Monday, July 28, 2008
Like Costa Rica - without the crowds or the harness
Costa Rica has the canopy tour through the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. Switzerland has the sport of canyoning through the gorges of Interlaken. Both of them appeal to tourists seeking adventure-eco-travel, and both are wildly popular (and fun). You can do all of this and more for a fraction of the cost atop Vietnam's Bach Ma mountain without running into a single other tourist - if you are willing to go without the helmet and the harness.
We spent the past weekend at Bach Ma National Park, which rises 1450m above sea level but lies only 18km away from the sea itself. The number of tourists is limited by the few places to stay on the mountain - only a handful of charming old villas leftover from the French Colonial days. In fact, we were told there was only one room left on the whole mountain and we would have to share a triple with our friend Phuoc from Boston. Which was fine, but odd considering we saw only about 30 other tourists during our entire weekend there. The Vietnam tourism industry is totally missing out by not promoting Bach Ma as the eco-adventure experience it proved to be, but it sure was nice to have it all to ourselves.
We arrived at our villa after a harrowing half hour of careening up switchbacks on a single lane road - reminiscent of our friends Jesse and Theresa's recent post from their trek in India. We had left Hue in 90 degree heat but we emerged into 60 degree bliss. For much of the day the mountain was shrouded in a cool mist, making it one of the few true clout forests in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_forest). When the fog dissipated, the view was spectacular: ribbons of river winding through shimmering rice fields and spilling into the South China Sea.
After taking in the views and enjoying a light lunch, we set out for Bach Ma's most ambitious hike, which would take us by 5 lagoons before we reached a spectacular waterfall. The two people who ran our villa said it would take the whole afternoon, and they were right. But they somehow failed to mention the part about pulling yourself along wires wrapped around trees as your traversed through the gorge, or the 700 steps you had to go down to get to the base of the waterfall...and then the same 700 steps you had to go back up.
Doannie was made for this sort of thing, with his low center of gravity, freakishy long toes capable of grasping slick surfaces, and his general lack of fear. I on the other hand am pretty risk adverse. I may have bungee jumped 400 feet from a cable car in Switzerland and rappelled down waterfalls in Costa Rica, but both of those were before I turned 30 and both of those were with quality carabiners and ropes. It was all Phuoc and Doannie could do to keep me from turning back, and if the views were not as magnificent I probably would have! For the final test of the 1400 steps, I was huffing and puffing and seriously concerned that I might have a small troponin leak. We made it back just in time for dinner at the villa. I'm still recovering.