Ta Dung is located in the northern area of the Dong Nai River and in the vicinity of Dong Nai 3 and 4 hydropower plants in operation. Some of the islands are quite large, making it favorable for ecotourism development. Looking down from a high vantage point you will see the smooth green surface of the lake with numerous small islands floating on the water.
Ta Dung is a place where you can forget your worries, your stress, and be one with nature, be in harmony with the mountains, the grass, flowers, the lake, and the trees.
Unfortunately, I was the ‘backseat driver’ for the duration of our trip, so all I remember is taking highway 13 and 14 to Binh Phuoc, then from Binh Phuoc to Dak Nong. It was definitely an experience riding at night on our way there, lights illuminated the luminal belts of the motorbike ahead, one after the other continuously as to not miss the beat of the roads. It took just over 4 hours to arrive at Dak Nong, which was a little bit earlier than expected. We got there at 00:30 AM and immediately looked for a hotel after a long journey in Gia Nghia - Dak Nong.
In the vast plateau of Ta Dung, I sat in a coffee shop to stop and enjoy the quiet and beautiful scenery of the highlands, it was wonderful. I can see at a distance there were small islands looked as though uninhabited, just by chance creating this natural masterpiece painting of the landscape you won’t stop staring for a while. To many people, Ta Dung is The ‘Ha Long Bay’ of the Central Highlands because of the green flush mountains surrounding a smooth and calm green lake filled with numerous small islands similar to Ha Long Bay with its small islands along the coast.
The air was refreshing, surrounded by mountains and lush green coffee gardens. Even the weather was kind to us with a gentle sun to give us a smooth and safe journey as our experience drivers continued with their twisting and winding turns down the slopes between the highland forests to the dock. On this open road, the scenery is amazingly beautiful and mesmerizing to many of us. Every turn of the slope would give us a new perspective on this beautiful scenery down to the centimeter, almost like you’re watching nature television and changing the channel from one beautiful location to the next. With every winding, twisting turn, one side will be the Valleys and the other will be the Hills. Highway 28 to Ta Dung really will take your breath away. The cool weather here also makes this a dream for riders like us.
With good planning, our group leader pre-negotiated the price of the boat that would take us to the island, so the price was quite reasonable. With everything, transportation of us and our belongings for a round trip returning noon the next day, it came out to be about $ 5/person. The boats here are privately owned, so it is recommended that price should be negotiated in advance. With 10 of us and our motorbikes, we ended up with the whole boat to ourselves. We also bought 3 more cases of beer and fresh meats from the market to have a big dinner that night (that’s not including things we brought from Saigon). It took about an hour and a half to reach the island so we didn’t waste any time, we cracked open some beers and chit chat till we get there. Good times!!
The lake has more than 36 islands big and small, so after a quick look around, we decided on an island with a flat surface, plenty of space and no big trees to get in the way of our campsite. Everyone seemingly had a role to complete before it gets too dark, some of us set up tents, others set up lights for our walkways and decorations, some went to gather woods to start a fire, and others started to prepare our feast for the night.
If you can, you don’t need to buy prepared meat at the market, you can get a live chicken at the market and bring it to the island, kill and clean it there, it will taste much better. And so, to save time, you can have one grill on the fire and the other sauté on the pan. With the abundance of bamboo trees, we cut down some to cook rice with(tips: soak the rice at minimum 10 minutes, add a little water, use the bamboo leaves to fill up the bamboo tube, put in the fire and wait for the finished bamboo rice). Some people were grilling meat, fish, shrimp, and potatoes, while others contributed to making alcohol and entertainment...With drinking and entertainment around our campfire, the night didn’t end until around midnight.
Right after the dawn of the new day and enjoying our instant noodles for breakfast, everyone joined in to help in taking down our tents and cleaned up the area to return safely to our boat. On our way back we were able to persuade the owner of the boat to stop for a swim in the middle of the lake...We were having just as much fun as those ducks in the water, the ones splashing around. Although that morning was a bit cold, but the water in the lake was warm enough for a good swim. Make no mistake, the lake is deep enough to warrant the wearing of life jackets just to be safe, and so we did, and so we enjoyed that smooth clear green lake a little safer. After a day of “eating and living with nature”, that feeling of satisfaction and excitement were all too familiar with me. When we got back on shore, everyone was back at work in gathering our things and pack them for the journey home.
At this moment, which seems like the excitement is gone and things are back to normal. But no! Remember that our journey to get here was a night ride, so dark you can barely see anything far, interesting but not immersive. On our journey back, however, with bright sunlight, it was almost like a different world as we decided to take a not so familiar path home just so we can enjoy a little more of that beautiful landscape. And we ended up taking a more arduous but very interesting historic road home(and of course it was also a shortcut for us).
It was very fortunate for us that we went during the dry season, but still it took more than two hours to get out of the forest. Now imagine if we go in the rainy season, I’m not so sure if we can do it under 5 hours. It was a strange experience, but fun nonetheless.
The trip was short, but very enjoyable. The saying is true, there’s always new things to discover when traveling. Especially when you travel with close friends to explore new locations, be free to enjoy the beauty of nature in its natural state, and able to meet new people and make new friendships along the way. These memories will not only live in the past as pictures or videos, it becomes the motivation and reason that would bring us all together once again on our next trip.
P.S: $ 27/person for this trip (including gasoline, boat, accommodation, and great food).
The Author and Photo: Truc Vo.