First published January 2024 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.

For many years now, my friends and I meet for an annual camping trip at Christmas/New Year. During the last days of 2023, we camped out together on the Trong Veo stream, about 25km northwest of Dalat, in the Central Highlands. Accessed via a steep dirt road through the pine forests, our campsite lay on a grassy bank of the clear-running stream, surrounded by hills, with an impressive waterfall just a short walk upstream and several beautiful hiking trails leading into the forests. For two nights we camped, talked around the fire, played games on the sandy beach, took cold plunges in the stream, hiked, cooked, ate, drank and enjoyed each other’s company and the wonderful natural setting that we were in. It was, as it always is, a memorable and joyful experience.

Dawn at our campsite on Trong Veo stream

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CAMPING ON TRONG VEO STREAM:

Our Annual Year-End Camping Trip

Camping in the pine forests surrounding Dalat is always great; but camping by fresh water makes the experience all the more enjoyable. This region is ideal for camping: there are excellent potential campsites everywhere. On this page, I’ve written a brief overview of the general area where we camped, including a detailed map of how to get there, a short description on our camping trip, some general information about camping in the forests here, and loads of photos. (Check out my other camping guides in Related Posts):

CONTENTS:

Map

Location & Things to Do

How to Get There

Equipment Check-List

Safety & Hazards

More Camping Guides

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Mid-morning on a sunny day at our campsite

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MAP:

Camping on Trong Veo Stream

*Respectful Camping: If you wild camp in Vietnam, please do so respectfully & safely. Be prepared, be sensible, be conscious of the people & natural environment around you. Please read the Safety & Hazards section.

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Location & Things to Do: 

Often, finding a good campsite is the most time-consuming (and the most important) part of a camping trip. Anticipating this, we had travelled to Dalat a couple of weeks before Christmas in order to search for the ‘perfect’ campsite, namely one by a fresh water source. After a couple of days searching – riding dirt roads up and down hillsides, through forests, across rivers and along ridges – we finally found what we were looking for: a clearing by a fast-flowing stream accessed via a dirt road, with forested hills all around and no significant settlements or man-made structures nearby. Happy with this location, I made a map of how to get there, sent it to everyone, and we all arranged to meet up at the campsite on Christmas Day.

Being next to water means you can bathe, swim, wash, and play in the stream, as well as use the water for cooking and drinking by filtering it. This transforms the camping experience and allows you to be more self-sufficient and stay out for more nights without needing to resupply. The waterway is called Suối Trong Veo which means ‘clear stream’ in Vietnamese. Indeed, the water was fresh, clear and cool – great for cold plunges in the morning to wake yourself up. A narrow pathway leads along the west bank of the stream for about 30 minutes before reaching Thác Chờ Mong – a beautiful waterfall cascading through jungle and pines. From there, it’s possible to continue hiking uphill through the pine forests with excellent views of the valley and surrounding countryside, and loop all the way back to the campsite, making a wonderful 2-hour trek.

Each person brought something to eat and drink for the group. But the real reason we all ate so well on this particular camping trip was because we were lucky enough to be with some excellent cooks, who turned our campfire into a hearth on which they created delicious meals, including coconut curry, bánh đa noodles with homemade tomato sauce, quail egg, cashew, and date salad, and even freshly made bread with homemade pickles and other condiments – we were spoiled! After dinner, having eaten so much, we went for strolls in the moonlit along the stream, huddled in our jackets to keep the cold highland night at bay. Our camping trip coincided with a full moon. The nights are clear at this time of year in the highlands, and the moonlight was so bright that it shone through the canvas of our tents all night.

Bathing at dusk in Trong Veo stream: Thảo, Gydion, Me & Fredo (left to right)

Chờ Mong waterfall, just a short hike upstream from our campsite

Breakfast preparations on a chilly morning at our campsite

Martin kneading dough for fresh bread

Gydion & Thảo take a cold plunge after breakfast

Carrots & onions in the hearth ready to be added to a coconut curry for dinner

From the top of Chờ Mong waterfall

Me on a pathway through the pines to our campsite

Martin & Thảo’s ingenious smokeless camp stove

Our campsite at dawn

Thảo holding the dough for bread-making

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How to Get There: 

If you’re planning on camping along the Trong Veo stream, there are lots of potential campsites, either by the water or within walking distance of it. Indeed, the wider area also has some fantastic places to camp – it’s difficult to think of anywhere better to camp in Vietnam, especially during the dry season months between November and March.

