Yendy Tang discovers one of Vietnam’s hidden gems, the challenging Ta Nang–Phan Dung hike. Photos by Bao Le.

The challenging Ta Nang–Phan Dung hike is one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets, especially if you love outdoor adventures.

Unlike the more well-known destinations of Ha Long Bay and Mount Fansipan, Ta Nang–Phan Dung is completely undeveloped, with pristine forests, grassy hills and unspoiled waterfalls.

Exploring this beautiful landscape requires a multi-day trek with a heavy pack. But, trust me, you won’t be disappointed with this hidden gem, which was only developed by local trekkers two years ago.

Getting There

The 55-kilometre trekking route passes through three provinces: Lam Dong, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan, starting in Lam Dong province, near the romantic city of Dalat. Ta Nang–Phan Dung is named after the hills and forests the route traverses, the first in Lam Dong province and the latter in Binh Thuan province.

To get to the start of the trek, you need to take a four-hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat, then another bus to the Ta Hine three-way crossroads. From here, you need to take a xe om to the gate of the Ta Nang hills.

The Most Beautiful Trek In Vietnam

The locals say the Ta Nang–Phan Dung hike is “a test for your body, your mind, your patience and even the skills in teamwork”. The trekking route includes high terrain, many hills, many forests, with elevations from 500 to to 1,100 meters above sea level. It’s a challenging walk, mostly without mobile phone service or internet.

So far Ta Nang–Phan Dung has been a word-of-mouth destination, with people raving about the amazing landscapes with 360-degree views of the wild grass hills in Ta Nang, the majestic forests and the magnificent waterfalls in Phan Dung.

Starting from Ta Nang, you will pass through a pine forest, bathed in golden light, to arrive at a wide open hillside, dotted with the small wooden houses of the local people.

It looks like an artist’s rendition of peaceful nature under the crystal blue sky, but these grassy hills have a terrible history, according to Le Quoc Bao, who grew up in the area.

Terrible Past

“In the past, the Ta Nang hills were covered in pine forests,” he said. “The Vietnam War is what made the scenery what it is today.”

During Vietnam’s war with America from 1955-1975, Vietnamese soldiers used guerrilla tactics and based themselves in the thick forests of the Ta Nang hills. To counteract this strategy, the Americans heavily bombed the area to clear the vegetation. “According to the former generation, the bombing destroyed the forests forever,” Bao said. “No pine trees ever grew again, and the only place to live was on the grassy hills.”

Once you pass the Ta Nang hills, walk toward the delta plain, where the descending slopes become steeper, in front of you is the old Phan Dung forest. This is a bird-filled jungle of ancient trees, strange plants and colorful wildflowers. Remember not to touch anything, for some species can be dangerous. Phan Dung also has a forest of dipterocarp trees, a type of hardwood with winged fruit. Navigating the dipterocarp forest is difficult, as the grass can be waist-high.

Bao, who has worked as a tour guide on the Ta Nang–Phan Dung trek for over two years, said the Yavly Waterfall is one of his favourite places along the route. This is a mountain stream lying deep inside the embrace of Phan Dung forest. What can you do with a crystal clear water and unspoiled natural scenery? “Jump in, this is the true rhythm of life,” Bao said with joy.

What to Prepare?

Trekking in Ta Nang – Phan Dung is an interesting trip for those who seek nature scenery and an adventurous experience. However, “Nature is precious, but at the same time, dangerous,” Bao warned. There are many unpredictable accidents that can happen in the wilderness.

Trekkers should prepare well before the trip, making sure to pack:

+A 50-70 litre backpack

+Medicine and first aid kit

+A reliable tracklog

+A knife and a lighter (known to be the essential things for trekking trips)

+At least 5 litres of water (for it’s not easy to find a stream)

+Enough lightweight food for three days

+Camping tent

+Personal items: trekking shoes, sleeping bag, backup battery, warm clothes (it’s quite cold at night)

+Good health

The best time to do the Ta Nang–Phan Dung trek is from June to September, for the grass fields are still green from the rainy season. A three-day trip is suitable to traverse explore the entire Ta Nang–Phan Dung trail.

During the trip, remember to set up the tent before 5pm each afternoon because it’s dangerous to move through the forest after dark.

If you do get lost, stay on the trail, stay calm and wait for a rescue team.

Locals also tell a spooky story about getting lost along the Ta Nang–Phan Dung trail. They warn not to believe any “soldier” who promises to lead you to safety, as they will hide you forever. These soldiers are believed to be the spirits of soldiers lost during the war.

It’s advisable to only attempt this route with an experienced trekking leader, such as Bao.

Bao organises three-day trekking trip to Ta Nang – Phan Dung every weekend. These trips were initially only offered to his friends, but now Bao is opening up his trips to anyone who is healthy, fit and interested in exploring this beautiful part of Vietnam.

Bao, who speaks basic English, can be contacted on +84 289 879 2017.