|Emerald trail: Tourists on the way to Bach Ma mountain top. — VNS Photos Nguyen Vu Linh
Those seeking to immerse themselves in forest life can visit Bach Ma National Park in the heart of Viet Nam, which offers eco-tours designed to showcase the area's biodiversity. Cong Thanh reports.
With tourists watching on the top of the Bach Ma Mountain, 1450 metres above sea level, guide Truong Cam lures hundreds of birds into the trees around him.
Cam, who was a timber and bird poacher 30 years ago, is now a forest ranger at the National Bach Ma Park in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue, and a tour guide on the park's bird watching tour.
As a school student in Phu Loc District in the buffer zone of the park, he could snare wild birds by mimicking voices. But he changed his mind once he joined the forest rangers team in late 1988 to protect the park.
"I can mimic nearly 100 bird species. I call different birds to perch on trees around for tourists within two hours in the morning. It's a special tour and a chance to educate visitors about environment protection," said Cam.
The 46-year-old, is also a lecturer of a 35-member 'little rangers' team in Phu Loc District on environmental protection and the conservation of flora and fauna in the park.
"We have improved community communication to enhance the awareness of nature, wildlife and environment, as well as to conserve the rich biodiversity of the park for local people," he recalled.
|Panorama: The park offers stunning views
He said the community education programme was well funded. The nature and wildlife at the park were protected by both, membership of the 37,487 ha park and the 62,000 population in the buffer zone.
The ranger said tourists could catch a view of endangered primates including Black-shanked Douc (Pygathrix nigripes), loris (Nycticebus bengalensis and Nycticebus pygmaeus), and gibbons (Nomascus leucogienys) during the 16-km trek in the forest during the rainy season.
The park was discovered by the French in 1925 and used as a health resort where the average temperature was between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius in summer, and 5 degrees Celsius in winter.
Conservationists found the lophura edwardsi, a bird of the pheasant family, as an endemic bird in Bach Ma in 1925. Local rangers rescued an injured bird in 1995 from a trap, but it eventually died from serious injuries.
Ngo Minh, deputy director of the park's eco-tour centre, said he had been seeing the lophura edwardsi since 1995, and the bird was only found in Bach Ma Park.
"We have developed the eco-tour in a positive manner to ensure park protection since 1998, with 15,000 tourists visiting the park annually," Minh said.
"A 16-km uphill concrete road leads tourists travelling by car to the 1,400m peak in 45 minutes. The park offers different tour programmes and accommodation for tourists visiting the nature conserve," he said, adding, that pedestrians can walk from the park centre to the top in four hours.
|Hybrid landscape: The park combines the climate and features of the north and south. — VNS Photos Nguyen Vu Linh
He said motorcycles, cycles and 30-seater buses are prohibited from travelling to the top of the mountain because of the risky sloping road.
Minh also introduced accommodation and camp fires at night at the peak.
"A complex of 139 villas was built in 1920s. Most of villas were made from stone and cement with 40cm thick walls to protect them from the vagaries of nature. However, almost all the cottages and old villages were destroyed following a scorched earth policy at the beginning of the first Indochina war. Only the collapsed foundations on the hills surrounded by bushes, are left now," Minh said.
"Since late 1986, we have restored eight hotels in the colonial architecture to accommodate tourists. The hotels still bear their original names like Morin, Do Quyen, Cam Tu and Phong Lan," he said.
The park offers tourists six trekking tours that include visits to waterfalls and forests.
The 5.5km Tri Sao route, which is the longest trek, creates a unique experience where visitors can see the pheasant-like peafowl (crested Argus).
|Flora and fauna: The national park is recognised for its biodiversity.
Nguyen Huu Binh, a tour operator at the park, said tourists can get a bird's eye view of the park when reaching the Hai Vong Dai (Sea Watch Tower).
"Hotels and guest houses at the peak can host 100 tourists at a time. Waterfalls and streams are the most visited by domestic tourists in summer, while foreign visitors prefer visiting in late August. Chefs offer local food and wild vegetables for night parties with camp fires on the 1,400m mountain top," Binh said.
"Jackets are needed when it's cold at night. Tourists can explore the tunnels on the Hai Vong Dai left by Vietnamese soldiers during the war. The 214m tunnels were given the status of national historical relics in 2009," Binh explained.
He said that the place was a temporary military heliport in 1973.
"We only preserve remnants of the war at the visitor's centre in the park. A machine gun, an iron helmet and fragments of air planes are the only exhibits left from that time," Binh said.
|Branching out: The park has 2,351 species of plants.
He added that the park has been seeking exhibits and displays to decorate the visitors' centre.
Binh warned tourists not to expect luxury services, rooms or discotheques at the park as very little investment had been made.
Covering an area of over 37,000ha, the park is sandwiched between the climate of north and south and the natural features typical of these two regions.
The buffer zone of the park occupies the area of Thua Thien-Hue and Quang Nam Province, of which Thua Thien-Hue covers 91 per cent of the area.
The park is home to 2,373 flora and 2,351 fauna species with 69 endangered and 204 endemic species.
Minh said the park is a living place for the sao la, Vu Quang ox or Asian biocorn (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), one of the world's rarest mammals.
He said the park is also recognised for its rich biodiversity with species of deer, Truong Son muntjac or Annamite muntjac (Muntiacus truongsonensis) and muntiacus vuquangensis, as well as flora including a genus evergreen tree (cunninghamia lanceolata), Parashorea stellata and Erythrophleum fordii, usually seen 900-m above sea level.
The national park official admitted that the habit of farming, illegal logging and hunting by local people had impacted the park.
Environmental education programmes, which were started by the park authority and locals in 13 communes and two districts in the buffer zone over the past decades, had changed the minds and habits of the locals.
|Rest stop: This hotel at the peak can host 100 tourists at a time. — VNA/VNS Photos Ngoc Ha.
As much as 50 per cent of the population has benefited from positive aquaculture or farming, he said.
"We earlier earned around VND200,000 (US$9) a day logging in the forest, but it was risky. We faced dangers with unsafe work-related accidents, floods and diseases," Nguyen Van Khoa, 51, a resident in Phu Loc district, in the park's buffer zone, recalled.
"However, I can earn a living from planting rubber and fast-growing trees (Acacia auriculiformis) for logging. Each hectare of rubber can bring us VND50 million - a good income," he said.
"The locals have also joined environmental protection schemes at the park. We also do mushroom farming and cattle breeding," he said.
Deputy director Minhsaid the park has yet to see any big sponsorship from international agencies in boosting capacity of management or biology research among staffers.
"The eco-tour has been effective in improving park protection and conservation. It creates revenue to pay for the management while boosting education among visitors on nature conservation and protection," Minh explained.
"We hope to see more cooperation from international organisations towards protection of the park's biodiversity in the future," he said.
The park is situated just 4km off National Highway No 1, from Phu Loc District. It can be accessed by motorcycle, van or bus. It is 40km south of Hue and 60km away from Da Nang.
Public buses operate from Da Nang to Hue every 15 minutes with a ticket price of VND60,000 per passenger.
Backpackers can rent motorcycles to reach the park from Da Nang, Hue or Phu Loc District. — VNS