[See my map for details] Although there are other places to access the Trong Veo valley and stream, to get to the area we camped, ride about 20km northwest of Dalat city centre of a good paved road until you reach HuHa’s Farmstay. Here, turn left on a bumpy dirt road ascending steeply into the woods. Reaching the top, there’s a forest crossroads: bear left and follow the dirt road all the way down into the valley until you reach a rickety wooden bridge across a stream. Go over the bridge and continue on the dirt road until it enters a pine forest and comes out the other side at a clearing by the stream. From here, you can find your own way and your own campsite – whether by the stream or in the forests or up on the hills. My map should be sufficient for people to follow, and I’ve also included a rough outline of the hiking loop from the stream to the waterfall, up the hill, through the forest, and back down to Trong Veo stream.

Remember that the dirt road section can be slow and challenging, especially if you’re not used to going off-road, or your motorbike isn’t in good condition, or you’re travelling with a passenger or lots of baggage. In wet conditions, it’s best not to take the dirt road.

The wooden bridge

Skirting pine-studded ridges in search of the ‘perfect’ campsite

View of Trong Veo stream from our campsite

Our campsite on Trong Veo stream

Trong Veo stream near our campsite

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Equipment Check-List:

Below is a brief (far from exhaustive) equipment check-list for camping in the highlands. I’ve written this assuming that most travellers will bring their own equipment, but there’s also the possibility of renting a tent somewhere in nearby Dalat (ask around). To a certain extent, the success of your camping trip hinges on how prepared you are. I haven’t covered everything here – just some essentials and optional extras which I personally like having with me. If you’ve camped in other places in Vietnam, you’ll already have the equipment down to an art. It certainly isn’t necessary to have all the modern, trendy camping gadgets and accessories in order to have a highly successful camping trip. In fact, to a certain degree, you can end up making yourself too comfortable if you bring too much equipment; and then it doesn’t really feel like camping anymore. However, having the basics does make all the difference – being too cold at night, for example, is pretty miserable. The following list is rambling and in no particular order (the annotated picture below might also be helpful):

Camping check-list: it’s good to be fairly organized when camping in Vietnam

Check-List: Tent or camping hammock (I much prefer the former, but both available to buy in Vietnam; try the FanFan stores in several cities), cell phone, Viettel SIM card and data (best coverage in the boonies), pre-load Google Maps satellite view of potential camping areas before departure, USB power-bank, flashlight (with extra batteries or a USB-charged flashlight is a good option), money stashed in three different places (in your luggage, your motorbike, and about your person), a camp stove, firelighters (cồn khô in Vietnamese; available in most local countryside stores), a couple of cigarette lighters, food and snacks (dried and tinned food is easiest, but you can be surprisingly creative when it comes to camping food), big bottles of water (5-6 litre bottles are available in most stores), a water filter (optional), thermos flasks (for storing boiled water), coffee and tea, local liquor (rượu), warm clothes, socks (underrated camping asset – great for walking around your campsite without getting sandy or dirty feet), a mat for sitting on, sandals and a pair of decent shoes (for hiking), a good camera (if you really want to take great photos of the clouds), motorbike check-up prior to departure (you don’t want to breakdown in the middle of nowhere; punctures are common – I use tubeless tyres that have served me well for years), reading material or a Kindle, long-burning candles (comforting at night, safer, less effort and less attention-drawing than a campfire), mosquito coil and bug spray, guitar/ukulele (optional), cutlery, a good knife, waterproof rain-suit, sunscreen, toothbrush, towel, GIVI box or bungees for securing your luggage on your motorbike, inflatable sleeping mat or yoga mat (makes all the difference if you actually want to get any sleep), sleeping bag, wet ‘baby’ tissues (great for cleaning utensils), hand sanitizer, passport, lots of common sense.

Camping is a much better experience when you come prepared

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Safety & Hazards:

Camping on Trong Veo stream is a lot of fun, but there are several precautions to take and potential hazards to be aware of. Camping is an increasingly popular activity across Vietnam, but especially in the mountains and forests of the Central Highlands surrounding Dalat. Anyone who decides to camp should do so as responsibly as possible. Below are a few things to keep in mind when camping in this region:

Fires

Rivers & Dams

Trash & Environment

Personal Safety & Possessions

Animals & Wildlife

People & Authorities

Riding Off-Road

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Fires: It should go without saying that if you make a campfire, you need to be extremely careful, especially in the dry season, when everything is crisp, brittle and easy to ignite. At this time of year, the forests are very arid and fire can spread quickly and easily. What’s more, the majority of trees in the forests are pine, which is highly flammable. Be sensible: if you make a campfire, keep it small and under control, and don’t take anything for granted.

