Tucked away on the outskirts of Cat Tien National Park, the largest rainforest in Vietnam, you’ll find Ta Lai Longhouse. Committed to helping the local community and with several outdoor activities for visitors to choose from, Ta Lai Longhouse is an ideal place to visit if you want a weekend away in the jungle.
Located in Ta Lai getting there is a journey in itself. Besides the three-hour bus ride from HCMC, the trip includes a xe om ride, organised by the Ta Lai Longhouse crew — another 40 minutes in which you can check out the community from the back of the bike, and a quick ferry ride (the bridge to the other side collapsed last year).
As we got off the motorbikes, we’re met with a steep set of inlaid stone steps leading up a hill. A Ta Lai team member met us at the foot of the stairway with a smile and helped us with our bags.
The main attraction here is, of course, the longhouse. Built with the help of the local Ma, Tay and S’Tieng people over a few months, the longhouse is fashioned from the traditional structures the Ma called home for centuries. Almost entirely made up of bamboo, wood and palm leaves, the long structure’s interior had been partitioned to create separate rooms for guests. In each room, the interior is simple, spare and beautiful: a ceiling fan, twin-sized futons on the floor, and, thankfully, mosquito nets securely fastened around the mattresses.
Besides the eponymous longhouse, we saw the standalone bathroom, the long and narrow outdoor dining structure, an open-air pavilion, and a smaller longhouse for larger groups. Towards the back of the camp, a hill led towards a large, secluded lake. It’s not quiet, however: the cicadas and geckos sing their songs and create a lovely chorus.
The best part about going to Ta Lai Longhouse is taking part in the wonderful array of outdoor activities they have on offer. Experienced tour guides and employees offer kayaking trips, bike rides through mountain trails and the Ta Lai community, hikes through the jungles adjacent to Cat Tien National Park and opportunities to camp in a field lined with cashew trees. All of these are perfect for trips with friends, family and especially companies organising team-building expeditions.
When we visited Ta Lai, we took a hike to the Green Mountain and bat cave, kayaking around sunset, and a bike ride around Ta Lai township. All were extraordinary.
We set off for our hike with Ka Huong, a member of the Ma community who has given tours for 10 years, and a trail leader, armed with a machete, to take care of any overgrowth that would have hindered our process. Two fellow travellers staying at an adjacent homestay also tagged along after hearing about the activities Ta Lai Longhouse offered.
Most of the trek through the jungle was not especially difficult and followed a maintained, even path. Ka Huong was a great guide and provided us with dozens of local insights about the flora, fauna and culture of Cat Tien and its people. Her English was excellent and she was more than happy to talk about her life, both living in the jungle as a child as well as her efforts to hold on to her Ma culture, which is quickly disappearing amid the influx of foreign and mainstream Vietnamese influences.
The trip up the Green Mountain was a bit more strenuous, made even more so by the wet, slippery ground after a recent rain. Regardless, we scrambled up the mountain and made it to the crowning jewel of the trip: the bat cave. As we walked inside, we were immediately met with the soft clicking sounds of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of bats inside. We walked through a path and immediately learned to duck and cover as the bats flew through the tunnel. I have to admit, a wing did graze my cheek.
The bike ride was another memorable trip. Our tour guide, Tram Anh, who has worked with the Longhouse for over two years, showed us the sites around the town. One particularly special moment occurred when we visited a local Ma house, where we met a woman who weaves long traditional ceremonial clothes. Similar to a sari, the colourful and intricate patterns were a sight to behold.
Lastly, let’s not forget the kayaking trip. We climbed into kayaks two at a time and set out for the calm waters of the adjacent river near the Longhouse. It was getting dark, which made the whole activity atmospheric and beautiful. While we couldn’t go as far as normal due to the changing water levels, we did climb out of the kayaks and waded through the rocky stream to see some of the natural beauty farther up. When we got back to the longhouse, we were pleasantly tired and ready for dinner.
What People Say
The reviews for the longhouse on TripAdvisor are overwhelmingly positive. Out of 132 reviews, Ta Lai Longhouse gets a stunning 5.0 rating, the highest that’s offered. People love its location at the edge of the jungle and all have wonderful things to say about the friendliness and professionalism of the staff. People love the food (it is good — home-cooked pork, fish, stewed vegetables and rice), the hikes, and the relaxation it offers. Definitely your go-to place if you want to escape the city for a weekend and get in touch with your roots.
If you’re a fan of kayaking, be sure to check out Ta Lai Longhouse during the rainy season. When the river floods, you can travel farther upstream — it’s worth it!