With countless tracts of magnificent untouched rainforest showing the region’s age-old natural and cultural legends, Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) is still a mysterious land to most tourists.
Untouched Ta Dung rainforests are the masterpiece of the highlands
We had a chance to visit the nature reserve Ta Dung, one of the most photogenic forests in the region, where many rare and nearly extinct animals on the Red List of Threatened Species live.
It is also a wonderful trekking experience to conquer the 2,000m peak of Ta Dung mountain, which is truly one of a kind.
As the dry season started, the yellow marigolds were in full bloom, brightening Ho Chi Minh Highway as it passed through Tay Nguyen. From Buon Ma Thuot, we drove 200km through many tortuous mountain passes from dawn until dusk. Finally, we reached the Ta Dung Nature Reserve Office, located in Dak Som Commune, Dak G’long Village, Dak Nong Province.
From a distance, Ta Dung peak is concealed by floating clouds.
Ta Dung is the highest peak in Dak Nong Province. On top of Ta Dung, one sees a bird’s eye view of the vast Dak Nong area. The Chau Ma people live only 1km away from Road 28.
The beauty of Ta Dung rainforests
Crystal clear streams flow through the foothills surrounding Ta Dung. During the dry season, the water is quite shallow, yet clear and refreshing. This attracts youth from the surrounding area. People from as far away as Di Linh, Gia Nghia Town sometimes drive here for the weekend.
The forest welcomed us with a feathered orchestra of red-whiskered bulbul, nightingale, wild goose, and other birds. The sound of the powerful Dinh Klinh waterfall also greeted us.
Khuong Thanh Long, deputy director of Ta Dung Nature Reserve, enthused: “This phenomenal diversity of bird species is endemic in this forest. Ta Dung is one of the few bird reserves in Viet Nam, and one of the world’s most important bird reserves.”
Passing Dinh Klinh waterfall, we reached the rainforest, with its multistoried foliage. A few rays of sunlight slithered through the dense greenery. Old trees had their roots protruding nearly 20cm from the ground. Peculiar-shaped trees, each spread their branches over a few dozen square metres. Some trees looked as if they climb around and strangle other trees. Other trees featured python skin-patterned bark.
Our local tour guide warned: “We are entering the old rainforest. There are a lot of animals, insects, steep and rocky slopes, deep abysses, and tangled bushes. You all should be really careful.”
My whole group chitchatted as we hiked. Then the sound of something moving through the branches above our heads caught our attention. The sound drew increasingly closer. It was a group of redshank doucs swinging through the branches. Everyone was so excited and whipped their cameras out. But the doucs swiftly hide themselves behind the greenery.
“I was so excited to actually see this endangered primate. Such a rare chance in my life,” Jay Smith, a group member, remembered.
As we continued hiking, our conversation ranged beyond black-shanked doucs to other species of animals that are near extinction, as well as to gibbon, bear, loris, Cypress family, golden camellia, and more.
As we walked deeper into the woods, the scenery grew more interesting. But the terrain became more challenging. Steep slopes forced everyone to bend their bodies and grab tightly to small bushes along the way to move forward. We took breaks to catch our breaths again, looking at each other, tired yet still excited.
“Nature in Tay Nguyen is said to be extremely rough. Now, I’ve had a chance to witness it with my own eyes and experience Nature’s challenge. What a truly unique experience.” said veteran traveller Tran Huy Hoang.
By the second day of the trip, our feet adapted to meet the demands of hiking. We left our baggage in our hut. So we didn’t have to carry any additional weight. We all felt excited to summit a peak that many travellers dream of. Although there weren’t any trails, the path was easy to pass through. Footprints of the chamois — one of few species that can survive the cold climate on the mountain — were imprinted on a layer of moss. The higher we climbed, the less trees grew; there were a few bushes and some moss.
Less than 2 hours later, we set foot on the peak of Ta Dung mountain, bursting with happiness and fulfilment. We felt like we were floating among the clouds. We closed our eyes, breathed the fresh air, then took in a bird’s eye view of the Dak Nong’s urban area, barely visible through layers of fog.
Without resting, everyone started taking photos to capture these special moments. Then we prepared to trek downhill before dusk.
Walking downhill was as hard as going uphill. We had to bend our knees and lower our bodies to keep our balance. Leaving the woods, we could feel our legs trembling and our calves aching after the long hike.
We drove by the coffee grove to catch a glimpse of the fully ripe coffee berries.
In the honey-colored sunlight of late autumn, Ta Dung lake looked like a miniature of Halong Bay from high above. The clear blue water contrasted with the wild forest of the Central Highlands and surrounded many isles. The few boats of the local fishermen looked like the fins of hunting sharks.
“From a distance, nature is beautiful and calm. Who knew that life inside the forest would be so lively and fascinating? This is the first time I’ve been to Tay Nguyen. Perhaps I was enchanted during the two day hiking trip,” said Nguyen Dieu Ha, a member of the hiking party.