While it would be hard to come up with an extremely complete guide to Nam Cat Tien National Park, with its whopping 71,350 hectares of land and a plenitude of flora and fauna, this will give you a bird’s eye view of what you need to know before hitting up the road to it.
Just around 160 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh lies the Nam Cat Tien National Park. This UNESCO biosphere reserve is a haven for nature and animal lovers. You won’t go wrong by putting this on your must-visit list while in Vietnam.
Picture this – trekking off the beaten paths, witnessing a choral of singing birds, spotting the endemic gibbons, going on a night safari, biking till you can’t pedal anymore, or simply interacting with the locals – whatever it is that tickles your fancy, this guide to Nam Cat Tien National Park has it.
When to Visit
When on a trail or a trek, the path needs to be dry. This happens from December to May in Vietnam, when there’s little rainfall.
But if there’s no other option for you than to go from April until November, then be mindful of certain paths that cannot be taken whilst the ground is wet. Not to worry, we got you covered.
Also, as this is a national park, wear appropriate clothes. Long-sleeved tops, hats, light trek pants, good shoes, and leech protection socks. Don’t forget to bring your mosquito and tick repellents.
How to Get There
A guide to Nam Cat Tien National Park must definitely include the tricky transportation options that Vietnam offers.
From Ho Chi Minh, there are two options to get to Nam Cat Tien National Park. The first is with your own transportation and by public bus. While it’s easy to put your destination on Google Maps, the route will have exit tolls that require payment. Some tolls do not let motorbikes through, so if driving one you might need to go through dirt roads.
A local bus departs from the Bến xe Miền Đông bus station and goes directly to Nam Cat Tien National Park. Don’t expect a luxury bus. This local bus has no legroom. It’s also packed, like a can of sardines, 99% of the time. There’s another bus, called the Phuong Trang or the Futa bus. It has legroom and its fleet is newer than the local buses. But it won’t drop you in Nam Cat Tien National Park.
Another thing to consider is the ferry crossing into the park. They don’t allow ferries to cross at night, and the last trip is at 7:00 pm.
This won’t be simple, so brace yourself a little. The entrance fee to the Nam Cat Tien National Park is 60,000 VND ($2.60). But this doesn’t give you entry to specific places nor activities, especially if you intend on exploring. This is a complete list of official fees. There might be “non-official” fees, so always be ready to dish out some dongs.
See & Do
Yes, you’ll get a bird’s eye view from this guide to Nam Cat Tien National Park, but it doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on the small things. Especially if you join us for an unforgettable adventure.
If you love animals and would like to visit rescue centers, there are two in Nam Cat Tien National Park. But for now, until February 2020, the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre is closed. The centre is located upstream, you would need to ride a boat for 5 minutes to get there. Departure times are 8:30 am and 2 pm. The fee is VND 300,000 ($13) and should be booked in advance.
The Cat Tien Bear Rescue Center takes care of the Sun, Moon, and Sloth Bears who are endangered because their bile is being farmed for traditional medicine. The entrance fee is 150,000 VND ($6.50).
If you like to explore on your own, there are a couple of “safe” trails to choose from. The Crocodile Lake, Heaven Rapids, Botanic Gardens and Lagerstroemia trail, could be accomplished without a guide, especially in the dry season. Even though you don’t need a guide, there are fees for some of these trails (check the official list).
One of the best ways to explore the Nam Cat Tien National Park is by bike. You will be able to cover more kilometers and enjoy the scenery, so every second is worth it. But, it’s not allowed to bring your own bike into the Park. You can rent for VND 30,000 ($1.30)/hr.
Highlighted activities of the Nam Cat Tien National Park include visiting the Ta Lai Ethnic Village, Night Safari, and the Gibbon Walk. For the night safari, the tour includes a ride in a jeep and leaves at 6:30 pm and another one at 7:30 pm. This tour lasts for 50 minutes with the chance to see sambar deers, civets, porcupines, and muntjacs. The fee is VND 160,000 ($7).
If you want to visit the Ta Lai Ethnic Village, a bike ride is required. It would be nice to have a grasp of how the villagers are living, see traditional weaving, and just marvel at the beauty of this place.
The Gibbon Walk is a unique experience on its own (even if you don’t see the actual gibbons). You would be leaving the park HQ at 4:30 am, so waking up earlier is a must. The tour is only for 4 people/group, so book ahead and the fee is VND 1000k ($44). You would be staying in hammocks after a trek with torches and wait for the gibbon choral cry. This signals the beginning of their day.
You have the option to stay inside the Nam Cat Tien National Park, or just outside it. Inside, you can stay at the Green Cat Tien Hotel. It is run and managed by the park, so don’t expect anything but basic and rustic. Though you do get 30% off on tours, guides, etc. The Forest Floor Lodge though is a whole new world. It offers more comfort and newer lodging. There are also two restaurants inside the park, Yellow Bamboo and Dipterocarpus.
Just outside, you have the Cat Tien Jungle Lodge, the Cat Tien FarmStay, and the Green Bamboo Lodge Resort. These hotels are newer and offer more comfort and amenities. Some also serve Western food. But remember, they are outside of the park so you’d have to take the ferry every time you go in.
Do not be overwhelmed. There are so many activities to do, and so many sights to see and the best way to do it is to have a bike tour from Ho Chi Minh until the Nam Cat Tien National Park with us. You won’t have to worry about getting there through the back roads, avoiding tolls, while enjoying the wondrous scenery.
Plus, there’s no need to take note of entrance fees and various activities inside the park itself. We will cover at least six activities (including the night safari, biking, and trekking of course) and you won’t have to bother booking accommodations, or buying food and water, you’ll be able to explore minus all the extras that come with it. After all, this is Vietnam. Having someone who knows everything by heart is a total plus.
You’re all set and good to go! Remember, this guide to Nam Cat Tien National Park is just giving you a scratch of the surface. The real deal behind this article is going to leave you with a stiff jaw. You’ll just keep saying wow all the time. Let us guide and entertain you. And we’ll go beyond the park and back, so many surprises along the way! We want you to savor the moment and bring back memories that will last a lifetime.