Spending a Day in Nature at Ma Da Tri An in Dong Nai, Vietnam

by Jackie
When visiting Ma Da Tri An in Dong Nai, expect a red clay dirt path with green trees on both sides when walking through the forest.

Ma Da (Mã Đà in Vietnamese), located in Vinh Cuu District in Dong Nai Province is one of the untapped areas in South Vietnam. It’s a quiet and non-touristy destination that locals visit as a weekend trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Camping, running or walking through the Ma Da forest area, and swimming or paddleboarding on the peaceful man-made Tri An Lake (Hồ Trị An) are top highlights of the area. 

We had the opportunity to spend the day in the Ma Da Tri An area with a local hiking group. Our hiking group leader, Andy, organized a special event for over 100 guests. 

While we love visiting Vietnam on our own, this area isn’t fully developed with tourism. Therefore, you’ll need to join a local tour group to visit here. Most of the tours offer overnight camping along Tri An Lake and include the admission fee to Ma Da and food. 

Continue reading on what to expect with visiting Ma Da Tri An for one day!

Related: Why You Need to Visit Vietnam

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Why Should You Visit Ma Da Tri An?

Ma Da Forest Area is a part of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve and covers an astounding 969,993 hectares (2,396,905 acres). This area also includes Lam Dong, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, and Dak Nong areas. 

When exploring this preserved area, you’ll notice the diversity of plant species and trees. It’s so green here and a nice place to get your nature fix.

You may even encounter animals and reptiles. The rare animal sightings include Asian elephants, Siamese crocodiles, and Germain’s peacock pheasants. As with any place that you visit, please do not feed or disturb the wildlife. 

Plus, the forest area is really clean and doesn’t have much litter (which is a nice change from other rural areas of Vietnam).

This area is also home to over 30 ethnic groups, such as Choro, Stieng, and Ma groups. 

As with Tri An Lake, it’s a man-made lake that connects with the hydroelectric dam along the Dong Nai River. Fishing is allowed in the lake as there are Hemibagrus guttatus, a type of catfish (also referred to as cá lăng in Vietnamese).


How to Get to Ma Da from Ho Chi Minh City

From Ho Chi Minh City to Ma Da in Dong Nai, it’s between 81-86 kilometers (50-53 miles) one-way and will take about 2 hours of driving. The starting location is at Ben Thanh Market in District 1. 

The highway route is to take QL52 towards Dong Nai, connect to QL1A, and then take DT767 to DT761 until you get to Ma Da. Click here for driving directions

The easiest way to get to travel to Ma Da is to hire a private driver. We rode a private bus due to the number of people in the group and it was easy to enjoy the ride without having to deal with traffic.

If you’re comfortable with driving a motorbike, it’s another option to get to Ma Da Tri An area. It’s an opportunity to control your schedule and stop by any additional sights along the way. 

Tip: Speaking some Vietnamese will be helpful since English isn’t widely spoken in this area. 

Related: Transportation Options Around Vietnam


Things to Do in Ma Da Tri An One Day

1. Watch the sunrise from Tri An Lake.

Seeing the sunrise from the Tri An Lake is gorgeous! You’ll need to leave Ho Chi Minh City between 4:00-4:30am to reach the lake by 6:30am for the sunrise. 

We went to this place, Quán Ăn Sông Nước Tuấn Liễu (click here to see on map) as our stopover for sunrise and also for lunch later in the day. 

A blue boat docked on the calm Tri An Lake with the sunrise peeking in the clouds in Dong Nai, Vietnam

Seeing the sunrise is a top thing to do in Ma Da Tri An area.

2. Run, walk, or cycle through the Ma Da Forest.

Ma Da Forest is the perfect spot to go for a walk, run, or hike. You can also cycle through the dirt path (you just need to bring a bicycle with you in advance.) 

The recommended starting point is along the red clay dirt path across from Cafe Võng Cô Hiếu (click here to see pin) and the ending point is at the Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins (Di Tích Căn Cứ Khu Uỷ Miền Đông Nam Bộ). 

The 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) hiking path is easy since it’s flat with some occasional rolling hills and will take over 2 hours if you do a combination of walking and running. The view is mostly the forest area with blooming plants and colorful butterflies flying in the air. One of the unique places along the trail is an abandoned house in the first few kilometers from the start line. 

Group of people walk and run along the red clay dirt path in the Ma Da Forest Area in Dong Nai, Vietnam

The walking path in the Ma Da Forest Area is suitable for everyone!

We recommend that you wear a hat and sunscreen as the trail has off-and-on shade. Also, wear shoes and that you don’t mind getting dirty as the red clay dirt will stain the shoes. Your legs and ankles will be covered in a layer of red dust. 

An aerial view of a pair of black and blue Hoka running shoes and a pair of pink and baby blue Saucony running shoes on the red clay dirt trail in Ma Da Forest, Vietnam

You may need a new pair of shoes after visiting Ma Da Forest Area.

Some things to note: 

  • Bring water with you as there aren’t any stores or kiosks along the trail. 
  • This route would not be ideal to visit during the rainy season as it’ll be really muddy. 
  • On occasion, a car or a motorbike will pass by so the road gets dusty. 
  • If you decide to go only one-way, ensure that you have a transportation method back! There is a parking lot at the Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins.

Read More: Best Hikes to do in Vietnam

3. Wander through the Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins area. 

At the end of the Ma Da Forest trail, you’ll reach the Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins. If you’ve been to Cu Chi Tunnels in Tay Ninh Province, then this area is similar. It showcases the soldiers’ lives and how they operated during the Vietnam War. This area is new since the soldiers are in immaculate conditions. 

During our visit, there was a group of children on a field trip and listening to a tour guide about the history.

If you’re not as interested in looking at the soldiers, follow the walking path to see various plants and trees grown in the area.

Replica of 7 soldiers and 1 leader of the Vietnamese army having a discussion under a straw covered hut in Ma Da's Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins.

Check out these replicas of the Vietnamese soldiers and their lives in Ma Da’s Southeast Commissioners Area Ruins.

4. Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboarding in Tri An Lake. 

The Tri An Lake is an ideal place to kayak and SUP (stand-up paddleboarding). Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced, the calm waters make it ideal to practice your skills. Plus, it’s a fun way to incorporate more exercise! 

From our large group, there was a smaller group who did a shorter 8 kilometer (5 miles) walk and then returned to Quán Ăn Sông Nước Tuấn Liễu to go kayaking and paddleboarding.

Note: Don’t forget to have documentation of medical insurance or travel insurance. You never know what may happen or if you get into an accident during your excursions! Click here to buy travel insurance.

While visiting Ma Da Tri An was a fabulous day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, we would love to stay for an extra day either camping or staying overnight at a guesthouse. We’ll be back to visit since we’re close by living in Ho Chi Minh.

Check out other things to do in Vietnam’s Dong Nai area: 

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