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Rivers & Dams: In Vietnam, almost every river of any size is dammed at some point along its course – indeed, often at multiple points. This means that the water flow of many rivers is regulated by dams upstream. If so, the water level of the river changes dramatically at least twice every day when the sluices of the dam are opened and closed. As a result, you must be extremely careful when choosing a campsite next to water or when bathing in the river. Make sure you pitch your tent above the high water mark, not on a ‘beach’, because the latter may be flooded under a metre of water if the sluices are opened upstream. Likewise, when swimming in rivers be careful of a sudden change in flow and volume if the dams open their gates. What’s more, if you’re camping in the rainy season (May-November), heavy rainfall upstream will swell the rivers considerably downstream, often resulting in dangerous flash floods.

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Trash & Environment: It is a sad fact that litter is a huge problem in the Vietnamese countryside, especially ‘casual items’, such as instant noodle packages, soft drink cans, water bottles, candy wrappers, and little sachets of shampoo. Trash is not only discarded by people living locally but also by travelling visitors: indeed, some of the worst-affected areas in Vietnam are the most-popular tourist destinations, including camping spots. Set an example by making sure you leave your campsite spotless. Try to limit the amount of single-use plastic you consume while camping by bringing along items such as flasks, reusable food containers, and a water filter. Any litter you do generate, tie up in a bag and dispose of properly in the nearest town the next day. When going to the toilet outside, dig a little hole in the ground and cover it up again. This serves two purposes: it will enrich the soil and won’t ‘disturb’ any passersby.

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Personal Safety & Possessions: Vietnam is generally a very safe country in which to travel. But it’s still wise to be careful with your most valuable possessions. At night, lock the wheel of your motorbike and keep it close to your tent. I also leave my bike facing in the direction of ‘escape’, if for some reason I need to make a quick exit during the night (bad weather, perhaps, or some unforeseen circumstance). When you go to sleep, make sure you have all of your most important and valuable possessions with you inside the tent, such as money, passport, phone etc. I also keep my knife at arm’s reach in the tent at night. UXO (unexploded ordnance) leftover from the wars of the last century is still a danger in Vietnam (although generally not is this particular region). Use your common sense: don’t forge a path into untrodden forest and jungle, don’t dig deep holes in the ground, and don’t touch any metallic object you see in the earth.

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Animals & Wildlife: Most of the big animals and predators that used to roam this region – tigers, white rhino, elephants, black bears – are now long gone: hunted and poached to near extinction. Nonetheless, nighttime can still be a scary and sobering experience: the darkness belongs to animals, not humans. You get a real sense of this as you lie in your tent, listening to the chorus of animals and insects outside in the big, black landscape. Don’t leave food outside your tent at night: clean your utensils, stash your food in a container, and tie up your litter in a bag. Snakes and mosquitoes are probably the most dangerous animals you’re likely to encounter, neither of which like fire. Snakes, apparently, don’t like heavy footfall and are unlikely to seek out a place of human activity. (I’ve seen many snakes in Vietnam, but none when I’ve camped.) For mosquitoes, burn a coil throughout the evening and night, and bring bug spray if you need it. In the night, there are occasional howlings, animal calls, and rustling in the trees and brush. It takes some getting used to, but after a few camping trips, these nighttime sounds become a comfort rather than a concern.

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People & Authorities: I’ve camped dozens of times all over Vietnam: I’ve never been told not to camp and I’ve never had a problem with people or local authorities. However, as a general rule, try not to draw attention to yourself: wild camping is still quite unusual in Vietnam, so anyone who sees a traveller (especially a foreign one) setting up their tent in the middle of nowhere will naturally be curious or even, in some cases, suspicious. Try to be as inconspicuous as possible: it’s best to make sure no one sees you setting up camp and that you aren’t visible from any road, lane or pathway. This is because you don’t want to attract the curiosity of any passersby. If you do encounter anybody, the right thing to do is to ask permission to camp: in almost every situation in my experience, people will be happy to let you (albeit confused as to why you’d want to). And, obviously, pay attention to your surroundings: make sure you’re not camping on someone’s farmland or close to a military post or a national border.

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Riding Off-Road: In order to find the best possible camping spots in the highlands, it will almost certainly be necessary to ride off-road for some distance. Paved back-roads turn into pot-holed lanes, dirt roads into rocky goat paths and narrow footpaths. Riding off-road can be tough, slow and dangerous, especially if, like me, your motorbike wasn’t designed for such use. However, with care and patience even an old automatic like my motorbike can do it. Ride slowly and carefully, because punctures and falls are highly likely if you ride recklessly off-road. Also, riding on dirt roads is much easier in the dry season: the same roads when wet can be extremely difficult and treacherous.

*Respectful Camping: If you wild camp in Vietnam, please do so respectfully & safely. Be prepared, be sensible, be conscious of the people & natural environment around you. Please read the Safety & Hazards section.

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*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like camping and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page

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