How to Spend a Weekend at Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

by Jackie
Walking in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam with stunning trees surrounding us

After living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the past 1.5 years, we crave the fresh outdoors and beautiful nature areas just like back at home in California, U.S. A visit to Cat Tien National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Cát Tiên in Vietnamese) in Dong Nai was a great getaway to surround ourselves with protected trees, nature, and wildlife. 

Since we only had a weekend in Cat Tien National Park, we’ve put together this guide on how to plan your trip and things to do in Cat Tien National Park. 

While our two days in Cat Tien National Park (more like 1.5 days due to travels) went by quickly, it was a much-needed recharge from the high energy Ho Chi Minh City. If you have an extra 2-3 full days when visiting South Vietnam, it’s a good stopping place if heading to or coming back from Dalat. You could visit this place as an ambitious day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, but it’ll be very rushed and not recommended due to the long travels. 

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Why Visit Cat Tien National Park?

Located approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Ben Thanh area of Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien National Park is one of the national parks in Vietnam. It’s a large park area at 72,000 hectares and covers three areas – Cat Tien, Cat Loc in Lam Dong province, and west of Cat Tien in Binh Phuoc province. It’s known for their lowland tropical forests and home to over 1500 species from birds, mammals (ie: gibbons), to insects. This site is currently on the tentative list as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam

What we liked about visiting Cat Tien National Park was that it wasn’t crowded with visitors. We consider this one of the off the beaten track destination to visit in Vietnam. Although we visited in late July during the rainy season, we saw a handful of people during the afternoon and had hiking trails to ourselves. It was awesome to enjoy the quietness and fresh air. 

Tip: Don’t worry too much about the rainy season. We experienced the typical rainy weather of 20 minutes of afternoon rain and then sunny skies afterward. 
Cat Tien National Park weather forecast stone is a fun way to see the current weather.

Need to know the forecast in Cat Tien National Park? Check out this fun weather forecasting stone nearby the entrance.


How to Get to Cat Tien National Park

From Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien National Park, it can take between 3.5 to 5 hours depending on your mode of transportation. From Dalat to Cat Tien National Park, it’ll take over 4.5 hours. We’re sharing directions from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien below. 

1. Ride a motorbike or drive a car. 

Either of these two options will provide you the most flexibility with your schedule and maximize your time at the National Park. The drive to Cat Tien will be faster via a car at 3.5 hours, while the motorbike ride can take over 4 hours. 

2. Go via bus. 

We traveled with a friend and took the bus route so we didn’t need to worry about the traffic. The travels consisted of departing Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday morning at 8:00am and returning on Sunday evening at 6:00pm. It took over 5 hours each way to get there, so it was a lot longer than expected. 

To get to Cat Tien, we took the small bus via Kim Hoàn bus company. The route is from Ho Chi Minh City to Tan Phu-Dong Nai, and the bus drops guests off in front of the Cat Tien National Park entrance. We boarded the bus at the Mien Dong Bus Station in Binh Thanh district. The bus has 30 seats, but if you’re late, you’ll sit on a small plastic chair along the aisle. The cost is 80,000 VND ($3.40 USD) per way which you pay on the bus. To reserve a seat, you or a friend who can speak Vietnamese can call the bus company. If there is a language barrier, the easiest way is to make an online reservation here

We heard that you could take the sleeper buses such as Futa Bus or Thanh Buoi to Dalat. Yet, the sleeper bus will drop you off somewhere in Dong Nai and you’ll need to take a taxi to get to Cat Tien National Park. 

Local bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien National Park that is overfilled with people. The aisle is also used as seats.

The Kim Hoan bus squeezes as many people as possible to get to Cat Tien National Park.


Cat Tien National Park Entrance Fee

Once you’ve arrived at Cat Tien National Park, purchase your National Park ticket at the Tourist Information Counter. It’s easy to spot as it’s located in front of the main entrance. The cost is 60,000 VND ($2.60 USD) for adults, 10,000 VND ($.40 USD) for children ages 6-16 years old, and free for under 5 years old. The ticket includes the round trip 2 minutes boat ride across the Dong Nai River. Renting bicycles and/or hiring a tour guide is available at the Visitor Center. 

Cat Tien National Park main entrance

This is the main entrance to Cat Tien National Park. At the end, you’ll take a short boat ride to enter the park.


