With the lead up to Christmas approaching Jonny and I wanted just one more weekend away from the city until we jet off to the Philippines. On the weekend of the 1st-2nd December Jonny and I were meant to be joining our friends Tara and Danny in Cambodia for the Angkor Wat 10km run around the historic temples. However, we left booking too late and missed entry to the race. We could have still gone to watch and explore the temples, but with crowds of runners everywhere and increased fees for accommodation and transport, we decided we will do it again ourselves another time.
Instead we decided to have a weekend with a slightly different setting to our usual beach trip. We headed to Cat Tien National Park on the evening of Friday 30th November. Again we took the sleeper bus from Saigon centre after work which took around 3.5 hours to reach the park. Jonny and I have become fans of the sleeper buses, they really aren’t as bad as people make out. You get a fully reclining chair, blanket and pillow so its like your own little bed in a chair. We always make sure our phones are fully charged to listen to music or stream videos, and the journey normally passes by quickly.
We were dropped off on the side of the road (as we were a halfway stop), the bus we had taken was continuing on to Da Lat which was another 3 hours north. Fortunately the workers from our lodge were there to pick us up and drove us another 10/15 minutes to our accommodation. It was dark and with no street lights we couldn’t see what was around us until the next day. We arrived at the lodge and the lady showed us in, our accommodation was a wooden cabin with a balcony on stilts overlooking the Dong Nai river (the longest river in Vietnam). Again, it was dark so the view the next morning was breathtaking to wake up to. We settled into the lodge with a couple of tiger beers. The staff at the accommodation cooked us some food, even though the restaurant was closed. We could see them in the kitchen chopping the vegetables from scratch… bless! We knew we wanted to do some exploring that weekend and the lodge offered many tours, so we spent some time planning the next day over a delicious homemade Vietnamese dinner. We returned to our cabin for bed and enjoyed sitting on our balcony for a while. With it being Carol’s birthday, Jonny took the opportunity to FaceTime his mum and wish her a happy birthday! We hit the sack around 11pm, crawling into our bamboo double bed with a mosquito net canopy.
We woke early the next day as we had booked jungle trekking at 7.30am. We joined a group of 4 others all staying at our lodge and our guide Tai for a morning walk in the National Park. We were given long wader type socks to wear because of the leeches! We thought this was just precautionary, but it turns out there were hundreds of leeches in the jungle. Tai lead us through the jungle, stopping to look at some extraordinary trees. Huge, hollowed out and even ones with two trees twisting into one. He also had a keen ear for animals. We were hoping to see some wild monkeys or hornbills but unfortunately we didn’t see any. However, the walk was thoroughly enjoyable and a good way to wake up and take in the surroundings.
That afternoon we booked on to go to a sanctuary which specialised in gibbon monkeys and pygmy loris’. We had to take a small boat over to a different island which was home to the sanctuary. We had to walk around 1 kilometre up a concrete track through the forest to get to the sanctuary. It was very quiet and peaceful with only Jonny and I in site. We assumed we would just show ourselves around the sanctuary and then be on our way. But as we approached, a British lady approached us and welcomed us to the sanctuary. It turned out she had set up the sanctuary as part of her research for her PHD over 10 years ago. She gave us a full insight into why the sanctuary was set up. To help gibbons and pygmy loris who had been poached or bought and mistreated as pets living in the wrong conditions. Their aim was to train the animals to lead a normal life and eventually be released back into the wild. There were some heart retching stories about the monkeys being kept in apartments blocks as pets, used for tourism, Chinese medicine, kept caged and fed incorrectly. We were glad to see the gibbons doing so well and the success stories that the sanctuary had in getting the animals back into the wild. We left the sanctuary feeling sick of some humans in this world who think mistreating animals in right. But we also felt warm and happy that there are projects out their to help them and that our money was going towards the sanctuary and its bright future.
That evening we had booked a sunset wildlife boat trip. It turned out it was just going to be Jonny and me on the boat, which was so fun and romantic. We took a couple of tiger beers on board to enjoy whilst we watched the sunset.
Our driver was a cute Vietnamese guy who had a beady eye for nature. He stopped the boat whenever he saw something and would enthusiastically point it out to us. We saw so many kingfishers, herons and other river birds. We were also lucky enough to see wild monkeys in the trees and managed to get quite close to some of them. The river was peaceful, only seeing a couple of other small boats on our trip. It was a perfect evening and one of those ‘wow, this is my life’ type moments, I was feeling very happy and grateful. That evening we settled in at the lodge, enjoying more local Vietnamese cuisine and playing cards on our balcony overlooking the river.
The next morning we visited another sanctuary, but this time it was a bear sanctuary which had the same method as the gibbon sanctuary. They rescued bears from bear farms or bears that had been poached and caged then rehabilitated them back into the wild. Again, it was frightening that some people think it is normal to capture these animals and keep them caged and treat them so poorly. I think it comes down to brain washing and being uneducated in animal welfare. Again the guide was very knowledgeable and humble and you could tell he truly cared for the bears, he was positive in his outlook for their future. At this sanctuary they also had a few gibbons they cared for. Whilst we were there we were lucky enough to encounter some wild gibbons who paid us a visit.
The guide said they were brought up at the sanctuary but were released into the wild. They remained living close to the sanctuary and often came in to seek shelter and find food. The gibbons were not scared of us humans and one came so close to us, swinging from branch to branch and nearly hitting Jonny on the head with it’s swinging legs!
Back at our lodge before departing back to Ho Chi Minh city we enjoyed playing with the litter of puppies who lived under one of the bamboo cabins. There were quite a few dogs that lived at the accommodation and these were obviously a result of that! I always find having dogs around very homely and comforting so the puppies made the weekend even better. I must admit it was very difficult not to snatch one into my backpack and bring it home to Ho Chi Minh!
On our return to the city on Sunday afternoon we decided it was time we started getting excited for Christmas. Our landlord left us a Christmas tree and decorations in a box, so obviously we began blasting the Christmas tunes in our apartment and assembled the tree! What a lovely relaxing and outdoorsy weekend with Jonny, I will not forget it!