Xuân Thuy National Park was not only the first wetland area in Vietnam but also all of southeast Asia to be recognized as a Ramsar site. Once a nature reserve before the government upgraded the title to a national park in 2003, today, UNESCO recognizes the area as a significant part of the Red River Biosphere Reserve.
With multiple species of water birds residing in the park, Xuán Thuy has become one of Vietnam’s best spots for birdwatchers.
Xuân Thuy National Park is located in the Nam Dinh Province. Meeting the coast, the national park is about 3 hours southeast of Hanoi and protects almost 30,000 acres of land, making it a hotspot for visitors looking to spend the day outside of the city. Transportation from Hanoi is easy to arrange and there are multiple accommodation options available in the area.
Nam Dinh City is the park’s closest major urban area, located about 1 and ½ hours out from the park and Hanoi. The city is a popular destination for tourists who want to take the time to explore the national park and the greater Nam Dinh area.
The 50th Ramsar site in the world and Southeast Asia’s first wetland area to be recognized by the famous worldwide organization, Xuan Thuy was originally established as a nature reserve. By 2003, the Vietnamese government declared Xuân Thuy as a national park under their Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
International recognition of Xuân Thuy has made it one of Vietnam’s most popular parks. Today, the park is acclaimed by bird watchers for its open wetland areas and mangrove forests. Dozens of waterbird species live or travel through the park at various times of the year.
What to Do
Excellent for a day trip or weekend getaway, there are several itinerary choices for visitors to experience, with most sightseeing tours guiding visitors through the park’s Giao Xuan Commune, traditional homes, Catholic churches, and the Agriculture Museum. Guests can also take a boat ride through the mangroves, visit salt fields, and observe rice wine and fish sauce workshops.
Going Solo or With a Tour
When visiting Xuân Thuy National Park, visitors will have to choose to either explore solo or with a local tour guide. There are benefits to both experiences and with open access, guests don’t have to worry about using a local guide to visit specific locations.
Tour groups are a great way to visit the park’s biggest highlights. With tight schedules and local guides to help manage your trip, visitors can explore Xuân Thuy in a single day. Many tours leave from Hanoi and provide transportation for visitors to and from the national park. Those who are staying in Nam Dinh City can also arrange a tour, which may have a longer itinerary since the drive to the park is shorter.
Private tours are also an option and are the best choice for travelers who are visiting in a small group. Separate from tour groups, travelers can form their own groups and hire a guide to show them around the park. Privileges of paying for a private tour may also include the option to customize parts of your itinerary.
Some park visitors may choose to avoid groups and explore the park without hiring a local guide. Hiking and exploring the local towns are popular activities for those going solo through Xuân Thuy. Short boat rides can be arranged at the park so that visitors can get out further into the wetland to view the mangroves.
The only downside to traveling solo is having to manage your own schedule. Visitors who have the option to spend multiple days in the park are in the best position to explore the park on their own.
Hiking in Xuân Thuy
There are a few popular hiking trails in Xuân Thuy with the most visited spots concentrated on Con Ngan Island, which is also where the park’s headquarters are located. Hikers can explore the park’s wetland ecosystem, flora, and fauna, although it will be dependent on the tides.
At high tide, some trails may become flooded and impassable. This is the best time to view roosting bird species like the black-faced spoonbills. At low tide, the shrimp ponds become a hotspot where visitors can explore the small tidepool-like bodies of water that are left after the tides have receded. Visitors should check with the park’s headquarters for an up-to-date report on the level of the tides.
Aboard a Boat
Much like hiking, boating routes will depend on the level of the tides. During high tide, visitors can arrange to take a boat to the mud and sand flats where birds wade in large flocks. Another boat route takes visitors to Con Xanh Island, which has a Casuarina forest that is home to land-based birds.
Boat rides are the best way to experience the park’s wetlands and mangroves. With stealth and minimal noise, the boats expertly navigate the park’s core as they take visitors up close and personal to many of the park’s feathered inhabitants. Boat rides can be arranged at the park or prior to your arrival and most tour groups will include the cost of a boat ride in their trip package.
