Hon Ba soars more than 1,500 metres above the coastal plains of Khanh Hoa Province, 60km southwest of Nha Trang. The peak can be seen from Ngoan Muc Pass in Lam Dong on clear sunny days, but cannot be seen in Khanh Hoa as it’s always cloudy and humid, with frequent rain all year round.
“If you go to the mountain, make sure you come back before dark,” the hotel driver warned me.
From Highway 1A, at Suoi Cat, Cam Lam district, turn onto the small road at the foot of the mountain next to Suoi Dau Lake to begin the journey to Hon Ba. It is about 37km from the foot to the top along a snaking mountain road — an unusual experience when having a holiday in Nha Trang.
Suoi Dau Lake
Suoi Dau Lake is a reservoir, providing water to 3,700 hectares of rice fields and fruit gardens and other industrial zones including Suoi Dau and Cay Cay. Formed by the Suoi Dau River and Da Giang stream running from Hon Ba, the lake has a surface area of 320ha. Some Nha Trang people call the mountain after the name of the lake, others don’t know where it is.
The lake looked like a giant blue crystal, surrounded by different shades of green. I pulled my bike over and gazed at the island far away in the lake. The water was calm, reflecting some fishermen sitting on the dyke. A man on his bike was driving around to check the floodgates, while three kids were herding their buffaloes.
“Go to the end of the dyke and you will see the road leading to Hon Ba,” a man told me while pointing in the opposite direction.
The 37km road leading to the top is concreted, and greeted my eyes with untouched scenery of a primitive forest on one side and the Da Giang stream on the other. Rags of mist floated around tall trees standing on the slope of the mountain. The further I drove up, the cooler the weather became, with houses lying scattered along the road.
Hon Ba was discovered by Swiss physician Dr. Alexandre Yersin in the early 20th century. In 1915, he built a research station where he conducted many experimental programmes and had a medicinal garden at the top. He is remembered for his effort to find quinine, the first effective remedy for malaria, by growing the cinchona tree. To pay tribute to Dr. Yersin, the provincial government has restored and preserved his house, and established Hon Ba Nature Reserve in 2005.
The reserve boasts 41 precious varieties of plants and 59 rare types of animal listed in Vietnam’s Red Book of Endangered Species. It's also home to 592 varieties of tropical plants and 255 kinds of animals.
If you have ever taken a road trip to Dalat, you will find the road up to Dr. Yersin’s house not too different, with cool air, birdsong and the gurgling sound of the Da Giang stream. The stream winds along the mountain walls and splits into many smaller currents threading between rock ranges in many shapes and sizes, where tourists can have a swim or set up their camping area.
“You have to turn back, it’s closed,” the security guard told me when I was trying to pass the barrier at Km19. According to the guard, the provincial government discovered construction irregularities carried out by Yasaka Co. in March this year.
Yasaka built a resort consisting of a stilt house, five bungalows and three 100sqm camping sites next to the Yersin house without licence. A large area of trees was cut down to get wood and make space for the resort, according to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper.
“Come back next summer as it will reopen,” the guard said as I turned my bike around. “Vinpearl is taking care of the peak and will build a cable line from Yang Bay. It will be easier.”
Driving downhill was strange. I was disappointed not to see the top but also felt lucky. When I come back next time, Hon Ba will not be the same. You never know, there might even be an amusement park built up there.