Easily the most famous national park in all of Vietnam, Cát Tiên has become a wanderlust destination for travelers all over the world due to its gorgeous landscapes and thriving wildlife. A mix of developed and untouched land, Cát Tiên is the complete package, providing guests with quality tours, accommodations, and entertainment.
Well-managed by the Vietnamese government, it’s essential for tourists to pre-plan their trip to Cát Tiên. A limited number of guests may enter the area and, to gain entrance to the national park, all visitors must have a tour booked with an authorized company.
Cát Tiên is located in Southeast Vietnam, where predominantly lowland tropical forests are common. The national park is 278 square miles and stretches over three provinces: Lâm Dong, Dòng Nai, and Bính Phuóc. While Tan Phu is the closest city, many travelers come from Ho Chi Minh since it’s 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of the park. Cát Tiên’s main entrance is located in the Dòng Nai.
Historically, the land around Cát Tiên has been home to ethnic minorities including the Ma and Stieng people. Their culture is dominant in the area, though many no longer live directly in the park. Moved to what would become the park’s buffer zone in the 1960s, the Ma and Stieng people now live in the Tà Lài Village, which is southwest of Cát Tiên.
Originally, the national park was protected and divided into sectors. Nam Cat Tien and Tay Cat Tien were declared as nature reserves in 1978, and in 1992, a third sector called Cat Loc shot to fame due to the discovery of a small population of Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros.
With the addition of Cat Loc, worldwide recognition of the area began to spark and by 1998, the government decided to combine all three sectors into one park. In 2005, Cát Tiên became a national park in Vietnam.
Upgraded to the ultimate status, the park’s popularity exploded, and international visitors began to travel to the area. Now, Cát Tiên is managed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development body and protected by the Kiêm Iâm Forest Rangers.
What to Do
With tour guides being required by all visitors who wish to enter Cát Tiên National Park, guests have the option of traveling on foot, bicycle, boat, or car. There are dozens of places for guests to venture with main attractions being Dao Tien Island, Crocodile Lake, the Bear Rescue Station, Ben Cu Waterfall, Cát Tiên Sanctuary, and Tà Lài ethnic village.
Tour Dao Tien Island
Located on Dao Tien Island is a small primate rescue center where endangered species like the silver languor and yellow-cheeked gibbons are rehabilitated. Visitors can take a boat from the garden headquarters and tour the island.
At the center, you will meet primates before venturing further to the interior of the island to observe gibbons in the wild. Tours last for a few hours and start early in the morning to give visitors the best chance of seeing the island’s wildlife residents.
Hike to the Ben Cu Waterfall
Starting from the garden area of Cát Tiên, visitors can trek 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) to the Ben Cu Waterfall. On average, the hike takes about 1 hour to complete and is best attempted by fit travelers. While not overly long, the path to the waterfall gets quite steep in certain sections.
From Sunup to Sundown on Crocodile Lake
Crocodile Lake, or Bau Sau by its local name, is a wetland area that has become Cát Tiên’s biggest attraction. Home to birds and amphibians, the Siamese crocodiles are by far the lake’s most famous inhabitants. Tours at Crocodile Lake include hiking and boating.
Visitors who arrive in the pre-dawn hours are more likely to encounter rare bird species, and as the sun breaks over the horizon, the crocodiles start to feed. Night tours of Crocodile Island are also available with the assistance of a local guide. Night excursions include boat rides on the lake where guides shine flashlights to catch the reflective eyes of the crocodiles.
Guests will have to rent a jeep and hike to reach Crocodile Lake. The Forest Management Board has jeeps available for rent at the main entrance with signs leading the way. After driving to the trailhead, the hike to Crocodile Lake is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) long. Flat and easy to follow, the trail is suitable for hikers of all ages.
Accommodations at the lake are also available as there is a park guesthouse nearby.
Not officially within park boundaries, though butted up against the northern bank of the Dong Nai River, is the Cát Tiên Sanctuary. An archaeological site, the sanctuary contains the remains of Hindu temples, tombs, and artifacts. The site was discovered in 1985, and with more visitors coming to see the national park, the decision was made to give the public access to the sanctuary.
