While protecting Vietnam’s incredible biodiversity has become a primary goal of many conservation organizations, these sites also provide visitors with the best places to see wildlife in the country. Home to more than 50,000 recorded species, roughly 6% of the world’s, scientists think that is only scratching the surface of the country’s biodiversity.
After decades of war, illegal logging, and wildlife trafficking, protecting this land has become vital, and while not all of it is accessible to tourists or locals, the areas that are while leaving you in awe. From national parks and reserves to forests and coastal regions, here are some of the top places to see wildlife while visiting Vietnam.
Vietnam has a whopping 20 national parks throughout the country. These parks highlight Vietnam’s wide array of landscapes, climates, fauna, and flora. The first national park, Cuc Phuong, was officially declared in Vietnam in 1962 but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Vietnam really started focusing on protecting land.
Cúc Phương National Park
In 1962, President Ho Chi Minh crowned Cúc Phương as Vietnam’s first official national park. Located in the foothills of the Annamite Range and just west of the majestic Red River Delta, this park is home to a wide variety of species and a large portion of Vietnam’s Muong community.
Primates, birds, and butterflies remain the park’s biggest attraction along with three designated conservation centers: the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program, and the Turtle Conservation Center.
Ba Bể National Park
Ba Bể Lake is a freshwater biodiversity hotspot in Northern Vietnam. It is the nation’s largest freshwater lake with a length of around 9-kilometers. It’s surrounded by limestone hillside and lush evergreen forests that support species such as Chinese Pangolins, European otters, and red giant flying squirrels among hundreds of other terrestrial and aquatic species.
39 square miles of protected freshwater habitat makes Ba Bể National Park one of Vietnam’s most precious wildlife destinations.
Cát Tiên National Park
Perhaps the most famous national park in Vietnam with the richest collection of wildlife, Cát Tiên protects almost 300 square miles of lowland forest in the south of Vietnam. It’s home to many of Vietnam’s conservation programs, including the reintroduction of Siamese Crocodiles and the unknown status of the Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros.
Kiem Lam (VN Forest Rangers) are deployed to manage the park for illegal logging, poaching, or other activities. This level of management makes Cát Tiên National Park the premier wildlife park in the country.
Tam Dao National Park
Just north of Hanoi is the Tam Dao Range where Tam Dao National Park is split into two distinct climatic portions. Due to this, the park has two different bubbles of vegetation, flora, fauna, and terrain and is known for supporting populations of some of Vietnam’s more rare reptilian and amphibian species.
Some travelers have reported seeing these endangered species being served in local establishments. Visitors to the park will likely start off in Tam Dao Village, where entry into the park’s wild spaces is available to tourists. Unlike some of Vietnam’s more well-known parks, Tam Dao doesn’t have well-established wildlife tourism industries and there are no structured conservation projects going on in the park.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
UNESCO gave this park listing as a world heritage site in 2003 citing its incredible biodiversity and regional geological features as the main reasons for doing so. The real claim to fame of Phong Nha-Ke Bang is its enormous cave system.
The park has over 300 currently known caves that spread out over a 126 km system. In addition to the caves, which are accessible by guided tours, the park is home to a full suite of Vietnamese wildlife such as Asian Sun bears, Pangolins, multiple species of vulnerable primates, and countless birds and insects among many more.
Pu Mat National Park
Pu Mat National Park is located smack dab in the middle of the Annamites and is known as being one of Vietnam’s most important parks for mammalian conservation. Species such as the pangolin, the Saola, and the Annamite Striped Rabbit can be found here.
Pu Mat is not an easily accessible park and there are limited guided tour options so those who wish to adventure this park’s rugged trails and back-country need to do so with a sincere consideration of the risks.
Vu Quang National Park
This park is perhaps one of Vietnam’s most underrated national park destinations. Nestled in the remote forests of central Vietnam and on the border of Laos, Vu Quang is a minimally traveled national park and thus still represents some of Vietnam’s most genuinely wild forest.
In fact, up until 2000, scientists were still discovering new species of megafauna here such as the Saola and Giant Muntjac. Because of its remote location, there are limited resources such as tours, and finding your way to the park can be a challenge. That said, it’s certainly worth it.
Bach Ma National Park
Just 18-km from the coast you can find yourself at the summit of Bach Ma, which sits at nearly 5,000-ft in elevation. Bach Ma is an easily accessible park in the Annamites and protects a diverse array of habitats and species making it an eco-tourists dream destination.
Entry to the park can be had by foot, motorbike, or a park guide. If a guided tour is up your alley, Bach Ma National Park is a well-oiled machine relative to some of the other more rugged parks in Vietnam.
Yok Don National Park
While Cat Tien often gets the limelight as Vietnam’s conservation park capital, Yok Don National Park is part of perhaps the most important protected region in all of southeast Asia. The park provides protection and buffer zones to protect areas of species like the Indochinese Tiger, Indochinese Leopard, and the Indian Elephant.
