Boasting 21 islands, the 10,000 acre Lake Song Muc is the heart of the Ben En National Park. Located in Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa Province, visitors can access some of the islands by taking a boat ride, with distances varying from less than 1 mile to over 5 miles. Weaving past the islands and diverging from the lake are a few rivers, which are popular attractions for canoeing and kayaking.
Additional highlights in Ben En include visiting the local communities, touring Ngoc Cave, and exploring the museum.
Ben En National Park is about 4 hours outside of Hanoi and 5 hours from Saigon. Located just a short distance from the coast, visitors travel to Ben En to enjoy the mountain, lake, river, and forest scenery. Situated 31 miles outside of the park, Thanh Hoa is the closest major city to Ben En.
As a bigger city, it is easier to find transportation from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa. Visitors can then arrange for transportation for the last leg of their journey as they head to the national park’s entrance.
If the big city isn’t alluring, Ben Sung is a small town that is just 20 minutes outside of Ben En and is ideal for visitors who wish to spend a few nights in the area. Ben En National Park has two guesthouses within the park’s boundaries, however, their limited availability means that many tourists will be more successful in finding quality accommodations in Ben Sung.
In 1992, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Vietnam titled Ben En as one of the country’s protected wildlife areas. Status as a national park not only protects the land and animals but also its people. Thai, Tho, and Muong are all ethnic groups that live in Ben En, and by working with the government to conserve the land and animals, they ensure that their traditional ways of life survive.
Throughout the years, Ben En has become famous for its pristine wilderness. From the forests to the lake and mountains, the national park has been nicknamed the “on land Ha Long Bay of Thanh Hoa”. For the locals, the national park has become a symbol of pride and a place where visitors can observe some of Vietnam’s precious plant and animal species.
What to Do
Whether you’re traveling from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the most common way to visit the park is by booking a tour. The guide can provide the best overview of the park to ensure that guests see all Ben En’s highlights in a short amount of time. Popular activities in the park include river and lake cruises, visiting the Ngoc Cave, meeting locals in their villages, and touring the park’s museum.
Take a Tour of Ben En
Private and group tours of Ben En National Park are frequently offered by companies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Tour packages often include transportation, park admission, and a full itinerary, with the highlight being a boat ride down the Muc River, Lake Song Muc, or Lake Ben En. Tour companies can pre-arrange for a boat or visitors can book a tour at the Ben En Thanh Hoa Management Center.
Visitors who have more time to explore the park may want to arrange a hiking tour or village visit. Local guides can also assist you in reaching some of the park’s unique islands to see hidden caves, idyllic paths, or tranquil beaches. While tours are the most convenient for park guests, travelers who have more time to explore the area may want to experience the beauty of Ben En away from the crowds.
Explore the Caves
Hidden throughout Ben En National Park are small cave systems. While Ngoc Cave is the most visited cavern in Ben En, there are a few others scattered around the northern and southern ends of the park. To reach Ngoc Cave, visitors will have to arrange for a boat ride or tour.
The cave is located on an island in the lake and it has a large ancient tree standing at its entrance. Legends of the cave state that the water flowing from the depths of the caverns can wash people of their sins. For locals, Ngoc Cave is a significant destination where people can connect with nature as well as their own spirituality.
Living in traditional homes and villages, the Thai, Tho, and Muong people also call the Ben En National Park home. Guests are welcome to visit and observe the villager’s traditional ways of camping, fishing, and dancing. During certain times of the year, you may be able to see a small festival or celebration, making those occasions, by far, the best time to make your expedition.
Visitors can also arrange a short homestay or share a meal with the locals. Wine, rice, and bitter leaf soup are all specialties in the villages. Homestays are the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn different ways to live. Traveling to the villages can be arranged by boat or a few can be reached after completing a hike through the mountains.
Situated just inside of the welcome gate at Ben En National park is the Ben En Museum. Filled with artifacts found within the park, the museum is a must-see destination for visitors who want to learn more about the area’s history. Local guides often lead visitors through the museum and give them an audio tour of its treasures.
Plants and Wildlife
Beyond the impressive views and lakeside landscapes, Ben En National Park is famous for its wildlife. There are a few thousand species of plants and animals in the national park with many listed as rare or endangered. The Erythrophleum fordii tree species can still be found growing in the park as well as a recently discovered species of ginger.
There are over 1,000 species of mammals, 201 types of birds, 54 kinds of reptiles, 31 different amphibians, 68 breeds of fish, and nearly 500 classes of insects. The park’s rarest inhabitants include the red wolf, Tibetan bear, Asian elephants, and black gibbons. Tigers also once lived in the park, but in recent years, their numbers have disappeared.
How to Get There
Most of the park’s visitors travel from Hanoi to spend the day or weekend at Ben En National Park. Visitors can easily access the park by taking a public bus or arranging for private transportation. Affordable public buses leave daily from Hanoi for Thanh Hoa daily, and once in Thanh Hoa, you can then take another bus or taxi to the park.
The most convenient way to travel to Ben En is by hiring a private driver or renting a car. The road to Ben En becomes quite remote and most travelers feel more comfortable hiring a driver. While convenient, private drivers are the most expensive way to travel to Ben En. Visitors who book a tour will often get the best deals as the cost of transportation is frequently included.
When to Visit
Vietnam has both a wet and dry season, with the wet season running from May – November while the dry season lasts from late November to early May. Ben En can be visited at any time of the year, however, due to visitors frequently relying on boats to visit park highlights, most people choose to visit the park during the dry season.
Fall and winter are the most popular times to visit the park, which is when the weather is hot and humid. The summer months are the rainiest and while you can still come, it is important to have patience when it comes to the weather. June, July, and August are the rainiest months and those who come during this season should be prepared for heavy rainfall and high winds.
Remote and beautiful, Ben En National Park has is slowly becoming a tourist destination. Less busy than other national parks but still close to Hanoi, Ben En is a great place to visit for authentic and meaningful memories. With daily tours, accessing Ben En National Park is easy and is the perfect activity for city dwellers who want to escape Hanoi.
Make sure to add this national park to your itinerary when visiting Vietnam!
Address: Xã, Hải Vân, Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam
Phone: +84 237 3983 714
Season: Year-Round | Best during the dry season