Is that a crocodile? Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

Cat Tien National Park Even with the naked eye, we could see something rise up of the water surface in the small pool the fishermen had just left. “Is that a crocodile?”. We all thought it but we hadn’t expected to actually see one. Surely it’s just one of those names, Crocodile Lake, to conjure up a wild, beast-filled idea of a lake.

Sure enough however, it was a crocodile. Chris and a couple of others rushed down to the lake-side to photograph it. I stayed put with the rest of the group up on the viewing platform and watched it from a super-safe distance through my binoculars. The fishermen had dropped some dead fish into the pool, to attract the crocodiles while they headed out into the big lake with their net.

As if to prove it, one of the crocodiles flicked up a fish and snapped it between its teeth. We all let out an exclamation! Woah!

Siamese Crocodile, Cat Tien National Park, photo by C.T.Hodgson

photo by C.T.Hodgson

This was Cat Tien National Park, in south Vietnam.

Now you may remember, if you have been following these travel posts since October that we planned to take the train from the UK all the way to Ho Chi Minh City {Saigon}, Vietnam. London to Saigon by train. We’d had a little blip in the plan when we had to take a bus from Warsaw to Vilnius, Lithuania, but at least it was still an overland journey.

Tet, Vietnamese New Year, threw a logistical spanner into the works and stranded us in Hoi An. All the trains {from Danang} were booked up, booked up for weeks. We looked into buses but they were also full. This was the final leg, the final overland journey to reach Saigon.

We flew.

It grieves me to write this now, it niggles that we never quite completed it, but hey, that’s travel. The unexpected happens and things never quite work out as planned. We got a fairly good deal and flew out of Danang airport a few days after Tet. Even getting those tickets was a challenge, the planes were selling out as fast as the tickets were being released.

We’d met a lovely Australian couple, Jayne and Vaughan, on our last night at Phong Nha Farmstay and had met back up with them in Hoi An. 24hrs after they flew to Ho Chi Minh City we followed them.

The four of us took a bus from the Ben Thanh Market bus station to the bigger Mien Dong Bus Station. At the ticket window we bought tickets direct to Cat Tien. One small bus, a rubbish attempt at a scam and a long journey later we arrived at the little cluster of accommodation near the entrance to the National Park. There are only a couple of direct buses per day so check in advance, ours was an early one.

The rubbish attempt at a scam? The onboard ticket-check guy gingerly tried to do us out of extra money to get to the park saying the ticket only covered us to the turn off on the main road. We disagreed and he gave up! Then he got off, it was the change-over where another guy replaced him, he was just trying it on as his shift was about to end. The cheek!

Cat Tien National Park

We stayed at Green Hope Lodge, in a prettily decorated bungalow that overlooked the river, there was even WiFi! While the room was lovely, it was quite quiet and for our first evening meal the four of us took a wander down towards the Park Entrance to see what else was on offer. We found the wonderful balcony at Green Bamboo Lodge, which hung out over the river and was the perfect spot to watch the sun set, and this became our go-to place for food and company.

We met a great crowd of travellers there and we met up the next morning to take the ferry over to the national park. We’d woke early to hear the dawn chorus, the national park is famed for its gibbons and birds. At 6am the jungle sounded amazing but it was unfortunately drowned out by the rousing 6am community announcements {we called it the propaganda, but I think it was more news and information} blaring out from the loud-speakers fixed up around the hamlet.

A boardwalk through part of the jungle

A boardwalk through part of the jungle

The entrance ticket is sold near the riverside then the boat takes you across where it is a short walk to the visitor office and the on site accommodation. We all hired bicycles and set off on a pleasant ride along towards Crocodile Lake. Crocodile Lake has a separate entrance fee payable at the office.

From the road we left our bikes and hiked for half an hour through the jungle that was alive with many fluttering butterflies to reach the lake lookout from where we saw the crocodiles. They are Siamese Crocodiles, small freshwater crocodile native to South East Asia, that are critically endangered in the wild, making it rather marvellous to see them here in this beautiful setting.

Cat Tien National ParkThe following day Jayne, Vaughan, Chris and I wandered bleary-eyed down to the river to meet the ferry at 4.30am. The boatman didn’t turn up until about quarter to but we were soon meeting our guide on the opposite side. We were up at this time for one special reason, gibbons.

Torches in hand, or on head, we hiked into the jungle with the guide until we came to a clearing, it was still completely dark and the walk throughout the forest was exciting. We were handed bananas to nibble on while the guide strung up some hammocks.

We lay in the darkness, dozing and waiting for the gibbons to ‘sing’. Gibbons are usually only vocal for a few minutes every day as they wake up. Just after 6am they began to hoooooooooeeeeeeooooo. It was absolutely incredible. All around us the jungle sang with this magical sound, described by Chris as a bit like tuning in an old wireless radio.

They sang for about ten minutes then fell silent. We left our hammocks and followed our guide through the jungle as we tried to catch a sight of them, we did and it was fleeting but thrilling to see them swing effortlessly through the trees.

Later in the day, as part of the ‘Special Gibbon Watching Tour’, we visited the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre, situated on an island in the river. The centre rescues and rehabilitates endangered primates from the illegal pet trade. Our accommodation looked out over this island and the gibbons sung on and off throughout the day, this was because they were reared as pets away from the natural environment.

A centre volunteer met us off the ferry and showed us around, explaining the work they did, she was very friendly and informative. The human home, or school as some of the rescued animals were found, is no place for a primate, they have specific and specialised dietary requirements, and they need forests and space.

Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre

Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre

We left the following morning, on the 10am bus back to HCMC, one of the girls at the lodge flagged the bus down for us at the end of the track down to the property. It was Sunday, and we had finally experienced the dawn chorus, the propaganda wasn’t aired!

Keep travelling:

Tra Vinh: Khmer Culture In The Mekong DeltaA corner of Vietnam that feels more like Cambodia!

The Island of Phu Quoc A tropical island amid turquoise waters in southern Vietnam.

Revisiting Hanoi Returning to one of my favourite Asian cities and remembering why it thrills me.

5 Glorious Reasons To Visit Ninh Binh Fairytale scenery, ancient Vietnamese history and overnighting in the jungle.

Phong Nha Caves: The Best Thing We Did In Vietnam this quiet corner in mid Vietnam is incredible! Huge caves and perfect cycling!

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4 Responses

  1. Wonderful photos!! Sounds like quite a unique experience.

  2. Dave Rowley says:

    So amazing that you saw crocodiles in the wild !! Especially since they are so rare. And glad to know what caused your one trip by air on this long journey. That’s travel, as you said. Tell you the truth, that one airplane flight has a certain poetic justice to it, at least in my mind. You went so far on land over the months of this trip, and the one air journey is like a bow on the package.

    • heehee! I was so disappointed at the time but a few friends justified it with me, so hey ho, fly we go. After all those overland miles, we ended up flying quite a bit after that, usually for logistical reasons, time and money. But I still feel very proud we got as far as we did by land, and it was so much more of an adventure.