It is not for nothing that the Bach Ma National Park between Da Nang and Hue is considered an absolute must for all nature lovers who visit this area of Vietnam. According to the Internet, the abundance of species, the natural spectacles and the varied trails are among the most beautiful experiences for Vietnamese travellers. Reason enough for us to get an impression of it ourselves.
Quickly the question came up: Do we book a guided tour or do we dare a try on our own? Is it even possible to explore the Bach Ma National Park properly without a guide?
As we preferred to stay flexible, we quickly decided against a guided tour and against the guide. As far as no problem, in the hotel, they organized a driver for us from Hoi An to the Bach Ma National Park and back (approx. 90 dollars).
Let’s go – the descent to Bach Ma
The journey started punctually at 07:30 and took about two hours. From the main road, we walked a little bit through a very simple residential area until we finally arrived at the visitor center of the park. There was not much going on – on the contrary, we were (at about 09:30) the only guests.
Actually, it shouldn’t surprise us anymore, but it did: here, too, one speaks almost no English. But with single words, the more or less detailed map of the park, a lot of gestures and even more friendliness we managed to explain the further procedure to us. From the Visitor Center, after having bought the entrance tickets (approximately 3 dollars per person), one can drive with the car up to the very top of the Peak.
Here our first misunderstanding began. We assumed that our driver would also accompany us in the park. Apparently this was not intended. Probably out of sheer politeness the driver was directed by our wish. That this turned out to be a mistake became clear relatively quickly.
Obviously it does not work like this
The road to the park is an adventure in itself. Curvy, brittle and in many places very (!) steep – the 10% gradient on the signs should not be exaggerated. But you will be rewarded by the view after the first few hundred meters. Simply fantastic.
Why was the ride in our driver’s Hyundai a mistake? The answer was a strange whistling and suspicious smoke from the engine compartment after about 15 minutes of driving. And lo and behold – engine boils, nothing works anymore. Driver helpless, cell phone reception bad, excursion threatens to fail.
Our Vietnamese mobile phone, fortunately, had some reception, so the driver could ask for help. We didn’t find out exactly what happened because we didn’t know English, but since we let the engine cool down after a few minutes, we turned around and drove back to the Visitor Center, we already feared that our trip would have ended before it had really started.
How to do it right
Back at the Visitor Center and with the telephone support of the hotel, we managed to find out the actually correct procedure. The Hyundai is generally unsuitable for the drive up the mountain and the driver did not intend to drive us further than the park border.
Instead, one can organize a driver over the Visitor Center who will bring us to the park. The costs for this are approximately 30 dollars.
So we did that. And lo and behold, five minutes later a friendly Vietnamese guy came in a pick up truck to pick us up. The second attempt could start. In the meantime, it was 10:30, with the hotel driver we arranged a return for 15:30.
The drive from the turnpike at the park border up to the end of the road takes about 35 minutes. If you get seasick easily, maybe you should take something against it, because the curves are really tough…
Arriving at the top (KM19 on the map), the driver explained the further procedure to us. From the end of the road the hiking trail begins. On the map he drew us how to walk best to see the most important things. At 3 pm he would wait for us at KM16. And so we started …
The hike to the Peak
The first stretch leads along a nice hiking trail from the top parking lot to the peak. In between you pass some ruins of houses and, for adventurers, a small tunnel from the times of the Vietnam War directly on the way. If you are brave enough, you can crawl in, provided that a flashlight is at hand or your mobile phone has enough battery for the flashlight function. There is nothing to see except a narrow dark passage (the height is just enough to walk crouched), but if you dare to go in and turn off the lamp, it is completely dark, which already gives an “interesting” feeling. Beware of snakes is certainly not wrong.
After another 15 minutes you will reach the top. Here, there is a big bell that can be struck (what of course fulfills wishes) and the Peak Tower that is worthwhile to climb in any case. The view already rewards one for all the efforts so far. The view reaches over the complete Bach Ma Mountains and depending on the view even to the coast.
The trekking path from the top down
If you don’t want to go back the same way (which would be a bit boring), you have to be careful – the path is well hidden. When you come back from Peak Tower, pass the big staircase and the wishing bell, the entrance is directly on the right at the big, half overgrown sign. If you look closely, you will recognize a trail. This becomes a more or less well passable path that leads approximately one hour downwards through the jungle. In between there is a turnoff, but it leads to the same destination. At least in our case it was deserted the whole time on this path, so that one is really all alone in the jungle. A great feeling.
The footpath leads to a greenhouse where apparently orchids are grown and ends again at the road. If one walks down this road for a while (to the right), one finally gets to the restaurant behind which the 5 Lakes Trail begins.
The 5 Lakes Trail
After the great view on the peak and the wonderful hike through the jungle, the next highlight already follows. The access to the 5 Lakes Trail is located behind the parking lot of the restaurant. Just follow the small path along the two villa ruins, then the sign in front of the stone stairs will appear. This leads down to the big decision.
Adventure or safety?
After a few minutes you are spoilt for choice: Do you prefer to take the longer route or the one that is marked as “Adventure Trail”? For us the choice was made quickly…
But the name does not promise too much. The path is REALLY demanding. It’s not really a real path, more like a climb along the edge of the stream. For the most part, you shimmy along the attached rope, jump from stone to stone, climb down small abysses or climb down installed ladders. Here, one should, in any case, have a certain fitness, especially as it is not really possible to turn around just like that.
However, we were rewarded by beautiful scenes. The waterfall forms many small lakes (actually more than the eponymous five), which invite to a short bath. Again we were completely alone. Getting in and out of the lakes is relatively easy if you watch out for the somewhat slippery stones. The water is also not too cold, but refreshing.
At the biggest lake no. 3 you can even jump from the rocks into the water. This is not really dangerous if you are careful to jump far enough (since the rocks flow diagonally into the water, you should be able to jump about one meter from a standing position).
After the bathing stay we continued along the creek. Afterwards the path crosses the creek a few times and you can also shimmy along the rope again. There are two places where the water cannot be crossed dry if you use the rope – but both times there were rocks in the water to the right or left of the rope, over which you can cross the stream dry.
The 5 Lakes Trail ends at another fork. One direction leads to the road (KM 16, where the riders wait) or to the Rhododendron Trail, the park’s largest waterfall. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit it any more due to lack of time, because in the meantime it was already half past two. But from the turnoff it is only 600 meters, so you can still take this highlight with you if there is still some time left.
Our top 8 tips for exploring Bach Ma on your own
- A guide and/or a guided tour is not really needed. One can get some information in advance and also on the spot. Getting lost is unlikely.
- Pack enough drinks and maybe some snacks. There is probably only one restaurant and it might be quite overpriced (we didn’t go there). Besides, a picnic on the rocks is much nicer anyway.
- Put on closed shoes. We met a pair, he in sneakers, she in open sandals with heels. The tour was over quite fast. But sturdy sneakers are enough, hiking boots are not necessary for our opinion.
- Organize a driver who will take you to the national park and then one who will take you up to the top.
- Besides the tour we did, there are several other tours, which are all marked on the map.
- Bring your swimsuit if you want to swim in the waterfalls, it is a great experience. Swimming is not only possible in pool no. 3, which is controlled by the guides, but also in almost all other pools.
- If you have concerns about the rocks at the waterfalls, take water shoes with you. Especially if you want to climb up to the Cliffdiven, they do not hurt. But we got along fine without them.
- For the Adventure Trail to the Five Lakes you should really be reasonably fit, agile and enduring. The trail is not for couch potatoes. If in doubt, take the longer, “moderate” trail. But then you will miss some great impressions.