Things to Do at Cat Tien National Park in Two Days

With your short time, you won’t be able to see everything as the National Park is huge. It’s recommended to choose 1-2 activities per day which we’ve shared below. 

What we noticed about the Cat Tien National Park activities is that you’ll need to book a tour through your local accommodations. All tours are supported by the National Park. If there is an activity that you’re interested in doing, ask your accommodations to reserve ASAP as some activities have limited spots.

Also, you’ll need to have alternative transportation to go to some of the attractions that are farther away. Your accommodation can assist with this as well.

1. Take a short hike through the forest to see the giant Tung trees. 

From the Visitor Center, you can easily walk through the park to explore several iconic tall trees with unique tree roots such as the Tung Tree (Cây Tung cổ thụ) and the Uncle Dong Tree (Cây Gõ Bác Đồng). The Tung Tree is a tetrameles nudiflora species which has a sturdy trunk with large and wide tree roots (they almost look like wings). If you’ve visited Siem Reap’s Ta Prohm, the famous Lara Croft tree is a tetrameles nudiflora. The Uncle Dong Tree is a type of redwood. 

From the main walking path, find the sign on the left side to direct you to the short hiking trail to the trees. Tung Tree is .8 kilometers (.5 miles) away from the Visitor Center, while Uncle Dong Tree is 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) away. The hiking trail is flat, so no need to wear hiking boots. One thing to note is that the hiking path is unmarked so follow a pathway that appears to be more heavily traveled. 

There are other incredible trees available such as the garlic-shaped Lagerstroemia Tree. However it’s located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the Visitor Center, so transportation is needed. 

Tip: There won’t be any signs highlighting the trees. Grab a map from the Visitor Center or take a photo of the sign that highlights sites to visit nearby the Visitor Center.  
The giant Tung Tree in Cat Tien National Park is one of the best tourist spots to visit.

The Tung Tree is an impressive size!

2. Visit the Ben Cu Rapids and Botanical Gardens.

Not far from the Tung Tree is the Ben Cu Rapids (Ghềnh Bến Cự). Check out the rushing waters and take a short break in the shaded area. It’s not recommended to swim in the water. You can also combine a trip to see the various plants in the nearby Botanical Gardens. 

3. Go on a night safari.

What better way to see the wildlife than on a 1-hour night safari? You’ll ride in an open-top truck and your Cat Tien National Park tour guide will use his/her keen eyesight to spot the wildlife. Children will love the experience with the wind in their hair and the bumpiness of the ride. We saw lots of deer, wild pigs, a couple of mongooses, and a civet cat in their natural habitats. I wanted to see porcupines but they didn’t come out for us. As a reminder, please do not speak loudly with any animal sightings.

Tour times: The daily tour departs at 7:30pm and 8:30pm from the Visitor Center

Cost: 250,000 VND ($10.80 USD) per person

4. Take a boat ride along the Dong Nai River.

This was one of the best experiences during our weekend trip in Cat Tien. Your boat driver will take you along the Dong Nai River, adjacent to the National Park. Along the way, our driver had hawk eyes and spotted monkeys and kingfisher birds in the trees. He allowed us to drive the boat (it’s similar to driving a car) for a few minutes and took photos of us driving it. We went along the river for about 40 minutes round trip as we went to the Ta Lai Village.

We're riding a boat along the Dong Nai River and Justin is driving it

Justin drove the boat along the Dong Nai River

5. Explore Ta Lai Village. 

Located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away from the National Park, the Ta Lai Village is populated by the Ma, Stieng, and Tay ethnic people. The area is known for their beautiful weaved handicrafts so you can purchase souvenirs such as purses and bags to support the locals. You can also stop by and/or stay at the nearby Ta Lai Longhouse to see a lovely guesthouse in the forest setting. We have more information in the Accommodations section below. 

How did we get to Tai Lai Village? We used the boat ride mentioned above as our form of transportation to go to Ta Lai Village. However, we had to walk to the Ta Lai Village which took over 30 minutes from the boat dock. If we were to re-do this activity, we would have rented a bicycle or hired a driver. You can ask your guesthouse regarding the bike rentals and/or driver. 

Cost: 1,200,000 VND ($52 USD) total for the boat ride and 600,000 VND ($26 USD) total for the car ride. It’ll be cheaper for bicycle rental.

