The Mekong River Delta in Vietnam has become an internationally acclaimed habitat for endangered species of cranes. Tràm Chim is one of the most famous wetland national parks in Vietnam, which was established to restore and maintain the Plain of Reeds wetland area.
Tràm Chim National Park is in South Vietnam about 90 miles (146 km) to the west of Ho Chi Minh City. The park protects the Plain of Reeds in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Region. Unique to the area, the Plain of Reeds is an inland seasonal wetland area, which is covered for up to half the year by shallow water.
A part of the Dong Thap Province, Cao Lãnh is the closest major city to the main entrance of Tràm Chim National Park. Cao Lãnh is the capital of the province and serves as the main hub of transportation for travelers in the area. There are also small communes and villages established in and around the park.
Modern modification of the Mekong River Delta began in the 18th century when ethnic people began to use the land to cultivate rice. During the American War, the area around Tràm Chim was further cleared with crops burned and the water drained, making the land inhospitable. By the 1980s, Vietnam was putting significant effort into environmental and wildlife conservation.
The Mekong Delta River region was one of many in the country that the government rushed to protect. In 1985, Tràm Chim was declared to be a protected area, and efforts to re-flood the land began. Recreating the wetland environment brought sarus cranes back to the area just one year later. In 1991, Tràm Chim officially became a provincial nature reserve and it reached the national level in 1994.
With more crane species settling in the area, Tràm Chim was declared as a national park in 1998, though an official designation ceremony would not be completed until 2012. Since being managed as a national park, the land has been internationally recognized and named as a Ramsar Convention Site.
What to Do
In Tràm Chim, there are several ways to sightsee and explore the highlights of the national park. Popular activities include learning how to fish, cook, and harvest rice with the locals, swim, boat, and birdwatch. All visitors are encouraged to arrange for a tour of the park with official guides and locals offering their services to guests.
Spend a Day with the Locals
Living within villages and communes in the wetland habitats are a few of Vietnam’s groups of ethnic people. For locals, the park is their home and teaching visitors about their culture has become an important way to preserve both Tràm Chim and Vietnamese traditions. Park guests are invited to spend the afternoon with the locals to engage with and learn a new way of life.
Homestay tours can be arranged with a local guide and visitors should be prepared to share a meal with a local family and, if preferred, stay the night in the village.
Boating, Swimming, and Birdwatching
When the wetlands are flooded, visitors take to the water on boats and in swimsuits. Boat tours are an excellent way to view some of the rare crane species and in certain areas, swimming is permitted. Boat tours must be arranged through a tour company.
While boats are the most common way to view the birds, park guests will also have the chance to stretch their legs if they are so inclined. A few short walking paths wind through the national park to give visitors a chance to view more than the wetlands. With a relatively flat landscape, trails in Tràm Chim are easy to navigate and not too strenuous.
Plants and Wildlife
The three types of landscape that dominate Tràm Chim National Park are seasonal grasslands, Melaleuca forest, and open swamp. These environments are habitats for various plants like wild rice, water chestnuts, and wetland grasses. One aquatic grass, the Vossia cuspidata, is so rare that it is only found in parts of Africa and Asia.
The abundance of water and plant life has turned Tràm Chim into a magnet for migratory bird species. Park officials are particularly focused on protecting the rare sarus cranes, however, there are 147 bird species living in Tràm Chim. Finally, there are 100 vertebrates and 40 fish species that are also found in the national park.
Tràm Chim National Park is about a 3 and ½ hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, which means that day trips are suitable for visitors with a time crunch. Travelers who have more time to explore this region of Vietnam may want to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Cao Lãnh instead. The distance to Cao Lãnh is also 3 and ½ hours by car. From Cao Lãnh, it takes about 1 hour to drive north to the national park.
Driving is the most common way to travel to Tràm Chim and Cao Lãnh, but travelers can also take a train or plane. From Cao Lãnh, cars are the only way to get to Tràm Chim. Tour operations will likely include transportation to and from the park, however, travelers can arrange for private transportation by hiring a taxi or renting a motorbike.
When to Visit
Weather and migration go hand in hand, so travelers interested in birdwatching will need to be mindful of when to visit Tràm Chim. Migratory birds normally spend the rainy months in the park because of the high level of water, making September to December are the best months to visit the park. January to August is the least popular time to visit as the birds are typically still in Cambodia.
Gem of the Mekong Delta
The ideal blend of adventurous and relaxing, Tràm Chim has become Vietnam’s must-see national park in the Mekong River Delta. For nature enthusiasts, it doesn’t get better than Tràm Chim. Boasting an array of spectacular wildlife and one-of-a-kind landscapes, Tràm Chim is guaranteed to be an unforgettable and a highlight of any trip to Vietnam.
Address: Khóm 4, Tam Nông District, Dong Thap Province, Vietnam