Located 170km from Ho Chi Minh City centre, the sprawling Cat Tien National Park can be found. Spanning an impressive 720km squared, Cat Tien is a huge protected area of natural beauty in Vietnam. Home to some of Vietnam’s most exotic wildlife, the National Park is an ideal trip from the city.
Thousands of visitors swap the chaotic Ho Chi Minh City streets, for the peace and quiet of Cat Tien every year. When the city becomes a little too overwhelming, Cat Tien National Park serves as the idyllic short escape. You can find yourself lost in a lush and diverse jungle in under 5 hours.
Due to the sheer size of Cat Tien National Park, it deserves at least a two-day visit. During this time, visitors have the opportunity to embark on a number of different exciting activities. All of which are unique in Vietnam and very affordable.
If you’re looking for ways to escape the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City, read about our suggested day trips.
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Why You Should Visit Cat Tien National Park
Unlike the North of Vietnam, which is known for its many National Parks, the South has less to offer. However, Cat Tien National Park is one of the largest and most diverse forests in all Vietnam! Thousands of tourists arrive in Ho Chi Minh City every year and leave the city before they have made the most of the South. This is not a destination that should be missed.
Cat Tien is a truly unique National Park in Vietnam, that offers visitors a taste of Vietnamese countryside. As well as some of the country’s most rare wildlife. The vast and diverse forest consists of grasslands, seasonal tropical forests and riparian areas. As a result, there are an impressive 5 major habitats, which have been identified by the park authorities and can be explored in a number of different ways.
As previously mentioned, the park has a number of different interesting and endangered species. Most can be spotted by those few observant, and lucky visitors. Cat Tien National Park is most famous for its primate inhabitants. It is home to at least 6 different primates, such as golden-cheeked gibbons and pygmy slow loris!
Primates aside, the park is also home to a number of different tropical and exotic birds. It is not uncommon to see splashes of bright green, yellow and blue in the trees! Just some of the colors that belong to some of the most beautiful birds.
Cat Tien is truly one of the most vibrant and interesting National Parks in all Vietnam.
Two Days in Cat Tien National Park
Due to travel time and size, we suggest dedicating two days to exploring Cat Tien National Park. It is easy to fill two days with activities and divulging in nature. In this post, we will highlight our favorite ways to spend two days in Cat Tien.
Firstly, we will look at travel and your best options for arriving in Cat Tein National Park. Including different options for travel, travel time and travel costs.
Secondly, we will explore some of the best places to stay in the National Park. Looking at the experience you’re hoping to gain from your stay in the park, and how accommodation contributes to this as well as also taking costs and accommodation standards into consideration.
Finally, we will look at the best activities you can do inside the National Park. We will explain how you can make the most of being surrounded by lush forests. Including activity costs, what to see and the best ways to explore.
This is your complete guide to visiting Cat Tien National Park in two days from Ho Chi Minh City!
How to Get to Cat Tien National Park
Most people visiting Cat Tien National Park will do so from Ho Chi Minh City Centre. There are a number of different options for arriving in the park. However, they vary considerably in cost, and some are more viable than others. Below we have listed three different ways to get to Cat Tien National Park. Including costs and travel time.
Getting the bus to Cat Tien National Park is possibly the most popular travel option. Due to the number of tourists traveling to the park from Ho Chi Minh City, buses run regularly throughout the day. And they depart from different parts of the city.
There are a few different companies to choose from which offer different standards of travel. The price of buses can vary somewhat. Some tour companies will offer hotel pickups, whilst others will have dedicated meeting points.
Standard buses leave from Bến xe Miền Đông bus station in Ho Chi Minh City and head directly to Cat Tien National Park. Buses leave at various times throughout the morning and tickets cost 90,000VND ($4). It is worth considering these are basic buses and offer little legroom. However, they do offer AC and some comfort.
The journey takes approximately 5 hours and there is one rest stop on the route.
Like travel in all of Vietnam, your most expensive, but comfortable option is by taxi. Most travel agencies and hotels will be able to arrange a taxi to take you to Cat Tien National Park, in the comfort of your own car. However, you can expect to pay for this luxury travel option.
A 4 seater taxi to Cat Tien National Park from Ho Chi Minh City will cost approximately 2,000,000VND ($79) one way.
This option is perfectly viable when shared with others, and is ideal when traveling with a family. The drive is approximately 3.5 hours by car.
Our favorite option for travel, always, is by motorbike. A motorbike gives you the freedom to travel at your own will while allowing you to stop whenever you please. Despite the fact that the 1-1.5 hour drive out of Ho Chi Minh City leaves something to be desired, the remainder of the journey is perfectly enjoyable.
