Bach Ma with more than 20, 000 hectares (49, 400 acres) of high mountain trails and sweeping valleys was once a playground for the French, who built villas on these mountaintops to stay cool when on holiday from Hue.
You’ll see a number of ruin sites, mostly the remnants of small French resorts and secluded cabins. The park is humid and rainy year-round, but the high elevation (1, 712m/5, 617 ft. at its peak) makes for cooler temperatures (bring a light windbreaker). The best time to go is in March and April, when the rhododendrons bloom. There’s a network of well-marked trails (though nobody has a map), and some cozy lodging at the top. You can hire a guide at the park office for hiking. The park is on the road between Lang Co Beach (at the northern end of the Hai Van Pass) and the town of Hue. Many make this a full afternoon before carrying on to Hue, with an overnight in Lang Co (see the next section), or heading over the hump to Danang or Hoi An. For details, contact (or show up at) the Eco-tourism and Environmental Education Center at the base of the hill (the entrance is well marked from Hwy. 1; 054/3871-330; fax 054/3871-329; www.bachma.vnn.vn). The park office is open daily from dawn to dusk.
Where to Stay
There are a number of budget choices in the park, including a small guesthouse at the base. The National Park Guesthouse (054/387-1330) or the Phong Lan Villas ( 054/387-1801) can both be found on the road leading to the top but are quite basic.
Stick with the Morin, if you can.
Bach Ma Morin Hotel
Owned by the same folks who bring you the grand Saigon Morin in Hue, the Bach Ma Morin might sound grand, but this mountaintop hotel is just a basic collection of simple, fan-cooled rooms in an old, restored, concrete colonial at the park’s peak—just adjacent to the fun Summit Trail (see “Hiking Trails, ” below). Rooms are large and clean, with guesthouse-style shower and tub. They can muster up some grub in their little canteen and connect you with a guide, but little else. The hotel commonly hosts budget or adventure groups, and fewer individual travelers, but this is your best bet for an overnight in Bach Ma.
At the top of the mountain. 054/387-1199. 12 units. No credit cards. Amenities; Restaurant; bar. In room: Fan (high altitude, so A/C not needed), fridge, minibar.
Bring lots of water, bug repellent, a swimsuit, a waterproof bag for your camera or other valuables, and another bag for your garbage (always try to be a good example of eco-tourism). Wandering Bach Ma makes for a good full day or a few hours to kick the pollution out of your lungs on a stop as you head up the coast.
The trails of Bath Ma arc lined with medicinal plants. Ask your guide and look for the Nhe Den (or Curcuma Zedoraria), which is a yellow tuberous root that grows a few meters high and is commonly used to treat cancers of the womb and skin, as well as indigestion. Also keep an eye out for some stunning orchid varieties; in particular, growing out of the trunks of trees high up in the spring is the Vani orchid, with lovely fragrant yellow flowers used as an expectorant.
Keep an eye out for Sambar deer tracks, and you might even spot the shy animals in the dense wood if you’re very quiet. You’ll also see the crumbling remains of old colonial villas and homes of Vietnamese who came to work on the area’s small farms.
The short Summit Trail takes you a few kilometers past the Bach Ma Morin at the terminus of the park road and brings you to a pavilion with 360-degree views of the surrounding area, usually mist shrouded and above the clouds. Quite stunning and an easy, paved walk.
Five Lakes Trail starts just a few short clicks back from the park’s highest point (near the Bach Ma Morin); the trail is a stunning descent from the road following a small waterfall the five “lakes” are quaint catch basins along the waterfall’s cascade. It’s slippery in spots and even technical, with guide wires and ladders as needed. Go with a guide.
The Rhododendron Trail is a great walk. In spring, around March and April when the heat on the coast is at its worst this was also the busiest time for the old French colonials to visit the high forests at Bach Ma the rhododendrons bloom, sending explosions of red and clouds of fragrance onto the trails of the park. The trail begins near the National Park Guesthouse.
Just over 2km of trail hiking brings you to the terminus of the Five Lakes Trail and to the top of a 300m (984-ft.) waterfall. It’s a gradual pitch at the top, and you can test your mettle by looking over the waterfall’s edge yikes! Just next to the falls is a set of steep stone stairs, and if you’ve got the chutzpah, the 1-hour hike down (and, more important, back up it’s a dead-end trail) brings you to the bottom of the fall. The 689 steps are a killer on the knees: Though there is a good handrail (be careful, because it’s slippery), the steps are large, so the descent is bone jarring and each step of the ascent is a haul. But the stunning view from the bottom of the cascade is well worth it.