Vietnam’s one and only jungle race returns on Apr. 16
Imagine mountain biking 55km along jungle tracks before embarking on a 12km run. If that’s not enough, follow this test of endurance with two hours worth of kayaking and swimming. That is the Extreme category in the Ta Lai Trophy, a wilderness adventure race that takes competitors working in teams of two through the mountains, farmland and deep jungle of Cat Tien National Park, three hours north of Saigon.
Formerly the Madagui Trophy — the competition was rebranded in 2014 — the Ta Lai Trophy is now entering its third year, and each time round is continuing to grow. The first edition in 2014 attracted 50 racers, while last year 100 people took part, with the winning pair, Jean-Baptiste Campion and Joachim Poirier, finishing the Extreme race in six hours.
With two categories of adult racing available — competitors can also take the four-hour Challenge option — co-event organiser George Abraham of Ta Lai Longhouse is expecting this year’s event to build on the success of the last two years.
“Each year we increase the number of racers, so I hope we can get around 150 racers for the combined categories,” he says. “We also have a new Gibbons race course for children aged between seven to 12 years old on the Saturday, so it will be great to see the future generations getting involved and learning about nature.”
Not Three But Four
With so many endurance races sprouting up in Vietnam, George faces a question. Why should potential competitors go for the Ta Lai Trophy rather than the likes of Ironman or the Vietnam Mountain Challenge? George sees the competition among events as positive.
“It’s great that in the last four to five years so many different races are opening up,” he says. “I hope it continues, as it only benefits us and the racing community by attracting more people into competing.”
Yet, as he is also quick to point out, the Ta Lai Trophy is a quadrathlon. The only four-discipline competition of its kind in Vietnam, kayaking is added to the standard swimming, running and cycling of a triathlon. In addition, competitors have to tackle the course in pairs. Not only does this set the race in Nam Cat Tien apart from its contemporaries, but it also has the magic and mystique of the Vietnamese jungle as its backdrop.
“It’s such a big challenge on your body and mind racing in the jungles, and is so different to running in the city or biking on concrete roads,” he says. “The temperature and humidity can really eat away at your energy, and the fact you need to be looking not only in front of you but high and low and all around when you’re ducking and diving through the jungle, means you use all your muscles. You also need to keep an eye out for the [route] markings and your teammate. So concentration needs to be high throughout.”
Drawing in a mix of experienced racers, the kind of people who travel all over Asia just to compete, as well as people who “just want an adventure, to explore the park and meet similar, like-minded people”, the race weekend finishes off with a party and a BBQ. The event is also an opportunity for George and his colleagues to increase environmental awareness about the jungle and to help support the work that Ta Lai Longhouse is doing with the local communities around Ta Lai and Cat Tien.
Adds George: “Cat Tien is still a bit of a mystery to many expats and tourists alike, so having the chance to come and explore the park and to do so with friends and family is really attractive.”
Registration costs VND3.8 million per person (VND3.5 million before Mar. 15) and includes meals, accommodation, transportation and participant fee. The kids ‘Gibbon’ package is free of charge for every two parents who participate in the race