Cat Tien National Park (Vietnam)
The Cat Tien National Park is located between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat. With a local bus it can be reached easily and cheaply. In the park, several tours are offered. You can take one to encounter wild animals such as gibbons or to get to know local villages by bicycle, kayak or on foot. If you want to walk through the jungle, you should definitely hire a guide.
Or, you can hike to Crocodile Lake on an asphalted path which hardly requires any orientation skills. If you would like to do a 2-day tour and enjoy the sunset at Crocodile Lake, there are overnight ac-commodations on the route, which must be booked in advance. The entrance fee to the park is 40,000 Vietnamese Dong, which corresponds to slightly less than 2 US dollars, the permission to Crocodile Lake is 140,000 Dong and the accommodations fee is 500,000 Dong.
My choice is the non-guided walk in the National Park. To be able to start the hike I strengthen myself on the local market with a national specialty for breakfast – noodle soup with beef. For my provisions, there are leaf-wrapped rice cakes and filled pastries.
I leave the bulk of my luggage at the Forest Call Lodge and walk towards the ferry. After the 2-minute crossing over the brown colored river, I book the accommodations at the Tourist Information office, get permission for crossing the lake and follow the asphalt road on my right into the park. The road is wide, but not overly lively – even the number of passing jeeps can be counted on two hands.
I decide to take the first beaten track into the jungle. There was a wave of calmness around me – I feel well, no motorized vehicles, only a narrow path with trees on both sides. I pause for a moment and listen to the deafening concert of the crickets. Ancient trees with huge intertwined roots stand between grasses and bushes. I am surrounded by all kinds of green tones. Some branches seem to grow from the top downwards or hang like swings between several trunks.
Unexpectedly one of the trees rustles and swings back and forth frantically. I walk a few steps through the dense bushes directly into the jungle and can see a black outline on the canopy, which jumps immediately to the next and just as quickly as he appeared, he disappears out of my sight. Slowly, I retreat to the path while trying to avoid the finger-long spines of the plants. After a few junctions that made me ponder, I find the right way to the road.
After going 8 km, a small asphalted path leads on the left towards the Crocodile Lake. Halfway down, a jungle giant is spreading to my left, an old tree with mighty shovel-like roots that alone are bigger than me. I look up carefully. On my right, there are some shrubs and ferns, which are connected with artful spider webs. A bat suddenly crosses my path soundlessly. In the distance, I perceive the sound of some birds, alternately tweeting a deep and a high tone.
This is emphasized by those who sing the scale from top to bottom, while they are distracted by oth-ers who do not adhere to any rules or patterns. The chirping of the crickets, which is sometimes qui-eter, sometimes louder, completes the orchestra. At the Crocodile Lake is a large ranger station with some bungalow-like guest rooms, which surprisingly have a bathroom with a shower – pure luxury on such a route.
Obviously, it is forbidden to swim in the water due to the crocodiles. Having a colorful sunset in the background, I watch the crocodiles in the lake, before I retire sometime later into my room under a splendid starry sky.
My sleep is accompanied by the sounds of the crickets all the night. At 6.30 am I start to make my way back. The spiders were very diligent over-night, so I kept a walking stick made out of bamboo an armlength in front of my body so I don’t have to constantly wipe the nets from my face.
The rays of the morning sun are breaking through the thickets and enchant the forest with all imagi-nable bright greens. A sweetish aroma mixes unexpectedly under the damp air. On the left, not far from the ground, it rustles and I hear grunts – the reminder that I am in a living environment. I turn back a few steps into the forest, but the wild boar has already disappeared.
Now a noise on the other side. I’m just getting the chance to catch a glimpse of something brown jumping away. I enjoy the silence of nature until this is interrupted by a noise. A group of tourists is coming out of a vehicle towards me. I use the favor of the hour and jump on the back of the motor-ized vehicle to get back to the park entrance.