Where eagles dare

(No.5, Vol.6,Jul-Aug 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Vietnam’s newest sport is up in the air

Almost 30 members of Aeronautic Clubs North and South Vietnam have come to the two new flying zones at Nine Section Mountain (Vinh Thai Commune, Nha Trang) and Khanh Le Pass (Khanh Vinh District, Khanh Hoa Province)
At Khanh Le Pass, as the wind rises, a glider makes two steps backward, then turns and runs three steps and soars up into the sky. A perfect take-off. As they glide in pairs and this being a new location, for the first attempt they take-off and immediately head for the landing zone about 4km away.
Meeting again at the landing zone, a first-time guest glider said, ‘At the start, my heart was rumbling, my whole body was at the highest degree of tension and my eyes were shut tight . . . Suddenly I felt my legs so light, groundless. Only after five minutes did I dare to half-open my eyes and saw clusters of clouds far away, passes belting mountain slopes beneath me, and cars as small as match boxes. Seen from above, nothing looks the way it does every day. It’s a totally new, panoramic vision . . . so alluring.’
The parachuting discipline has three major branches; skydiving, paramotor and paragliding.
Mr Hoang Mong Long, one of the first paragliders in Vietnam, now a trainer of the Aeronautic Club of the North said, ‘The sun’s heat forms columns of hot air, blowing upward. With their experience and skills, the gliders will find and utilize those air columns to get lift. There is another source of lift, which is winds turning upward when blocked by mountain slopes. The amount of time one can glide in the sky depends on the number of air columns available in the gliding zone and one’s skill. Some can last only one or two hours here, some can go on as long as 4 hours, going hundreds of kilometres.’
At this time, there are less than 200 paragliders in the entire country. The sport not only serves the Vietnamese attracted by its gracefulness, but also aims at millions of gliders worldwide, especially those from Europe, where the sport is very popular. The European climate allows people to enjoy their favourite sport only a few months out of the year.
In Khanh Hoa, after test flights, international gliders highly appreciate the zones. With beautiful beaches, towns and friendly people, Khanh Hoa is an ideal place for them to enjoy the sun, the sea and countryside. Those who can’t glide by themselves can also try the flying sensation through the services offered.
Trainer Nguyen Ngoc Linh from the Northern Aeronautic Club remarked, ‘Khanh Hoa has the best conditions to develop the paragliding sport; sun all year round, low humidity, high density of hot air columns, convenient transportation . . .’ Khanh Le flying zone has easy platforms for beginners and challenges that even the most experienced gliders want to conquer. Just follow Khanh Le pass for 12 km, then hike for less than 10 minutes to the take-off station at an ideal height (755m above sea level,) with the most seductive view of plains, gorges and patches of paddies. To get to Nine Section mountain flying zone, one needs specialized transportation, because the path is newly opened. But once there, the difficult road is totally paid off by the clearest sky over golf courses, Nha Trang Bay, the white beach line, big and small islands spotting the blue sea, and a vibrant city bustling by the shore.
There are about 20 licensed flying zones in the country. But according to the opinion of most of paragliders, the Northern zones have fewer hot air columns and lots of wet rice paddies and trees on the ground. The Son Tra zone of Danang has the sea on three sides, which is not very ideal for gliding. The zone at Lang Biang hilltop, though panoramically beautiful, is not active all year round because of the weather. But the two flying zones in Khanh Hoa Province are, according to them, not to be missed.

Text and photos by Hong Dang
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