We left the beautiful city of Da Lat in a Russian jeep and
headed west of the city. An hour later, we arrived at the foot of Bidoup-Nui Ba
National Park and drove up until we were 300m from Mt Cong Troi, 2,272m above
As we stepped out of our vehicle to commence our climb to the
top, clouds wrapped around us and the chilly air cooled our heads. When we
looked up to the top, an immense pine forest spread before us. After 15 minutes
of trekking, I turned to admire the valley behind me, wrapped in a bluish grey
As we gazed out at the lush valley of khasia pine trees (pinus
kesiya) heavy clouds rolled in, dousing us with a cold rain. In no time, I was
soaked, wishing I had a hot baked corn to warm me up.
The rain ended as quickly as it began, clearing the sky to allow
the sun to shine unobstructed by clouds. The sun’s slanting rays shone into the
dark green of the forest, against the backdrop of a greyish sky.
When my companion called me, I was shaken from the spell of my
Park ranger Ton That Minh informed us that the park gained its
name from the two mountain ranges surrounding it, the Bidoup and Lang Bian.
Local people have handed down a story of the birth of the
mountain. According to the legend, a young man named Lang, a member of the Lat
tribe, fell in love with a girl Bian from the Sre tribe. An ancestors’ spell
between the two tribes prevented them from getting married, so the young couple
chose death as their everlasting union.
Touched by their love, the people in the region buried them on a
mountain with two tops side-by-side and named the mountain Lang Bian. The lovers
inspired their tribesmen to break the ancient spell and live together in peace.
Even the animals were touched by the fateful death: two elephants that Lang
tamed crossed 10 mountains to mourn their master. Soon after they arrived, so
the legend says, the elephants collapsed from exhaustion and died, turning into
the mountain named Bidoup, forever looking over at Lang Bian.
This powerful tale of tragic love united the tribes of Lat, Sre
and Cil, which merged into today’s K’Ho ethnic group.
This story has given way to a new story, told today by nature
Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park ranks among the five largest
national parks, covering 64,800ha of forest. According to biologists, because of
the natural protection provided by the two mountain ranges, the national park is
home to the oldest primordial forest in the Central Highlands.
The park’s three mountain tops form the roof of the Indochinese
peninsula: Mt. Lang Bian at 2,189m, Bidoup at 2,278m and Cong Troi, or Heaven’s
Gate, at 2,272m.
Visitors to the famous Da Lat City often mistakenly assume that
the pine forest there is the same as their European pine forests. In actuality,
Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park contains 10 out of the 11 endangered species of
pines. Along the slope of Lang Bian range, the khasia pines, according to
biologists, are a distinct species of the park as they only grow between 1,000
to 2,000m above sea level.
On Bidoup, across the valley from Nui Ba, the forest contains
merkus pines, a variety unique to the Asian mainland and one of the rarest
species of pine in the world. The trees’ trunks can measure 4m in diameter, and
the trunks can reach up to 20m in length before branching out.
Nguyen Van Hung, head of the Forest Protection Unit and deputy
director of the park, emphasises that rare species such as these are what gives
the park its singular appeal for conservationists and eco-tourists.
"The merkus pines are our pride; their uniqueness adds to the
distinctiveness of the park," Hung says.
On the branches of these rare pines, visitors can spot over 200
species of birds. Many of these species are endangered species, including the
grey-crowned crocias (crocias langbianis), the black-hooded
laughingthrush (garrulax pectoralis) and the collared laughingthrush (garrulax
The park also possesses the largest orchid gene pool in the
country, with 250 different species. Orchids that originated here take the
mountains in their scientific names, such as dendrobium langbianense,
oberonia langbianensis, elaeocarpus bidupensis and vanda
Among the most distinctive features of Lang Bian forest are its
bulls, which once reigned over the forest in herds of six or seven. Biologists
believe that only one or two of these enormous creations, measuring 2.5m and
weighing nearly one tonne, still live in the park.
Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park will be enclosed into the larger Da
Lat City when the latter is upgraded to become a central region metropolis.
Forest rangers warn that preservation efforts should be tightened, and new means
of cultivation must also be introduced.
"The K’Ho people have lived here for many generations," says Do
Manh Hung, the park’s deputy director. "They still maintain their hunting and
gathering methods, and they set fires in the forest as well."
According to park officials, the local people’s understanding of
the need to protect natural diversity comes second to the urgent need to put
food on the table for their families. Recent investigation has shown that more
than 90ha of the core jungle have been cleared and inhabited, setting off
warning bells that the natural habitat is in danger.
With the introduction of humans in the forest, the 20,000ha of
pine forest also face constant threat from unattended fires during the dry
season, from October until the following April.
Through a project to raise management capacity in the park’s
leadership, funded by the Viet Nam Conservation Fund, the park rangers are
hoping to solve their issues with the help of an expanded staff.
Do Quang Tung, director of the Viet Nam Conservation Fund, an
NGO funded by the World Bank, explains that the fund’s assistance to the
national park is intended "to raise management capacity to better protect
specialised forest in Viet Nam".
Soon, the staff will include 35 new members, though currently
they lack professional experience in management or biological diversity
At the Cong Troi checkpoint, three staff members currently cover
an area of nearly 5,500ha, though the standard is one ranger per 1,000ha. They
receive news by travelling 40km to the nearest rangers post and by watching a
black-and-white television that runs on battery power.
We trekked 90-minutes from the Cong Troi station to the nearest
park rangers post, where we met Nguyen Van Hung, the head of the post. Hung says
that the new rangers will have to get used to living in isolation.
"The staff members are very young; they are new graduates. We
will get their news only once every couple of months when they come to us or we
send people up," Nguyen Van Hung says.
Park director Le Van Huong hopes that the new rangers will ease
the burden on the existing rangers.
"It takes 10 days to cover the 60,000ha of the park by foot, and
we have been trying really hard to moniter it on strained budget," Huong says.
In 2007, the Viet Nam Conservation Fund hopes to assist 15
national parks and nature reserves to preserve the ecological diversity of the
forests for sustainable development.
When we returned to the park’s outpost, we rented horses to ride
and then paused at Suoi Vang Lake, enjoying the cool, pine-scented breeze off
the water. Life around us was suspended in slow motion. The perfect harmony of
this place was enough to make me realise the vital need to protect it. — VNS