The first thing we did to tackle the 55 km Ta Nang-Phan Dung trek across three Vietnamese provinces was to get off to a really late start.
The late start from Ho Chi Minh City to where the trek would begin would help us avoid the daytime heat. So it was that we – a group of nine – got on our bikes at 8 p.m. one day in July and headed for Ta Nang Commune in Duc Truong District, Lam Dong Province, the Central Highlands.
VIDEO TA NANG PHAN DUNG TREKKING
Not long after, our bikes cut through the silent night in the glow of lamplights, with houses and their inmates fast asleep on both sides. We passed through Chuoi and Bao Loc mountain passes before reaching Da Loan Market in Duc Trong District at 2:30 a.m, after six hours.
We decided to take a short rest in our sleeping bags right at the market before waking up at 6 a.m. to shop for some additional trekking accessories.
From the Da Loan Market to Ta Nang Commune, the starting point of our trek, we faced many dirt-road troubles and even a few minor accidents before reaching the lodge of Dieu, our main porter and guide.
After a short rest at Dieu’s, we started our journey into the forest at around 8 a.m.
The Ta Nang-Phan Dung trekking route through Lam Dong, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces has been praised as Vietnam's best, but it is a difficult one with many steep rocky slopes. The mountain peaks are up to 1,800 meters high. It is safer to pay a bit extra and hire a few experienced porters who also know their way around the forest.
A Ta Nang hill. Photo by Xu Kien.
The first day
We first walked through rows of old pines standing like the sturdy ancient guardians, swaying in unison with every strong wind that passed through.
Soon, this light walk became heavier as the path ascended into tall slopes. I was worn out in quick time despite being an avid trekker. I needed short breaks beside refreshing small streams and was grateful for the keen assistance of our porters and our group leader. So it is a good idea to get fit before embarking on this trek.
We also encountered a few snakes, so that is something to keep in mind, too. Luckily, our leader was good at spotting dangers early and kept us from getting into harm’s way.
Despite facing the ascending slopes, the following part of our trek was much more energising as we passed through the lush green Ta Nang hills, the most photogenic scenery of the route.
After several tiring hours, we called it a day. Just as we managed to finish setting camp, it began raining heavily and the torrent washed away our tiredness. At night, under the star-lit sky, we sat around a campfire and enjoyed a roast dinner with some rice wine, everything made much tastier and satisfying by the effort we had put in to get there.
Ta Nang peaks. Photo by Xu Kien
We woke up early, at 5 a.m, not to miss the sunrise. Each ray of sunlight seemed to do something different to the Ta Nang landscape. After watching this process in silent awe, we had a quick breakfast and cleaned up camp to start our second day, heading to Phan Dung Mountain.
To scale this mountain’s peak, we had to climb up the tallest and scariest slope of the trek, somewhat appropriately called the "Me oi" (similar to Oh God) exclamation. Our experienced porters motivated us saying once we managed to overcome the slope, the trek would be almost complete, with only light walks left.
Climbing the slope lined with bamboo thickets left us exhausted very soon, but we pressed on, step by step to reach the peak. Accompanying the immense satisfaction of reaching the high point of our trip was the high of being part of the stupendous vista that lay before us.
The mountains, dense with old natural forests, seemed to invite us in, and it was an invitation we accepted as we began our descent. The thickness of the forest was such that we had to ensure we wouldn’t get lost by moving in a line, with the person in the front virtually creating a route. At several junctions we took the extra effort of blocking misleading turns with rocks and tree trunks so others could avoid getting lost later on.
Getting sweaty and dirty as we made our way, we opted to take a difficult, rocky side route to reach the might Yaly Falls of Binh Thuan Province's Phan Dung Commune. We climbed through the slippery, moss-covered rocks that would have been impossible to grab on to if it had rained the previous day. The rain would have also made the gushing stream very dangerous to cross. All the struggle, however, was amply rewarded on reaching the captivating Yaly Falls.
The Yaly Falls. Photo by Xu Kien.
The mere sight of the cascade energized us and not having showered for two days, it was hard to resist taking a dip in the cool waters of the stream.
As night fell, we camped near the falls and fell asleep listening to its comforting sounds. Music to the ears, literally.
The next day, we got out of the jungle and reached a local village and spent more relaxing time there before getting a ride out to where our bikes were parked.
Getting away from it all for three days into the fold of mountains reminded us of another real world we need to connect to and bond with.
Transport: You can fly to the Lien Khuong Airport in Lam Dong Province from northern or central Vietnam an any Vietnamese carrier – Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet or Bamboo Airways. From the airport take a bus to Ta Nang Commune. If you decide against flying, Dao Van, Thien Hien, Minh Thu, Hiep Duc, Ngoc Hung, Van Nhan are a few coach/bus services.
From HCMC, you can take a My Hien, Nguyen Kim, or Thanh Binh Xanh bus, or ride a motorbike to Ta Nang Commune.
Porters: It is highly recommended that you hire porters on this trek, as guides and help in carrying luggage. We highly recommend Dieu (tel: 0369 617 5846), a Ta Nang native whose service was top notch and invaluable.
Budget: The 3-day journey cost us about VND2-2.5 million ($108) each.
Time: The Ta Nang-Phan Dung is a long and difficult trekking path that is best done in three days to have enough time to rest throughout.
Precautions: The route has different dangers throughout the year. In the dry season, from January to May, the dry grass often catches fire, while in the rainy season, from June to December, floods are frequent. The rainy season has seen several fatal accidents, and a trek at this time is not advisable. Make plans accordingly.
Food: With adequate groceries, the guides-cum-porters can help with cooking throughout the trek.
Trekking equipment: Trekking shoes and a pair of slippers are a must. Hats, waterproof bags and flashlights are also recommended.
Water: Water is essential, of course. So arrange for four liters a day, separated into two bottles. Keeping the body hydrated throughout the journey is a must.
Maps: With Ta Nang – Phan Dung’s twists and turns, it is recommended to keep at least one physical map of the area in the bag and one offline trekking map in the smart phone, considering the lack of internet connection in the forest.
*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Ho Chi Minh City. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.