Cat Tien National Park
A hastily booked bus ticket
turned fun adventure with friends
When I got to the bus station, I fully intended to book a seat bound for the white sand dunes in the southeast. Looking at the map, I remembered what the girl from Seville I had met the night before had said about Cat Tien, a national park halfway between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh. People travelling Vietnam either go North to South or South to North and share advice and adventures when you meet somewhere intersecting along the way. She said she had a lovely time seeing the park which was enough for me to load my things into the bus and see for myself.
We stayed at the Bamboo Hotel right along the river directly across from the park. It's an inexpensive place but the rooms are large, the service friendly, and you can't beat the location. Actually, we ran into friends we'd met in the Mekong Delta by chance staying there as well, which for us meant we finally had enough people to play a card game other than Gin Rummy.
I woke up to the exotic shrieks of the gibbons getting in some playtime before the sun rose and the retreated away from humans.
Our stay in Cat Tien was short, but we were able to see a great deal of the park. One of the hikes you can do yourself (because it's actually a path instead of slashing through foliage in the jungle) is the trek to Crocodile Lake, which is round-trip about 28 km of biking and 10 km of hiking. It's very flat terrain but very rocky- our wrists ached the next day from gripping the handlebars so tightly. We took our time on the hike, slipping between storytelling and moments of silence to see if we could discern which branch moved up in the trees in hopes of spotting a monkey. We weren't early enough to spot any gibbons but did lock eyes with a few shy langurs spotted in tall, sunny branches.
Crocodile lake is apty named and we were able to perch on a lookout point, rest our tired legs, and leisurely watch them pop their heads out of the water, glide along, and slip under in a slow rhythmic way. It reminded me of the Florida wetlands where I spent most of my childhood more than what you think of as a traditional lake.
On the way back, we followed a short trail that led to the rapids. It's dry season now, which makes for beautiful sunny weather, but the water levels were so low that we could walk across most of the river and the rapids were, well, slightly less rapid. Still a cool experience to climb around the middle of a river.
After traveling so much and being cooped up in various seats for various stretches of time, it felt so good to exercise and get out in nature. Certainly a well-enjoyed break with friends, and it reminded me of hiking on the weekends back in California.