Visiting Vietnam: The Top 3 Camping Spots in the Central Highlands
Tay Nguyen, or Vietnam's Central Highlands, encompasses three subregions (with distinct variations in topography and climate) that are further divided into five provinces. The regions and provinces are as follows: North (Kon Tum and Gia Lai), Middle (Đắk Lắk and Đắk Nông), and South (Lâm Đồng). Spanning nine contiguous plateaus with an average altitude of 500-600 meters, the Central Highlands is home to many primitive forests that are protected in three national parks—Cat Tien, Yok Don, and Kon Ka Kinh. The third-largest source of bauxite in the world is also located here.
Thanks to its primeval nature and mountainous topography, this region is wondrously rich in flora and fauna. It is home to the most prominent yet most endangered species in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, namely, the Indochinese tiger, the huge gaur, the Wild Asian Water Buffalo, the banteng, and the Asian elephant.
While the trails at Da Lat, Bien Ho, T'Nung Lake, and Ta Nang-Phan Dung are all well-known to tourists—and for good reason—there are other lesser-known spots in the Central Highlands that are just as delightful. If you're looking for a place to picnic or camp in the Central Highlands that isn't as touristy, check out these three other locations.
Top Three Places to Camp in the Central Highlands
- Ta Dung Nature Reserve
- Da Teh Lake
- Linh Quy Phap An Pagoda
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1. Ta Dung Nature Reserve
Ta Dung is a giant lake within the 22,103-hectare Ta Dung Nature Reserve. It is located in Dac Nong Province, over 250km away from Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City). Situated in the highest mountain ranges in Dac Nong, and along the geographical-biological interface between the Southern Central Highlands and the Southeastern Region of Vietnam, Ta Dung is home to diverse flora and fauna as well as fascinating myths told by the Ma ethnic community. This is an ideal place for a short camping getaway from a crowded city like Sai Gon.
2. Da Teh Lake
Located in My Duc commune, Da Teh Lake is the largest irrigation lake in Lam Dong. Its watershed area is a nature reserve with primitive tropical rainforests untouched by humans. This place is home to very diverse fauna and flora, especially at the dozens of gorgeous waterfalls around the lake.
As you follow provincial road 721 through the green rice fields in Da Teh district, a striking view of the lake emerges in the plateau basin lined by high hills, primeval forests, and the majestic Con Ó mountain range (literally Hawk Mountains). According to the Ma people, da teh means hot water—an apt name, as you'll find the water gently warm all year round.
Covering about 100 hectares and stretching over 10 kilometers, the lake boasts amazing landscapes well-suited to camping or adventuring into the untouched forest area. I recommend camping at the hydropower dam and catching a fishing boat to go sightseeing on the lake.
3. Linh Quy Phap An Pagoda
Hidden amidst the Phap An mountains, 21 km south of Bao Loc, stands a mesmerizing Buddha Pagoda named Linh Quy Phap An. To be honest, most young people first came to know this beautiful temple thanks to a music video called "Lạc trôi" (literally 'Lost') by Son Tung MTP. Since then, hordes of people have flocked to see the great scenes shown in the video. In spite of the lousy crowds, it is a great delight to camp overnight here and watch the sunrise at dawn.
Attention, please! This is a Buddhist Meditation Pagoda that requires solemn tranquility, so noise is limited. Be respectful, and do not litter. Just stroll along quietly and enjoy yourself.
To reach the pagoda, you have to trek across steep hillsides and wriggle through a leafy coffee plantation. On the way up the mountain, you can stop here and there to rest and take some photos since the mountain height offers vast views covered with lush green trees. Don't forget to pose for a photo in the green tea fields near the temple!
For camping, you can stay in a tea field where there are two shops and a rest stop for tourists. However, while I prefer to watch the sunrise from here because of the view of the clouds floating around the valley, I think the best campsite is the front yard of Quan Chieu Duong or the Meditation Hall. This yard is guarded by some temple gates that look stunning as the sunshine first pierces through the thick cloud banks.
Note: To camp here, you must ask the Monks who live inside the meditation pagoda for permission. Remember to be respectful and avoid making any noise at all.
Bonus: Camping Outside the Central Highlands
The places above are within easy reach for a two-day getaway from Ho Chi Minh City. Though not in the Central Highlands and farther from Ho Chi Minh, Ham Thuan and Da Mi are two other hikable spots worth visiting when you have the time.
Ham Thuan and Da Mi
Ham Thuan and Da Mi are two hydropower reservoirs on the La Nga River, which flows through Thuan Bac District in Binh Thuan Province, more than 60km northwest of Phan Thiet City. With its deserted wildernesses and the rich and diverse culture of the Cham, Ra Glai, Hoa and Co Ho ethnic minorities, these places are impressive destinations for visitors to Binh Thuan.
These large bodies of water curbed by lush green mountains contain many outstanding places for hiking, camping, and sightseeing.
Covering 2,500 hectares, Ham Thuan reservoir is the larger of the two, with eight small islands scattered around it.
Ham Thuan ReservoirClick thumbnail to view full-size
Though Da Mi Lake is smaller in size, with an area of 700 hectares, it is just as amazing as Ham Thuan Lake, and both are fantastic for camping and picnicking.
Like Da Teh, the name Da Mi has a meaning in the local language. According to ethnic minorities in the Highlands, such as the K'ho, Raglay, and Chau Ro, Đạ means a place where there is water (e.g. a river). Mi is a proper name.
Da Mi ReservoirClick thumbnail to view full-size
Camping at Da Mi ReservoirClick thumbnail to view full-size
All the pictures posted in this article belong to the author.
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© 2018 Nguyen Hong Phuc