Sadly, it’s not the same mountainous scenery of the North. However, the drive takes you through the stunning Vietnamese countryside and around one of the largest lakes in Vietnam. At points, you will find yourself cruising in the shade of pine forests and banana farms. You can’t really beat that, can you?
At our Rent A Bike store in Ho Chi Minh City, we are able to give you advice on what motorbike is best for you. As well as route options, ongoing support and what to look out for. There are a number of different precautions we’d like our customers to take when riding one of our bikes. Obviously, road safety is at the top of that list. We will ensure that all customers are given any advice needed regarding staying safe on the roads in Vietnam.
However, we’d also like to encourage all of our customers to wear suitable pollution masks to protect their health. Air pollution is a growing issue across Vietnam, and protecting yourself is very important.
The drive to Cat Tien National Park will take up to 5 hours by motorbike. The most scenic route option will also add at least 30 minutes onto your journey. Due to the nature of riding a motorbike for long periods, we encourage all of our customers to take extra precautions when traveling.
Quick Route (Green)
There are two main route options for arriving in Cat Tien National Park from Ho Chi Minh City . The quickest route option is 153km long and takes approximately 4 hours. This route is the less scenic option, but interesting all the same. The majority of this route is on main QL roads, with motorbike lanes at the sides.
You will begin the route by exiting Ho Chi Minh City to the East on Vo Van Kiet and then Duong Mai Chi To. Then, take the QL51, before joining the QL1A. Once on the QL1A, you will be able to enjoy some beautiful green countryside. Finally, you will join the long stretch on the QL20, before turning for Cat Tien National Park.
There are a few options for breaks along the QL20, all signposted and visible from the main road.
The last leg of the journey is arguably the best element of the whole trip. The winding countryside road that leads to the park is interesting and remote. We suggest stopping at times to take in the views and embrace the quiet nature.
Scenic Route (Red)
The scenic route is slightly longer than the previous route, however, it’s worth exploring! At 175km long, this route heads north out of Ho Chi MInh City centre and into the countryside. The route is made up of a mix of QL and DT roads, which makes for a more interesting drive.
This route begins on the QL1A before exiting onto the DT767. From here, the route sticks to DT roads for a long period, before finally rejoining the previous route upon entry to the park. The DT roads cruise through Vietnamese farmland and north around the huge Dong Nai River lake. Large sections of this journey is in fact through banana farms and small farming villages!
This route takes between 5-6 hours and offers riders an opportunity to see the Vietnamese countryside.
Things to Remember When Riding a Motorbike in South Vietnam
Be sure to plan in plenty of water and brain breaks! The sun is super intense in the south, therefore it is important to top up with water and take breaks in the shade. There’s a reason the Viets avoid driving at midday, covering themselves head to toe when they do.
RAB tip: Cover yourself when riding during midday in the sun. Avoid exposing your skin and make sure you remember to put suncream on the back of your hands!
We’ve seen plenty of burnt hands in our time. A result of intense sun, the breeze from being on the motorbike and simply forgetting that your hands are always exposed. Trust us, it’s not a great look!
Avoid all CT roads. They may be the quickest routes, however, they are not suitable for motorbikes. If you’re caught by roadside police, you will be fined for using these roads.
Two Days in Cat Tien National Park
Staying overnight in Cat Tien National Park is one of our favorite things to do. Wherever you choose to stay, you’re ensured to have an all-inclusive experience in nature. When you’ve had the sound of the city as your backing track for a few days, the sounds of nature are guaranteed to come as a welcome surprise.
Drifting off to the sounds of the jungle, and waking to exotic bird song (and the odd cockerel). Cat Tien National Park rarely falls silent, and it’s truly magical. If you’re really lucky, you can even hear the sounds of the gibbons in the trees when staying inside the park.
There are a couple of main options when choosing where to stay in Cat Tien National Park. Tourists have the option to stay over the river and inside the park grounds. Or they can stay next to the river on the outskirts of the actual park, just 100 meters from the park entrance.
We would suggest there is no major difference in staying inside or outside the park. All accommodation is reasonably priced and gives you that jungle retreat feeling.
Staying Outside of Cat Tien National Park
Most accommodation options are along the border of the park, facing the river that flows along with it. To enter the park, you must buy a ticket and cross the river by ferry. However, this is an easy task, so you should not sway your decision to stay inside or outside of the park.
The entrance to the park is 60,000VND ($3), which also includes the ferry fee.
There are a number of different lodges along the riverfront to choose from. Our personal favorite is Green Bamboo Lodge, which offers a variety of basic rooms in a forest setting. Rooms are all made from bamboo and are built on stilts overlooking the river. They are high up and are surrounded by the tree canopy.
