Cat Tien National Park
Gibbons, and crocodiles, and bears, oh my!
Every now and then I get the itch for campfires, s’mores, & sleepless nights in a tent. Living in polluted Saigon, where stars don’t even exist, and fresh air is a thing of the past made my campfire urge soar out of control! First problem: where can we go camping? And second slightly larger problem: where to buy a tent and sleeping bag in this city where sleeping in the woods/jungle isn’t exactly what people call fun?
Good News Saigon Goers: You can buy cheap tents here! After a lot of looking and even more asking we were pointed to the ‘war’ market where counterfeit Army patches and badges are sold (Dan Sinh Market in District 1). There we found our perfect little camouflaged tent with matching sleeping bags. Cat Tien National Park is a 4 hour motorbike drive away, so we headed off through Vietnam’s lush green countryside dotted with women working hard in rice fields their faces hidden under rice hats, we pasted perfectly aligned rice paddies, and gawked at the volcanoes in the distance.
We pulled up to the park entrance & left Rhys’s clunk of metal in a little dodgy shed for 5 bucks. My butt was to a new level of pain from sitting on an uncomfortable bike for so long & a beer was needed for all. A little boat with holes, rotting wood, and an engine so loud we couldn’t think chauffeured us across the park’s river to our camping paradise. A big open piece of land with a restaurant out back ready for all of our beer & food needs, and for the first time in weeks– stars in the sky.
We built a blazing fire (‘borrowing‘ the camp sites pre-cut & stacked wood, how nice of them!) & sat listening to groups around us play guitar & sing their favorite Vietnamese camp fire songs– which sounded nothing like “Kookaburra sitting in an old gum tree“…! Finally, surrendering for the day we climbed into our tents only to realize we bought ourselves our very own sauna. Vietnam is HOT & sleeping in a nylon cocoon, with no windows, & 2 people made for our very own sweat machine. At 5am halfway in my sweaty slumber I sat up demanding to know, “What the hell was that sound?!” It was a strange howling noise with a sort of high-pitched yelp at the end. It was the GIBBONS! Every morning, bright and early, the jungle’s gibbons come out to play & wake up the sleeping creatures around them by singing with their mate. Their songs map out their territory & ‘commitment‘ to each other. It was mesmerizing to lay in our tent & listen to them sing, envisioning them swinging freely from branch to branch high above the jungle floor hooting and hollering at anything with ears. As painful as it may sound to wake up to at 5am, it was unbelievable to listen to this endangered specie proudly sing all morning long. Read all about these fuzzy little creatures, here.
The camp’s main desk warned us, “**Do not trek by yourself. You need a guide, and you need to pay him $30.**” Ha. Oh, please. We took off for Crocodile Lake early in the morning since we had been awake for hours from a combination of the gibbons’ singing, the tent acting as a sauna, and too many noisy people shuffling around us. Sleep wasn’t an option, it was time to seize the day. We rented leech socks from the front desk & took off for our jungle adventure! (Thank God for leech socks, they were crawling and sucking everywhere!) 12 miles later after fighting off leeches, humidity, & thunderstorms we were back from our adventure sore & exhausted. The lake wasn’t exactly what its made out to be, but we still had a great time stomping around in Vietnam’s jungles. Between the bear sanctuary, gibbon sanctuary, & hiking trails there was plenty to do to keep us occupied away from the land of technology. The hike can easily be done on your own without a guide, there is one trail to follow & that’s it. Nothing to it.
Back at the campsite we were ready for Round 2 of campfires & gibbons. This time we opted to sleep outside by the fire (avoiding the sauna of a tent at all costs). There is something cowboy-esque about sleeping outside under the stars next to a fire, with nothing to shield the creepy crawlies of the night from you. Secretly, it made me feel a little bit like a badass (until it started raining and I sprinted like a pansy into the tent). Once morning hit we were up bright & early again and headed home sweet home, with an extra bounce in our step & the gibbon’s song in our heads.
You Might Like:
- Cat Tien National Park: Gibbon Sanctuary
- Cat Tien’s website has all the dirty details http://www.namcattien.org/