Visit the Communes
Located in the Buffer Zone, there are five communes in Xuân Thuy National Park. Giao An, Giao Thien, Giao Xuan, Giao Lac, and Giao Hai are all small communities within the national park that range in population from 1,000 to 1,300 people. The Giao Xuan Commune tends to be the most frequently visited community in the national park.
Most of the local people living within the communes earn money through the Buffer Zone’s various aquaculture ponds. Salt, fish, shrimp, clam, and rice are all popular investments that provide a high financial return, however, the balance between sustainable and over-farming is fragile.
Popular activities for visitors in the communes include enjoying lunch with the locals or observing their farming practices. The salt flats are an increasingly popular destination where visitors can learn how farmers produce and harvest salt. Shrimp farming is another hit amongst tourists where they can learn more about these aquatic creatures and how they are used in traditional Vietnamese cooking.
Plants and Wildlife
The most famous inhabitants in Xuân Thuy National Park are the 50 kinds of water birds and 15 types of migratory birds that call the Red River Delta home. A sanctuary for some of Vietnam’s most threatened aviary species, shorebirds, gulls, and waterfowl all live within the park’s coastal zone, while the rest of the bird species live on the interior mainland or islands of Xuân Thuy.
Additional rare species in the park include rorqual whales, finless porpoises, and Chinese white dolphins. These aquatic mammals are all endangered with dwindling numbers. The park provides essential protection to the feeding and resting grounds of these animals. Amongst the aquatic dwelling animals, there are also 30 reptile species and an unspecified number of insect species in the park.
As a wetland habitat, the majority of Xuân Thuy’s plants are vascular and excellent at conducting water throughout their stems and leaves. Used traditionally in Vietnamese cooking and essential to the health of the water, seaweed is an important plant in Xuân Thuy and is both protected and harvested from the park.
How to Get There
The drive from Hanoi to Xuan Thuy National Park can be completed in about 3 hours, while the drive from Hanoi to Nam Dinh City takes about 1 and ½ hours. If you’ve chosen to stay overnight, stopping in Nam Dinh City is an option before heading the rest of the way to the park.
Private transfers, public buses, and trains are all modes of transportation that can be used to reach Xuân Thuy National Park. Visitors who have paid for a tour group will most likely travel in a van or bus with their guide to the national park, with the price of transportation should be included in the cost of your tour.
Travelers who are not part of a tour or who want to spend more time in the area can travel to Nam Dinh City and the national park by bus or train. Buses are the most affordable way to travel to Xuân Thuy. Buses from Hanoi leave daily for Nam Dinh. In Nam Dinh City, travelers can arrange for a private transfer, taxi, or public bus to take them to the national park.
Trains leave from Hanoi daily with the end destination being Nam Dinh City. Similar to buses but slightly faster, the trains are an affordable way for travelers to reach the national park. From the train station in Nam Dinh City, travelers can then take a bus or taxi to their final destination, whether it be a local hotel or Xuan Thuy.
When to Visit
September to April, although considered the rainy season, is the most popular time to visit Xuân Thuy National Park. During these months, the park is filled with various bird species roosting throughout the wetlands. With more rain, the most frequently spotted birds are the painted stork and black-winged stilt.
December to April are the dry months and the best time to see gulls, ducks, and wading birds. Xuân Thuy’s famous black-faced spoonbills can be seen roosting in the shrimp ponds starting in October. With less rain and end-of-the-year holidays, the winter months can be quite busy at Xuân Thuy.
Standing out from the crowd of Vietnam’s exclusive national parks, Xuân Thuy is a unique destination where visitors can explore one of the country’s most fragile ecosystems. A magnet for birdwatchers, Xuân Thuy fascinates visitors with its rare bird species.
Taking a hike or boarding a boat are the best ways to explore the park as you travel between the mangrove forests, wetlands, and local communes. Suitable for a day trip from Hanoi, Xuân Thuy is a noteworthy destination just outside of the country’s busy capital.
Address: Giao Thiện, Giao Thủy District, Nam Dinh, Vietnam
Phone: +84 98 720 33 75
Season: Year-Round | Best during dry-season