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Wild, rugged and audacious Mang Den

Update: April, 10/2012 - 19:20

 

Old meets new: Newly built modern houses are a rarity in Mang Den.
Mirror image: Mang Den has little to offer but serenity and peace of mind. — VNS Photos
Stream of consciousness: Mang Den is not promoted as a tourism destination, and many of the adventurous souls that stumble upon the place are grateful for that.
by Thieu Lang

We were excited to go to Mang Den after a colleague working in Gia Lai Province told us about a plateau in Kon Tum Province, which is still widely unknown among tourist circles and has many of the same attributes as Da Lat.

Mang Den Plateau is located in the northern Central Highlands.

From Kon Tum, we travelled 60km to the north on a new asphalt road which brought us to Mang Den Town. From then on we were delighted by a series of surprises.

Even though Mang Den is located in a town in Kon Plong District, it has no markets and no streets. At an altitude of 1,200m, the town is home to a few newly built houses which are used as agency and institutional offices for the district. The houses are surrounded by green pines that stretch as far as the eyes can see. Local inhabitants have electricity and telephones, but there is no access to municipal water so they had to drill a 100m well to meet their needs.

Upon our arrival, we were quickly touched by the hospitality of local residents. When they met us, some men working in the district People Committee left work early to take us to Dak lake a few kilometres away. The lake, located in the forest, is like a limpid mirror. We didn't see any restaurants or other structures around it except for a large rong (long communal house) and some little huts on the cliff carefully placed to take advantage of the shade provided by the trees. The huts were constructed by the district to give people a place to rest in the great outdoors.

After a two kilometre hike, we came upon Dakke Waterfall tumbling over an eight metre-high waterfall lies under a gulch which prompted local residents to give it the informal name Suoi Daù (stone stream). On our way to the falls, we were surprised to see traces of a deserted hydroelectric dam. French people have known about Mang Den since the early 20th century and built this dam to meet their growing needs. In fact, it was the French who used aeroplanes to spread pine seeds over the land to grow the lush forest that remains today. Many of the century-old trees are so large that even three people can't hold hands to surround the trunks completely. Not surprising, Mang Den's inhabitants are proud of their hundred year-old pines.

Mang Den has yet to make it to Viet Nam's tourism circuit. Kon Plong District was only founded within the last four years but its offices in Mang Den have only been in operation for about one year. The nearest market is 10km away from the town.

Surrounded by forest, Mang Den is like Da Lat in the old days. Local residents dream that Mang Den could one day become a second Da Lat thanks to its cool climate. Employees of the district People's Committee tell us with enthusiasm about the projects that are being submitted for approval in an effort to wake up Mang Den, which they compare to a sleeping princess in the forest. They dream of many resorts opening in the area along with development of cultivation techniques for flowers and vegetables that thrive in a cool climate. But we wonder if the inhabitants would remain as sincere and hospitable as they are if those dreams came true one day.

Indeed, it's their hospitality that impresses us the most. The local girls seem to be determined to seduce city boys like us by keeping our glasses constantly full of ruou can (rice wine). As they pour, they give us looks which are both audacious and tender. We decided to enjoy the moment.

Rocky path

Due to the rugged roads that made it impossible to use our motorbike for the trip, we hired a four-wheel drive from the district. But eventually the road became too steep even for this specialised vehicle so we had to walk.

On our way, we came upon some trees that had been cut down and burned. Locals have been unable to give up the habit of destroying the forest to till the land. Mang Den Plateau has long been home to ethnic groups such as Xe Dang, Ho Re and Ca Dong. Xe Dang people prepare their fields by allowing a herd of buffalos to tread on the soil to loosen it up which makes it possible to sow rice.

We were happy to see green terraced fields on a mountain slope. Only the sound of birds singing broke up the silence that surrounded us.

As we wandered through the wilderness, we occasionally met up with members of ethnic groups who were heading to the forest to look for food. We came across two brothers from the Xe Dang group who had caught a large amount of fish and frogs. They shared their bounty with our delegation guides. Wild grasses grew taller than our heads, making it easy to get lost if we were separated. The guide had to yell out on occasion to help orient those who fell behind.

From a long way off, we could hear the Pasi Waterfall roaring down from a 300m-high gulch. From the top, we had to climb down a steep and thorny slope to get to the bottom. of the falls. Several giant orchids were flourishing by the lake. We forgot about any sense of fatigue. We forgot about our shirts wet with sweat, and forgot about the thorns that had scratched our hands and legs. We took our camera from the bag and took a round of photos. The day was falling and the sunlight was fading, ending our photography spree of a waterfall which has only been seen by a few tourists. This gift offered by Mang Den District was very precious!

While we were taking photos of the beautiful Pasi Waterfall, the guides were looking for wood to make a fire to grill the fish and frogs we were offered on our way to the falls. In the forest, it is estimated that there are many other waterfalls hidden by the trees, but so far the district's exploration delegation has only discovered five. Pasi Waterfall is the most recently discovered. It is about 6km away from the district People's Committee as the crow flies. It seems like a short trip, but it took us two hours to get there. Getting to some of the more remote falls might take up to a day, meaning visitors would have to camp in the forest.

A friend who accompanied me to Mang Den fell in love with the orchids we discovered and didn't want to leave, even though it was very late. After a lot of hesitation, he dug up a few of the orchids by the roots, tied them up and carried them back on his shoulder. — VNS

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