Test of endurance

A trek out to Phi Lieng waterfall in the central highlands is not to be taken lightly

By STORY TRACY on January 08,2019 03:36 PM

Test of endurance

PHOTOS TRACY & MEERKAT TEAM

DO’S AND DON’T’S

The trail out to Phi Lieng waterfall is only suitable for experienced trekkers and its difficulty must be considered by those planning to journey out. Good physical condition is a must. The best advice for those planning to trek out to Phi Lieng waterfall is to take a tour and not go alone unless some of the others in the group are experienced. Take good hiking boots, sandals for getting around camp, a hat, three or four pair of socks, at least three liters of water, a medical kit, and rain gear. The trail is as tough as it sounds, but experience and a strong spirit will take you to the falls and back.

For my most recent holiday I decided to trek to Phi Lieng waterfall in the central highlands’ province of Lam Dong rather than take a fancy vacation.

Phi Lieng, or “seven layers waterfall”, which many local people know it as, is in Phi Lieng commune in Dam Rong district, 70 km from the famed highlands city of Da Lat. The trek passes through two provinces: Lam Dong and Dak Nong. Trekkers must first travel along a 20-km road through different types of terrain, and given how dangerous the trek can be should always travel with a guide. One team that can guide trekkers to explore this marvelous slice of Vietnam is Phi Lieng Jungle Trekking (Meerkat team).

We arrived in Phi Lieng commune quite early, at 3am. The weather was cold, and a blanket of mist added a certain mystery that only made the trek more appealing. We stayed in a hotel for some rest, waking up at 6am for breakfast and some hot coffee to waken the senses. We jumped onto a tractor trailer, met up with the other trekkers in our group, and headed out. We passed through ethnic minority villages, up and down steep hills, and along muddy, bumpy roads on a 20-km trip that took nearly an hour. Houses lay among coffee plantations and fruit orchards, while chickens, pigs, cows and dogs occasionally crossed the road in front of us. The conditions, though, didn’t curb our enthusiasm, even as rain lashed our faces and a cold breeze chilled our bones.

Test of endurance

We eventually stopped by the edge of the jungle, about 10 km from the waterfall, as the tractor could take us no further. We set out on foot along a muddy, slippery trail, the trek finally beginning. Within minutes our boots were caked in mud, our feet sinking into the trail and testing the strength of our legs. The deeper into the jungle we went, the colder it became. Though the rain thankfully eased up, the cold meant the trail would remain damp. We encouraged each other, and after about 30 minutes stopped for some water and snacks. Despite the cold, we were all sweating. As we sat around taking a break, the leader of the porters explained to us why the team was named after the meerkat and what its vision and mission was. Every time we took a break, he told us about snakes we may encounter, what to do if conditions really worsen, and how to survive if we somehow became lost. The breaks also gave us trekkers a chance to get to know each other.

Tackling this narrow trail and its steep slopes requires physical endurance. At times we had to use poles and ropes to keep our balance and climb up the slopes. After moving along the muddy trail for seven or eight kilometers, we hit a section where using ropes was the only way to keep going. We all had to push ourselves to our limits, climbing up a 60 or 70-degree angle. Our feet continually sunk into the mud, and our hands strained to hold the rope as tightly as we could. We could start to hear the sound of the waterfall from about 2 km away, giving us renewed encouragement to keep plowing ahead. With legs aching and sweat beading on our faces, the 120-meter-tall white cascades of Phi Lieng appeared before our eyes, dispelling any fatigue. The route, though tough, is ideal for trekkers who love to push themselves and come upon a place of peace that is in harmony with nature.

Test of endurance

We reached a dry area 90 meters above the pool of water below the waterfall where the view was simply superb. Tents were set up, and we sipped on ginger tea to bring our body temperatures back into balance. We then donned life jackets and used ropes to descend down part of the falls, climbing over slippery, moss-covered rocks. A fire greeted us at the bottom, providing a much-needed source of heat.

We then climbed back up to the tents, changed clothes, and set up a campfire and prepared dinner. Some barbequed meat, chicken rice porridge, and rice wine created a cozy atmosphere. The jar of wine was shared around as we properly introduced ourselves as the sound of the falls filled the background. Different to the city, night falls quickly in the jungle, and apart from our voices the only sounds to be heard were the wind rustling through the trees and the buzzing of insects.

Breakfast the next morning was instant noodles, leftover chicken rice porridge, and, of course, some much-welcomed hot coffee. The weather was beautiful on this second day, with blue sky above, a slight cool in the air, and drier ground. Bird song surrounded us. We trekked out to a village, where ethnic minorities like H’Mong, K’Ho, and Dao live peacefully among the mountains and jungle, each with a different dress reflecting their cultural identity, bright with eye-catching colors and special handcrafted patterns. On the other side of the village was a big lake, its green water stretching out before us and ending at a faraway pine forest, whose trees then gave way to blue sky. We set up tents and, as the weather on this second day was so much warmer, jumped into the lake to relieve our weariness. As the porters prepared a hearty meal before we headed back to the real world, we let ourselves float on the water and contemplate the challenging trail behind us and ahead of us. Golden sunlight warmed our skin as we emerged from the water, and the fresh, cool air felt fantastic. What a wonderful moment!

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