Story: Anh Duy
Photos: Le Duc Khanh, Binh Dang, Tang A Pau, Linh Ngoc

“Up to the forest and down to the sea” are popular travel choices for young people wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life. These getaways allow us to experience nature to its fullest.

A 400-year-old tung tree

We were very lucky to choose Cat Tien National Park as the destination for a two-night trip. We gained unforgettable memories of bathing in the healing energies of the age-old forest and exploring the unique biosphere of this tropical rainforest.

As fresh as can be

Cat Tien National Park covers an area of 82,597 ha and spans three provinces: Lam Dong, Dong Nai, and Binh Phuoc. As a nature reserve, Cat Tien is famous for the rich diversity of its fauna and flora. It took us a whole day to cross the forest on beaten trails amidst the dense woods and layered old-growth ground-covering vegetation. Fortunately, we were able to observe many rare and strange species.

The highlight was a giant tung tree (Tetrameles nudiflora), an approximately 400-year-old tree shaped like a rocket launcher. It takes 20 people linking arms to encircle its base. The tung tree features a large and awe-inspiring root that resembles a giant lizard with a width of one meter, a length of over five meters, and a height of around 30 meters. Many people call this tree the “lightning lizard”. Every step of our journey presented us with new species: wildflowers, strange mushrooms, medicinal plants, and particularly, rare orchids.

By a fresh and crystal-clear river stands a si tree (Ficus microcarpa) with large yet soft roots. Its magnificent roots seem to have been meticulously arranged by some unseen hand. Under drops of sunshine dappling through green leaves, we inhaled the scent of the old forest in the breeze, neither sweet nor strong yet alluring.

Cat Tien National Park is home to a lush tropical rainforest

Home to wild animals

Taking a night safari is another unmissable experience in Cat Tien. Tourists will have the opportunity to observe animals like deer, squirrels, weasels, and wild boars in their natural habitats.

Park rangers drive tourists down a 10 km-long road into the woods. We were instructed not to speak loudly or use camera flashes as this could disturb the nocturnal animals. All of the visitors silently followed the ranger’s light to watch the animals.

In addition to the night safari, tourists can visit the Cat Tien wild animal rescue center during the daytime. Animals wounded by poachers are treated, nurtured, and restored back to health before being returned to their natural habitats.

Tien Island is also a tourist spot worth exploring. With an area of 56.8 ha, the island is a rescue shelter for rare primates such as Germain’s langurs, black-shanked doucs, pygmy slow lorises, and yellow-cheeked gibbons. On the island, semi-wild areas are separated by electric fences to offer a larger habitat for animals to regain their instincts instead of living in captivity. Here, visitors can observe the primates more closely.

The heart of Cat Tien Forest

In addition to its diverse flora and fauna, Cat Tien is also known for its wetland ecosystem, which is of international significance.

Among these swampy areas, Bau Sau is the largest and most frequently flooded. It is also referred to as the heart of Cat Tien. Almost every tourist visiting Cat Tien aspires to explore Bau Sau regardless of their vacation schedule.

A si tree with large yet soft roots

Organized tour groups can reach Bau Sau by car from the Administration Center, while individuals can ride bicycles down an approximately 10 km-long road. All visitors, however, must walk for a further five kilometers. Bau Sau occupies an area of 13,759 ha, of which 151 ha are year-round wetlands. From afar, tourists can spot a large lake surrounded by trees, shrubs, grassy meadows, and bamboo groves. Bau Sau is home to many primates and water birds.

Our most memorable experience in Bau Sau was the boat trip. Freshwater crocodiles keeping their eyes open for prey hovered close to our boat. Their audacity caused us to clutch the edge of the vessel, both terrified and amused.

We completed our adventure in Cat Tien and returned to Ho Chi Minh City with the renewed energy that nature provides. The imprints that a stifling urban life had left on our spirits were healed in the most natural way.