Monday, March 28, 2011

Tax man. Not.

It's not often that a waterfall is included in this blog which I didn't go myself, in fact this is a first.
My wife was in Cambodia's western province of
Pailin, not a place often visited. There she visited the Olavao waterfall, on her way back from Pailin.

There's some confusion on the name.
Travelfish notes it as Otavao:
'If you're going to spend the day in Pailin, Otavao Waterfall is the area's top attraction. It's an easy trek to the top with several different sets of stairs along the way that lead down to the falls.
An unnamed restaurant is at the top and offers Khmer food and cold drinks. It's a great place to rest as it overlooks the falls and offers marvellous views of the surrounding lush scenery.
Several canopies are dotted along the falls and serve as good spots for resting or a picnic. It's best visited during rainy season, but either way, you'll likely have the site to yourself'.
O Tavauv is what the falls are according to Zepp (2):
'The falls are privately owned, by none other than I Chien, govenor of Pailin and son of Ieng Sary. This is not a National Park, and is yet another example of the Cambodian elite using their official position to further enrich themselves. And yet, they are performing a public service. It is the same system that cannot collect taxes for education but which gives you Hun Sen schools'.
Zepp goes to say that there are in fact seven falls.

This website mentions O'Tavoa.

Matt Jacobson's (2) describes how you need to return to just outside Pailin (under 2 km) and turn to your right. After 4+ km there's a ticket booth and then it's nearly another 3 kms before you reach the waterfall. Matt mentions it as being a 4-tier waterfall, but my wife said there were many tiers ...

Some great swimming holes and during the week it's near-deserted. Though recent construction of access roads and stalls and mountains of garbage indicate that in weekends the story is different.

Despite not swimming herself my wife did indicate that the swimming holes were big ...

(1) Jacobson, M. (2008) Ultimate Cambodia. Coastal Books, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
(2) Zepp, R. () Around Battambang. 2nd Edition. Tean Thor association, Battambang, Cambodia.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cemented this one

It’s always difficult to present nature in it’s original state to tourists, such that it is appealing. Apparently, in Vietnam nature is required to be conquered before it can be appreciated. Conquered by the masses.

Yang Bay waterfall ("waterfall of the heaven") ranks as
Khanh Hoa’s number one inland tourist location. Why? Because it’s been tamed and enhanced?

Enhancing includes a bear pit, a crocodile enclosure and a fish lake. An area where one can experience local ethnic customs, such as pig racing. And listening to a music performance by the local Raglai:
'Gia Rai residents are proud of their musical ability and are only too happy to entertain visitors. They play traditional instruments such as the chapi, t’rung, tacung flute, taleploi clarinet and the dan da (stone instrument)'. source
Taming means wide lanes and lots of cement. Making (and applying) rules. And cordoning sections off to make sure the masses stay docile ...

But it’s a waterfall! Hmmm.

Located at nearly 50 km west of
Nha Trang, the capital of Khanh Hoa, currently the access road heading west is being reconstructed. In absence of the completion one needs to take the only other road west, Highway 26A (to Dalat) which goes through the 17th century citadel of Dien Khahn. Eventually one heads more southwards into more hillier terrain, the hills covered with cassava and sugarcane.

Then over a higher hill one suddenly is at Yang Bay with it’s wide tree lined roads. One parks close to the ticket office (30,000 VND, ~ US$ 1,50) and as with me I apparently also bought a ticket (another 10,000 VND) for inside the park transport.

A golf cart brings me up 300m to a place closer to the falls.
Here’s a restaurant and a number of outlets selling everything but a good cup of coffee. This being an early morning through the week visit, it’s nice and quiet. Hardly any visitors and a lot of cleaning going on. It certainly is clean; hurray for businesses taking over the nature.

About 100m beyond the stop the road is back at the level of the stream. On the other bank of the river is a smaller waterfall called Yang Khang which functions as backdrop to the above mentioned music show.

Yang Khang waterfall, note that one is not allowed on the rocks themselves ...

Yang Bay
In the mainstream is the Yang Bay waterfall: a wide fall of a number of steps, going down by as much as 20m. A wide path brings one to the top of the fall where it’s probably intended to take a photo and return back to civilization.

