How to Visit Ba Den Mountain from Ho Chi Minh City
Looking for a semi-close escape from the Saigon city air? Hop on over to Ba Den Mountain for the day!
Also known as Nui Ba Den or Black Virgin Mountain, this is probably the most popular spot for Saigonese hoping to get some sort of hiking within driving distance. While northern Vietnam is absolutely spoiled for mountainous landscapes, southern Vietnam is pretty flat, so the pickings are slim!
Ba Den itself is an extinct volcano about 996m (3,268ft) high. It sits in the Tay Ninh province about 3 hours from Saigon. Its name comes from a Vietnamese folktale about a virginal woman, Ly Thi Thien Huong. Apparently she often went up the mountain to worship Buddha. One day she was attacked by some robbers but rescued by a soldier name Le Si Triet. They fell in love but he had to go off to war before they could marry. While he was gone and she was going up the mountain, she was attacked again. To save her virginity, she jumped to her death. Later she came to the monks in dreams to help and guide them. (Source)
One of the men she saved was the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Gia Long (or then known as Nguyen Anh). At the time, he was hiding in the mountain from the Tay Son army. He and his soldiers were starving, so she appeared to him in a dream to show him where to find food.
Of course, who knows how much of this is true. All I know is there’s a temple half way up the mountain called Ba Den Pagoda or Điện Bà Linh Sơn Thánh Mẫu. This is meant as a place of worship for her!
Anyway, I went to Ba Den Mountain one day randomly when my friend, Eunsol, asked me if I wanted to go for a hike! When we went, I was under the impression that you took cable cars up to the temple are and hiked/bouldered you way to the peak. However a lot has changed since they’ve built a Sun World at the peak now, so I thought I’d break down our visit and give you a more up to date guide!
How to Visit Ba Den Mountain
Ba Den is approximately three hours from Saigon. If you really, really want to challenge yourself and make things 10x harder, you can take a series of public buses like we did. I strongly do not recommend this because I have no idea how the schedules work and half the time I was convinced we wouldn’t make it.
Instead I’d either bike their myself or hire a car transfer! I definitely prefer the latter as it’s a long day if you intend to go and comeback and not stay over in Tay Ninh. I personally would rather just get into a shuttle at 5:00 AM and pass out instead of having to navigate myself all the way there.
Once you arrive, you can buy tickets at the entrance. We initially only bought cable cars up to the temple area because, again, we thought this was the way to hike! Turns out there are now two cable cars – one that goes to the temple area and one that goes up to the peak.
Or to make it really easy, you could just book a tour like this one which takes you to Ba Den and the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh (more on that below). This tour includes the Cu Chi Tunnels, and this tour is a purely hiking one if you want to properly hike Ba Den.
We were so convinced we had a big hike ahead of us, so I made sure to get something to eat at one of the spots at the bottom of the mountain.
First: Take the cable car to visit the temples on the mountain
Once you’ve got some food in you, the first thing to do is to take the cable car up to the temple area. It’s crazy to me that the highest ranking post about Ba Den Mountain at the time of my visit just completely bypasses this spot! Just because they’re religious. Like, hello, this is probably the most sacred part of the mountain. Millions make a pilgrimage here every year! How could you just skip it?!
Anyway, this temple area is absolutely beautiful, and you’ll want to spend some time walking around and getting to see it. There’s definitely still some climbing up stairs involved even with the cable car, so be prepared to break a sweat and huff and puff! I remember we followed arrows and first went up to this Quan Am Tu temple which is nice but definitely not worth all the stairs lol.
We were also trying to see if this was the way to hike up to the peak but were finally told that you can no longer hike between the temple area and the peak because it was too dangerous. I don’t know if this was temporary while they were building the Sun World or a new permanent thing, but if the ticket office tells you you can’t hike here anymore, this is why!
If I remember correctly, you kinda walk down a bit first to get to the main temple, Điện Bà Linh Sơn Thánh Mẫu. Apparently this started out as a small shrine but expanded big time in its 300 years of existence. The current shrine was built in 1996 and the two main statues are of Maitreya and Guan Yin (or Quan The Am in Vietnamese).
Nearby is a Reclining Buddha Statue as well and another pagoda.
Just a heads up, there are some cheeky monkeys that like to hang out around the temple! They’re very cute but obviously don’t feed or harass them!
Got this ice cream because it was so hot! To be honest it wasn’t that good; I should’ve just drank more water.
Second: Take the Cable Car to Visit the Peak
So this is where things have changed big time. Before they decided to build a SunWorld at the peak, there were only the cable cars to get up to the temple area. Now there’s this set of cable cars which take you right up to the peak. So, yes, I could’ve totally just worn sandals and a dress with a purse and been totally fine!
The Sun World wasn’t quite finished when we visited, but I think it’s finished by now. A bit of a bummer but the really nice view point that you often see in photos of hikes from Ba Den was totally blocked off for construction. I’m not sure if they turned into a part of the park or what, so you’ll have to let me know if you go! There’s also now apparently a giant Lady Buddha statue which, again, we didn’t see!
It also clouded over when we made it to the top (our luck lol). But it was still fun to walk around. You can see the quirky sculptures, see the peak sign, and look out from the observation deck when the clouds dissipate!
Pretending it took us any effort at all to get here :p
Third: Walk over to visit Linh Sơn Phước Trung tự
After we took the cable car back down the mountain, we walked over to Linh Sơn Phước Trung tự, a temple area right next to the entrance. From what I read, it’s been around since 1876.
Fourth: Go into Tay Ninh to visit the Holy See
Funny enough, the highlight of visiting Ba Den for me wasn’t even on Ba Den! Instead it was when we got a very sketchy motorbike ride into town to see the Tây Ninh Holy See. I’ll have to write a post on Caodaism because it’s such a cool modern religion. The Holy See is to Caodaism what the Vatican is to Catholics!
You’re more than welcome to visit. The worshippers at the temple will happily lead you around the perimeter to take in the very unique interiors.
From there we got our first bus back to Saigon and had a long, long journey back to Thao Dien. Trust me when I saw this portion alone is why you should just hire a driver or go on a tour!
Have you been to Ba Den Mountain? What did you think?
For more Vietnam travel, read these posts next:
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