Kon Tang, an ethnic village, in Mang Den eco-tourism area, the Central Highlands province of Kom Tum / PHOTO: HIEU LAM
When I visited Kon Tum the other day, my friends there asked me to accompany them to Mang Den, which is about 50 kilometers from the province's capital town and is being developed into a national eco-tourism area.
Given the record to date, the "development" did not enthuse me, but I was interested enough in the area, which is dubbed "the second Da Lat" of Vietnam, to accepted my friends' invitation.
The trip was not long, but it was quite challenging. We had to climb a 12-kilometer mountain pass, also named Mang Den, with 126 turns. If you do not enjoy cold weather, be warned that it felt very chilly to travel at a height of some 1,300 meters above the sea level.
Upon our arrival, the whole area was already dark, so we camped for the night (for decent accommodation, hotels in Mang Den offer a room at VND150,000-400,000 or US$7-19 per night).
The next morning we woke up early, and soon I found that Mang Den being compared to Da Lat was apt, but not in the present tense.
With a majority of its area still covered with forests, and the all year round cool climate (the highest temperature is 22 Celsius degrees), Mang Den reminded me of Da Lat during its prime time, decades ago, when it had not yet been invaded by "development" and the buildings and pollution that it brought in.
Mang Den, which means "flat land" in the language of the ethnic Mo Nam people, is part of Kon Plong District, almost 75 percent (130,000 hectares) of which is covered by forests.
My friends led me through a forest where trees looked centuries old. I was able to see two rare pine species: Himalayan yews (Taxus Wallichiana zucc), or thong do (red pine) in Vietnamese, which have almost disappeared from Da Lat; and Fokienia hodginsi, known as pomu in Vietnamese.
I was told that local people planted the trees more than 30 years ago, and now they are almost everywhere in the forests, along the Mang Den mountain pass, and even home gardens.
Mang Den forests are also home to rare herbs like agarwood (Aquilaria crassna), categorized as "critically threatened" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.
As we walked through the forest trails, we saw several animals like chamois and porcupine which are among hundreds of native species, including endangered ones like the northern white-cheek gibbons (Nomascus leucogenys) and sun bears (Ursus malayanus).
There are also springs that are home to eels and a species of small fish called ca nien, both famous for their tasty flesh. So, those who love fishing should not forget to bring the needed devices while trekking through forests in Mang Den.
Like Da Lat, Mang Den also boasts an array of waterfalls like Tram, Pa Si, and Dak Ke, and lakes like Ly Leng, Po, Jori, Sang, Dam, Ki, and Lu Rpoong. These waterfalls and lakes are located within 10 kilometers from the area's center.
Around the lakes are lots of purple Melastoma flowers and wild orchids that bloom in April or May.
After spending a whole day in the forests, we visited a few ethnic minority villages.
Mang Den is home to at least three ethnic minority communities Mo Nam, Ca Dong and Hre, who have their distinct cultures and customs, from the way they plan terrace fields, hunt, farm cattle, to conduct weddings, and observe religion. All these cultural aspects are worth exploring at leisure, if one has time to spare.
Since we, unfortunately, did not have time, we visited just a couple of villages, and joined locals in a night performance of traditional dances and cong chieng (gongs), enjoying ruou can (traditional wine that is made in the Central Highlands and does not go through any distillation).
As we left, I resolved to return soon, before the dreaded "development" takes its toll on Mang Den.
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