Walk on the Wild Side: Vietnam’s Sporty life

Blogs - Vietnam: Aug. 10, 2017

“For me, this is the best solution to understanding Vietnam,” triathlon runner and all-around super athlete Jean Luc Voisin tells us.

By “this”, Jean Luc means mountain biking. And by Vietnam? Pretty much everything that’s not the handful of major cities dotting the length of this beautiful country.

Spirit of Exploration

It’s the vast distances of rural farmland and small villages where Jean Luc and his friends feel most at home (“When we go on these trips, people call us the French Legion,” he jokes). For most people the idea of tackling a dense jungle armed with only a GPS and a first-aid kit might seem, at best, unappealing, but for Jean Luc, it’s precisely this that makes Vietnam so breathtaking – especially for athletes.

What does he find so unique about hiking and mountain biking in Vietnam? “It’s the rainy forests. The jungle. I’ve been exploring areas for 15 years, and I always find new tracks.”

the wild sideImage source: Jeri Chua-Vietnam Mountain Marathon

However, Jean Luc’s adventurous streak doesn’t end with running and mountain biking. If there’s a rock face to climb or a river to kayak or raft down, chances are he’s either heard about it or experienced it himself.

So how does he pick where his next adventure will be?

Jean Luc pulls out his mobile phone and opens it up to Google Maps. focusing on a random region of Vietnam, he points to a dark green, heavily forested area. “I look for dark green,” he says.

That means that it’s probably protected land. These are the best places to explore.”

Some of his favourite haunts include Dak Lak Province, and especially the Buon Ma Thuot area, where he goes hiking, running, mountain biking, canoeing and rafting; along the Dong Nai river around Cat Tien National Park; and Thanh Da Island in the heart of HCMC, where he goes running with friends a few times a week.

Explore Safely

Even though you’ll likely never meet a man as adventurous as Jean Luc Voisin, he’s the first to recognise the dangers involved with exploring the wild side of Vietnam.

“Running is quite difficult here,” he admits.

“You have to take care. I always advise the young people coming from Europe, ‘Don’t forget to take water’. You sweat a lot. The temperature of your body is going up, and normally you sweat and the evaporation cools your body down. But there’s no cooling here. You just sweat.” Here’s Jean Luc’s pro-tip: grab some coconut water, which does a great job replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes.

the wild sideImage source: Jeri Chua-Vietnam Mountain Marathon

And then there’s the actual environment. In the forests you’re likely to run into all manner of insects and animals, along with unmaintained, wild trails.

Not to scare you too much, but also be aware that UXOs (unexploded ordnance from the American War) might also be hiding in a seemingly benign bush. Finally, don’t forget the first-aid kit and mosquito spray.

Four Places to Explore

Cat Tien National Park

Good for: Trekking, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking

How to get there: from HCMC, it’s three to four hours by motorbike. You can also take a bus going from HCMC to Dalat; you’ll be dropped off at the Ta Lai/Nam Cat Tien turn-off.

Just a relatively short distance from HCMC, The massive Cat Tien National Park offers a great experience for just about anyone: nature lovers, the spiritual-minded and rugged adventurers. There are dozens of paths to choose from and plenty of opportunities to arrange a kayaking trip or bike expedition with one of the homestays in the area (we recommend Ta Lai Longhouse). If you get tired of hiking and biking, you can also spend some time looking at some of WWF-protected animals in the area. Seeing gibbons swinging from trees is something you don’t want to miss.

the wild sideImage source: by Keely

Did we mention this is a real jungle? Here are a few tips: bring mosquito repellent, leech-resistant socks (these suckers can bite through light shoes and socks) and a GPS.

Black Virgin Mountain

Good for: Hiking

How to get there: From HCMC, many either drive their own motorbikes or take one of the several buses going daily.

Only about 100 km from HCMC, the Black Virgin Mountain in Tay Ninh Province, an extinct volcano that’s the highest point in Southern Vietnam, is an ideal daytrip or one-night camping trip for anyone who has to get to work on Monday.

There’s a cable car ascending this steep and delightfully perilous slope, but the mix of steep stairs and off-road hiking will keep hikers entertained for hours.

the wild sideImage source: ivivu.com

Jean Luc agrees that this is a trip worth taking, but regretfully admits that it’s polluted and unkempt now. Expect to see water bottles, food wrappers and everything else you can discard along the way to the Linh Son Thien pagoda near the summit.

Sapa

Good for: Trekking, hiking, camping, mountain biking

How to get there: fly to Hanoi and take either a bus or the overnight train to Lao Cai. If you take the train, keep in mind that you’ll need to arrange for a transfer to sapa, usually in a minibus.

Simply put, Sapa and the surrounding areas in Lao Cai Province in Vietnam’s northwest mountains are the best trekking destination this country has to offer. If you’re feeling incredibly ambitious you can tackle the two-day journey up Mt Fansipan, Vietnam’s tallest mountain (3,143 metres).

the wild sideImage source: hubertcu.com

Other options include exploring the Muong Hoa Valley, hiking the beautiful Tram Ton Pass (1,900 metres) and exploring the different H’mong and Red Dao villages that you’ll meet along the way.

Cao Bang

Good for: Hiking, trekking, camping, mountain biking

How to get there: With no railway reaching that far, your best bet will be a bus. The four- to five-hour journey from Hanoi will cost around VND300,000.

If you want to explore the north on foot but don’t want to tread the much-trodden Sapa route, Cao Bang is for you. resting along the edge of the Chinese-Vietnamese border, you’ll get to explore green, awe-inspiring natural beauty and have fun in the process.

the wild sideImage source: sapatourbooking.com

One of the major attractions at Cao Bang is the Ban Gioc waterfall, famous for being the fourth-tallest cascade in Vietnam. Also make sure to walk to Thang Hen Mountain lake, which consists of dozens of smaller lakes flowing through limestone formations. And if spelunking is your thing, you’ll love Nguom Ngao cave near Ban Gioc. You won’t be disappointed.

Banner image source: Vietnam Mountain Marathon

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