There are plenty of guided tour options in the park including those that target a certain species (like elephant tours) or overnight backcountry backpacking adventures.
Nature Reserves & Forests
Before being listed as a National Park in Vietnam most areas are set up as Nature Reserves or ecological forests first. Even though they might not carry the weight of a title like “National Park” some of Vietnam’s nature reserves are perhaps even more jaw-dropping than the national parks themselves.
Tra Su Cajuput Forest
The mighty Mekong River leads to the grand Mekong Delta and there is where you’ll find some of the world’s most species-rich wetlands. During the rainy season, Tra Su becomes a flooded forest sea of bright green as the water is colored by water ferns. In fact, Tra Su is Vietnam’s most important mangrove system.
Boating tours, some kayaking, and without a doubt bird watching are common activities to partake in at Tra Su.
Can Gio Biosphere Reserve
Another mangrove and another UNESCO heritage site, the Can Gio Biosphere Reserve is considered as the lungs of its nearest urban neighbor, Saigon. Mangroves like this one are the first and last defense against rising sea levels for cities like Ho Chi Minh City.
If the timing is right, birdwatching at Can Gio can be world-class with species like the Spot-Billed Pelican making an appearance as well as other exciting flora and fauna to explore. It’s easy to access from the city and thus there are countless tour options. Choose wisely!
Kon Cha Rang Nature Reserve
Deep in the Truong Son Mountain Range is Kon Cha Rang, an underestimated gem of Vietnam’s natural world. Cascading waterfalls, ruggedly beautiful backcountry mountain forests, and countless river systems have carved out a biodiversity haven in Kon Cha Rang Nature Reserve.
If you’re willing to venture through the challenges that such a remote park might present, hiking to Hang En Waterfall is an absolute must.
Pu Luong Nature Reserve
Rice field terraces meet lush mountain forests at Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Visitors have the chance to explore an ethnic Thai village, hike to the peak of Mt. Pu Luong or partake in some local villager crafting workshops among many other experiences. The fauna and flora of Pu Luong are closely related to that of Cuc Phuong which is just 20 km away.
Vietnam isn’t lacking in the beautiful beaches department nor is it running low on rugged coastline. If wildlife is what you’re after there are certainly some of the more popular beaches that are worth your time, however, some of these sights are really only home to seagulls and small critters.
Quan Lan, Bai Tu Long
A quiet island on the outskirts of Ha Long Bay, Quan Lan is a quiet island with relatively few permanent residents. It’s somewhat of a challenge to reach although it does have multiple small ports where visitors can disembark.
What that all means is that it’s pretty much untouched and is one of Vietnam’s most pristine and gorgeous islands especially for those looking for a remote island experience that might produce some marine wildlife sightings. Some locals might be willing to take visitors out on watching tours but it’d be hard to find a professional outlet on this island.
Ha Long Bay
The marine life in any bay is usually abundant as oceanic processes usually accrue water and sediments with a bevy of nutrients in bays. Ha Long is a beautiful region of coastal islands in the north of Vietnam, Quan Lan being one of them. The picturesque limestone cliff islands pepper Ha Long Bay and makes for a once-in-a-lifetime backdrop for numerous wildlife-focused bay cruise tours.
Hon Ghom Peninsula
A lesser-traveled slow-paced beach region of southern Vietnam, the Hon Ghom Peninsula is home to lush forest mountains that are dipping their toes into the South China Sea. It’s not super remote or ruggedly pristine but it is a small piece of old coastal Vietnam where small fishing communities still rely on the sea for sustenance.
Safaris and Zoos
If venturing into the wilderness isn’t your cup of tea, Vietnam also has multiple safaris and zoos around the country. Home to other fun attractions, as many of these reside within amusement parks, you can spend an entire day with the family enjoying these locations.
Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Established in 1865, the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens has developed into a thriving ecosystem that is home to 600 animals and over 200 plant specimens. Home to one of the world’s oldest zoos, this Ho Chi Minh City attraction is great for a quick day trip with the family.
VinPearl Safari Phu Quoc
VinPearl Safari offers an exotic getaway in Phu Quoc designed for not only children and families but also couples looking for a little romance. The park is divided into 5 sections consisting of a safari, open zoo, reptile area, bird barn, and primate zone.
VinWonders Nam Hoi An
At VinWonder Nam Hoi An, visitors can take a river safari ride to see the park’s birds, primates, large predators, and ungulates. Sit back and relax while viewing a vast array of wildlife and make sure to grab a souvenir at the end.
Plan Your Wildlife Expedition
No matter where you plan to visit, or where you’re going during your trip, you’re sure to be surrounded by incredible landscapes and creatures of all shapes and sizes. These national parks, nature reserves, forests, and coastal areas are sure to provide you with many memories as well as plenty of stellar photos. So grab some comfy shoes and get ready to explore!