Cat Tien National Park

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Cat Tien National Park is in the South region of Vietnam. It lies between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat just north of highway 20.

Understand[edit]

Cat Tien National Park consists of two separate segments:

  • Cat Loc to the north and
  • Nam Cat Tien - the eastern half of which is most often visited and contains the Park headquarters.

The Park has an area of about 720 km2 is located in three provinces: Dong Nai, Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc: approximately 150 km north-east of Ho Chi Minh City. It is one of Vietnam's most important and largest National Parks with now rare lowland woodland, containing areas of old-growth (primary) forest. To add to its conservation value, in the south-west it is contiguous with the Dong Nai Culture and Nature Reserve to the south-west.

History[edit]

There is an archaeological site on the northern bank of the Dong Nai river (just outside Nam Cat Tien, facing in). The site consists of a group of temples, belonging to a previously unknown Hindu civilization which probably inhabited it between the 4th century and 9th centuries AD (and possibly later). Excavations carried out between 1994 and 2003 have yielded a large number of a number of gold, bronze, ceramic, coloured stone, and glass artefacts, many of which are now in the Da Lat museum.

Cat Tien national park was protected initially in 1978, then the Cat Loc sector was incorporated in 1992 upon the discovery of a small rhinoceros population (an endemic sub-species of the Javan rhino); unfortunately this was hunted and was declared extinct in 2011. Although poaching other species remains a serious problem, better protection can be achieved in Nam Cat Tien, which is half surrounded by the Dong Nai river.

Landscape[edit]

The Park woodland can be classified as seasonal tropical forest (semi-deciduous mixed jungle characterised by many climbing lianas), with large areas of grassland, bamboo and wetland.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Among the many attractions are: primates such as the golden-cheeked gibbon (see things to do), a wide range of birds, butterflies and, of course the forest

itself. Spectacular trees include: 'Tung' Tetrameles nudiflora, afzel 'red wood' Afzelia xylocarpa and various Dipterocarps. More information, including species lists, can be found in a website about the Park.

It is possible, but unlikely, to see deer and wild boar during the daytime, when the forest is very quiet. Deer, Civet Cats and other animals including Gaur (wild cows) are more active after dark and can best be seen on night safaris. Rare Siamese crocodiles can be seen at Crocodile Lake: again, best in the late afternoon onwards.

Of the larger fauna, only a few wild elephants still survive in remote areas to the south-west of the park.

Climate[edit]

The area is highly seasonal:

  • Mid December - February is the peak season: deciduous trees lose their leaves and it is becomes increasingly easy to observe birds and other animals; it is also relatively cool.
  • March - May can feel the hottest time of year (but remember the forest is much cooler than the city). Many birds are nesting at this time and mammals can be seen leaving cover in search of water.
  • Mid May - June see the start of the rains: this is usually the best time of year to come and see clouds of butterflies and watch the forest green-up after the dry season. Many of the trees flower and start to fruit: food for animals and birds.
  • July - September: is the peak rainy season - the river is at its highest, sometimes reaching and flooding the roads. Visitors should be aware that certain paths cannot be negotiated at this time of the year. On the positive side, many trees, shrubs, gingers and orchids are in flower and this is the time to absorb the atmosphere of the 'steaming jungle' (biologists of course will always feel in their element).
  • October - early December: with decreasing rains and temperatures, some visitors argue that this is an excellent time to visit Vietnam in general. In the park, the forest is still verdant and the rapids are vigorous.

Get in[edit]

With road improvements the 150 km journey from Ho Chi Minh city, avoiding the traffic jams in Bien Hoa, has become more reliable: in as little as 3 hours. Plan for at least 4 hours from/to Dalat. The nearest town on the main highway (route 20) is Tan Phu. The 25 km journey between Tan Phu and the ferry crossing into the park, 1 km beyond Nam Cat Tien village, can be problematical for the unprepared (see bus travel).

The first ferry crossing is usually at approximately 6:30 in the morning and the last return trip is at 7:00 p.m. Park rules say that night crossings are prohibited, but 'exceptions' may be made. If you want see wildlife: primates and birds (early morning) or go on the night tour, you should stay across the river in the park itself.

Prices here are for guidance only: believed correct as of February 2016.

