If you’re looking to do a bit of David Attenburough-ing in Southeast Asia, Cat Tien National Park is a must-visit destination. This beautiful park is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife: hundreds of species both large and small. Birds, crocs, gaurs, snakes. There’s even a herd of elephants there, apparently. Plus, the park offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching. So if you’re looking for an adventure in a stunning natural setting, Cat Tien National Park is definitely worth a visit!
What is Cat Tien National Park
Cat Tien National Park is a beautiful and vast park located in Southeast Asia. It covers an area of over 700 square kilometers, making it one of the largest national parks in the region. The park is situated in the southern province of Dong Nai, close to the city of Ho Chi Minh. It is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife, including hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and reptiles. It was established in 1992, when they discovered a group of Asian rhinos in the area. Alas, rhinos are now locally extinct – but the park still offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures, as well as guided activities, making it the perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.
How to Get There
I would suggest traveling to Cat Tien by private car. This will allow you to have plenty of flexibility, and you’ll be able to get to your destination in relative comfort. Plus, you’ll have the added bonus of not having to worry about finding transport once you’re there – if you take a bus, you’ll get dropped off at a highway junction where you’ll need to take another mode of transport. So if you’re looking to make the most of your time in Cat Tien National Park, a private car is definitely the way to go. I would recommend services like Clown Car Vietnam, with return trips in a large van going at about 2,000,000 VND. Driver included.
You can of course also drive down. The highways are pretty good, and the route itself isn’t that difficult and can be done at a very leisurely pace within the morning.
Interesting Things to Do
As mentioned, the park offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, as well as guided activities, making it the perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. Some recommendations on things to do in the park:
- Rent a Bike – There’s a bunch of granny bikes available for rent in the park. Some have baby seats, most have front baskets. All will be of questionable quality. But they’re cheap: 120,000VND (about 5USD) gets you 4 hours of riding. Rent a bike and cruise down the trails at your own pace.
- Birdwatching – There’s nothing quite like having a birdwatching guide show you around the park. You can spot so many interesting species from afar, or perhaps even get introduced to some new ones up close. Bring a pair of binoculars, or a good camera and stop whenever you hear birds singing.
- Hiking – Hiking is a great activity in Cat Tien. There are endless hiking trails that you can choose from, with varying degrees of difficulty. From short and gentle walks beside the lake to full-on 4 hour hikes through hills and forests, there’s plenty to do!
Would suggest doing the Crocodile Lake hike. A bike will basically be required to get to the start of the hike (unless you want a 12km pre-hike). The trail itself will be about an hour each way. Be prepared for leeches. There’s a 30 minute canoe ride into the lake if you’re looking to get more “in touch” with nature. Option to stay by the lake overnight, but the rooms do seem rather Spartan.
- Guided Activities – If you’re not really into cycling or hiking, you can always opt for a guided activity. You’ll be led by an experienced guide, and will come across all sorts of wildlife in your adventure. Some of the more interesting ones are:
- The Gibbon Trail – Start off early in the morning. Very early. Wake up call best scheduled at about 4am. The Park office can arrange for early boats.
- The Night Safari – This gets booked out early. Try to book in advance, before you even get to the park. Get in touch with them via the CTNP Facebook Page.
- The Rehabilitation Center – This will be kid friendly. The rehab center is just to the back of the main road. Tour will include bear rehab (one of whom is missing a leg because of traps laid out by poachers). If you’re lucky, you can even spot wild gibbons hanging out just by the cages of the rehab gibbons.
Hey, we all need friends when we’re in rehab.
- Photography – As you can see, there’s a lot of wildlife in the area. You can definitely try to put on your best Attenborough accent, while filming these critters (cans of beer suggested, but not necessary).
All the awesome pics on this page come courtesy of my friend James (who coincidentally also owns Brick and Barrell, where they should consider grilling croc meat). He goes to Cat Tien quite regularly, and was our guide during our first visit. He’s definitely got an eye for this sort of thing, and was able to spot snakes, spiders, guide us to the Crocodile Lake, all while making the most of his camera.
James does guided photography tours, which I highly suggest as it can get quite difficult to spot animals if you don’t know what you’re doing. One of my friends during that first trip was about to answer the call of nature, but completely missed a venomous green tree snake which was only about a foot away.
- Archaeology – Read that there’s a Hindu temple there, hidden in the jungle, though I haven’t had a chance to visit just yet. Would be interesting to go back and see.
- Camping – The park offers camping facilities at its visitor center and headquarters, with toilets and shower available. There’s the option to pitch a tent in designated parts of the park.
Tips on Where to Stay
If in case you don’t want to sleep in the wilderness, there are a handful of places to stay in or close to Cat Tien National Park.
If you’re looking for a more convenient option, I would recommend the Cat Tien National Park Hotel – book through the CTNP Facebook Page. It’s located right inside the park, and has a fully operational restaurant. Plus, most importantly, you wont have to take the ferry each time you want to do something inside the park. Rooms and bungalows can be a bit bare, but they’re clean and office a nice place to relax after a day of hiking.
Another option is the Cat Tien Jungle Lodge, which is located right next to the park entrance. It’s got a wide range of rooms, a reasonably good breakfast spread, and good value meals for lunch and dinner. It’s a bit more expensive, but the convenient location is good if you prefer to dive into a swimming pool, or stay in an actual hotel (rather than bungalows).
There are a few smaller hostels further down the road which might also be of interest. There are also plenty of homestays in the village surrounding the Park, but I would recommend you stay as close to the Park as possible.
Quick and convenient trip out of HCMC, with lots of outdoors stuff to do. Kid friendly. Relatively affordable if you with a group, and stay in shared accommodation. The river is a good place to have sundowners. Paved trails suitable for biking and running in clean air. Off road trails great for hiking. And yes, animals. Highly recommended.
Hope this was helpful. If you have any thoughts about the park (or suggestions on how to see those gaurs!) feel free to leave a comment!
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