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The great lake

Photo of Entry:  The great lake

Looking for nothing but fresh air and sunshine, Duc Hanh drives to Tri An reservoir just outside Ho Chi Minh City.


I rise early on Saturday morning with a simple mission in mind: getting the hell out of the city after a long hard working week! As I’m unfamiliar with daytrip locations outside the sprawling metropolis that is Ho Chi Minh City I phone my friend Nguyen Le Khoa.

He immediately suggests heading out to the “Hydroelectric Lake” of Tri An which at first doesn’t sound so appealing. He assures me that this massive reservoir, which his father worked on, is a small sea of tranquillity. To prove his sincerity he promises to drive me there and show me around. On the way he explains that Tri An Reservoir was created for a hydroelectric plant now found on Dong Nai river in Dong Nai province adjacent to Ho Chi Minh City.

The plant was constructed over 20 years ago and it is the main source of electricity for the south of Vietnam. It won’t however be the largest hydroelectric plant, after another one in Son La province, now under construction in northern Vietnam, is completed. The reservoir boasts a water-surface of over 35,000 square hectares and spans across the districts of Vinh Cuu and Tan Phu in Dong Nai province. “It is great fun to go boating on the lake,” promises Khoa. “We can go to the fishing village.

There are also a lot of special fish in this lake, which we can try for lunch!” After a two hour drive, 60km northeast of Saigon, we are standing on Tri An Hydroelectric Dam. Over 20 years ago, we would have been looking at a natural waterfall. Then the river banks were lush and green all year around. Now, I see the riverbanks past the dam are rather arid. On the other side the level of water is also rather low considering it’s been rainy season for the last few months.

Khoa used to come here to try and catch fish himself as a boy and from time to time, when he returns to his old hunting ground, he will try his luck. “Last year, I caught a five-kilo carp!” he says with a proud smile. Khoa has a ball of fishing line and a couple of hooks, so after we prepare two rods we clamber down to see if we can catch something. The water is clear and blue.

We can see right to the bottom. We stand on a large slab in the river and wait impatiently expecting a large carp to suddenly be wriggling on the end of our lines. But, alas, we wait and we wait and nothing comes. Realising that I’m losing patience, Khoa suggests we abandon our mission and head to the fishing village, where hopefully, someone has caught a big fish for us. Much more convenient.

“Before the village was set up over 10 years ago, the lake was full of fish. My family would come here and catch fish easily. We rarely had to buy a fish!” says Khoa. “But, even if you did, a kilo of fish was as cheap as bundle of vegetables in the market.” The fishing village actually sits on the side of the reservoir and looks rather poor and deserted. There are about a dozen fishing boats there but as we arrive most of them are heading out to fish. We find one boat with a small boy.

He is packing fish into a Styrofoam box. The fish looks rather strange and a bit ugly to me. “This is a Sucker Mouth Catfish,” says the boy, who introduces himself as Thang. “There are a lot of them here. They look a strange, sure, but they’re delicious.” According to Khoa, the fish is also called Pleco Fish.

It was introduced to the reservoir and is now a destructive force as it grows quickly and consumes so many of the water weeds that protect the ecology of the lake. Nevertheless, we decide it could make a good lunch! So after negotiating a price for the fish, Thang agrees to row us to a nearby islet we calls Eagle Lake.

The island is said to be a “tourism area” but the buildings are dilapidated or collapsed. Sadly no one takes care of the island. Nature has been allowed to run wild and is perhaps all the more beautiful for that. The paths are covered with velvety rug of green moss. Wild flowers are everywhere. The air is pure and fresh.

It’s a nice little spot I tell Thang. We find a place to sit down in one of the collapsed building while Thang gather dried wood to grill the catfish. As he promised it is truly delicious and of course it’s nice to do our bit for the local environment by eating it!


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