There is rarely a greater treasure than spending a night under the stars. Something about the stillness is liberating, calming and serene. In a clearing under a canopy of tall trees we ignited a tray of coals and watched the warm flames dance. As the night sank into a deep darkness we cooked a feast worthy of kings. The aromatic smoke engulfed us in a smoldering haze, invisible but for the glow of the fire. In the distance we could hear soft acoustic tones drifting through the cool night air. The only other sounds were that of nature and our own softly whispered chatter. Time passed in a hurry; it was the kind of night that welcomes the dawn without warning and as the final embers settled for the night, so did we, awaiting dawns cool embrace.
Living in Ho Chi Minh creates a strange desire to leave it. Not for long I might add! Just long enough to rid the ringing hum of motorbikes from your ears and clear your lungs of the potent pollution. Sometimes the craziness of this vibrant city becomes too much. There is an ache from somewhere deep within your soul that cries out for a break. A chance to regain some sanity, slow down and reassess.
By sweet fortune Ho Chi Minh is surrounded by numerous places that offer this escape. Although getting there can in fact be worse than staying. When our mind’s craving for a rest became impossible to resist, we loaded up the bikes with camping gear and headed East out of the city towards the refuge of Giang Dien Waterfalls.
By 11am it was already hose-pipe ban hot. We navigated the congested roads leading out of the city and emerged suddenly onto suicidal open highways. The flowing stream of bikes evaporated and left us alone to contend with a constant barrage of attack from trucks and buses. Like an out of control stampede they charged aimlessly, engulfing the road at their own behest and showing little consideration for anyone else.
Hearts in mouths, our three bike convoy clung tightly to the right hand lane and rode cautiously towards the waterfalls.
Eventually we pulled off the highway and emerged on to a peaceful road running calmly through a nameless town. It was an incredible relief to be away from the cascading line of trucks. Their blaring horns were now replaced with the gentle squeaking of rusty old bicycles crawling carelessly along the roadside . We crossed a narrow bridge over a shallow river where a father sat fishing with his sons by the waters edge. The sun, low in the sky but not yet setting, laid down its warm rays upon us.
Our tents sat waiting under the protective canopy of imposing trees, lined up like soldiers in formation. Each tent was set upon raised decking, lifting it up above the woodland debris and providing space to sit out and enjoy the silence . The decking did nothing to improve the comfort of the tent floor, but inside it was easily spacious enough for four bodies. After our journey in the blistering heat nothing seemed more appealing than hanging out under the cool shade of the trees and watching as the suns last rays filled the sky with a cozy orange haze. We saw stars that night for the first time in months. Away from the city we absorbed this simple pleasure, relaxed in the clean night air and watched the glowing coals fade to dust.
Unfortunately, camping has that inconsiderate tendency to raise your body with the sun. As the first of the day’s rays crept up above the treeline we clambered from our tents clutching our spines in agony. Although camping seemed to be giving our lungs some welcome relief, it certainly wasn’t nurturing our spines. However, crippling back pain aside, the morning was beautiful and calm. Birds sang harmoniously from the trees and flora dazzled in the morning sunshine.
Wandering around the campsite it became immediately obvious that the waterfalls were an extremely popular weekend getaway for both locals and Asian tourists. Consequently the area has been transformed to cater for the masses. On one hand I was a little disappointed, having envisioned a beautiful waterfall breaking the silence of a secluded lake. I imagined luscious foliage, smooth rocks and the freedom to roam uncharted paths. But by 9am the buses rolled in flooding the area with the day’s visitors, who were as surprised to see us, as we were disappointed to see them.
Clearly, I hadn’t taken the time to read the brochure.
The waterfall itself was man made, although it didn’t look it. By man made I don’t mean assembled from paper mache and glue, but that the landscape had be engineered as to create a waterfall. Its water left the river above and poured from a wide rocky outlet about 20ft high. Some cascading down powerfully in to the deep lagoon below, whilst other parts trickled intently over smooth rocks in to the catchment. From here the water flowed in a strong current to another smaller drop on which stepping stones had been placed to allow visitors to cross the lagoon. People sat along the rocks, embracing the powerful flow upon to their backs. From here the lagoon became shallow and formed a slow moving river stretching off in to a narrow, twisting valley.
