The Annamese Mountain Range may not be familiar to many, but in Vietnam, they are quite literally the nation’s backbone. Following a near parallel curve with Vietnam’s coastline, the Annamese, also known as the Annamite Mountains or the Annamite Range, runs in a subtle ‘S’ shape.
This range forms a natural border between the nations of Vietnam and Laos, and like many mountain ranges, offers more than their fair share of scenic attractions.
The root of the mountains’ name, Annan, is believed to be of Chinese origin, meaning “to pacify the south”. Considering Vietnam’s location relative to China, that term makes sense.
It’s suspected that up until the twentieth century, most of this remote region’s inhabitants were not of Vietnamese origin, but rather, a collection of various ethnic groups. Those numbers changed with the “settlement” of millions of Vietnamese, beginning in the years following the end of the war and the reunification of north and south.
While the Annamese Mountains don’t boast any of Vietnam’s highest peaks, their precipitous rise from the coastal plains renders them quite impressive.
The tallest mountains of the Annamite Range are Phou Bia at 9,249 ft (2,819 m), Phu Xai Lai Leng at 8,920 ft (2,920 m), and Ngoc Linh with a peak of 8,524 ft (2,598 m). While Phou Bia is actually located in Laos, Phu Xai Lai Leng straddles the border in Northern Vietnam, while Ngoc Linh is considered “the roof of Southern Vietnam”.
The Annamese Mountains also serve as a natural divider between the Mekong River Basin, with the majority of Vietnam’s territory lying to the east. On the Vietnamese side, the mountains rise sharply from the coastal plain, whereas on the western slopes, the topography is gentler as it levels off into a series of plateaus.
Thanks to high precipitation and humidity, the Annamese Mountains are heavily covered in tropical forests. These are generally classified as the Northern and Southern Annamite Montane Rain Forests, meanwhile, other portions are considered to be “Moist Forest”, which most commonly referred to as jungle.
The Annamese is a hotspot of biodiversity, with thousands of plants and animals tucked away within its confines. Many environmental organizations are sounding the alarm as poaching and development threaten several rare and endemic species.
Among the rarest found in the Annamese Mountains is the Annamite striped rabbit, which as the name would suggest is a jungle bunny with tiger-like markings. The Large-antlered Muntjac is also an exceedingly uncommon deer species found only in this region and is under threat due to the prolific wire net poaching conducted in the area.
Similarly, the wild cattle species Saola, which looks akin to an oryx is also an endemic denizen of this unique ecosystem.
Sights and Activities
Not surprisingly, the Annamese Mountains are home to several national parks and some of Vietnam’s most scenic attractions.
High on that list is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in Central Vietnam. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a wealth of activities such as hiking, spelunking, and even ziplining. The highlight of the park is the Hang Son Doong, which is believed to be the largest cave, by volume, in the world.
In the southern reaches of the Annamese Mountains, you’ll find Yok Don National Park, which is part of the largest conservation area in the entire country. This park is known for its wildlife, with its elephants starring as the main attraction.
Farther north, you can also see Indian elephants at Pu Mat National Park. Acting as a biological haven for over 2,400 species of plants and mammals, some rare creatures seen at this park include Indochinese tigers, white-cheeked gibbons, and the Ussuri dhole, which looks like a cross between a wolf and a fox.
Though difficult to get to, Vu Quang National Park is also within the vicinity and allows for similar trekking opportunities.
Despite their relative obscurity, many visitors to Vietnam will set foot on the pervasive Annamese Mountains at some point during their journeys in the country.
Whether by accident or by design, Vietnam’s signature mountain range is truly the backbone of the country. While visiting, make sure to plan some time to venture through the forests, parks, and attractions scattered throughout the Annamite Range’s rolling landscape.
Countries: Vietnam | Laos | Cambodia
Coordinates: 18°35′30″N 103°48′0″E
Elevation: 2,819 m (9,249 ft)
Length: 1,100 km (680 mi)
Highest Point: Phou Bia