Footsteps to the falls

One of many great places within striking distance of HCMC promises water flowing over cliffs and quite a deal of exercise.

By TRACY on January 08,2020 09:53 AM

Footsteps to the falls

PHOTOS TRACY

If you plan to spend time in Vietnam’s south during the Tet holiday, when most people are off from January 23 to January 29, as well as breathing in the festive atmosphere and local culture you could also take a one or two-day trip not too far from Ho Chi Minh City to places such as the tunnels of Cu Chi, beachside Vung Tau, and the Thuy Chau Ecotourism Area in Binh Duong city. Another is Mai Waterfall, on the La Nga River some 150 km from Ho Chi Minh City and growing in popularity every year. In the spring, you can be embraced by a space of white apricot flowers and wild birdsong harmonizing with the sound of tumbling water.

THE FALLS

Mai Waterfall is found within an economic development triangle that includes Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces, known as a gateway to the south. It’s also home to a majestic yet pristine beauty that has conquered the hearts of visitors. The waterfall is named “Mai” (apricot) because, in the past, it was a “kingdom of wild apricot blossoms”. Every season, when the time to bloom arrives, the area is covered in a captivating white.

GETTING THERE

Thac Mai is in Gia Canh forest, about two hours north of Ho Chi Minh City. You can reach Dinh Quan in Dong Nai by car or motorbike but from there only foot or motorbike can take you the rest of the way to Thac Mai. I prefer trekking because of the freedom it offers and the ability to take in the sights.

Footsteps to the falls

DAY 1:

MORNING: Dinh Quan District (Dong Nai)

AFTERNOON: Bat Cave Rock

NIGHT: Bay Mau Rock

We were ferried to a sugarcane farm by tractor trailer, then our journey began with a short trek along flat paths. We started out at 1.30pm and felt the heat of the sun as we went down a road surrounded on both sides by sugarcane and cassava. Two kilometers passed and Bat Cave Rock appeared. The cave was formed by volcanic lava flows millions of years ago, which carved deep, huge caves that became home to maybe millions of bats. After its top collapsed, it became two small caves: Bat Cave 1 and Bat Cave 2. The largest part of Bat Cave is some 4 meters in height and 10 meters in width, and it totals 534 meters in length, making it the longest lava cave in Southeast Asia. When you reach Bat Cave Rock (a rocky outcrop home to Bat Cave 1 and 2) you climb up a 60 or 70-degree angle using ropes then just take in the view. When I reached the top, dense jungle and immense paddy fields stretched to the horizon. Virtually untouched, the space is deserted and quiet, and it felt as though we were the only ones on the side of the mountain - sitting or lying on the hot surface and letting the soul flow in the wind and enjoying a peaceful Tet holiday.

We rested for about 15 minutes, then continued on, covering about 4 km or so and then reaching Bay Mau Rock before sunset. We passed a cashew nut garden along the way, where the brilliant yellow and red ripe fruit almost overwhelmed us and fragrantly filled the air.

It became cooler as we moved deeper into the jungle. We followed a narrow trail to reach our final destination of the day - Bay Mau Rock. The trail was swamped on both sides by tall trees.

It was almost dark when Bay Mau Rock finally appeared. We used ropes to reach our base and camp for the night. It was the first time I had spent a night in the wild on a huge rock overlooking the jungle under a sky full of stars.

In the Gia Canh jungle, the surface of Bay Mau Rock is about 17 ha in total, with a length of about 90 meters. It’s easily mistaken for a mountain from afar. Some of us chose to lay down on the rock and watch the sweet sunset, while others went on to a cave full of bats inside Bay Mau Rock.

A hearty BBQ was prepared in the early evening, including pork, chicken, squid, and fish, served with a steamed rice pancake and vegetables. After dinner, we divided into groups to entertain ourselves. One group played the board game Werewolf, while the other sang and chatted, but both looked up at times to the superb Milky Way, which can never be seen in a city. Literally a billion stars hung over our heads.

DAY 2:

MORNING: Mai Waterfall

AFTERNOON: Bau Nuoc Soi

NIGHT: Ho Chi Minh City

Upon being awoken in the morning by birdsong, the fresh air made up for a night of mosquitos and snorers. We started the day with yoga and a little meditation. We stretched our limbs in the cool air of the jungle and brought deep breaths of air into our lungs. The smell of a delicious breakfast of chicken porridge, coffee and ginger tea soon reached our noses.

It was getting hotter as the sun rose, and we packed our stuff and moved on to finish the remainder of our journey. On the way to Mai Waterfall, we heard about the skills needed to survive in the jungle from our guides, the Meerkat team.

We could hear the waterfall well before we could see it, from about 2 km away, giving us renewed energy to keep pressing ahead. By midday we had made it, and the poetic and beautiful waterfall were indeed worth the at-times strenuous trek. Overflowing, bubbly streams created a romantic scene and felt a little surreal.

Mai Waterfall doesn’t pour down from above like many other waterfalls but instead flows through narrow gaps in cliffs, rolling and creating bubbles as water heads inexorably downwards. It’s simply spectacular. The area was completely fresh, from the jungle and cliffs to the blooming flowers and the sounds of birds in the sky.

Some of us couldn’t help ourselves and jumped into the cool water, yelling excitedly like kids. Others sat on the stones nearby enjoying the chill scene. Once again, our hungry stomachs were filled with a hearty lunch of grilled catfish (“ca lang nuong”) and grilled boar.

We moved on but our hearts lingered long at Mai Waterfall. The final destination before heading back to the city was Bau Nuoc Soi, where we dipped our feet in hot springs, releasing all the weariness from our travels.

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