Located about 45 kilometres west of Da Nang, Ba Na Mountain was used during the French colonial period as a summer retreat.
In the old days, the French colonials used to be borne up the winding, 16-kilometre road to the top on palanquins. Nowadays, the road is well paved, but still very steep. At the top are the remains of some French villas -- there isn't much left of them, but the ones accessible on foot do give an interesting picture of former life on the mountain. There's even an old French wine cellar that can be visited at the Ba Na By Night Resort. Dug into the mountain to keep the wine at the perfect temperature, it's the one structure that has perfectly withstood the passage of time -- shows the French had their priorities in order.
The mountain is cloaked in mist for most of the year, so pick the clearest day you can manage in order to enjoy the views. March through August is the best time to visit -- November and December are too rainy. In 2013, a record breaking five-kilometre long cable car was opened, transporting visitors up 1,368 metres in 15 minutes. The views from the cars are worth the trip alone, with forests of ferns and creepers dripping in the mist and views stretching as far as the Cham Islands to the south and Son Tra peninsula to the north. If you can hear it above the excited chatter of the 12 Vietnamese you are likely to share your pod with, the sounds of a densely populated (by nature) jungle beneath are a jumble of bird song and monkey calls. Just as your ears pop for the last time and the mountain peak comes into view, you'll get a peek at the other new additions to the Ba Na collection – Ba Na's fantasy park rages into view, with a row of turrets and a spiralling, hillside rollercoaster track.
If you are looking for a more ‘natural' experience, we recommend a quick circuit to admire the views, quickly followed by jumping on to the smaller cable cars that service the route to the lower tier, which has far more to offer on the historic, cultural side of things, with the French wine cellar, monuments, view points and nature gardens – a furnicular was opened in April 2014 to service the route if the climb is a bit too much. Having said that, the kitch fantasy park is well worth a look; we loved the wax work museum which is packed with hard to guess A-list celebrities including a Mick Jagger mouthed Michael Jackson and the nation's favourite, Mr Bean. Jurassic Park is a bit of a letdown after you've seen the warning signs not to enter if you are unsure or scared, as it's just a collection of moving plastic prehistorics in a dark, noisy room with a bear that towers over a tyrannasaurus – it's hardly to scale. For theme park rides there are a number of “firsts, highest and biggest in Vietnam” including bumper cars (biggest floor), 3D Mega theatre (first), artificial climbing wall and drop and twist tower (both highest) and soft play area (largest). Apparently the entrance ticket price covers a few of these rides, but we were too scared and unsure to find out.
Even under the cover of clouds, the top of the mountain is a beautiful place -- but to be honest, the mountain is really only worth visiting on a sunny day when you can take advantage of the views. When visibility is better, it's still a fair distance for a daytrip, with little in the way of actual sights to reward the tiring bike trip along the highway. Staying overnight could make the voyage, especially once the last cable car leaves, when the park locks up and stops bellowing Abba's greatest hits and you get to hear the sounds of the jungle and take in the views away from the crowds; the sunrise on a clear day must be out of this world. On a public holiday or weekend when the crowds descend upon the hotels here it must be hell.
If you do go, the best way is by motorbike, but we'd only recommend this for experienced riders – Highway 1 is a notoriously dangerous road and the main thoroughfare for big trucks and speeding mini-buses. Don't try it with two people on one 100cc bike -- take separate bikes or find something more powerful. Oh, and make sure the bike has a good set of brakes -- you'll need them on the way down. Also, no matter what the weather, bring a jumper and some rain gear, just in case.
To get here, take highway 1A north, then take a left on Au Co Road about three kilometres past the railroad crossing going north. It's hard to find, but luckily many locals know the route and will understand if you ask for Ba Na. To enter, there is a fee of 500,000 VND per adult, as well as a surcharge for your vehicle. Cable cars run every hour from 07:30 with the last returning to base at 21:15. From the top cars run at 15 minutes past the hour from 08:15 with the last departure at 21:15.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 16th July, 2014.