Discovering Chiềng Khoi Lake, mountains, caves and culture
Riding a boat on Chiềng Khoi Lake, you may find yourself feeling somewhat insignificant in the face of expansive mountains and endless water.
Chiềng Khoi Lake is located in Pút Village, Yên Châu District, the northern mountainous province of Sơn La.
In the indigenuous language, Chiềng Khoi means an uprising flat land. According to legend, a long time ago, the land was thirsty. No matter how hard the people worked, their life was very difficult because of the lack of water. A young man named Khoi, whose hands were as firm as iron, dug many streams to lead water from the mountains to this land. A big lake formed, saving the people and their fields. The lake was named after the brave man: Chiềng Khoi.
In fact, Chiềng Khoi Lake was created by locals in 1971 to gather water from streams. The 110m-long dam was finished in 1980. Chiềng Khoi Lake became a reservoir for the region. The water is blue, cool, and transparently clean, year round. Little streams running into the lake from nearby mountains makes it look like a giant spider when seen from above.
The large lake, surrounded by mountains, creates a beautiful landscape that lures many tourists to its shores. They often flock to the site in spring to enjoy the picturesque view of hoa ban (orchid trees) blossoming on the mountain slopes.
The most wonderful way to discover the endless beauty is to ride a boat on the lake. After a scenic boat tour, travellers can climb to visit Bat Cave and Swallow Cave, located on a mountain beside the lake. At dawn, flocks of swallows fly to find food and return to their nests at dusk, creating a spectacular sight for budding photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
The Thái ethnic people often go to Bat Cave to catch bats to make their culinary specialities. Eating bats is a tradition of the local Thái ethnic groups. They believe eating bats helps children grow up quickly and helps elders stay strong.
Bat meat is nutritious, and its sophisticated preparation with local spices makes it an unforgettable dish for those who dare to try it. Hăm pịch kia (fried bat meat soaked with spices) and lám kia (bat meat stewed with herbs in a bamboo tube) are two popular dishes the Thái offer guests.
Men in our group couldn’t hide their excitement when they enjoyed bat meat with a few sips of liquor. They tried to convince me I should try to truly understand Thái culture and customs. But I’m afraid of rats and bats, so I refused to eat this speciality. As did other women. Instead, we admired the Thái women and children tucking into their bat dishes.
It would be unfair not to mention another speciality of Yên Châu District: the mango gardens of the Thái people. Yên Châu mangos do not seem that attractive at first glance. They have green skin with a few black spots, even when ripe. They are smaller than the mangos from tropical regions like Nha Trang (Khánh Hòa Province) and Hòa Lộc (Tiền Giang Province). Though ugly, the fruits make a wonderful dessert with an unforgettable sweetness.
Mango trees are also home to ants. The Thái people collect ant eggs from mango leaves to cook xôi trứng kiến (sticky rice with ant eggs), a nutritious and tasty dish. The buttery taste of ant eggs is mixed with fried onion and well-cooked sticky rice, creating a well-balanced taste sensation.
Chiềng Khoi Lake tourists can enjoy the spectacular landscape and experience the cultural activities of the Thái people. After a day of rest by the lake, tourists can trek to Chi Đảy Cave and Sập Stream. — VNS