Cat Tien National Park
True rainforest of South Vietnam
Cat Tien National Park is located in the centre of three provinces: Dong Nai, Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc. Threatened by human activity, Cat Tien is nonetheless a treasure of biodiversity and has been recognized by UNESCO.
Dipping a paddle into the lake, my friend casts an anxious glance at the water, looking for air bubbles rising to the surface – a clear sign of the presence of a predatory reptile likely to capsize our small boat!
Located in the northern part of Cat Tien National Park, the famous Crocodile Lake is indeed a breeding ground for the Siamese crocodile, reintroduced in 2000. But this is not the only species lurking in Cat Tien. The park, which covers 71,920 hectares of forests, plains and marshes, is home to many birds and mammals.
It is, in fact, the last true rainforest of South Vietnam.
More than a jungle, Cat Tien is a legacy of an ancient time when Vietnam was still covered with thick vegetation. Aware of the park’s ecosystem’s extreme fragility, UNESCO decided in 2001 to inscribe Cat Tien in its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
This recognition, however, did not manage to save the last Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros, discovered in 2010 with its skull shattered, a sad victim of poaching, killed for the value of its horn.
The rhinoceros’s horn’s supposed therapeutic and aphrodisiac effects have unfortunately led to the extinction of the last specimen.
Cat Tien National Park had already greatly suffered during the Vietnam War when it was sprayed with herbicides, arguably the most notorious of which was Agent Orange, a defoliant.
Today the most pressing threats to the park are unfettered deforestation, agricultural encroachment and poaching.
The plan to build two dams upstream of Crocodile Lake on the Dong Nai River continues to provoke outcries among defenders of this expansive biological sanctuary.
Despite the park's deteriorating biodiversity over the years, it still houses more than 1,610 different plants, 105 species of mammals, 351 species of birds, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of species of butterflies and insects – a remarkable nature spot for lovers of wilderness hiking.
Places to visit in Cat Tien National Park:
- Tung Tree (1.5 km, 3 hours by foot)
- The Heavenly Waterfall (5.5 km)
- The Fig Tree (16 km)
- The archaeological site of Cat Tien (12 km)
- Ethnic villages of Ma and S'tieng (12 km)
- The Botanical Garden (2 km)
- Elephant Hill (3.5 km)
- Crocodile Lake (14 km)
- Ta Lai (home to different types of forests)
- The Primate Rescue Centre
At Cat Tien, there are 50 standard rooms at the park headquarters, a traditional house built and administered by Tay, S'tieng and Ma Ta Lai (12 km south of park headquarters) and a Ben Cu hut beside the Dong Nai River (1.5 km north of park headquarters).
There are also rooms in stilt houses on Crocodile Lake that offer spectacular views of wildlife at dawn and dusk.
The easiest way to get to Cat Tien is to take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City. Book a bus to Dalat (VND35,000, four hours) and tell the driver to drop you off at Vuon Quoc Gia Cat Tien. From there, you can rent a bike to complete the remaining 25 km to the entrance. Once you’ve arrived at the park office, you can buy a ticket that includes a ride on the ferry across the Dong Nai River (about VND40,000).