A Travel Guide to Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

This travel guide to Cat Tien shares everything you need to know before travelling to the beautiful Cat Tien National Park in Vietnams central highlands. It covers everything that I like to know before travelling to a new destination including the highlights, the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay and more!

Cat Tien National Park Travel Guide

I recently took a mini-girls trip to Cat Tien National Park with one of my favourite HCMC expat friends! Being the adventurous souls we are we decided to double-up and ride my motorbike all the way there and back. We knew the park was going to offer an escape into nature but I think we were both pleasantly surprised by how much there is to do there and thankful for how UNtouristy the whole park was! We spent a very laid back two nights exploring the national park and soaking up all the nature we could before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve written this travel guide to help you plan your own trip to Cat Tien National Park!

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Cat Tien at a glance

Cat Tien is in Lam Dong Province about 4 hours driving north of Ho Chi Minh City, on route to Dalat. The province is home to the Cat Tien National Park – a UNESCO and nationally protected area of a primary forest home to a whole range of wildlife from ancient trees, to exotic birds, insects and even base to two wildlife rescue centres. Cat Tien National Park spans a massive area of 70,000+ ha and is home to an estimated 1,610 species. Cat Tien town sits across the river from the Cat Tien National Park, which can be accessed via boat.

Best time to visit Cat Tien

The weather in Cat Tien varies with the changing from wet to dry seasons. Regardless of whether you visit in wet or dry season you should expect warm temperatures. Visiting in the transitional months between seasons (Novemeber/December and May/June) offers a high chance of dry weather with slightly cooler temperatures.

Try to avoid visiting in the peak of monsoon season (June – November) as there will be a lot of rain and mud making the National Park challenging to explore. September is the wettest month of the year. There is nothing to do in Cat Tien other than visit the National Park so bare this in mind when planning your trip.

The driest weather is at the start of year, with April being the hottest month. We visited in April and the temperatures averaged around 35/36℃.

When is Cat Tien National Park Open?

Cat Tien National Park is open every day from 7:30am until 6:30pm, and from what I have been able to research it is open all year round.

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How to get to Cat Tien

Cat Tien is situated between Ho Chi Minh City in the south and Dalat in the central highlands. The park is 167kms from Ho Chi Minh City, and 192kms from Dalat which makes it a great place to stop if you’re travelling between these two tourist hotspots. Getting to Cat Tien is not difficult, though there are limited options due to its location. So you must go by either bus, motorbike or hire a private car.

Cat Tien

From Ho Chi Minh City - There are two different ways you can get to Cat Tien by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. There are direct local buses that will take you from Mien Dong Bus Station (counter 5). The journey takes a bit longer because it is a local bus and will pick up/drop off passengers on route (around 4.5 hours). The ticket should cost around 85k VND.

The other option is to take a coach bus travelling from HCMC to Dalat but ask to be dropped off at ‘Ben Xe Buyt Phuong Lam at km142’. This will see the bus driver dropping you off at the 142km marker on the QL20 highway. This marker is 16km away from the Cat Tien National Park. From here you will want to have arranged a motorbike/car pick up from your accommodation at an additional cost. This will end up costing you more than getting the local bus, though it should be a slightly faster process. The cost of this trip will vary depending on the bus company that you travel with and the time of day you travel. Be sure to plan ahead to get a motorbike taxi pick up from your accommodation.

From Dalat - Coming from Dalat is a similar process as from Ho Chi Minh City, getting the bus driver to drop you at the 142km marker and taking a motorbike taxi onto Cat Tien National Park. You will want to pre-book a taxi from your accommodation before you leave for Cat Tien.

There don't appear to be any direct buses from Dalat to Cat Tien National Park, so it is necessary to have the bus drop you at the highway marker on QL20.

Driving by motorbike is what we opted to do in order to have the freedom to stop along the journey and the option to take a more scenic route to Cat Tien. The roads are mostly good, especially if you don't veer from the main highways.

Note: The roads in and out of Ho Chi Minh City are heavily used and are badly polluted. You NEED to bring a pollution mask with you - I highly recommend ordering some AQ blue masks with filters in them.

A route for driving to Cat Tien

This is the route we tried to do. At some point along the route we headed off the highway and started taking back roads in order to see some more greenery. Unfortunately we got a bit lost and ended up adding hours onto our travel time (don't be silly like us and stick to the google route) but we made our way back onto the highway to continue the trip. When putting the route into google maps be careful to select "avoid highways and tolls" as motorbikes cannot drive on these roads.

Driving the Cat Tien by motorbike should take around 3.5 hours of driving. Add in time to stop, refresh and stretch off. Estimate around 4.5 hours to get to Cat Tien National Park from Ho Chi Minh City. We were able to do the return in 3 hours, stopping only briefly to get gas and a banh mi.

