Black Virgin Mountain is a lone peak surrounded by an endless sea of Vietnamese countryside. Found only 100 km North of Ho Chi Minh City in Tay Ninh province, Black Virgin Mountain makes for a great day-trip to go hiking near Ho Chi Minh City. Black Virgin Mountain is actually the highest peak in all of Southern Vietnam and is a major landmark in the province, standing out in stark contrast from the otherwise flat farmland. Now a dormant volcano, the summit of the mountain was used as an American base during the Vietnam war and the surrounding province was exposed to much conflict. These days the war bases have been replaced by pagodas and the region offers calm and tranquility.
Fellow expats living in Ho Chi Minh City can probably relate to the feeling of being cooped up in the busy city for too long. I don’t know about you but when this feeling hits us we desperately seek a cheap, quick and nearby escape from the pollution and craziness of Ho Chi Minh City. Enter: Hiking Black Virgin Mountain. Hiking Black Virgin Mountain is the perfect way to escape Ho Chi Minh city for a day, breathe in some fresh air and experience the Vietnamese countryside (not to mention get in some exercise).
How to Get to Black Virgin Mountain
The easiest way to get to Black Virgin Mountain is to drive yourself by motorbike, or hire a driver with a car to take you for the day. The roads are pretty safe (by Vietnam standards) and easy to navigate so it’s totally manageable for newbie drivers. A route can easily be planned using google maps (see below for the loop we did), but be careful to click “avoid motorways” as some don’t allow bikes.
First, head past the airport through Tan Binh District, then continue out of the city via District 12. This first part of the trip is pretty industrial and you will definitely thank us for taking a pollution mask (check out AQ blue) and goggles with you. Don’t be put off, once you officially leave the city it drops away into much more pleasant greenery. This route takes you out past Cu Chi, which is famous as one of the entry points to some of the Viet Cong tunnels used during the war. We personally wouldn’t recommend combining the two on a day trip as you will not have enough time to hike up the mountain fully.
We took a slight detour on the way there, going on a route which took us away from the main highway in order to see more of countryside and local-life in Tay Ninh Province. We then looped back on our return trip, taking the main highway as it was dark and we wanted to stay as safe and get home as quick as possible.
The drive takes around 2.5 hours one way, and this will need to be factored into your plans. The earlier you leave the better to beat the midday heat and make it home before dark falls.
Related Post: Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam
How to Hike Black Virgin Mountain
You’ll need to purchase an entrance ticket to get into the complex at the base of the mountain. At only 8,000 this isn’t going to break the bank but be sure to bring some small denominations so you don’t run them dry out of notes. You’ll need small notes for parking too.
Take the cable car up Black Virgin Mountain
Once in the complex you have two choices: you can hike the full height of the mountain (yikes, that would take forever) or you can grab a cable car to take you up part of the way and join the hike there (we don’t judge). The cable car takes you about 1/3rd of the way up Black Virgin Mountain, which we recommend doing to ensure you have plenty time for the remainder of the hike. The cable car costs 150,000VND per person for a return ticket and is a fun way to start your exploration of Black Virgin Mountain!
The pagodas and temples at Black Virgin Mountain
When you get off the cable car you’ll spot some pagodas, a leaning Buddha and monkeys playing. When we went in October there was some construction work happening at the pagodas so we weren’t able to explore the inside but they might be worth taking a look inside.
Hiking Black Virgin Mountain
The hike up Black Virgin Mountain starts from a set of stairs behind the pagodas. To be honest, the term “hike” is slightly misleading. There are no paths or trekking so to speak, and much of the hike requires climbing big boulders. It’s quite an adventure! The rocky nature of the climb may make it difficult for some people but if you are up for the challenge then it is really fun.
Ability: We would give this hike a medium ability, mostly due to the extent of the bouldering. Despite being young and healthy, we all started to struggle. We also were aching for days after which we might have been able to avoid if we had stretched off before and after hiking.