Filled with more than artifacts, Cát Tiên Sanctuary is like a living museum. The local Ma and Stieng people share their traditional ways of life and narrate local legends. Ceremonies and festivals are commonly held at the sanctuary, so visitors can actively participate in these cultural events.
See the Bears
Primates aren’t the only animals that need help in Cát Tiên as the areas bear population often needs rehabilitating too. Families have fallen in love with the national park’s Bear Rescue Station where park rangers treat injured and sick bears. Children love the Bear Rescue Station, so expect there to be a bigger crowd at this attraction.
Take a Trip to Tà Lài
Unlike the Cát Tiên Sanctuary, locals live in the Tà Lài Village and welcome visitors with open arms. Homestays can be pre-arranged for overnights in the park allowing guests to stay in one of the village’s longhouses. A unique opportunity, homestays in Tà Lài teach visitors about the locals and their way of life.
Guides will lead you through the village and take you on nearby excursions. Highlights in Tà Lài include biking through the plantations, climbing the nearby mountains, and visiting the memorial prison museum. Visitors must have a reservation to tour the village and have a local guide to lead them around.
Plants and Wildlife
With thousands of plant and wildlife species in Cát Tiên, it is impossible to list them all here, especially, since many are considered to be rare or endangered. However, we can break down Cát Tiên into a few different categories to better understand the flora, fauna, and why the park is so diverse.
There are five types of forests growing in Cát Tiên National Park. About 2% of the national park consists of primary evergreen forests while the majority of the park is classified as a primary and secondary mixed forest. This means that the ground stays relatively dry due to the low canopy. For animals living in the park, these forests are essential because they provide food like fruit.
Unfortunately, nearly 40% of the park has become a secondary forest filled with bamboo. These bamboo forests replaced the foliage that once grew in the area but was torn down for agricultural and logging reasons. The seasonally flooded grasslands make up 10% of Cát Tiên. With such a highly diverse environment, thousands of animal species have made their home in the park.
From primates to carnivores, birds, bat, reptiles, rodents, and insects, Cát Tiên is a wonderland for Vietnam’s threatened wildlife. Rare species in Cát Tiên include the pygmy slow loris, Asian black bear, golden-cheeked gibbon, Asian palm civet, guar, kingfishers, and the tokay gecko.
How to Get There
The increase in popularity of Cát Tiên National Park through the years has made the park more accessible. About 4 hours outside of Ho Chi Minh, many visitors travel from the city to spend their vacation time at the park.
Highway 1A leads travelers out of Ho Chi Minh and to Cát Tiên. Tourist buses are a comfortable and affordable way to travel to the park, but visitors can also arrange to hire a private car or drive themselves. Most transportation companies have routes that deliver visitors directly to the main entrance, but travelers can also arrange for transportation to the nearby city, Tan Phu.
Visitors who have pre-arranged their accommodation to stay in the park may want to skip visiting Tan Phu. However, those who are not going to overnight in Cát Tiên will find that there are dozens of quality accommodation and dining options in the area.
When to Visit
Vietnam has two seasons and Cát Tiên is no exception. Depending on the time of year, Cát Tiên will be in either its wet or dry season. Most visitors want to avoid the inconvenience of touring in the rainy season, so they visit the national park when it’s drier.
In Cát Tiên the dry months are from December to late May. While trails are easier to traverse, visitors will need to stay hydrated while exploring due to the higher temperatures. To avoid the heat, many individuals choose to visit Cát Tiên during the wet season, which runs from June to November.
With more rain, the trails will be muddy, but the cooler temperatures can make hiking more bearable. The rain tends to teeter off by the end of the season and visitors who want to enjoy the cool weather and avoid the biggest crowds should consider traveling just before the dry season starts.
An Unforgettable Adventure
As one of Vietnam’s most outstanding natural gems, Cát Tiên is widely acclaimed as the one national park that can’t be missed. The biodiverse forests are treasure troves filled with unique and rare species.
Park visitors have the choice to tour Cát Tiên as if it were a resort or they can head off into the wild and explore the national park’s remotest corners. With something for everyone, Cát Tiên is Vietnam’s will take you on an unforgettable journey.
Address: Dong Nai, Tân Phú District, Dong Nai, Vietnam
Phone: +84 251 3669 228
Hours: 7:30 AM – 6:30 PM