Beyond this point is a wide boulder strewn valley floor, which provably extends for a lot further. Travelfish describes there being another set of falls about a kilometer up.
Instead of seeking this other set, I decide to see if another waterfall closeby, Ho Cho is reachable. See the upcoming blog entry on this fall.

Yang Bay

Even though over-commercialized and sanitized, Yang Bay is still worth the visit; at least if there are not too many visitors. Lines have been set out showing where one can (or must) swim and it’s certainly safe, albeit overly civilized.

First hand experience by other visitors is not easily to come by. Travelfish mention:
'The main falls have been heavily modified, and some swimming areas have been artificially created, but the effect is fairly natural and quite beautiful'.
Wikitravel adds:
'It used to be a lot nicer before they built it but it is still a very nice place to visit'.
The current situation is only a situation which consists from mid-2008, when the part underwent an upgrade to the original construction of 2004 (source). The owner of
Yang Bay Tourist Park is the company known as Khatoco. Besides industrial activities and the local professional football of Nha Trang, it is responsible for the 570 ha park. In a news item the company is said to have more plans:
'We plan to invest billions of dong in Yang Bay. We want to build a mud bath and a high-end resort,” Khanh said with a smile surveying the beautiful countryside. “Then more people will be able to enjoy the nature and the loveliness of the reserve'.
Hmmm, I might have some reservations of this type of tourism which caters to masses. Then again, commercial interests have some potential unforeseen consequences:
'Le Cong Ra, director of the Yang Bay Tourist Park, said he and his subordinates are very worried knowing that loggers are destroying the forest in the upper part of the Yang Bay Fall'.
The outcome is more stringent enforcement.

You are here. At the cross road. Left to Ho Cho, straight ahead Yang Bay and Yang Khang.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Falling Fairies

Entrance to Suoi Tien

Suoi Tien is a commonly used name for a water-like attraction in Vietnam. Suoi meaning stream, Tien meaning fairy. So in English not as straight forward as commonly thought. Fairies are an often recurring theme in Vietnamese legends and with Suoi Tien, Khanh Hoa province the legend goes as follow:
'Legend has it that a giant from Binh Dinh Province visited Suoi Tien thousands of years ago. Enchanted by its charm, the giant accidentally slid into the stream. One of his feet landed on a boulder on the bank of the river, flattening it to create a smooth surface in the middle of the stream. The flat stone served as a place for fairies from heaven to play after coming down to earth for a swim. The flat stone is now an ideal resting point for visitors who want to conquer the upstream flow of the river'.
Note that the website from which I gained this insight has a photo of another stream (possibly for fairies) presumably more south (Mui Ne?).

The stream at entrance, with man-made pool.
Note the extensive scarring beyond, a sign of times to come

Getting There
Anyway, this Suoi Tien is located not so far from Nha Trang, the provincial capital. Passed the
17th century citadel of Dien Khahn one takes a left and continues towards the hills, sign boarding is unpredictable. There is also a number of internet sites that imply taking a turn from highway 1, south of Nha Trang in the village of Suoi Dao.
And finally a new by-pass is being built which will alter the directions altogether. The final 1 km up to the foot of the mountain
is a poor road , though small scale repairs were underway. A total of 20-25 km from Nha Trang (45 min.).

Plans are being drawn up, according to this reference:
'under a 15 year plan to build hotels, bungalows, regenerate forest, etc'.
So by then it should be less difficult to find!
Considering the amount of scarring this process (construction) is already resulting in (see photo above), the regeneration part will probably entail a long term restoration of what they had initially undertaken.
Sims [1] adds:
'Past the parking area a bar, restaurant, and tourist office are under construction. This once hidden gem is under wraps no more!

The downside to tourism is evident in all the litter seen strewn about, despite the odd rubbish bin'.
Other references are less expansive. LP [2] has a short paragraph on Suoi Tien:
'This enchanting spring seems to pop up out of nowhere.

It has been earmarked as the next big ecotourism site, which paradoxically probably means massive over-development, but it is still peaceful if you hike upstream'.
Anyway despite the nearness to Nha Trang and the obvious attractiveness for recreation, a week day mid-morning, March 2011, sees little or no crowds at all, quite sleepy.

An entrance fee is required (10,000 VND; ~ US$ 0,50) and then ione can wander up the stream. Despite aforementioned plans, there's still hardly anything to be had, at the entrance; even buying a drink is only just do-able.

