Ho Chi Minh

Cat Tien National Park: A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Cat Tien National Park (Vietnamese spelling: Vườn quốc gia Cát Tiên) is the closest national park to Ho Chi Minh City and an oft-overlooked gem. It’s only a four-hour bus ride, or 150 km north, to this unique ecological system. 

Legend has it that fairies often come down to this place to enjoy the cool water, called ‘Cat Tien’.

The lowland forests of Cat Tien are the largest and most important in the country. Its rich biodiversity is home to gibbon, deer, and wild boar. The nature trails are extensive and well maintained. Most of them can be completed without a guide.

In Cat Tien, cultural diversity is reflected through the S’tieng and Ma ethnic people (over 1,000 people) living in the park. They reside scattered along the Dong Nai River (Ta Lai Commune, Tan Phu District) and live mainly by rice cultivation, cattle breeding, brocade weaving, and embroidery.

How to Get to Cat Tien National Park

If you want to get to Cat Tien National Park by motorbike, then it’s best to leave early in the morning. You follow National Highway 1A about 67 km to the Dau Giay intersection. 

From there, you turn left and follow Highway 20 about 58 km until you see the Ta Lai crossroads. At this intersection, you turn left and go another 24 km to the gate of Cat Tien National Park. 

However, if you are not familiar with the road, it is better that you go to the national park by bus.  It only takes around four hours.Many buses go straight to Cat Tien National Park from Ho Chi Minh City. Prices range from 80 000 VND to 100 000 VND. You can easily catch the bus from the Eastern Bus Station (Bến Xe Miền Đông).

Biking and Trekking in Cat Tien National Park 

Biking and Trekking in Cat Tien National Park
[ by Jack Tran from Tripadago ]

A typical start to a Cat Tien National Park adventure usually begins with a ferry ride across the Dong Nai River. This is included in the entrance fee. On the other side,  you should go to the National Park Centre first.

Inside the headquarters, you will receive basic maps which are well-marked. Furthermore, an operator will offer you some tours inside the park. These include trekking through the jungle, night safari, and crocodile lake tours.

Biking Through the Forest 

Biking Through the Forest
[ image from Facebook ]

Cat Tien National Park is a great place to get in touch with nature and enjoy some fresh air. Cycling along the park’s short routes is an excellent way to admire the hundreds of old pine trees. There are also many exotic plants.

Biking is a favorite activity for people who come to Cat Tien National Park. You can easily rent a bike inside headquarters. The cost is 30 000 VND per hour for a mountain bike.

Visiting Cat Tien Jungle and Giant Tung Tree

Giant Tung Tree
Giant Tung Tree
[ image from Facebook ]

In Cat Tien National Park, there are many ancient heritage trees. In total, the park has more than 300 precious wood species. This includes the Giant Tung tree which is over 40 m high.

To admire this majestic and impressive tree, you need to walk some distance into the jungle. You can also observe wildlife up close along the way, and then you return to the Visitor Center.

From the main walking path, locate the sign on the left directing you to a short hiking trail to the trees. Tung Tree is 0.8 kilometers (0.5 miles) away from the headquarters. The hiking trail is flat, so no need to wear hiking boots. The path is unmarked, so make a note to follow the pathway which is more heavily traveled. 

If you go with a local ecological guide from the visitors center you can learn about trees such as the medicinal Lagerstroemia ovalifolia (Bằng Lăng), the Uncle Dong Tree (cây gõ Bác Đồng), and the Cycas rumphii (Thiên Tuế) which is a sago palm tree.

Animal Night Safari at Cat Tien National Park

Animal Night Safari at Cat Tien National Park
[ image from Facebook ]

Cat Tien National Park is the only place in Vietnam that has wildlife spotting at night. The ideal time is around 7 pm to 9 pm in the dry season. Overnight tours usually include night spotting for a couple of hours.

Night spotting can only be done with a local guide, sometimes using a spotlight. Hopefully, you will get the chance to see the southern black deer, gibbons, and wild boars. If not, the beautiful starry sky is a nice treat.

Cat Tien Bear and Wildcat Rescue Station

Cat Tien Rescue Station
[ image from Facebook ]

The Cat Tien Bear and Wildcat Rescue Station has quarantine and training dens as well as a one hectare semi-natural enclosure. Both sun bears and moon bears, along with wildcats, are rescued, rehabilitated, and released into the semi-natural forest habitat. This helps to further rehabilitation and develop their wild instincts.

The project was set up in partnership with Wildlife At Risk (WAR), Free The Bears Fund (FTB), and Cat Tien National Park between 2008 and 2010. It aims to raise awareness, educate people, and to showcase Vietnam’s unique wildlife in semi-natural environments.

Crocodile Lake and Endangered Siamese Crocodiles

Crocodile Lake
[ by Đinh Sỹ Đạt from Cat Tien National Park ]

Crocodile Lake (Bàu Sấu) is nestled deep in this UNESCO-recognised world biosphere reserve. It’s only accessible by a 10km cycling route or by vehicle followed by a 5-km-hike.

The 5-km-hike is mostly covered by a thick umbrella of trees sheltering you from the sun and rain. At one point, alerted by the strong smell of urine, you may encounter  some langur and gibbon monkeys searching for food overhead.

You can stop a few times to take pictures of lush green landscapes and stamp out any leeches attached to your clothing. Finally, after two hours of jungle trekking, you will arrive at the lake.

Crocodile Lake is the biggest lagoon lake in Cat Tien National Park. In the rainy season it can span 2,500 hectares.

Endangered Siamese Crocodiles
[ by Đinh Sỹ Đạt from Cat Tien National Park ]

The lake is home to the endangered Siamese crocodile which is threatened by illegal hunting and human activity. Cat Tien is one of the last places in the world where you can see these giant 3-meter-long reptiles.

You can also sit down for crocodile-diet lunch. This means eating the same fish the crocodiles enjoy from the lake. You need to book lunch at the reception inside the park first.

After lunch, you can have a short break at the lake watching tower. Then you trek to the main road again to meet your transportation, or to catch the shuttle back to the park headquarters.

Ticket Prices for Cat Tien National Park 

Here are the basic ticket prices and cost of services provided by the national park. A tour will generally include most of these fees:

  • Bus Ticket: 80 000 VND one-way
  • Adult Entrance Ticket: 60 000 VND
  • Child Entrance Ticket: 10 000 VND
  • Ferry is incl. in entrance tickets
  • Bike Rental: 30 000 VND / hour
  • Local Guide: 150 000 VND / day
  • Night Tour Ticket: 170 000 VND / person

Where to Stay Around Cat Tien National Park

Room rates outside the park start from a basic 120 000 VND (5 USD) per room, including breakfast, to more luxurious types of lodges. If you stay in rangers’ quarters the cost is from 200 000 VND/room (9 USD). If you want to make a reservation yourself, they are easily available on sites like booking.com and AirBnb.

Learn More About Other National Parks in Vietnam

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