Just when you think you have already explored all the possible corners of this fascinating country, a Vietnamese minivan drops you off at the gate of Cat Tien National Park.
Brimming with diverse and fascinating wildlife, this massive, 720 square km seasonal tropical forest is located around half way between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City. Whilst backpacking, a break from the Southeast Asian backpacking trail in a peaceful nature reserve, is always welcome and highly recommended!
Cat Tien National Park is a true haven for nature enthusiasts. You simply must stop here for at least a couple days and explore the spectacular woodlands, home to many exotic species of plants and animals. From delicate orchids to humongous Tung trees, which can grow as large as 20 metres high and 10 metres wide, there are a wealth of wild things to see here.
Hundreds of exotic birds and primates such as golden-cheeked gibbons, deer and wild boars enjoy their jungle habitat in Cat Tien National Park. However, the latter might be spotted only later in the day and only when it’s dead quiet in the forest. For a chance to see and hear the gibbons you will have to rise and shine well before dawn, something that you may not be used to doing in SE Asia!
Things to do in Cat Tien National Park
- Explore Cat Tien National Park Independently
If you’re short on cash or you prefer to travel without a tour guide (we think it’s more adventurous this way!), lace up your walking boots and venture into the forest on foot. Get yourself a map at the park’s Headquarters and follow the colour marked routes. The walk in the forest is easy and pleasant, however, beware of leeches that want to attach themselves to your legs and make sure your skin is well covered to avoid mosquito bites. One piece of advice we can give when exploring the woods independently is to use Google Maps and GPS on your phone if possible. We found the printed maps a little vague and not to scale so got a bit lost.
While bikes are readily available to rent, we do not recommend this option. You will find trees fallen onto the pathways in the woods and some of them are also too narrow to cycle on. For an easy day out, opt for a leisurely walk and follow the paved path. Soon your walk will be filled with a cloud of butterflies leading your way. It’s quite a feeling and a glorious sight!
- Take a Tour of Cat Tien National Park with a Local Guide
Those wanting to explore the park a little deeper will need to budget at least $50-60 per person per trip! A variety of tours are available in the National Park such as night safari, a boat trip, including wildlife spotting, visiting the famous Crocodile Lake or simply a jungle trek with a local guide. But yeah, they are a little on the expensive side.
An all day tour costs around $50 per person and includes a jeep ride, hiking, lunch and water. The tour usually starts early in the morning at around 6.30 am until 4 pm depending on where you are staying. You will be able to book a tour through your accommodation in or near the park.
- Hear the Gibbon Songs at Sunrise
Sunrise in Ca Tien is a magical time. This is your golden opportunity to hear the wild gibbons sing, get off the beaten path and experience the jungle like a native. Along with the gibbons, you might be lucky to encounter the waking wildlife such as wild pigs, Red-shanked douc monkeys and pigtailed macaque troops, not to mention masses of wonderful tropical birds. The experience will cost around $60. Most tours accommodate max 4 people per tour and usually include a visit to the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre. Booking in advance is recommended.
- Volunteering opportunities at Cat Tien National Park
If you love wildlife and would like to dedicate your time as well as further your knowledge in the preservation of an endangered species, the Endangered Asian Species Trust offers a limited number of volunteering opportunities. The minimum duration of the program is around 3 months and involves working with primates due to be released into the wild.
Where to Stay in Cat Tien National Park?
Green Bamboo Lodge Resort: If possible, book one of their bamboo huts with the terrace sticking out into the river, it’s lovely! The resort is located on the edge of the nature reserve within an easy access to Cat Tien National Park. You will have to catch a boat to cross the river into the park at a cost of around $2 per person. Read more about our stay in a bamboo shack here.
Green Hope Lodge: This is another great place to check out if you are planning on staying inside the national park. Great food, welcoming staff and free bikes!
Cat Tien Jungle Lodge: A slightly pricier option, but a perfect choice for those wanting to stay surrounded by the jungles within the nature reserve.
Forest Floor Lodge: If you would like to contribute to the park conservation, stay at the Forest Floor Lodge. It’s luxury accommodation in the middle of the national park, however, when thinking of luxury, you have to remember that you are in the middle of a wild forest!
How to get to Cat Tien National Park?
- By Local Minivan:
Minivans depart Dalat daily at a cost of $7 per person. You can arrange a pickup with your hotel/hostel. Expect an overcrowded vehicle and don’t be surprised if the van stops to pick even more people up along the way. They have those tiny iconic Vietnamese chairs stacked at the back.
- By Bus:
This is a more expensive option, around $8 ($10 for a sleeper bus), but much more comfortable and less stressful than a minivan journey. The only inconvenience booking a bus is that it drops you off on the main highway and from there you will need to grab a taxi to get to the national park. Taxi might cost you around $18 for the final 15km.
Getting out and where to go next?
To leave the park, arrange transportation with your hosts. The easiest way is to get a taxi to the main highway and then the bus to Ho Chi Minh City or Dalat. If you are nice, your taxi driver might even stay with you by the road to make sure you get the right bus!
Don’t Forget: Make sure you have good backpacker travel insurance before you head to Vietnam.
Author Bio – Hi, we’re Charlie and Kristina and we love to travel. We love to travel so much that we started our travel blog to inspire others to travel more. During a 2 week trip to Cuba in 2015, we had an honest chat on the beach one night and decided to change our lifestyle to one of travel. We soon realised it wasn’t just the rum talking and made a plan to quit London and set off on a lifetime of adventure. Come and say hello on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.