to be a volcanic crater that erupted millions of years ago. Bien Ho is located seven kilometers from Pleiku City along National Highway 14, where you turn right for another three kilometers to reach your destination.
Like many other tourist attractions, there are several different stories and legends told about the lake’s origin by ethnic minorities. Kinh people say the lake is so deep that it reaches out to the East Sea. Another fictitious tale says that someone dropped a pomelo down in Bien Ho and then found it drifting in the seaside area of Quy Nhon City, Binh Dinh Province, around 166 kilometers away from Pleiku City. Rumor has it that if casting logs of wood felled in a forest down in Bien Ho, people can fish them out of the Quy Nhon Wharf and then sell them.
In the rainy season in the central highlands, many streams pour into the lake seeing the water level rise high. Some villages of Ba Na and Gia Rai ethnic minorities earn their living by fishing on Bien Ho. Its freshwater fish resources provide hundreds of tons of fish to Pleiku City every year.
The road to T’nung Lake is through a green canopy of pine trees. At the end of the slope is a beautiful house where tourists can get some fresh air, pose for photos and contemplate the charms of the lake. T’nung Lake looks like an emerald with its clear, green water. Both the lake itself and surrounding area boasts stunning scenery, making it the pride of Pleiku City.
The ideal time to contemplate the lake is in the morning when the lake is still completely covered by clouds rolling like strips of silk. Tourists have the chance to witness the first rays of sun in the morning and enjoy the forest sounds while colorful butterflies dance around the streams.
Visitors can take a hollowed-tree boat or a dugout canoe to explore hidden charms of the lake and discover the magnificence of exotic lifestyles in harmony with wild nature. There tourists will see the abundant and varied fauna and flora.
You can also visit villages of ethnic minorities living on the bank on the occasion of their festivals. Travelers will enjoy lively interesting dances and singing by the highlanders. Mountain girls in Gia Lai show their grace, innocence but are a little shy. However, they are quite friendly if tourists are kind and respectful.
Wild boar roasted over the coal stove is a typical specialty of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands. The wild boar is stuffed with citronella leaves, and mixed with different spices such as galingale, garlic and honey. Each boar is weighed at some five to fifteen kilograms and as it feasts on natural food like vegetables, it is lean meat with very little fat.
Besides, tourists will have chance to taste com lam (bamboo-tube rice), ruou can (wine drunk out of a jar through pipes), xoi la (sticky rice wrapped in leaves), ca lang (hemibagrus) and other flavors of the uplands