Finding wilderness

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Winding roads, flanked by the ocean on one side and rolling hills on the other, lead to the Son Tra Peninsula

Winding roads along the coastline are lined with sandy beaches on one side, and rolling hills on the other. We're in Da Nang, heading about ten kilometers outside the city to Son Tra Peninsula a green escape from the urban city center.

To be fair, Da Nang has its fair share of long beaches, warm waters, and even mountains the misty Ba Na Mountain and the rocky Ngu Hanh Son Mountain to keep tourists busy. The coastal town is after all, one of the most popular summer getaways in Vietnam.

But we were looking for a breath of the new, the unexplored, the wild. In tourist circuits, we heard of an exciting new tour called Khong Gian Xanh (Green Spaces), which both locals and foreign visitors have been raving about.

One bright and sunny Sunday morning, some friends and I (all from Hanoi) decided to follow the same tour itinerary and head out for a day of outdoor adventure in Son Tra. We had with us a local friend who volunteered to be our guide for the day.

Though the sun was climbing in the sky, there was a pleasant nip in the air. Following Yet Kieu Street, we headed out of town farther and farther away from all signs of urbanization. The gray of concrete gave way to soothing green and azure ocean blues as we climbed higher up the mountain.

Locals say the peninsula looks like a mushroom from above, with the Son Tra Mountain as its head and the golden beaches as its feet. Lying at an altitude of 693 meters above sea level, Son Tra is not just a sight for sore eyes, it also protects the city against coastal storms.

Beautiful flower rising among the mist

Visitors can easily plan their own tours to the peninsula or book a tour through a travel agency. Some of the travel companies are offering tours to Son Tra Peninsula are:

76 Hung Vuong Street
Tel: (0511) 382 3993 / 382 5653

Da Thanh Travel
67 Ho Xuan Huong Street
Tel: (0511) 263 8638

83 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street
Tel: (0511) 0511 382 3660 / 381 9561

The peninsula has a nature reserve which is home to rare species including the Pygathrix nigripes (black-shanked douc langur), Pygathrix nemaeus (red-shanked douc langur), Macaca arctoides (stump-tailed macaque, also called the bear macaque), and the long-tailed crab-eating macaque.

We parked our bikes near the beginning of a trail leading into the forest, and set out on our weekend adventure. The forest was dense with tall trees and shrubbery. Wild flowers were everywhere, like splashes of color in a green carpet. A fresh breeze blew in from the seas below, cooling us as we trekked on.

Making our way through the forest, we stopped to gaze at the ancient trees towering all around us. The amazing diversity of the local flora had us city-breeds gaping in awe. And in the cool shade of the trees, it was easy to forget that it was still bright and sunny back in Da Nang.

Trekking further into the forest, we found small springs running through giant stones. As we sat on large, flat, moss-lined stones, dipping our feet in the stream and taking in the breathtaking scenery around us, we realized for the first time how quiet nature is. Enveloped among trees, we could hear nothing but the twittering of birds and bubbling of water.

Lulled by the break, I had no desire to engage in any more strenuous climbing. All I could think of was the many ideal spots to hang a hammock and take a nap.

But Phuong, our local guide, spurred us on with promises of monkey and deer sightings. It was the dry season, he said, and many springs had dried up into small pools, he said. "If we are lucky, we can see a monkey or some deer at these oases," he added, breaking into my somnolent reverie.

We continued trekking, walking quietly, looking around intently, hoping to spot some wildlife. We waited near pools of water hoping for a sign of life, savoring the sweet smell of ocean and flowers wafting up with the breeze.

It wasn't our lucky day though, and we made our way back to the main road without having spotted so much as a squirrel. Though the trek was fun, we left wanting more. All of us agreed that longer trails should be laid so tourists can venture deeper into the forest and explore more of it. Back on the road, we stopped for a coffee break and enjoyed the sweeping views of Da Nang City in the distance.

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