Local handicrafts such as purses and shoulder bags from the Ta Lai Village in the Cat Tien National Park area

Local handicrafts from the Ta Lai Village

6. Find wild gibbons for the sunrise trek. 

Want to find wild gibbons? You have the opportunity to find them starting at 4:30am in the forest. It’s a popular activity and spots are limited to four people per day. The wild gibbon sightings are not guaranteed so it depends when the gibbons want to come out. When we inquired about the trek, spots were already sold out for the next morning.

Cost: The gibbon trek is 1,400,000 VND ($60 USD) per person. 

7. Visit the Crocodile Lake.

If you have two extra days, consider taking the longer hiking trail to Crocodile Lake. We didn’t have a chance to do this, yet it looks like a great adventure for those who love hiking. Choose between a car or a bicycle to head to the start of the trail which is 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from the Visitor Center. Then, trek 5-10 kilometers (3.1-6.2 miles) to the lake. The trekking distance varies if you’re traveling via car or bicycle. As you walk in the forest, you’ll see huge trees, peafowl, birds, and other animals. It’s recommended to stay here at the nearby accommodations overnight. 


Cat Tien National Park Accommodations

Cat Tien National Park has several guesthouses in the Nam Cat Tien area that are only within a few hundred meters away from the main entrance. Therefore, it’s convenient to stay at one of these recommended accommodations. Check out where to stay in Cat Tien accommodations here.

Green Bamboo Lodge Resort

We stayed at the Green Bamboo Lodge Resort. Our rustic room had a river view, an ensuite bathroom, and a refrigerator. The bed was surprisingly comfortable (still a firm mattress which is normal in Vietnam) and a mosquito net cover. You could also stay at a bungalow with a larger group of people. Breakfast is included in the price. This place is less than a five-minute walk to the Cat Tien National Park entrance and affordable at around 200,000 VND per room. Click here to check availability at Green Bamboo Lodge Resorts. 

Ta Lai Longhouse 

Another option is to stay at the Ta Lai Longhouse. Although we didn’t stay here, we visited it during our Ta Lai Village exploration. It’s within walking distance to the Ta Lai Village. There are two bamboo lodges surrounded by a beautiful jungle setting. If you stay here 30% of your stay supports the local community projects. You’ll need to account for the 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) distance to the National Park. Make a reservation at Tai Lai Longhouse here.

Enjoying the beautiful views from the Ta Lai Longhouse with the trees and the calm river.

Enjoying the beautiful views from the Ta Lai Longhouse

In the National Park

You could consider staying inside the Cat Tien National Park at the campgrounds or the hotel. More information on how to book these places is on their website. 


Where to Eat at Cat Tien National Park

Green Bamboo Lodge

The guesthouse that we stayed at has a restaurant which has both Vietnamese and Western-style food. Non-guests are welcome to sit down to enjoy a meal with the outdoor setting and a view of the Dong Nai River. This place is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Quán Hạnh

Located near the National Park entrance, this small restaurant serves delicious traditional Vietnamese with awesome flavors. Choose from rice and noodle dishes, vegetarian dishes, special items, fresh fruit drinks, and smoothies. We loved this place so much that we ate here for dinner and lunch the following day.

We recommend the special item of sweet and sour fish soup and caramelized claypot fish (canh chua cá kho tộ). So good! Our jaws dropped as the cook/owner brought a huge cauldron of soup to our table. It was enough to feed 8 people and there were three of us. The meal also came with rice and vegetables. We also enjoyed the vegetarian fried noodles (mì xáo chay) with tons of fresh vegetables and fried rice with salted dried fish (cơm chiên cá mặn).

This place opens for lunch and dinner and closes around 8:00pm. 

Dinner at Quán Hạnh nearby Cat Tien National Park. Meal included sweet and soup catfish soup, caramelized catfish, fried rice with salted fish, and beef wrapped in leaves.

We had a feast for dinner at Quán Hạnh, which is nearby the Cat Tien National Park entrance.


Final Thoughts

We hope you consider taking a trip here! Even though we had a short weekend at Cat Tien National Park, it was well worth the time and effort to travel here. It’s one of the closest areas from Ho Chi Minh City to get some hiking done and satisfy our needs to be with nature.

Check out our other Vietnam posts below:

Interested in going to Cat Tien National Park? If you have any questions about this place, ask a question in the comment below.

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