Earlier this week Joshua Gates, star and host of the Syfy Channel’s ‘Destination Truth’ tweeted that he was in Ho Chi Minh City.
The show, broadcast in the USA, and known as ‘The Monster Hunter’ in the UK, deals primarily with cryptozoology (the search for strange animals of rumour and legend, whose existence has not yet been proven) and the search for the paranormal. The show is a blend of adventure, international travel, entertainment, mystery investigation and ‘real life science fiction'. DT is well-done and enjoyable to watch as well as a chance to visit exotic locations in remote corners of the world.
Last month Syfy issued a press release stating they’d ordered a 5th season of Destination Truth, in which Gates would ‘descend into one of the world's biggest caves in the jungles of Vietnam to search for phantoms.’
Undoubtedly the cave reference is regarding the newly discovered Son Doong Cave at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Quang Binh Province. Whether the crew will actually get access to that cave is uncertain. There has been an onslaught of film crews visiting the cave since its announcement, including National Geographic and the BBC. Access to the cave may require considerable paperwork and a bit of waiting in line. The crew are more likely to have to substitute one of the better-known caves nearby, which are no less spectacular, if a little smaller.
As to hunting ‘phantoms,’ there’s some room to speculate on what Gates is looking for. He could be referring to ghosts or spirits of the ancient Champa kingdom that once used the caves. Indeed, there are Cham inscriptions in some of the caves, dating more than 1000 years. Vietnamese and Cham folklore is full or ghosts, monsters and spirits that haunt the jungles and caverns.
Another possibility, which Gates might be hunting for, is the nguoi rung, or forest person. The creature is Vietnam’s own version of Bigfoot. The stories most often come from Vu Quang nature reserve, a point of discovery for many amazing new animal discoveries, including the Saola (often called the Asian Unicorn, though it has two horns), and the Giant Muntjac. There are stories of similar hairy hominids lurking in the forests of Cambodia and Laos.
In my professional opinion as an ex-primatologist, it’s likely that this Vu Quang Beast is, or was, a real, living creature. There were species of now-extinct orangutans which once lived in Vietnam, and I think it’s possible that this creature is related.
More recently, tales of a new ferocious beast have come out of Quang Ngai. Many dogs have been found eviscerated and with their heads torn from the body. Nearby are large cat-like prints. Could the Beast of Quang Ngai simply be a rare tiger that’s wondered far from the jungles? Or is it a forest demon waiting for a visit from Joshua Gates?
There are a number of other rare, nearly extinct, and mysterious animals in Vietnam. Some are attributed mystical powers in folklore, but their existence seems to be grounded in reality. These include the Javan Rhino (the last individual may have been killed by poachers in 2010), the aforementioned Saola, the Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle (The remaining specimen in the lake was confirmed and captured in 2005. A total of 5 individuals are believed to still be living worldwide) and the Kting Voar. The latter is the Cambodian name for a mysterious ‘snake-eating cow’ with a spotted coat and long twisted horns, which lives in the jungle.
Additionally there is a pantheon of mythical beasts from Buddhism, Confucian legend and Taoism, such as the chimeric kylan, which often find their way into local lore. Likewise, the Cham and other minorities have their own list of mythical beasts, including the ferocious dragons of Champa, known as the makala. These however, will have to wait for another story.