Hoai Khao is a mountainous hamlet located in Nguyen Binh district, Cao Bang province. This region is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, including the beautiful folk melody Pao Dung, traditional clothing adorned with intricate patterns, and breathtaking landscapes. Hoai Khao is also a part of the Non nuoc Cao Bang Geopark. It is inhabited by the ethnic Dao Tien community, primarily dominated by the Ly and Chu families.
During the spring season, tourists are provided with a unique and unforgettable experience as they witness the presence of giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) in the surrounding caves of our charming hamlet.
|Giant honeybee nests on the rock cliffs in Hoai Khao. Photo: Dan Tri|
Phung Van Cau, a reputable lawyer based in Cao Bang, shares his first-hand experience of participating in the traditional practice of local Dao Tien community in harvesting beeswax from the forest. According to him, the honeybees that migrate to Hoai Khao are carefully safeguarded by the residents, with some nests even measuring up to a remarkable 1.5 meters in diameter. The entire hamlet works collectively to ensure the well-being of these nests, understanding that disturbing the honey within the nests could lead the bees to abandon their habitat.
|Locals begin to harvest beeswax from giant honeybee nests in early July of the lunar calendar. Photo: Dan Tri|
Each year, in early July of the lunar calendar, the inhabitants of Hoai Khao prepare for the extraction of beeswax. This tradition follows the departure of the majestic giant honeybees, who leave behind enormous nests clinging to the rugged cliffs. Prior to venturing into the forest, the residents gather for a significant ceremony conducted by the esteemed witch doctor.
The witch doctor is entrusted with the task of selecting the auspicious day for removing the nests. During the ceremony, the doctor pays homage to both the forest god and the bee god. Acts of respect and gratitude are extended to the divine entities, seeking their permission and blessings for the safe extraction of the precious beeswax. Furthermore, fervent prayers are offered, beseeching the gods to guide and protect the bees, ensuring their return to the flourishing forest in the upcoming season.
|Cau said amongst all the spots in Hoai Khao, honeybees would always come to Trang Venh and Ta Lac for nesting. Photo: Dan Tri|
Vu Khac Chung, a photographer from Cao Bang province, expressed his astonishment at the impressive size of the giant honeybee nests. He stated, “Having captured countless photographs showcasing Cao Bang’s stunning landscapes and its people, it was truly a unique encounter for me to witness such an abundance of beeswax and bee nests of such magnitude. I meticulously documented every step, from gathering the nests to the process of cooking the wax. Undoubtedly, it has been an unforgettable experience.”
Locals utilize bamboo and durable natural materials to construct sturdy stairways for accessing the beeswax. These stairways are securely bound together using rope and forest vines. Additionally, a long stick is crafted from smaller sticks, with one end fashioned into a makeshift knife using a long, flat and slightly sharp piece of wood,” explained Cau. “Typically, physically fit individuals from the community are designated to ascend the cliffs and remove the nests, while women and children are tasked with collecting the fallen nests.”
|Back in the hamlets, locals will break the nests into smaller pieces and boil them until melted. Photo: Dan Tri|
After undergoing a purification process, the local community allows the melted bird nests to solidify into beeswax, which is then divided into equal portions and distributed to each household within the village.
The artisans of Hoai Khao have perfected a distinctive technique for embellishing garments with intricate patterns using beeswax. Every woman in Hoai Khao is skilled in this art form, allowing them to meticulously print detailed geometric designs, as well as patterns inspired by flowers, plants, birds, and animals. This centuries-old tradition has resulted in the creation of the Dao Tien’s exquisite and sophisticated traditional clothing.
|In a fruitful season, each household may receive 1.5 kg of wax for use throughout the year. Photo: Dan Tri|
Hoai Khao in the Dao Tien community stands out as a beloved tourist destination, thanks to its distinctive culture and unwavering commitment to preserving traditional values. As a result, favorable conditions have emerged to foster the growth of sustainable and impactful community-based tourism.
|Dao Tien women in traditional clothes on which patterns are printed using beeswax. Photo: Dan Tri|