Rooms also come with a hearty breakfast included, and various breakfast options to choose from – a must when preparing for an entire day exploring Cat Tien National Park.
Staying Inside Cat Tien National Park
It is also possible to stay in accommodation located inside the park grounds. Doing so gives tourists an option to explore the park throughout the day and in the evening. Which does offer a more immersive experience, and opportunity spot the park’s wildlife.
However, it is worth considering that accommodation inside the park can be more costly and challenging. There are fewer options and they are difficult to contact. We would suggest that it isn’t necessary.
Top 6 Things to Do in Cat Tien National Park
Due to the high number of tourists who visit the park every year, there are many different things to do. Most of which are suitable for everyone. Outdoorsy people have the option of trekking and exploring by bicycle. For those simply looking for a bit of chill and fresh air, it is possible to explore by jeep and boat.
Below we have listed some of our favorite ways to make the most of your time in Cat Tien National park. Including the cost of activities and how to book.
The number one thing to do in Cat Tien National Park is simply walking. Trekking in this area is extremely popular and is possibly the best way to see what the park has to offer. There are numerous guided treks leading from the tourist center inside the park every day. All of which are dedicated to guiding tourists through the dense jungle in search of wildlife.
As always, trekking with a guide is the best way to make the most of your trek. Guides know what sounds to listen out for to spot specific creatures. Such as exotic birds, primates and small mammals. They will also keep you from wandering off the beaten track and subsequently into the path of snakes.
There is no need to book treks in advance. Your accommodation will be able to give you advice on the park’s trekking timetable and the best treks for you. They will also be able to contact the visitor centre and book them for you.
Because of the park’s variety of wildlife, there are a number of different treks to choose from. Most of the treks are dedicated to seeing specific animals. Tourists have the opportunity to join the gibbon trek, bird trek or crocodile trek. There is even an evening trek, dedicated to spotting some of the park’s night time wildlife.
2. Riding Bicycles
Despite the somewhat questionable and bumpy roads, one of the best ways of seeing the park is by bicycle. Bicycles are available for rent from the main tourist center for 150,000VND ($7). You must leave a 500,000VND deposit upon renting, and the bikes must be returned 8 hours later.
Renting a bicycle allows you to see more of the park. Hiking in the park means that you are limited to an area that can be covered by foot. Cruising around on a bicycle, however, allows you to see much more!
Make sure that you head into the park in the early morning to avoid riding along dirt paths during peak sun time. This will also allow you to see more of the park and make the most of your stay.
3. Crocodile Lake
Located deep within Cat Tien National Park, the crocodile lake is home to a range of different creatures. The most common one is obvious, crocodiles. This is a great place to see crocodiles living in the wild. Due to the fact that the park is protected, these crocodiles have an opportunity to thrive.
Arriving at a crocodile lake on foot or by bicycle is a full day trip. Visitors need to cycle on somewhat questionable and wonky roads for around 2 hours (10km). At this point, you will reach the path that leads to the lake itself, which is not accessible by bicycle. As a result, visitors are forced to ditch their bikes and continue on foot for the final 5km.
It is possible to complete the return journey in 7 hours by bicycle and foot.
For those who’d like the easier option, they can take a jeep to the walking point. A jeep can be arranged at the tourist centre and costs 500,000VND ($16) for a return trip. This is your best option for seeing the lake on a timeframe.
Depending on what time of year you visit, the so-called rapids are really cool to explore. Accessible from inside the park, the rapids that have been formed by rocks north of the river make for a great place to relax. These rapids are signposted from the main road through the park and are worth visit.
Follow the signposted, yet overgrown, jungle paths to a break in the trees. From here, you can walk up and down the rapids, jumping from rock to rock. Small rock pools also form with fish and other creatures. A truly beautiful, and unique place to visit.
There is a variance in rainfall between winter and summer, so the rapids can be a very different experience. If you visit during the wet summer months (July-October), you will find that the rapids flow heavily. And it can be head from far away in the jungle.
Whereas, during the dry winter months (November-May), the rapids are much tamer. However, they can still be heard from far away and are worth exploring.
6. Boat Trips
A great alternative to kayaking on the river is joining one of the many boat trips that run daily. Most of the hotels offer boat trips up and down the river. Often, these are with a guide, who will be able to point out different birds. This is a great option if you are really into bird watching. It allows you more freedom to keep your eyes peeled for birds, and get information on the birds you spot.
Much like kayaking, these tours run in the morning or late afternoon at sunset. Again, avoiding the sun’s peak hours.