We are Ash & Thy from the Instagram @wanderlistjourney. In this article we would love to tell you all about our experiences in Vietnam and introduce you to one epic hidden gem in the country called: Ta Dung Lake.
Ash grew up in Australia and Thy grew up in Vietnam but moved to Australia in 2007. We met in Australia eight years ago through a friend that introduced us. We clicked immediately and have been together since.
We have both had a passion for travel for the past seven years now. Both of us have always approached it differently compared to everyone else we know. When we visit a country we always go for long periods of time and people would ask us: “Why are you going there for that long?” Travelling for us is about creating a deeper connection to a place, its people and culture.
Our travel adventures are usually for at least three weeks and sometimes up to eight weeks. We don’t believe in quick trips unless it’s for something specific. Travelling slowly is the best way to really get to know a place.
With that in mind, we have been travelling in Vietnam since February, 2020 and have been based out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It’s been a year now and what an incredible experience! The Vietnamese people are amazing and the expat community is so welcoming. Vietnam feels like home now.
Our Travel Adventures in Vietnam
We have been pushing ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and find destinations that are rarely visited but which deserve a little spotlight. This included a trip to Hoanh Mo, Binh Lieu – one of the last cities before you enter China. It’s situated in the Northeast tip of Vietnam.
Recently we finished an island hopping trip which started on Hon Son island and finished in Phu Quoc island, with a stop off at Nam Du island. This journey was all by boat and no planes whatsoever! We are excited to share more about this adventure on our social media in the coming weeks.
Another goal of ours has been to experience specific timed events like the Sac Dec Flower Village where flowers move down to Saigon by boat and then arrive at the metropolis just before Tet (Vietnamese New Year).
We also travelled around Quy Nhon which is a lesser known city in central Vietnam. This place was beautiful and its surrounding areas were amazing to see. It’s definitely an up-and-coming city. From all the experiences we have had in Vietnam, the unique journeys are what stick with us most – be it mistakes we made or saying yes to places we were hesitant to go!
Discovering the Ultimate Hidden Gem of Vietnam – Ta Dung Lake
Discovering Ta Dung Lake was a mix of research and spontaneity. It was a place we were aware of but at the same time seeing the pictures of it online almost seemed too surreal. We had seen photos of it earlier on social media and unknowingly dismissed it as Ha Long Bay on a sunny day.
Our journey to get there started in Dak Lak. We travelled around this region exploring the area and locating some of the highlights such as the Mother Elephant Stone, various coffee farms and the famous Dray Nur Waterfall (a really unique and beautiful waterfall). Thy had mentioned a few more places we could visit in the area and Ta Dung Lake was on the list.
However, we initially dismissed it as too far. Dak Lak to Ta Dung is three hours to get to and so we hesitated before going. But in the end we thought it would be fun to showcase a new destination and hopefully give this place some exposure. We always love showcasing Vietnam’s hidden treasures. Luckily for us, this country is blessed with so many of them!
Best Things To Do at Ta Dung Lake
Ta Dung Lake is the highlight of the region. There are various other things to do, like seeing the famous dam, but ultimately people come here to see what is described as the “Ha Long Bay of the Central Highlands”.
Another highlight is the drive to Ta Dung. You are constantly heading uphill and the roads start to get smaller and smaller along the journey. On some sections of the drive – as you look left and right – you can see beautiful scenery and vast valleys of coffee bean farms and pepper farms.
You feel so small in comparison to these giant valleys that you are surrounded by. Almost every new place makes you want to stop, take pictures and embrace the scenery. Simply put, the landscape is beautiful!
If you are lucky enough to come to Ta Dung during the weekend then you can participate in the Mong Market at the nearby village of Dak Nang. The Mong community retained their traditional customs and culture when they migrated here from the northern mountains. Visitors can experience a new culture, similar to what tourists find in the Sapa region of Vietnam.
Another experience not to be missed on Ta Dung Lake is taking a boat out to those small islands you see in photos. The price is about $100,000 VND per person. You are taken around the lake, stop off at a few small islands, eat some lunch on the boat and enjoy the pristine lake waters.
Ta Dung Lake doesn’t offer many choices for accommodation. Hence, tourists often opt for camping. Sleeping by the lake, breathing in the fresh air and admiring the star-lit sky at night is a wonderful experience.
