|Be our guest: A panoramic view of the beautiful Ba Na Hills Resort.
Offering world record breaking cable cars, wild forest trekking and a stunning nature reserve, Da Nang's Ba Na Hills caters for almost every taste. Cong Thanh reports.
When Hoang Xuan Ty called the monkeys to come for breakfast, they moved quickly towards him.
"I always put some bananas or candies in my pocket to feed them in the morning. Banana is their favourite fruit," Ty said.
The 72-year-old tour guide has worked for the Ba Na Hills Cable Car company since 2000. Previously, he was a farmer, which gave him valuable knowledge about the flora and fauna in every corner of the forest.
Visitors to the resort can see 543 flora and 256 fauna species and ride on three cable car routes, including one that received four Guinness World Records for length, weight and height.
A return ticket on the new cable car, which takes only 17 minutes to reach the top of the mountain, costs VND400,000 (US$20).
"The first and second routes, which opened in 2009, stop at Ba Na and Morin. You should go by the Toc Tien Waterfall route if you want to go straight to the top," Ty explained.
Suspended over the valley of springs, waterfalls and forests, all the routes offer a unique experience.
The Ba Na Hills route also set world records for the longest and highest non-stop cable car system in 2009.
The 17,641ha of primary forest in the Ba Na Mountain area are a nature reserve with six trekking routes. In spring, visitors can see flowers like bell-shaped peach blossoms, and all year round hydrangeas are on view.
|Wild thing: A visitor treks through the dense and primal Ba Na jungle.
Ba Na Hills, built in 1912 by French colonists, is located 30km from downtown Da Nang.
It takes an hour to drive the zigzagging 15km road to the top of the mountain.
While many buildings were almost destroyed during the first Indochina war, some old villas and a wine cellar built in 1923 have still been preserved.
"So much has changed since we arrived to farm in 1979. The 15km road took almost half a day to climb," Ty recalled. "The mountain was surrounded by a green forest and we often saw wild animals on the way."
He singled out the wine cellar as worthy of exploration. The 100m tunnel through a mountain has wall covered "by a thick plaster of molasses and resin". Visitors can taste wine inside the cool cave while learning about the place's history.
The Morin, Debay and Le Jardin hotels, built in the French colonial style, are designed to resemble the original resort.
|All aboard: Cable cars embark on the slow ascent to Ba Na summitø. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh
Even on hot days, Ty still makes the exhausting trek to the top of Chua Mountain.
The 1,487m-high summit features a new temple where Buddhists can present offerings and others can relax after the long walk.
"The peak, covered with wild bushes, is a must-see for not only Buddhists but all tourists. You can worship the goddess of the forest or just rest a while to enjoy the view of Da Nang and Cham Island," the guide said.
On the way downhill to the lower Ba Na cable car station, Ty turned down a 1km path. The route, a remnant of the French presence, zigzags around the mountain slope, with thick layers of leaves and rotten trunks. A bamboo bridge stretches over a small stream.
It takes two hours to walk around the mountain. Many opt for the 800m Nai (Deer) Spring and Rainbow route, where monkeys, squirrels, reptiles and birds can often be found.
"Deer often approach to get water from the spring, as the name suggests. But the noise from people, construction and illegal hunting limits the number of wild animals in the forest," Ty said. "You may not see wild animals crossing the route as we saw in previous decades, but the nature and cool air still make you feel relaxed."
On the trek, visitors can see a waterfall that reflects sunlight into a magnificent rainbow.
"The Vang (Gold) Valley, the longest route, offers a 3km trek. It was once a gold mine, but only traces of mines and wells are left from last century," Ty said.
After finishing a trek, visitors who have worked up an appetite can eat at Ba Na Square, where chef Zakharov Roman whips up specialties like Kavkaz-style roast lamb.
The Ba Na By Night location, which includes Debay wine cellar, offers local mountain specialties.
Ty finishes his tour by offering a taste of French wine at the wine cellar. Touring the cellar costs only VND50,000 and includes a glass of wine.
Last year, Viet Nam Tourism Stock Company (Vitours) began operating a bus route to shuttle tourists to the resort from downtown Da Nang. It runs between 7am and 6pm. A return ticket costs VND110,000 (about US$5).
Tourists can also take a bus from Hoi An to the resort.
The resort expects to welcome one million visitors this year. But the influx of tourists has less welcome implications for the nature reserve. A wax museum and an entertainment space are set to debut this summer, joining the amusement park that has already been built. Thinking of how Ty recalled the steadily decreasing number of wild animals, one might well feel trepidation at how this development will affect the future of this beautiful place. — VNS