Bus travel[edit]

Buses between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat will drop you off on the highway at the Ta Lai/ Nam Cat Tien turn-off or the post office (it is important to specify which one). By far the safest and most comfortable are the orange Futa buses [1] (Tel: (08) 38 309 309) which ply between HCMC - leaving from 272 De Tham St. - and Dalat every 1/2 hour during the day. The 2-level reclining couchettes are relatively comfortable, even if you are over 6 ft. tall ! The current price from HCMC to Tan Phu is VND 220,000: you may have to wait 1-2 hours for a ticket at peak times.

Making prior arrangements with your accommodation for a pick-up from/to the highway is highly recommended. There are often motorcycle xe om waiting to take tourists to the river that is on the edge of the park, but there have been accidents. Experienced travellers negotiate the price up front, but not booking transport and accommodation can prove to be a false economy (at least one visitor has been charged US$50 for the ride!).

Taxi and train travel[edit]

Even if travelling on a budget, arranging transport as a group of 2-4 in a hired car can be a safe and fairly cost-effective option, unless you are lucky (or well informed) enough to find a mini-bus into Nam Cat Tien village (see getting out); it can be tricky to find the bus station (it's not marked). Typical prices are:

  • VND 500,000 to 700,000 from Tan Phu
  • VND 2,000,000 from Ho Chi Minh city
  • VND 3,000,000 from Dalat, Phan Thiet, etc. (4 hour journeys)

The nearest railway station is Long Khanh, which is more of a halt, on the main Hanoi - Hue - Ho Chi Minh City line. From Long Khanh to the Park is a 2 hour taxi/car journey which is best to book in advance: prices in the region of VND 1,500,000.

Fees/Permits[edit]

The fee scheme is a bit complicated and each trip will involve several layers of fees including separate items for (additional) entrance fees, tour guide and transport.

There is a VND 50,000 entrance fee which only seems to get you as far at the Park Headquarters. Expect to pay 'extra for everything', unless you have booked a 'package deal' with a hotel or tour company: which is easier and can often work out cheaper in the long run.

The fee for the guides is of questionable value. Most of the guides either don't speak much English, or don't have a lot of local expertise to offer. Make sure you talk to your guide before engaging them and don't feel guilty about doing a self-guided tour along the safer trails (marked green on the park map).

Get around[edit]

Around the accommodation areas, there a number of local walks possible, but only the Lagerstroemia trail, botanic gardens and heaven rapids should be attempted without a guide (see staying safe). A guide is not really necessary for the Crocodile Lake walk (below), although they can be helpful for spotting animals and birds. The Park provides a trail map, but this can be misleading: at least two of the trails described as "medium difficulty" definitely require a guide and should never be attempted alone. Longer walks (in the dry season only) include:

  • the Ecological trail (5-8 km through the forest, depending on the route taken)
  • through the forest to Crocodile lake
  • through the forest to Ta Lai
  • through the forest to Nui Tuong (elephant) hills
  • from the road at Nui Tuong through the forest to Crocodile lake
  • from Crocodile lake through the forest to Ta Lai.

A problem with many of these can be finding an English-speaking guide who is prepared to accompany you: especially on the longer walks through the forest. Staff at ForestFloorLodge (see below) are also knowledgeable about the more adventurous trails through the Park.

Bicycles can be rented. If you bring your own bicycle to the park, there is another VND 50,000 charge for bringing it into the park.

See[edit][add listing]

Many visitors come to Cat Tien National Park to see primates: especially gibbons and langur monkeys, and birds: including such specialities as Germain's peacock pheasant, bar-bellied pitta and the rare endemic orange-necked partridge; although less rare, birds such as the Siamese fireback and green peacock are notoriously easy to see here.

There are two animal rescue centres that are worth seeing and supporting:

Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre: is situated on Dao Tien Island, 5 min up-stream by boat from the landing near Park HQ (boats depart at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.). The centre specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of endangered primates, all victims of the illegal wildlife trade and naturally found in the region, including: golden-cheeked gibbons, black shanked douc, silvered langur and pygmy loris. A visit must be booked in advance (VND 300,000) and is a perfect opportunity to see and learn about these amazing primates. For more information visit their website [2].

Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre accommodates sun bears and Asian black bears, which have been rescued from the cruel and illegal trade in bile: a traditional medicine. In the morning, black bears can be seen in a semi-wild area from a viewing platform, but by early afternoon they prefer to return to their cages for shelter. There is also a crocodile, peafowl and a few gibbons to see in this area, adjacent to the Park Headquarters; the entrance fee is VND 150,000.

Do[edit][add listing]

Seeing a gibbon family in the forest can be a truly wonderful experience: it involves waking-up before dawn, walking into the forest and waiting quietly for two 'dawn choruses'. First, the bird-song, then the much louder call of the golden-cheeked gibbons marking their territory. Your guide will follow the call and if you are lucky you will see a whole family of this endangered and endemic species in the tree-tops. This needs planning though: the maximum number in a group is four people; the charge is $60 per person for the tour, but this includes a visit to Dao Tien centre later in the morning and a free second early visit, if the first day is unsuccessful.

A well-known attraction is an overnight stay in very basic accommodation at Crocodile Lake to the north of Nam Cat Tien (see below). By pickup truck, the overnight trip leaves at around 13:00 and involves a 30 minute (9 km) drive and a 5km hike. For those short on time, Crocodile Lake can also be visited as a day trip, but the Park now charges VND 200,000 to visit (buy a ticket in advance or you will be "fined") even if you go independently; this could involve cycling along the road or hiring a vehicle for VND 700,000 per booking (return trip).

If not staying at the Crocodile Lake, a 45 minute night tour can be done: you will probably see deer, other animals such as civets, porcupines and wild pigs are a bonus. If you are lucky, you may see gaur.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Not "wild meat" please!

Eat[edit][add listing]

There are two restaurants at the Park Headquarters. The more pleasant one ('Yellow bamboo') is located behind the main office of the park head quarters it is cafe-style with good, reasonably priced food and a view to the river. The second restaurant ('Dipterocarpus') is located around 100m south.

About 1 mile to the north of Park HQ, the ForestFloorLodge restaurant provides good food in exquisite surroundings. It can be combined with walks to the Botanic Gardens or Heaven Rapids; if you need to return to HQ after dark, ask for a lift in their buggy, or bring a torch.

At Crocodile Lake, expect to eat freshly caught fish from the lake at a reasonable flat price.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Drinks are available at the restaurants at the Park Headquarters and at the 'Hornbill bar' in ForestFloorLodge (so called because it is one of the best places to observe Oriental-pied and Greater hornbills as they cross the Ben Cu rapids, in the morning and just before sunset).

Beer and water can be bought when staying out at Crocodile Lake at a slight premium. Expect the beer to be warm, so you might want to consider carrying your own in. Filtered water from the lake is free.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

It is often cheaper to stay on the opposite side of the river across from the Park headquarters. The down-side of doing this, apart from having to pay Park entrance fees every day, is that you are restricted by the ferry crossings for seeing wildlife (see getting in).

Green Bamboo lodge has clean and comfortable cottages starting at 300,000 VND and a beautiful common area overlooking the river. Very peaceful and quiet location with spectacular views.

Lodging in the Park[edit]

There are various levels of accommodation around the Park Headquarters (prices typically range from US$10-50 per person).

At Crocodile Lake simple accommodation is available. You'll pay extra for a bathroom.

There is an eco-tourism lodge called Forest Floor Lodge [3] that provides high-end accommodation: located in forest surroundings, it makes financial contributions to Park conservation.

Camping[edit]

If you bring your own tent, you can camp on a field adjacent to the headquarters for a fee; camping at Crocodile Lake is no longer permitted.

Stay safe[edit]

Make sure you bring mosquito repellent and cover up at night.

Leeches are common on the trail to Crocodile Lake and will happily bite through socks and light shoes. Ticks may also be a problem during the dry season. Leech socks can be rented at the park HQ, or are supplied free by the better accommodation.

Possibly the greatest danger when walking in the forest is getting lost. Apart from the clearly marked paths near the accommodation and botanic gardens areas, you should either use a guide, or take a GPS.

Get out[edit]

There are two local mini-buses a day at 6:30 and 11:30 that will take you from the ferry crossing to Dalat for VND 120,000. After 7:00, hourly buses go to HCMC for VND 80,000 until 17:00. Expect them to cruise around the village for more than an hour to fill up the bus; after that, it is around 4 hours to reach the Ho Chi Minh Bus Terminal.




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