INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
The La Nga River and Thac Ba Waterfall offer freshwater bathing, lush jungle, mountain scenery and opportunities for camping, all within a few hours’ drive of Saigon. A great inland escape for city-dwellers, these two pretty spots are best visited with your own wheels, either as a short loop from Saigon or as part of a longer tour of the region. New roads have made this area more accessible than ever. A trip here is a great alternative to more well-trodden inland natural attractions within easy reach of Saigon, such as Cat Tien National Park.
GUIDE: LA NGA RIVER & THAC BA FALLS
On this page, I’ve written a brief overview of the La Nga River and Thac Ba Waterfall. If you’re not planning to camp by the La Nga River, there’s accommodation in the form of several nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) in the nearby towns of Lac Tanh (Tanh Linh) and Ta Pao. Alternatively, continue up to the hotels in Bao Loc, or to Di Linh for a night at Juliet’s Villa Resort. I assume that anyone intending to travel to the La Nga River and Thac Ba Waterfall will do so with their own wheels (motorbike, bicycle or car), so I have drawn a map of the best way to get there from Saigon (i.e. the most scenic and least traffic-clogged). Note: There are many excellent ways to extend this route and create a longer tour of the area. You could, for example, continue south on Route QL55B to the coastal town of Lagi and check out some of the campsites on the Ocean Road; or north on Route QL55 to Bao Loc and on to Dalat using my back-roads guide; or head west to Cat Tien National Park; or follow my Inland Binh Thuan or Tet Lunar New Year routes.
The La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall
View in a LARGER MAP
The Route from Saigon to La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall
View in a LARGER MAP
La Nga River:
Cool and clear, and surrounded by lush highland scenery, the La Nga River offers opportunities for wild swimming in its refreshing waters and wild camping along its pretty banks. This is very rare considering it’s within such easy reach of Saigon. Just 170km east of the city (a journey made much easier, and far more pleasant, than in the past thanks to new back-roads), the La Nga River is a great way to escape to the countryside for a couple of days.
One spot in particular is easy to access and very beautiful. Near the minority hamlet of La Ngau on Route QL55, a bridge crosses the La Nga River. At either end of the western side of the bridge, dirt roads lead along both banks of the river. Follow these and you’ll find some fabulous bathing and camping spots.
You could easily spend the day (and night, if you have a tent) along the banks of this river. The further down the dirt paths you go, the rougher the surface and the more remote and pretty the scenery becomes. Bring some picnic food and drink, find a nice shady spot and while away the day. Ethnic minority communities live in bamboo stilt houses surrounded by cashew orchards, just back from the river. The locals will likely come and say ‘Hi’ as you picnic by the river.
Note that, although swimming is good, the current can be strong. It all depends on what’s happening upstream, where the Da Mi hydroelectric dam controls the water flow. Be very careful, even if you’re a confident swimmer. The dramatic change in water level, depending on the dam, is also an important factor to consider when choosing a campsite: if the dam is closed, the water level will be low, and what may look like a perfect river beach for camping, will be a metre under water once the dam is opened and the water level rises. Make sure you camp above the high-water line.
Thac Ba Waterfall:
Thac Ba is an attractive cascade of white water tumbling over large granite boulders covered in jungle vines. It’s a beautiful place, but it can get crowded with domestic tourists and, predictably, tainted by trash. The ride from La Nga River to the falls, on Route QL55, is very pretty, passing rice fields in the shadow of forested hills before reaching Lac Tanh (Tanh Linh) town. A paved lane (signposted to the falls) leads south of town towards the jungled slopes of Nui Ong Mountain.
You can drive as far as the entrance gate (parking: 10,000vnd; entrance: 25,000vnd; open: 6am-6pm), from where a beaten-up, doorless old minivan ferries visitors up a pathway, through towering tropical trees and screaming cicadas, to the foot of the falls. The water crashes over boulders, then rocks, then stones, then pebbles as it bursts forth from the dense jungle foliage on the mountainside. It’s not especially high, but it’s still a very impressive and scenic sight.
There are often large groups of Vietnamese visitors – families, friends, school children – jumping from the rocks into the cool water, swinging in hammocks between trees, drinking beer by the shady rock pools, grilling marinated meat over fires made between boulders, and having an all-around great time. It’s what Vietnamese groups do best: food, drink, family and friends in a beautiful natural setting.
Unfortunately, when it comes to cleaning up after themselves, no one seems to bother. Thus, there are piles of picnic trash jammed between rocks and strewn all over the place. Some people do make an effort, and there are staff at the waterfall who seem to pick up some of the trash, but it’s a losing battle. There are a couple of restaurants and cafes by the falls which serve pretty good food and drink. Alternatively, head back into Lac Tanh town for a meal of nem nướng (roll-it-yourself rice paper parcels filled with grilled pork and herbs). There are a few restaurants selling nem nướng on road DT720 as it passes through town. Several doors down from the restaurants, Nhà Nghỉ Minh Hoa (0623 880 256) is a decent local guesthouse with simple but clean rooms for 150,000-250,000vnd.