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Introducing Bach Ma National Park

A French-era hill station, this national park reaches a peak of 1450m at Bach Ma mountain, only 18km from the coast. The cool climate attracted the French, who built over a hundred villas here. Not surprisingly the Viet Minh tried hard to spoil the holiday – the area saw some heavy fighting in the early 1950s and again during the American War.

There’s currently a lot of construction going on inside Bach Ma to upgrade the road to the summit; at the time of research only the lower reaches were open. Work is scheduled to finish sometime in 2013.

The national park, extended in 2008, stretches from the coast to the Annamite mountain range at the Lao border. More than 1400 species of plants, including many rare ferns and orchids, have been discovered here, representing a fifth of the flora of Vietnam. There are 132 mammals found in Bach Ma, three of which were only discovered in the 1990s: the antelope-like saola, Truong Son muntjac and the giant muntjac. Nine species of primates are also present, including small numbers of the rare red-shanked Douc langur. It’s hoped wild elephants will return from the Lao side of the border.

As most of the park’s resident mammals are nocturnal, sightings demand a great deal of effort and patience. Bird-watching is fantastic but you need to be up at dawn for the best chance of glimpsing some of the 358 species logged here, including the fabulous crested argus pheasant.

The visitor centre at the park entrance has a small exhibition on the park’s flora and fauna, and hiking trail booklets. You can book village and bird-watching tours and English- or French-speaking guides (200,000d per day). Unexploded ordnance is still in the area, so stick to the trails. Cars and motorbikes are not permitted inside the national park.

Bach Ma is the wettest place in Vietnam, with the heaviest of the rain falling in October and November (and bringing out the leeches). It’s not out of the question to visit then, but check road conditions first. The best time to visit Bach Ma is from February to September, particularly between March and June.