Where to Stay in Ta Dung Lake
Unfortunately, we didn’t stay in Ta Dung Lake which was a big mistake and missed opportunity on our part! It was something we were looking into so we know that the area doesn’t have many hotels per se but rather various guest houses and homestays. There was one we saw which had gorgeous views of the lake to wake up to called Ta Dung Topview Homestay.
The price was from $800,000 VND per night but they do have the best views and also a cafe attached to the homestay. From our experience, we recommend not rushing your visit to Ta Dung Lake and opting to stay for a night or two so you can really take in the beauty of this hidden gem.
Memories of the Central Highlands
We don’t know if it’s a favorite memory per se but something that we will always remember from the Central Highlands of Vietnam was making the mistake of thinking this area was “tropical”. Ash learned the hard way when he said to himself: “Oh, I don’t need a jacket for the Central Highlands”.
When we were travelling through Dak Nong (a nearby province), we had overstayed our time due to taking too many photos/videos. The light began to fade fast and we thought to ourselves that we had to leave now! The issue was that the weather was getting cold as the sun started to set.
About a quarter of the way on our bike journey back to Dak Lak, Ash started to shiver really bad but he just dismissed it as everyone has had a slight chill and shiver before. He quickly realised that this wasn’t going away. If anything, it was getting worse. At one point Ash had blurred vision and immediately stopped the bike and said to Thy: “This isn’t right”.
He needed to put something on but we only had a raincoat. Ash put on the raincoat and tucked his hands into Thy’s shirt and carried on. But then it became unbearable! We stopped immediately. Luckily, we were in front of a factory. Ash clicked that during the day the sun bakes down onto the ground and that the driveway of the factory would still be warm.
So he started rolling on the ground to increase his temperature and laid there for a good 30 minutes on this concrete slab of warmth. In the end, we managed to arrive at a town that had warm soup and food! We still had a short distance to the next town before we could jump into a clothes store and buy a jacket and make our way back to Dak Lak.
While this was all happening, we were driving in pitch black darkness with only our small headlight, barely able to see anything in front of us. Was that dangerous? We suppose that’s a mild way to put it! We learned our lesson after this experience. From now on we take jackets even if we don’t think we will use them. It wasn’t the best experience but it sure was memorable!
Other Great Spots by Ta Dung Lake
- From Ta Dung tourists can visit the Dong Nai 3 hydropower plant.
- Chu B’luk Cave is the longest cave in Southeast Asia. It consists of 100 large and small caves. There are some really unique features here.
- Lien Nung Waterfall is another stop that should not be missed. The waterfall cascades from the height of 30 metres down the crystal-clear streams underneath creating something again that is very unique.
- Visit Gia Nghia to try Central Highland specialties such as grilled chicken, sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes, stir-fried tripe with grilled bamboo, red vermicelli, hotpot with forest leaves, etc.
- Continue on to Bao Loc and Lam Dong (Da Lat) if you want to go on a road trip adventure through the highlands on your bike.
- Coffee country in Buon Ma Thuot – a must for coffee lovers!
- Visit Kon Tum – the capital city of Kon Tum Province.
Need to Know Before you Go
There are five key tips when heading to Ta Dung from Dak Lak by bike:
- If you travel to places above sea level in Vietnam between November and January please bring a jacket (learn from our mistake)!
- Choosing to drive there by motorbike is a lot of fun but make sure your bike is well serviced and has a strong engine or at a minimum a manual bike that will allow you to constantly change gears. You will be heading uphill most of the time. Trucks are also on the road and some have even been known to roll back frequently on the steeper roads.
- Bring small snacks to eat because you could be driving for miles without any food stores or even towns to stop at, seriously!
- Note that when you take a boat ride at Ta Dung Lake it’s advisable to negotiate with the boat owner in advance to commit to the full itinerary and pick up time so you can return to the station.
- If you plan on just seeing Ta Dung Lake and heading back to Dak Lak remember not to overstay or you will be driving through the night and it can get dangerous. We did this and it was not comfortable at all – in pitch black darkness with trucks zooming past us, barely avoiding us.
Apart from that, just enjoy your time at the beautiful Ta Dung Lake in the Central Highlands! Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions 🙂