We recommend stocking up on big bottles of water at the base of the mountain, at least 1litre per person. The heat and intensity of climbing rocks (combined with our lack of fitness) meant that it wasn’t long into the hike before we were starting to struggle! Luckily a short distance in we passed a vendor selling water (extremely overpriced) but it meant we were able to drink our supplies more freely. There was another vendor, but we didn’t pass them until we reached the view point which isn’t far off the peak.
The View Point at Black Virgin Mountain
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the summit due to poor timings on our part. BUT we did make it to an epic view point near the top of Black Virgin Mountain. And what a view we got! You could literally see forever into the Vietnamese countryside, not a hint of a city for miles. This was exactly escape into nature from Ho Chi Minh City we were looking for! The rock protruding out of the side of the mountain makes for some really exciting photos, though be warned, this isn’t like those other overhangs that look scary but in reality have land just beneath them. There is nothing but a straight drop below the cliff-edge so be extra careful and don’t try any stupid stunts up here.
It took us about 2 hours from getting off the cableway to reach the view point, stopping occasionally to rest but never for more than 5/10 minutes.
Descending Black Virgin Mountain
From the view point we were told it was only another 40 mins to the top by another hiker. By this point it was getting late into the afternoon and we decided to forgo the summit and return down the mountain to ensure we were able to hit the roads back to Ho Chi Minh City before it got dark. The route back down the mountain is exactly the same as the way you hike up and took us about half the time of the climb. Again, a lot of rock climbing though which can be quite timely if you aren’t confident.
The State of the Black Virgin Mountain
Unfortunately the entire route up Black Virgin Mountain was littered by rubbish; water bottles, broken shoes, plastic bags – you name it, it was there. There were no trash bins until we returned to the bottom, so we held onto our rubbish until the end (which you should be doing too). Ironically there were signs stating “leave nothing but footprints”. Alas if only they were written in Vietnamese! It’s quite common to see local Vietnamese sites covered in litter and Black Virgin Mountain is well off the tourist trail so the majority of the visitors are locals. Carry whatever litter you may have back down the mountain with you!!
The trail was also not very clearly marked aside from sections of very dated and damaged metal railings and the occasional boulder with arrows graffitied on them. The easiest way to know you are on the right track is to follow the litter (#sigh).
There doesn’t seem to be a system in place for taking the rubbish down to the bottom of the mountain. Near the pagodas and cable car station is what can only be described as a rubbish dump. It’s so disheartening to see such a beautiful place covered in trash. Please don’t add to it and take any litter you have back down to the very base of the mountain!
Tips for Hiking Black Virgin Mountain
- First and foremost the term hike is very loose. Black Virgin Mountain is predominantly a bouldering climb and, as such, there is little walking time. Bouldering is definitely more strenuous and we advice that you stretch/warm up before and cool down/stretch after the climb. Especially BEFORE you sit on a bike for nearing 3 hours to drive home. We all massively seized up on the drive home and struggled to walk (let alone climb stairs) for the next 3 days. Stretch folks. STRETCH.
- Bring mosquito repellant. Another thing us rookies forgot to pack in our disorganised planning. We ended up being bitten like mad.
- Do not forget suncream! Even cloudy days can result in sunburn.
- Avoid hiking on days where there is a chance of rain. Climbing up and down Black Virgin Mountain could become really dangerous in the rain due to the rocky nature of it. All the rocks are smooth, therefore any water on them makes them slippery. Avoid any danger by picking a clear and dry day to hike.
- Bring a change of clothes for the drive back. We were super hot and sweaty by the time we returned to the base of the mountain and would have really benefit from changing out of sweaty hiking hit before travelling back to Ho Chi Minh City.
- Wear supportive footwear. This is essential for any hike but we feel particularly important due to the rocky nature of the Black Virgin Mountain. There was a lot of stress on our ankles due to the bouldering.
Total Expenses for a Day trip to Black Virgin Mountain
|Gas||100,000VND (two people sharing a bike)|
|Food, water, snacks, motorbike parking||~100,000VND|
|Cable Car||150,000VND p/p|
|TOTAL||516,000VND for two people|
So our total costs for our day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Black Virgin Mountain comes to 516,000 VND for two people. That’s £16 for both or £8 per person.