Quick flow: Crossing a stream with a temporary bridge made from a tree trunk challenged the young trekkers. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam

by Hoai Nam

The adventurers first laid their boots on the soft jungle soil by 7.30am and before long the first challenge for them was set. How to cross a fast running stream without the use of a bridge?

Local guides and porters cut down a tree to build a temporary overpass, and the trek into Kon Ka Kinh National Park continued on.

"A log bridge replete with a handrail made by creepers allowed us to venture into the otherwise inaccessible jungle and return home safely." said local guide Dinh Khanh Toan.

"Streams run very fast in flood season and it makes for a dangerous crossing. Local porters, who are from the ethnic Ba Na group, are experienced with jungle trips, and we really need them for the trip, there are four streams to cross on the trek," Toan said.

"It's a bit nerve wracking crossing the temporary bridge. However, I slowly passed the first stream with help from local guide and porters," said a team member Nguyen Quang Sang.

Jungle adventure

K'Bang District in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai was the starting point for a jungle adventure that Sang and a group of 20 young people took. They trekked three days and two nights into the lush forest home of some fabulous wildlife.

The trippers could see some endangered primates – gray-shanked douc langurs – and other local wildlife living in the area.

"You can see wild boar, reptiles, Tibetan bear and deer. However, tigers have not been seen in the area for years," Sang said.

The group spent a day at the headquarters of park, 70km away from the district, in preparation for the jungle trekking. They then took a van from K'Bang district – the closest drop-off point to the park's centre.

They had on hand all necessary belongings for the adventure; food, sleeping bags, leggings, bush-whackers, hammocks, compasses and Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers as well as some specialist equipment carried by the ranger.

The team, now swollen with the addition of local porters hired to carry some of the food, equipment and cooking tools, started the journey very early in the morning.

The van approached Ha Dung village, the team then took a 30-minute motorbike taxi drive to the trekking starting point because the 10km drive in is inaccessible to cars.

"The first few kilometres of the trek did not give us trouble as the terrain was quite low and easy. We walked with a fast pace through the first section of the forest," Sang said.

Barbecue blaze: The adventurers on the trekking tour loved eating grilled meat.

On the first day the team stopped by the second stream for lunch after a four hours trek. They quickly prepared a lunch of rice balls and canned food for a quick meal in 30 minutes.

"I had the first experience with unfamiliar and uncomfortable conditions away from home. It's very important to make a team line-up and follow discipline, if trailing behind in the jungle you could miss the trail," said tripper Hoang Duy.

"It's the first jungle trip for all of us, so the local guide and porters instructed us carefully during the trek," Duy said, adding that life in jungle is not easy.

It got dark in jungle in the late afternoon and the guide decided to make camp on a flat ground near the stream.

"The jungle trippers set a tent near a water source for the night's stay because they needed water to cook and wash. Anyway, trekking along the stream will lead us to the last stop or help us to find the way home in case you lose your way," said Sac, a Ba Na ethnic man.

"However, compass and GPS receivers will assist trippers when exploring the jungle. But we could see the stars (the Great Bear) to help us navigate in the right direction," the 27-year-old added.

The team took an hour to seek firewood to cook and keep warm at night as well as making preparations to prevent animals approaching.

Pork and chicken are a favourite for grilled dishes in jungle when it's very cold at night.

"It's quick to prepare dinner. Each member was assigned to make a dish for the wildlife lover's party. We roasted pork, chicken and cooked rice in a bamboo-tube over an open fire," said Hoang Thanh Huyen.

"Porters also carried in some jars of wine – a specialty drink of Ba Na ethnic group – in the Central Highlands region. We danced around the fire and had a very nice party," Huyen said.

"We have never had such exciting time in the jungle before," Huyen enthused.

"Sleeping bags were the best choice for avoiding mosquitoes. It keeps us warm when it's wet in the deep damp jungle," Huyen added.

The team slept in hammocks tied between trees under a canopy made of trees, leaves and some canvas.

Top of the rock

After having breakfast the next morning, the adventurers spent the second day climbing to a height of 1,400m above the sea level to the stand upon the White Rock precipice, the highest peak of the national park.

The trippers left heavy luggage at the camp because of the slopping paths, only food, snacks and water were brought for a spectacular lunch on the top of the rock.

"We were tired on the second day because of tough terrain. The path was not so long, but uphill gradient slowed our pace," Tran Ai Tam, the team leader said.

"We had to clear the way with bush-whackers, while others of us were sidelined to pick leeches out of our legs and hands," Tam said.

"The jungle has very high humidity and numerous animals living in it so it is a suitable environment for terrestrial leeches. However, the trippers use chemical sprayers or bag of salt to prevent leeches from sucking their blood," Tam, who has years of jungle experience, explained.

Tam said that climbing 400m up to the top of White Rock from the camp used up much time and power. The mount finally came into sight after five hours trailing up sloping terrain.

Sac, the local guide, said the mount gives an overview of the park when it's clear and sunny. They spent an hour enjoying lunch on the rock then the team returned to the camp.

On the second night the campfire party was fed left-overs of roasted pork, beef and chicken from the previous night.

"We could not store raw meat, so we cooked it all well for the second night dinner," said local guide, Phinh.

The team returned to the starting point by the next morning.

Local guide Toan suggested how to go about taking the tour. He also stressed that all trippers are prohibited from hunting or taking flora and fauna from the park.

"You should take a bus to Mang Yang district to book package tour in the park. Local guides and porters are available for days and nights trekking in jungle. Each porter askes only VND100,000 for a full day service, while a meal will be VND100,000 each," Toan said, adding entrance ticket costs VND80,000. — VNS