How to get around Cat Tien National Park

Cat Tien town is located on the east-side of the Dong Nai river, with the national park on the west-side. The town is very small and taxis are not available, so walking is the only way to get to the ticket office. From the ticket office you can buy an entrance ticket which gives you a return trip on the boat across the river and into the park.

The boat ticket costs 60,000 VND (£2/$3) for foreigners and leaves every 5 minutes (or whenever there are enough people to make it worth the crossing, cause you know…Vietnam). The boats start at 7:30am and end at 18:30pm, though if you do the earlier of the two night safaris they will put on a boat to take you back.

How long to stay in Cat Tien

Cat Tien National Park is perfect to spend one or two days exploring. The location makes it virtually impossible to visit on a day trip, so plan to spend a minimum of one night in Cat Tien, though I recommend spending two nights to give you a full day for exploring.

Top 5 Highlights of Cat Tien

1. Feel small next to the Giant Tung Tree

Cat Tien National Park is home to 1,600+ species of flora and is also an area of primary (untouched) forest. The trees in the park are huge and some, like this Tung tree, are 100s of years old. There is a marked trek to help you find these awesome giant trees. You can get a map at the Cat Tien National Park HQs.

2. Breathe in the fresh air

Just simply being able to get out of the city and experience the fresh air of the countryside was one of our favourite things about our trip to Cat Tien National Park.

3. It’s quiet and not too touristy

We were pleasantly surprised by how quiet the Cat Tien National Park was – we trekked for hours rarely encountering other travellers or park guides. It was so nice to be somewhere quiet and a huge contrast to our usual busy life in Ho Chi Minh City.

4. Visit the animal rescue and rehabilitation centres

Cat Tien National Park is home to two different animal rehabilitation centres – a Gibbon research and sanctuary, as well as a Sun Bear and Moon Bear rescue centre. During our trip we visited the Sun and moon Bear rescue centre. In truth the visit was really sad. They currently have 37 bears staying with them, who have all been rescues from either illegal black market trading, or from farms where their blood is harvested for use in traditional medicines. These poor animals seemed to still be distressed and we were heartbroken to hear that due to the time already spent and raised in captivity, many of the bears are not suitable to be rereleased into the wild. While it wasn’t the best rescue centre I’ve seen, they are working towards improving the lives of rescued animals. They are in the process of building a new bigger centre in the Cat Tien National Park with more outdoor space for the bears and I am all for supporting the project by paying for a tour of the rescue centre.

Cat Tien National Park Vietnam sun bear rescue centre

5. Wild Gibbon trek

We were unfortunately unable to do this early morning trek as it was fully booked. The wild gibbon trek leaves the park HQ at 4:30am with a guide taking you on a trek through the National Park to see wild gibbons at their most active time of day. We overheard some other visitors as they came back from this tour excitedly discussing how many Gibbons they were able to see. So, super jealous we couldn’t do this tour!

Where to eat in Cat Tien

Cat Tien town is very small and there are not many options for eating. Most accommodation comes with breakfast which is great for taking care of the first meal of the day. We ate at our accommodation, the Cat Tien Jungle Lodge* and found the food to be okay. They have a wide menu and the prices are a little high for what you get but its a formal dining setting which seems to be the only place in Cat Tien like this.

In the town there are some places you can grab a Banh Mi or rice for lunch. I didn’t see these places open at night however. Most home-stays will offer a family-style meal for an additional charge too. Near the Cat Tien National Park HQ is the Yellow Bamboo Restaurant where you can get lunch and dinner. The food was surprisingly good and saved us having to leave the park for lunch. Again the prices were a little inflated but nothing outrageous (see below for pricing breakdown).

Where to stay in Cat Tien

Best pick $$$ – Forest Floor Lodges*

If I was to return to Cat Tien National Park, especially if I was going on a romantic break, I would try to stay here. The Forest Floor Lodge is situated inside the National Park which means you can do the early morning Gibbon Trek and late night Safari which happen before and after the daily boat shuttles runs, making them impossible for those staying outside of the official national park. The accommodation is not cheap but looks lovely.

NOTE: If you’re hoping to do the early morning Wild Gibbon Trek, or the late night safari tour then you need to actually stay in accommodation in Cat Tien National Park. These tours happen out-with the general opening hours of the park so cannot be done by visitors not staying in the Park.

Budget $ – Cat Tien is full of budget-friendly place to stay so there is no short supply of options. I personally would pick Green Bamboo Lodge* or Cat Tien River Lodge*. Both have great reviews and are walking distance to the park entrance. They are budget accommodation so bare in mind that you won’t be going to luxury – you pay extra for AC and expect there to be bugs (it is a national park after all).

Luxury $$$ – Cat Tien Jungle Lodge*

This is where we stayed on our trip, as recommend by another friend. It seems to be one of the more expensive accommodation options in Cat Tien so it won’t be right for everyone. We liked that after a day of trekking in  the heat we were guaranteed a nice room to come back to, with warm showers and AC. They also have a lovely garden and an infinity pool on the edge of the Dong Nai river.

