Bach Ma fallsArranging a Ride/Tour

The crux of a visit is a winding 14km ride up to the top of the mountain – or near it – to access a few hikes in the forest. Only cars can drive up the mountain – no motorcycles or bikes are allowed. The PARK VISITOR’S CENTER (tel 054-871-330; 3km east of the Hwy at Cau Hai town; open 7am-5pm daily) arranges cars rides in 12-seater vans for about US$28 for the day. A guide is US$10 per day.

The center also arranges day tours with English-speaking guides (it’s best to call a day ahead to assure one’s available). A day for two people (including transport) is US$55 per person, for three to five people it’s US$48 per person.

The center also arranges NIGHT HIKES, a two-hour hike through the forest at 10pm (US$2 per person) and morning BIRD-WATCHING HIKES at 5.30am (US$2 per person).

The Hikes

If you hire a car, or come with a taxi, they’ll generally know where to go. A good way to start is riding the queasy 14km road to the top, at the Morin Hotel (see Accommodations), and walk 900m on the SUMMIT TRAIL. At the top of the easy walk – which passes a few smelly tunnels built by the Viet Cong after they seized the mountain in 1972 – there’s a two-storey observatory post where visiting locals sometimes each chicken and fruit – at least when I was there – and a viewing platform facing inland. It’s a bit scrappy, but the views in all directions tremendous; looking back to the north (up, beyond the trail in) you can see remnants of the old helicopter pad the US military used during much of the war.

Bach Ma ladderA couple kilometers down the road, a sign points to the FIVE LAKES TRAIL, a lovely walk under a dense canopy of trees. After a few minutes, the trail forks. The far easier way is going right, up hill, which leads about 2km to the fifth lake, with a clear pool below the falls you can swim in. The left follows the clear stream along each of the namesake five lakes – and it gets quite tricky, with rusted cables for support along the boulder edges and (sometimes broken) ladders heading down small cliffs. (I turned back after reaching the second lake – but was glad to go a little on the trail; I probably wouldn’t go back without a guide, and would never try it if conditions were wet.)

Instead of retracing your steps, head farther into the forest towards the RHODODENDRON FALLS. After 25 minutes or so, you’ll pass a signed fork – go left to the falls (another 10 minutes) or right to the road (10 minutes). You reach the top of the falls, lined with rhododendron trees that bloom impossible colors in spring. Splashing over rocks at a towering spot overlooking a green valley, the falls is so tall – 300m – you can’t see where the water goes, but a steep path leads to the left to the bottom if you want to see (689 steps; allow an hour to get down and back up). Afterwards, head back to the last signed fork and take the trail to the road, which pops out of the forest a couple kilometers down from the Five Lakes trail head – taxi drivers can pick you up here.

Ask at the visitor center about a couple OTHER HIKES in the area, including Pheasant Falls (a couple kilometers up from the visitor’s center).

It’s possible to access some restricted areas of the park, with a guide, if you plan in advance. (And the park is planning a new trail too.) There’s a greater chance of seeing WILDLIFE, such as langurs, wild pigs, black bears and (most prevalent) 333 species of bird. The visitor’s center can also lead morning and night hikes (see above).