Phuoc Binh National Park in south-central Ninh Thuan province was established some ten years ago and has become a major attraction for those keen on trekking and ecotourism.
The 20 ha park is 65 km west of Phan Rang-Thap Cham town in Bac Ai district and boasts a wide variety of flora and fauna. It has almost 100 rare plant species, of which 36 are listed in Vietnam’s Red Book and 58 in the World’s Red Book (IUCN). Animals native to Indochina include the yellow-cheeked crested gibbon (Nomascus gabriellae), and the black-shanked douc (Pygathrix nigripes). The national park has the largest number of wild bulls and deer in Vietnam and is the only place in Vietnam to successfully domesticate wild bulls.
‘Dalat’ on the coast
People have long believed that Ninh Thuan is a dry and windy place because it has the fewest days of rain annually in Vietnam, at about 50 days, and the lowest rainfall in the country, at about 700 mm, compared to the average of more than 1000 mm.
So everyone is amazed when they feel the cool air at Phuoc Binh. A range of green trees cover a vast area, with mountains blanketed by white clouds in the distance. Just like the highlands retreat of Dalat, the average temperature in the park is about 26oC. Visitors can take in the stilt houses of the Chu Ru and Rag Lai ethnic minority people on the hills, who also grow crops such as corn and bananas on sloping hillsides.
Streams from the mountains carry cool water and wind their way downhill and pour into the To Hap River, supplying water for the whole area. People on our bus asked the driver to open the windows so that they can breathe in the cool, fresh air. Our driver, Mr Trung, has taken visitors on tours around Ninh Thuan for many years. ‘The mountain area is called “the dragon’s eye”, rivers have never run dry and plants are green all year round,’ he said
He told many stories and legends along the way. The weather was changeable, with rain at one time and then clear blue skies just ten minutes later. The bus stopped at the forest checkpoint for the Phuoc Binh National Park, where we were welcomed by a group of officials from the Environmental Education and Forest Environment Service Centre. They talked a lot about the forest and its plants and animals, and explained the many medicinal plants and herbal remedies that have long been popular among the local ethnic minority people.
They also introduced nearby destinations, such as Gia Nhong Waterfall, and the cultural features of the local people. Visitors can not only see large areas of green plants but also dozens of rare orchids and even wild bulls.
The park rangers encouraged us to try local specialities such as wild bitter gourds, wild bamboo sprouts, banana wine, lam rice and pork from black pigs, which is especially delicious as they roam free on large farms.
A visit on the weekend gives visitors the chance to shop at the weekly market, where local ethnic minorities get together to trade. On sale are souvenirs like back baskets, bows and arrows, crossbows, and a musical instrument called the Cha pi, as well as other things such as banana seeds, can wine and bamboo sprouts. In the evenings, visitors can talk with the Rag Lai and Chu Ru ethnic minority people, listen to their traditional music, sing some songs and enjoy some dances.
War exploits become legend
The Pi-nang Tac Historic Relic is a must-see for visitors to Phuoc Binh and is famous for rock traps made by war hero Pi-nang Tac, a member of the Rag Lai ethnic minority people.
The Pi-nang Tac rock trap was set at Gia Toc Pass, a wild area covered in forest. In 1961 Pi-nang Tac led a group of residents of Phuoc Binh with simple weapons to fight the enemy. Hundreds of soldiers belonging to the US-supported Southern army were killed by rock traps and spikes and the area has now become a national historic relic.
Visitors to Phuoc Binh National Park can also see a herd of a dozen cross-bred bulls on a farm on more than 2 ha, the result of wild bulls and domesticated cows mating. In 2008 a wild bull left its herd and arrived at the edge of the forest in Sub Area 20 of Phuoc Binh National Park, where it mated with cows being raised on a large farm. The cross-bred bulls weigh two or three times as much as domestic cows, with the heaviest weighing up to 600kg. It died in 2015 but a statue has been sculpted and is on display at the forest checkpoint.
Phuoc Binh is just 60 km from the central highlands province of Lam Dong and also about 60 km from Nha Trang. The road to the park is quite narrow in places but covered with asphalt.
It’s best to spend a night at the park to take in all the interesting experiences on offer and listen to the sounds of the forest at night, including the sounds of wild animals. Visitors can stay by a camp fire, listen to the music of the ethnic minority people and maybe dance with them.