The first set of falls which have been enhanced see a large crowd of drunk local teenagers, but continuing onwards through the stream bed one can seek solitude easily.


There's a passage below an overhanging rock and at a certain place an inlet for drinking water. Continuing through the bed stream brings one in still quieter places, though refuse still bears witness to a superior (?) civilisation.

Finally I find a nice sun drenched sandy pool and take an au-naturel plunge and reconnect with my inner-self. Birds everywhere, a nice place indeed.

Though not a waterfall in the strictest sense, it does contain many drops of a meter or more. There are a lot of pools to cool off in and if motivated one can continue onward up the mountain.
Sims [2] describes continuing as follows:
'Locals say that if you follow the stream to its source, about a two day hike, you’ll reach a magical chess board used long ago by fairies’.
Closeby is another stream, Suoi Nguon which according to Sims [1] misses the extensive development of the other nearby sites (see Ba Ho and Yang Bay) and signifies
‘it’s peaceful atmosphere with little to no other people around’.
Suoi Nguon can be reached by taking the road up Hon Ba mountain. Some pictures of Suoi Nguon are to be seen from this
web album.

[1] Sims, A. (2010) Nha Trang Guide Book 2011-2012 Edition
EBT Media, Nha Trang, Vietnam.
[2] Ray, N., Y.-M. Balasingamchow, I. Stewart (2010)
Vietnam. 10th Edition. Lonely Planet, Footscray, Australia

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Suoi Ba Ho translates as "Three Pools Stream", which seems to give more credence to the waterholes beneath the three falls. In quick succession these falls find their way down about 100m of granite, hollowing out their lakes and creating a number of great swimming holes.

Unfortunately access is not fantastic. The turnoff from Vietnam's Highway 1 is 20-22 kms north of Nha Trang, the Khanh Hoa provincial capital, located on the south central coast. There’s a larger sign just before the small surfaced road. Three kilometers it says, which implies possibly 3 kms until a T-crossing with no sign there but where one needs to take a left. Continue onwards for about another 3 kms over a poor rough and tumble road, one eventually ends at a car park, in the process of being built into a bungalow park.

Well-shaded by tall trees, the rudimentary car park is along a sluggishly moving stream. On the opposite side are also bungalows being built, certainly marks of forward planning. Vietnamese ecotourism. The best part is that this is the worst part of whatever this development entity calls itself.
A quick payment of 20,000 VND (a fraction less than a US $) had ensured entrance but the destination was still a little upstream.

A wide track continues along the stream until it shortcuts a turn and hits the boulder strewn stream itself. From here to the first fall one needs to jump from rock to rock. One gets to the first lake (and fall) after about 45 minutes from the car park.

Surprisingly for a Tuesday mid March, there are two large groups of locals at the lower lake having a merry time, slowly getting intoxicated.

Did I tell you that the National Parks of Thailand want to ban alcohol consumption in their jurisdiction? According to the Nation (December 28 2010) On the one hand, that leaves us folks who can control our intake with empty hands, on the other hand, drunks playing the clown are a part of the past.

Anyway, there’s a track up the side of the canyon, a very steep track. Fifteen minutes up and it’s a steep slide back down. There is also the possibility to use metal rungs drilled into the rockside to pull oneself up to the next features. Up here there’s nobody to be found, a great place to dip the skinny, a personal first for me in Vietnam.

More info from internet are the pages on Ba Ho Falls:
'Therapeutic properties are attributed to the waters of the three pools at Ba Ho Falls'.
Asian waytravel:
'Ba Ho is primitive with its tortuous soil paths, grass covers and green trees drooping down to the rock bedded streams. The romance of nature makes travelers forget daily worries. The interesting thing at Ba Ho is that tourists can step over the rocks to get to the banks. The place is perfect for a picnic. Under the glistening sunlight, tourist can relax in the cool water.

For young people, relaxing in the water is not enough. With a stick and slow careful steps up the path heading to the peak, tourists can take a panorama of the three lakes. In the immense streams, tourists can swim to feel the pure, clear water'.
Ba Ho can be organized together with a boat tour to amongst others Suoi Hoa Lan waterfalls.

Above photo from internet is by jessia22 with the caption
'Nha Trang Ba Ho waterfall- Nadeane jumping'.
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