We strolled along the river, passing a few shops and small restaurants until we reached a wide, presumably man made, lake. It was perfectly round with natural murky water. We approached the far side where, lashed to trees, were floating zorb balls and peddle boats. My initial thought was that of disappointment that such a beautiful sight could be tainted with such tourist gimics. However my next thoughts were that we are were tourists; and zorbing could be fun…
It was fun! And exhausting. We tackled the zorbs in threes, effectively rolling around in a clear plastic sauna for twenty minutes before it all became too much. It was incredibly difficult and hilariously addictive but after twenty minutes my face had been pressed against enough sweaty bottoms for one day and so we high tailed it back to the waterfall to cool down.
The water was breathtakingly fresh, under foot it was slippy and occasionally sharp, but once our shoulders dipped beneath the surface we floated along with the utmost relief. By now the lagoon was awash with visitors. Families, friends and everything in between, enjoying the glorious outdoors.
We sat with our backs to the rushing water and watched the day pass us by from natures massage chair. But much to my detriment, I can’t sit still for too long, even in this sublime surrounding. I donned the ridiculous, obligatory, orange life jacket and hopped into the deeper lagoon approaching the waterfall. Along with my buddy Chris, we spent a good hour battling the powerful currents and clambering up the slippery rocks into the cave behind the falls. Swimming against a raging current, blinded by the spray in an attempt to cling on to slimy rocks was an exhilarating challenge. We crawled through the low, cramped caves like Gollum, emerging on to a small ledge of rocks nestled behind the torrent of water. The small ledge provided us with a window overlooking the lagoon below. Hidden by our veil of plummeting water we hung and watched the countless orange life jackets bobbing awkwardly in the lagoon below. From here we could see the full panoramic of the valley stretching out before us.
Although the falls aren’t natural and are drizzled with a touristy topping, there’s a freedom here which evades you when living in the city. The air is clean, there is space to roam and the pace of life is soothing the soul.
For those looking for a hidden gem, I’m afraid to report that this one has been unearthed. If you’re seeking an adventurous jungle retreat, you’ll be bitterly disappointed and if you crave solitude….well so does everyone else.
However, if city life has you wound up like a toy soldier, if the pace of life has become too much or if the backpacker trail has left you with time to spare – this place is a wonderful escape, a change of pace, and gulp of fresh air.
- Bike- The route above is the one we took. It suggests a time of about one and a half hours but allow two hours to navigate the journey. The roads are busy until the last 20 minutes. Drive carefully!
- Bus– Take the number 12 Bus from Ben Thanh Market in central Ho Chi Minh. ‘Giang Dien Waterfalls’ is the final stop on the route and you can take the exact same bus back to Ho Chi Minh. The journey is approximately 47 km and a ticket costs 15000 VND ($0.50) each way.
Entrance- 100,000 VND ($4.50)
Camping- 200,000 VND ($9)
BBQ Deposit- 250,000 VND ($11)
Things to do:
- Head down to the lake to have a hilarious attempt at Zorbing, or relax in the considerably easier peddle boats.
- Hang out by the waterfalls. Watch the world go by from a comfortable sun lounger, take a dip in the fresh water or swim up to the powerful falls.
- Take time out of the sun to ride the hip-displacing, exceptionally average 5D cinema simulator ride. Choose a ride setting and then hold on, you’re going to be thrown around a bit. (You’re in the Vietnamese countryside, it was never going to be exhilarating…although it’s kind of worth it just for the novelty.)
- Take a relaxing stroll in the peaceful Vietnamese Countryside.
- Eat dinner under rural Vietnam’s beautiful night sky.
- Basic breakfast of Eggs and bread or Vietnamese noodles washed down with Vietnamese coffee or juice.
- Simple and traditional Vietnamese BBQ’d food and snacks from small restaurants and stalls throughout the park. I highly recommend the BBQ’d Quail.
- In the evening you can rent a BBQ and cook your own dinner under the stars (must bring own food).
- The on-site restaurant serves a wide variety of delicious Vietnamese dishes.
What To Bring:
- Mosquito Repellent,
- Something warm for the evenings,
- Sun cream,
- Food to BBQ,
- Chargers (tents have plugs).