To see comprehensive reviews of all the accommodation on offer at Cat Tien, check out The Vietnam Coracle.

An estimated daily budget for Cat Tien

You will find that Cat Tien is slightly more expensive eat than most places in Vietnam due to its remote location and limited options/competition, but you can lower costs by finding accommodation cheaper than other places in Vietnam.

Food – An average main course is in the region of 70-90k VND, plus 15k for rice and drinks on top. You’re looking at spending around 150k per meal per person, which is by no means expensive but more so than other destination in Vietnam.

Accommodation – There is accommodation in Cat Tien to suit all budgets. For a budget room you can estimate ~125k VND for, and 1.5mil VND and more if you plan on staying in one of the more luxurious options.

Transport – Driving ourselves turned out to be a very cheap travel choice. We went through 3 full tanks of gas during the round trip, each 60k VND so it came to a total of 180k VND. If you are hiring a bike in HCMC specifically to do this trip, estimate around $10 per day you have the bike for a short-term hire.

Activities – To enter the Cat Tien Nation Park you must purchase a ticket for 60k VND. You must pay extra for every activity you wish to do, only the trekking is free (assuming you don’t get a guide). Tickets for the bear sanctuary are 150k VND, and the night safari which we did cost us 230k VND but the pricing is dependent on how many people book the tour (the more book the cheaper it gets per person).

What to pack for visiting Cat Tien National Park

  1. Mosquito repellant – the mosquitoes were out in full force! Luckily our room at Cat Tien Jungle Lodge had a bug zapper but if you’re staying in a budget homestay then you will want to be covered in repellant before going to sleep and exploring the park.
  2. A hat – the park is hot and some of the treks take hours. Keep your head safe from sunburn and prevent heat stroke.
  3. Suncream – like above, its easy to get burned when trekking through the park.
  4. Long trousers/leggings – Trousers will help to protect your legs from mosquitoes and be really handy if you’re planning to do one of the early morning tours or night safaris.
  5. Cash – There are no ATMs in Cat Tien town. Some hotels might take card, like the Cat Tien Jungle Lodge that we stayed at. Bring plenty cash with you to avoid issues.
  6. Trainers/hiking shoes – None of the trekking we did required proper hiking boots and we found that our trainers did a great job.

Tips for visiting Cat Tien

  • Stay in the park – if you have the budget to afford this, it will give you access to the early morning Wild Gibbon trekking and late Night Safari that happen out-with the parks opening hours. If you want to stay in the park you have to stay at Forest Floor Lodges*
  • Bring cash – as mentioned, there are no ATMs in Cat Tien town. The nearest ATM is an Agribank ATM about 15km away.
  • If you’re taking the bus plan ahead and prebook a motorbike taxi collection via your accommodation.

Is Cat Tien worth visiting?

Cat Tien is definitely worth visiting! You will be welcomed by fresh air and an escape into nature. Cat Tien has lots of things to do and see which makes spending 2 days here easy.

Cat Tien National Park is a great side trip to take from Ho Chi Minh City and offers a slice of the peaceful nature Vietnam has to offer!

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14 Comment

  1. Aga says: Reply

    What a comprehensive guide! I’ll pin it for when I might visit 🙂

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      Thanks Aga!

      1. Maricel says: Reply

        Going to Cat Tien at the end of the month. Thanks to your very detailed guide Frances! Will stay at the budget places you recommended. How’s the drive? Were the roads paved after the highway? Cheers!

        1. francesFR says: Reply

          Thanks Maricel! If I remember correctly the roads were fine, tarmac for the most part. There was one section that was dirt track, but I think that was a detour that we took! Grab some masks for the first part of the drive, the roads out of Saigon have some heavy traffic on them and the pollution/dust isn’t nice. Enjoy the trip!

  2. Such a detailed post! Thank you for all this information. Pinned for a future Vietnam visit 🙂

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      Thanks Jennifer – hope you get to visit Vietnam, it’s amazing here!

  3. I’ve never heard of this place but now I really need to go! Wow, so amazing!

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      It’s not the most popular national park in Vietnams, but its a good side trip from Ho Chi Minh City, or on the way to Dalat!

  4. Such a well put together post on this park. This is super helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      Thanks Jessica!

  5. Im here just now and this post has been so helpful!
    Staying at River Lodge 🙂 The place looks beautiful and can’t wait to head to the Park tomorrow. Many thanks!

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      Aw amazing Kirsten! Let me know how the river lodge is – looked to be a great option!! Enjoy the park!

  6. It would be really helpful if you included the names of the buses! We’re here in HCMC and finding it a bit difficult.

    1. francesFR says: Reply

      Hello, unfortunately I am not aware of the names of the buses. They are local buses, not coaches. Best to ask someone when you arrive at the bus station for Cat Tien/Dalat. Apologies, having not taken the bus myself I can only share the information I have gathered through research.

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