Our first foray into the many National Parks along the Ho Chi Minh Highway had not been successful. My fruitless google searches of Ben En National Park and Ben En homestay options should have been an indicator that something was amiss. We rode all the way into the park regardless and had to ride all the way back out again, having found nothing but sweet little villages we didn’t want to impose on. But this post isn’t about our failures at Ben En.
Pu Mat National Park, with just as little online information, was more incredible than we had ever expected.
Trusty google maps told us that Pu Mat National Park was around 40km off of the Ho Chi Minh Highway. We were heading south down this beautiful road and the large expanse of green edging the Laos border looked like a worthy detour. But, when we got to the little red pin, all we found was a sorry looking sign and an army barracks full of bored looking, half uniformed soldiers. Stumbling upon an even sorrier looking Nha Nghi, we almost gave up. But, a second google maps search for Thac Kem, the waterfall we knew was inside the park somewhere, showed a wiggly little white line right to the falls.
The road was beautiful and completely devoid of other people. It wound its way into the park, beside a brilliantly clear river fringed by drooping jungle, and ended with a large carpark that was equally empty. We parked, changed and let Jimi lead the way into the jungle.
The waterfall appeared in front of us quite suddenly, rising high above the nearby forest in an elegant cascade that made us gasp and sigh in wonder.
Through the trees, on a path ingeniously made from old tyres, we saw Kem Waterfall in all its glory. It must stand 200 feet or taller and it tumbles down broken rocks and shining leaves. Two craters at the bottom pool water in turquoise bowls that we dove into headfirst.
On our way back to the QL7, where there are a few hotels, we took a right turn because the way looked picturesque. We stopped beside some tea fields and took one last look at the map. Oli then zoomed in and, lo and behold, ‘Homestay Hoa Thu‘ popped up. We drove on and found that Yen Khe is a dusty one street village with not one but 3 homestays and has some kind of UNESCO related sign that has worn down with age.
We chose Hanh Chien Homestay as it had the best view and we settled in for a night with Hanh and his family. They cooked us a delicious dinner of marinated pork, buttery bamboo shoots and seasoned omelette. It was served with rice, and rice wine of course. Later, as we enjoyed the cool night air in the open area of the beautiful stilt house, we exchanged names and giggles with the whole family, including their 90 something year old grandmother. I won’t butcher her name by trying to type it but it sounded like the word for honey and her creased smile was incredibly sweet.
When we embarked on this trip down the Ho Chi Minh Highway, from Hanoi to Hoi An, we were itching to get to some of the green National Parks we could see dotting the grey map.
While we cannot say much for Ben En, and we later skipped Vu Quang (where Vietnam’s last remaining tigers are thought to reside), let this blog post attest to the fact that Pu Mat National Park, Kem Waterfall and Yen Khe village are more than worth a visit.
Please note that this blog post is not sponsored by Google Maps (I wish) but click the links on Kem Waterfall and the homestay to be taken straight there to the site or app so you can find your own way. Enjoy, and let me know if you make it!