Saturday, June 16, 2018

Bạch Mã National Park

The previous week has been a collection of challenging hikes, long white sandy beaches, historical old towns culminating with sitting on a train hoping to go north, when in actuality it headed south. Doh! Life on the road.

One of the highlights of this trip has been Bach Ma National Park. It was the play ground of the French and Vietnamese Elite who built vacation homes all over the park. 100 years ago the park was home to black bears and tigers. Naturally they were all hunted and killed off because that is what we do. Photos at the small museum at the summit show life at the time including hunting evidence.

Bach Ma is the highest point in the area so naturally it had strategic value during the war. You control the summit you control Hue and Da Nang. Our guide explained that this area saw a lot of fighting during the war and tunnel systems are hidden all along the trail. Again, I was walking the same jungle paths as US soldiers did in the 60's and it was unnerving. A few years ago American soldiers and archaeologists came to find and repatriate American bodies. Our guide Sam, was part of the team that lead the way. He would not go onto much detail except to say that the Americans were friendly and yes, they found the remains of soldiers. He was not told how many as her agreed to leave the site when remains were found. We followed his advice to "remain on the trail at all times".

The hike up was fairly easy. The trail was well marked and well worn. We passed a tunnel complex that we could explore. It was easy to access but during war time we would never have found it. We passed through the remains of old cottages and lookout towers. In various clearings statues and worship centers appears like ghosts from the past shrouded by the jungle. These temples are scattered throughout the region, most of them hidden within the jungle itself. Real Indiana Jones stuff.

The summit was as expected. Clear skies allowed a 360 degree view of the area. It stands to reason why this summit was pivotal to both sides in the war. There were clear views of both Hue and DaNang, every road and the South China Sea we unobstructed. I stood on the  hill that the Americans held and looked over at the hill that the North Vietnamese held. To close for comfort and here we were smiling and taking photos.

After a bit of coffee we started our trek down to the 5 lakes. This was a tricky bit of hiking as it was steep at times and the humid jungle made the rocks mossy and slippery. We crossed small streams holding onto well worn ropes as we ventured deeper into the jungle. It was hot, steamy and in my historical thinking head was having a terrifying experience 50 years ago.

After about 30 minutes we came to the first of 5 small lakes cascading down the mountain. Each one larger than the previous. It was obvious what we were going to do at the final lake and it was not eat lunch. "Holy Shit" was the water cold. Shrinkaaaagggggeee!!!

The lakes emptied into one fast moving stream the screamed over a 1000 foot drop. There are some quality Google Images if you click here. The hike down to the bottom of the waterfalls and back up usually takes about 3 hours and we did not have the time. So it was back into the pool after lunch and a well deserved bake on the hot rocks.

The rest of the 30 minute hike down was along an easy path crossing various small streams. Again, these jungle paths were the heart of the battles in and around this area. Knowing there are remains and explosive in the jungle around you can give you an incredible sense of history and sadness. Sam our guide, was quick to point out that he and his friends do come here looking for war artifacts from time to time. I asked "You use metal detectors, right?"  He looked at me like I was from another planet and at that very moment I realized I was.

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