Mai be the best

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Near the top of Mai Falls

Belying their humble name, which means apricot, Mai Falls on the La Nga River are among the scenic highlights of Dong Nai Province in Vietnam's south.

The first sight of Mai Falls is catch-your-breath stuff as the water cascading down the giant rocks to form a steep liquid staircase resembles a monstrous dragon moving through the forest-clad mountains.

Trees along the stream cling precariously to the rocks that form the banks.

The rocks in mid-stream and on either side come in all shapes and sizes and seem to have been placed deliberately by Mother Nature to create the most striking effect possible.

When the sun rises above the big trees and bathes the pristine waterfall in golden rays, the sight is magnificent.

In the rainy season, huge volumes of water pour down incessantly, churning the stream below into an angry torrent snaking through the verdant valley.

In the past, the area boasted lots of beautiful wild flowers, heavily laden fruit trees, and shy animals darting through the undergrowth.

Nowadays, the flowers, animals and fruit trees are rare, but it's still possible to spot the occasional boar or deer in the forest.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of fish swimming in the stream. The best for anglers would have to be the tasty catfish variety hemibagrus elongates, which can weigh up to four kilos.

A noticeable feature of the Mai Falls area is the unusual shapes of the trees and shrubs. Some trees have two or three trunks that grow together higher up, and a giant climbing plant can measure dozens of centimeters across and look like a huge python hanging down from a very tall tree.

Forest at Mai Falls

With so much thick foliage, it turns dark very early, at about four in the afternoon.

The Ma people, one of the local tribes in the uplands of Dong Nai, call this place where the rocky mountain meets the river Lieng Dur, which means a magnificent and mighty waterfall.

The rocks in the stream block part of the flow, causing the streaming water to go in all directions and creating whirlpools and waves that produce interesting sounds all the time.

It's a magnificent setting without being treacherous as the rocks slope gently into the stream.

The quietest stretch is upstream where the water is shallow and meanders gently between the rocks worn smooth over the ages.

At some places, the stream widens and there are more rocks with cascading water over and around them. They are ideal for camping and bathing.

The most prominent aspects of the Mai Falls area are the groups of rocks on the left bank of the upper stream where the whirlpools of water have eroded the rocks and created a huge cave.

Because of the cave's shape, the locals call it Kim Quy (golden tortoise) or Tam Son (three mountains).

Over the past few years, Mai Falls have become more and more popular with the younger set. Like all the many visitors, to them the natural features of the area are a prescription for shrugging off the worries of life for a spell.

To get there from Ho Chi Minh City, take National Road 1A to the big Dau Giay T-Junction and turn left into National Road 20, the highway that leads to Da Lat, the resort town in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.

Just before the center of Dinh Quan District, turn right into the clearly signposted road leading to Mai Waterfall Tourist Attraction 24 kilometers away.

Only some of this final stretch through the impressive Forest of Tan Phu is sealed, but the minor discomfort of small bumps and loose stones on the gravel sections is easy to ignore thanks to the scenery along the shady way.

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