This is the first time I have visited Ta Dung Lake and also my first time trekking. Instead of going with friends, I chose to trek with 25 strangers who share my passion for nature exploration.
Ta Dung Lake is situated at Ta Dung National Park in Dak P’lao and Dak Som communes of Dak G’long District. It is part of the UNESCO-recognized, 4,760-square-kilometer Dak Nong Geopark.
With a 20,000-hectare water surface and more than 36 islets, the lake is called "a miniature Ha Long Bay in Central Highlands".
Kinh, our tour guide, said the route to Ta Dung Lake is relatively easy and suited to first-time trekkers.
We departed from Ho Chi Minh City, where I live, at 10 p.m. by tourist bus and arrived in Dak Nong Province at 6 a.m. Later, a farm truck took the group into the forest. Before setting off, we took photos of the beautiful dawn.
The forest trail grew gradually more difficult as we moved onto the slopes, traversing paths used on a daily basis by ethnic K'ho, Ma and Nung no wider than an arm span.
On a 45-degree slope, we were asked to walk with our knees low, feet wide apart and take small steps. Many of us slipped and fell, but never gave up.
On the way, we passed a bamboo forest before arriving at the checkpoint from where the view of Ta Dung Lake slowly emerged. The vast, emerald-tinted landscape took my breath away.
After a much-needed break and photo-op, our descent took us over a stream toward our final destination.
After nearly five hours of trekking, we were ferried by canoe to one of the 36 islets dotting Ta Dung Lake. Here, we were greeted by the family of a local resident named Nguyen who served us lunch and offered us a place to rest prior to our afternoon engagements.
At 2 p.m, the group did stand up paddleboarding and rode a jet ski, which were completely new activities for most of us.
At sunset, Ta Dung Lake turned a deep-blue jade as we immersed ourselves in its cool water, allowing tension and fatigue to dissolve. Overseen by our guide, dinner included grilled chicken, barbeque pork and wild vegetables.
As the night progressed, we bonded over an acoustic guitar while fire-roasting sweet potatoes beneath the starry sky.
In the evening, we held an acoustic music night for the group to bond with each other. Some members went to sleep early to wake up and watch the sunrise, while others sat down, roasted sweet potatoes together, chatted and stargazed at night.
At 5:45 a.m., the group woke to the sunrise, coffee and a blanket of dew left by temperatures that dropped to 16 degrees Celsius during the night.
Breakfasting in the cool, fresh air the group left the islet to explore Ta Dung Lake.
At 9 a.m., the sun scorching-hot, we visited a local floating house built of drums and wooden planks.
The tour guide explained that locals typically navigate their way around the near-identical islets by spotting the tallest treetops on each.
We stopped at a homestay with a panoramic view of Ta Dung Lake for lunch before returning to HCMC by bus.
On the way home, the members shared their thoughts and feelings of this short but full of memories trip. For me, this trip was a great start for trekking.
Trekkers should wear appropriate clothing to avoid unwanted cuts caused by the sharp leaves and always carry sunscreen or sun jackets.
It is also advised to bring drinking water and a power bank. The total cost for the trip was VND2.99 million ($129) for the tour and additional expenses like breakfast and buying souvenirs.