If you want to escape the coastal tourist trail in Vietnam, head inland to the natural wonderland of Cat Tien National Park. This 720 square km lowland tropical forest is located around halfway between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City.
You can stroll around the jungle at your own pace or book a guided tour to explore deeper into this vast Vietnamese National Park. You might be lucky enough to spot some sun bears, Asian elephants, crocodiles or even singing gibbons.
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Getting to Cat Tien National Park
There are 2 main options to get to Cat Tien National Park from Dalat, 200 km to the northwest, or HCMC, 160 km to the southwest.
Option 1 - Local Minivan
We took this from De Lat to Cat Tien.
It is cheap at around 170,000 VND per person but the ride was rather crazy. We were squashed in between boxes, locals and chickens whilst the driver went full till around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road.
We survived. At least it makes an interesting story eh?
The main advantage of this option is you get dropped off right at the Cat Tien entrance.
It might seem like you are going way away from the national park for a while. Don't worry, you will most likely be the last person in the van to be dropped off so just trust the locals!
Option 2 - Bus and Taxi
We took this from Cat Tien to Ho Chi Minh City.
You can book a bus for around 180,000 VND (230,000 for a sleeper bus), but it is much more comfortable and less stressful.
The inconvenience of booking a bigger bus is that it drops you off on the main highway (QL20) at the junction with the 600A to Cat Tien. From here you will need to grab a taxi or motorbike to get to your hotel. A taxi will cost you around 400,000 VND one way or it’s a 16 km walk.
Your accommodation in Cat Tien might be able to arrange the transfer for you so you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off by local taxi drivers. Check this before you go!
To travel from Cat Tien you just do the same in reverse and get a minivan or a taxi to the main highway, then the bus to HCMC or Dalat. Our taxi driver waited with us until the bus came to make sure we got the right one, bless him.
Top Tip: We recommend using 12Go.Asia website for booking transport in Vietnam. You can book and show the tickets on your phone so no hunting for an internet cafe to print them!
Where to Stay in Cat Tien National Park
There are quite a few accommodation options just outside the park scattered along the edge of the park along the edge of the Dong Nai River. They are all within walking distance of the ferry which takes you across the river to access the park.
Green Bamboo Lodge Resort - this is where we stayed and would recommend it. Try and get one of the huts on the edge of the river with a terrace looking out towards the park on the opposite side.
Our basic little bamboo hut on stilts came with mosquito net, fan and cooling unit for a good nights sleep. There is an onsite restaurant which provides some big food portions to keep you fueled up for exploring the park.
The staff were friendly and it was easy to book a tour of the park if you wanted to. The best bit, of course, was the terrace where we enjoyed our early mornings and sunsets.
Prices start from 130,000 VND per night for a private double room including a bathroom and breakfast.
Green Hope Lodge - another highly rated riverside option for couples and families. All rooms have a minibar and free wifi and toiletries.
It’s 600,000 VND for a double ensuite hut with a river view including breakfast. Cheaper rooms are available.
Cat Tien Jungle Lodge - if you want to enjoy your park stay in a luxury hotel then this is the place for you. Conveniently located right beside the ferry pier to the park, this riverside lodge
It’s 1,400,000 VND per night for a private ensuite room including breakfast. There is a cheaper dorm option here too.
There are two options to stay inside the park itself, one government-run and the other private. Both have poor reviews and looked pretty uncared for from the outside so are best avoided unless it’s essential to be inside the park for an early tour.
Things to do in Cat Tien National Park
Unless you are on a guided tour or staying inside the park already, you’ll need to cross the river. Buy a boat ticket at the entrance and head down to the river bank to catch the regular boat across. It costs 130,000 VND each way and is a great start to your Cat Tien adventure!
Once you cross the river, along the road to the left-hand side you will find the park information office (HQ) where you can pick up a map in English. The map has a rough route with the distances indicated between the sights. It also has a brief description of each attraction.
I’d suggest backing this up by using Google Maps on your phone. There’s no signal in the forest but the GPS should work if you get lost in the dense jungle!
Exploring Cát Tiên by Bike
You can borrow or rent a bike from some of the hotels and lodges close to the park. If that’s not possible then head to the information office inside the park to rent one for 130,000 VND.
Just be aware that these ones are not in the best condition and punctures seem to be a regular issue.
The main route around the park is paved and good for cycling on but if you want to venture off into the forest or to the rapids you’ll have to leave bikes at the trail entrance. Make sure you get a lock provided with any bikes you rent.
Many visitors cycle the 10k route down to the start point of the 5km trail to Bau Sau (Crocodile Lake). You will have to hike the well-marked trail through the forest as it’s not suitable for bikes. There is a small restaurant at the lake to get some snacks and drinks.
Exploring Cat Tien on Foot
You can go on some good hikes inside the park. Before setting out on foot, make sure you wear appropriate footwear, trousers, closed shirts and a hat. There are leeches lurking in the forest. Take lots of water with you, it's very humid out there.
Start walking on the paved road until you see the first sign pointing into the forest. Follow the footpath marked with blue arrows and you will soon reach the Giant Tung Tree. It is massive and very much the highlight of this trail along with the beautiful 5 Topped Lagerstroemia Tree.
We also had a trek down towards the river rapids marked on the map but they were a bit underwhelming, to be honest. The best thing about going on foot is the chance to stop and listen to the crazy nature all around you.
Guided Tours in Cat Tien National Park
Taking a guided tour can give you access to areas of the national park which are hard to reach on your own.
An all-day tour to the famous Crocodile Lake (Bau Sau) costs around 1,200,000 VND per person and includes a Jeep ride, hiking, lunch and water. The tour usually starts early in the morning at around 6.30 am until 4 pm and is bookable at most of the local hotels.
Another option is to take a night safari trip into the park on the lookout for some nocturnal wildlife. This one has mixed results and like all safaris, it’s the luck of the draw with what you’ll get to see from the jeep.
See the Gibbons Singing at Sunrise
You’re very likely to hear the gibbons singing from your hotel room as the sun comes up but why not go one better? Booking onto an early morning tour should get you up close with these majestic treetop creatures.
You might also be lucky to encounter some wild pigs, red-shanked douc monkeys and pigtailed macaque troops. Most tours can take a max of 4 people and cost around 1,500,000 VND.
Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary
The Bear and Wildlife Rescue Center in Cat Tien National Park helps to rehabilitate bears which have been rescued from bile farms. There are now 3 bear houses and a hospital on the site where you can see these beautiful creatures enjoying their natural surroundings.
If you really want to get involved, sign up as a volunteer to help develop the project.
Is it worth visiting Cát Tiên National Park?
In our opinion, visiting the park is a great way to break the long 8-hour bus ride from Dalat to Saigon. The park is very beautiful and abundant with amazing wildlife.
We also really enjoyed staying in the Green Bamboo Lodge as it felt like we managed to escape the well-beaten path for a couple of days. We liked the quietness of the resort but only, we assume, because of the low season.
We would recommend just staying outside the national park as it's a simple boat ride away across the river. Staying in the park is much pricier and not necessarily any better in terms of views or facilities.
If we visited again we would certainly take a guided tour to see more of the park and hopefully some of the creatures within it.