Vietnam’s oldest national park, Cúc Phuong, was consecrated in 1962 by President Ho Chi Minh. Situated on the Red River Delta, the national park is one of the closest wildlife areas to Hanoi and the largest nature reserve in the country.
Biodiversity is an integral component in this park and three conservation programs run simultaneously to protect the area’s primates, pangolins, and turtles. Extremely popular amongst foreign tourists, Cuc Phuong National Park also offers overnight accommodations.
Spanning over three provinces, Cúc Phuong National Park is 80 miles (128 km) southwest of Hanoi. Being located just outside of the city makes Cúc Phuong ideal for time-limited travelers. Day trips can be arranged and for those that have the time to explore, overnight stays can be set up at any of the park’s various accommodation options.
Nho Quan is the closest town to Cúc Phuong National Park, at 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) away, and is a central base for many travelers. Tour guides can also be hired in Nho Quan for scheduled excursions throughout Cúc Phuong.
Originally, Cúc Phuong was made into a forest reserve in 1960. A mere two years later, President Ho Chi Minh reminded his people that protecting the environment meant protecting their own future. To follow his words of wisdom, the president declared Cúc Phuong as the country’s first national park.
Before the park was recognized as Vietnam’s most important biological area, the land was home to some of Vietnam’s prehistoric ancestors. Dating back around 12,000 years ago, evidence of human habitation has been found in the park’s numerous cave systems. Since then, ethnic tribes like the Muong people have lived within the park.
What to Do
Trekking, biking, and boating are the most popular ways to explore this national park. With limestone karsts, open valleys, and hidden caves, Cúc Phuong will dazzle visitors with its verdant landscape. Amongst the amazing scenery, guests have the chance to view rare wildlife species and learn more about Vietnam’s conservation efforts by taking an eco-tour to the various rescue centers.
Trekking Through Cúc Phuong
There is a large range of hiking trails in Cúc Phuong and distances range from less than 1 mile to over 3 miles, with one trail stretching almost 13 miles (20 km). Popular paths lead guests to nearby caves, a Muong village, and a 1,000-Year-Old Tree.
Travelers to Cúc Phuong will have the option to take a guided hike or go solo. Guided hikes provide the best opportunity for tourists to see rare wildlife or explore remote areas within the park. With local knowledge, visitors will be able to learn more about the land, plants, wildlife, and conservation.
Travelers can also hike solo as trails are clearly marked, and most aren’t too strenuous. However, it is always important to be extra cautious when hiking during the rainy season as trails can become muddy, and straying off of the path could become dangerous.
Take a Bike Tour
Recent developments in the park’s road system have made biking one of the easiest ways to access Cúc Phuong. Visitors can rent bikes at the park or can partake in a guided tour.
Riding a bike is one of the most unique ways to experience Vietnam’s landscape and, oftentimes, pre-arranged tours will include stops in nearby villages. This gives visitors a well-rounded experience as they travel between the park’s various highlights.
Cruise the River
In addition to bikes, local boats can take you to parts of the park that would otherwise be very challenging to reach by car or on foot. One of the most visited areas within Cuc Phuong is where the area in which the Ngo Dong River winds through Tam Coc.
Visitors can hire a local guide to take a boat ride down the river so that they can be at the heart of the park’s stunning beauty. With no motors, these traditional boats are quiet, ensuring a peaceful atmosphere. The Ngo Dong River is fairly calm, so visitors won’t have to worry about suiting up to face any big rapids or fast-flowing water.
Cúc Phuong National Park is home to the Thang Khuyet, Con Moong, Pho Ma, Mua, and Dong Nguoi Xua caves, all of which are open to visitors. Mostly located just a short distance off of the main road, many of the caves in the park had prehistoric tools and bones inside of them, suggesting evidence of human habitation thousands of years ago.
Dong Nguoi Xua, commonly called the “Cave of Prehistoric Man”, is the park’s most famous cave due to containing some of Vietnam’s earliest human artifacts, which have been removed and are carefully preserved.
Additionally, cavers can explore inside Dong Nguoi Xua, but they will need to pack their own flashlight.
Support Conservation Efforts
Cúc Phuong National Park is home to three rescue centers that focus on conserving some of Vietnam’s most endangered wildlife. The Endangered Primate Rescue Center, which currently houses up to 180 animals, was opened in 1993 and it protects langurs, loris, and gibbons.
Established a few years later, the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program is dedicated to protecting small carnivores like the civets, weasels, otters, badgers, linsangs, and pangolins. Rescuers not only care for these threatened animals but also work with the government to raise awareness and educate others about Vietnam’s most vulnerable species.
Finally, the last conservation program is for Vietnamese Pond Turtles. An extremely rare species, these turtles are mostly held in captivity. A small number is estimated to live in the wild, but most scientists consider them to be nearly extinct. Currently, the goal of the program is to build the turtle population and protect the few that remain in the wild.
Plants and Wildlife
Bats, porcupines, flying squirrels, and about two dozen species of birds live in Cúc Phuong. Rumors of both regular and clouded leopards living in the park have sprung up throughout the years, though it cannot be confirmed because the animals are so elusive. Previously, a few larger predators, like tigers and Asiatic black bears, lived in the park but poaching and loss of habitat drove them to extinction.
Amongst the animal species, there are over 2,000 types of plants and insects growing and living in Cúc Phuong National Park. Plants in the park include orchids, ferns, liana, cauliflory, and multiple tree species. Many of the plants are used as ingredients for local spices and medicine, while others provide edible goods like fruits, shoots, and nuts.
How to Get There
Traveling from Hanoi, visitors can take a public bus, taxi, or hire a private driver to take them to Cúc Phuong National Park. The most budget-friendly way to travel is by public bus, which will take about 3 hours to reach Nho Quan from the Giap Bat Bus Station in Hanoi. From Nho Quan, travelers can then take a taxi or rent a motorbike to travel the remaining 6.2 miles (10 km) to the park entrance.
Due to its close proximity to Hanoi, some travelers may only spend the day at the park. While it is possible to visit Cúc Phuong in one day, time will be limited. Staying overnight is the best choice for travelers who want to see as much of the park as possible. There are accommodations in and around the park in addition to a few hotels established inside Cúc Phuong.
When to Visit
There are two seasons in Cúc Phuong National Park, which is in tune with most of Vietnam. The dry season runs from November to February and is generally colder and less rainy. The wet season is much warmer and, as you guessed, wetter, especially during the months of March to October when it can rain almost every day.
Regardless of the weather, the summer months are the park’s most popular time for visitors. Hikers can still navigate trails after the rain, but they should take caution as many paths will become very slippery and muddy. Since most hikes are relatively short in distance, hikers don’t have to worry about visiting during the wet season.
Taking up a small corner of the world, Cúc Phuong National Park is an integral site to Vietnam’s flourishing biodiversity. Long acclaimed by researchers and conservationists, the park’s popularity is expanding to encompass the general public. Easy to access from Hanoi, visitors can enjoy a day or short vacation exploring the karsts and valleys of Cúc Phuong.
Address: Nho Quan District, Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam
Phone: +84 229 3848 006
Season: Year-Round | 8 AM – 6 PM | Best during the dry season