We needed to come up for fresh air after being submerged in hard work for weeks.
After some deliberation, a suitable destination was chosen: the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park.
After an hour of driving from Da Lat City in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, we reached the national park tucked between two mountain ranges, Lang Biang and Bidoup.
The densely forested park of evergreen and coniferous trees, bamboo groves and grasslands stands at between 650m and 2288m above sea-level.
Spread over 64,000ha, the park is home to diverse flora and fauna, and houses great scenery, including many waterfalls, the most impressive of which is the Thien Thai Waterfall.
Cil Crieu Ha Trai, a tour guide in the park, told us that his people, the K’ho ethnic minority, believe that the waterfall is the abode of the God of Water.
As we stepped out of the car to commence our climb to the top, clouds embraced us and the chilly air cooled our heads. An immense pine forest spread out in front of our eyes when we looked up. After about 15 minutes of trekking, I turned to admire the valley behind me, and found it wrapped in a bluish grey haze.
|Going with the flow: Tourists walk across a stream on the trekking tour in the national park.|
On the way, Trai, our K’ho tour guide, introduced us to different kinds of plants and trees that his community uses as remedies. One of them was “crieu,” a herb that could help a woman during childbirth. Criet was also the middle name for the K’ho people, he said.
He said that the village patriarch had once told him that a long time ago, a pregnant woman had gone to the forest to pick up fruits when she went into labour. She gathered some leaves, stretched them out and lay on the cushion. After delivering, she covered the child in the same leaves and came home.
All the villagers rejoiced to see the mother and child coming home safely. At the welcome party, the patriarch named the leaves “crieu” and since then, all K’ho newborns would carry that name.
Listening to our guide narrate one story after another, the 3.5km-long trail did not tire us at all.
Trai said other guides belonging to hill tribes were available to go trekking on trails in the park. This is an attractive option, because it is a chance to interact with indigenous culture when we are also so close to nature.
And Trai’s stories were accompanied by the sound of birds singing, wind sighing, the murmur of brooks and the rustling of leaves – a natural symphony.
Walking along a brook, we reached the Thien Thai Waterfall, that cascaded over many levels into a pool. It was a spectacular sight. We could understand why it was named the “country of the immortals”. A slice of heaven on earth. We sat on rocks nearby and let the tranquility sink into us.
We learnt on the route that the national park has 96 endemic plants and nearly 300 species of orchids. The site welcomes many teams of domestic and foreign biologists for research on various topics, we were told.
Our tour guide informed us that if were fortunate, we could listen to yellow-cheeked gibbons early in the morning. The park is also home to black bears and the vampire flying frogs that were discovered in 2010.
In such surroundings, even touristy things are thoroughly enjoyable. At night fell, we enjoyed the camp-fire and gong dance with the locals, sipping the obligatory ruou can (wine drunk from a jar through long bamboo straws). There was no need to get drunk, one could easily get high on the sounds of gong and the charming dance of K’ho girls in brocade dresses.
We returned with memories that would stay with us and take us back to the park, and back to the waterfall. We are looking forward to listening to more stories, and understanding the indigenous cultures better.
The waterfall is located in Da Nhim Commune, Lac Duong District, 35km from Da Lat City. It can be reached by Road 723, which connects Da Lat with Nha Trang.
Average temperature: 16-18oC
Food and beverages: both Asian and Western cuisines are available, local specialties are recommended.
Accommodation: No hotel, but rooms are available at information centre for VND300,000 (US$15) per night.
Other services: Umbrellas, raincoats, binoculars and flash-lights and sleeping bags can be rented, and a camp-fire requested.
Wildlife sighting: Chances of seeing rare animals are higher early in the morning on treks that go deeper into the forest.