Ho Chi Minh City is the lack of outdoor nature adventures, if you are an adventurous traveler, you want to challenge yourself through winding roads climbing mountains, you want to immerse yourself in nature instead of narrowly crowded hurried streets? Perhaps the Black Virgin mountain will be a great suggestion for you, the highest peak in Southern Vietnam at 986m above the sea level.
Black Virgin Mountain or Núi Bà Đen (which more precisely translates to ‘mountain lady black’) sits like an upside-down mixing bowl, in Tay Ninh province – about 100 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and only about 30 kilometres from the Cambodian border. There is an option of taking a bus ride and sightseeing along the road, or ride your own motorbike from Saigon – HCMC. But if you want get the best experience out of this adventure, then choose to hop on a motorbike and drive that freaking 100km, which will take you a little over 2 hours. Or an easier option is to hire a private car with driver in HCMC.
The earliest stories about the mountain date back to the 18th century, when the area was still apart of the Khmer empire, and tell the tale of how the mountain got its name. There are actually a few versions of the black lady’s story. Some say she fell in love with a soldier, and when he was forced to go to war she was so heart broken that she threw herself off the mountain. Another tale favors religion over love. A Buddhist monk comes to the mountain and builds a temple. The black lady studies Buddhism, devoting herself to the religion. Her father arranges for her to be married. To protect her virginity, she jumps off the mountain to her death. The mountain’s name was changed to Black Virgin Mountain or Black Lady Mountain in memory of this mysterious young lady.
Nowadays, the hill is best known for it’s temples. Buddhists come to worship at Linh Sơn Thiên Thạch pagoda. There’s a large reclining Buddha statue, and many pleasant paths to explore. It’s possible to hike up the mountain to the pagoda in about an hour, but the newly built cable car is a much less sweaty way to get to it. It costs about $7.50 round trip. For a bit of excitement, you can take the cable car up and the 1700 meter, winding slideway down. The slideway is kind of like a luge.
If you go up by cable car, once you enter the park, find your way to the entrance of the cable car which will lead you to the lower third of the mountain, each way being just around 4 minutes to complete. Once you reach the end of the cable car, you’ll have to climb up through a paved staircase for around 30 – 45 mins depending on how fast you do it. Along these staircases you will find Pagodas where the local Vietnamese go to to worship.
If you want to hike up to the very top of the mountain, it’s about a 6 hour hike there and back from the foot of the mountain. From the pagoda it’s probably about 4.5 hours return. Hiking fun starts the end of the staircases, which marks another 2-hour hike to the summit of the mountain. The trail is very visible that it is impossible to get lost, but challenging because of the rocky or bouldery path. Along the way, after around one hour of leaving the staircase, you would find a rock protruding which you should not miss take a picture at. The views, of course, are beautiful. Dau Tieng Lake, Vietnam’s largest water reserve, can be seen from the east side of the mountain.
There are also day tour from Saigon to Ba Den Mountain, you can book a escorted tour to combine with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels.