One of the attractions of a day trip to Vietnam’s oldest national park is the drive. It’s 120km each way, so it’s quite a journey to do there and back within a day. But shun the Highway 1 route and instead take the Ho Chi Minh trail (Route 21) south from Hoa Lac at the end of the Thang Long Highway, and just the trip itself is worth the ride.
The experience starts south of Xuan Mai as you leave the area not-so-affectionately known as Hanoi Hai and cross into Hoa Binh Province. The recently surfaced road is pleasantly devoid of traffic, making it one of the most pleasant to drive on in Vietnam. Add to that the constantly changing vistas of paddies and cornfields, all with a backdrop of heavily forested limestone karsts, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re already driving through the national park.
Heading to the park entrance close to Nho Quan, it’s worth taking a side trip along Yen Quang Lake. Skirting the mountains that form the edge of Cuc Phuong, this body of water offers a stunning vista of the nature beyond — mountains, water and jungle. Here you can also see its collision with man. A number of cemetery areas line the far side of the lake. Cross one of the ramp-like lanes traversing the water and you will find the path up to Dong Pho Ma Giang, the King’s Son-in-Law Cave.
An Animal Haven
The park is famed for its Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, located just by the main entrance. Housing langurs and gibbons it acts as a haven for these increasingly rare mammals native to Vietnam. Rescued mainly from private owners, the idea is to rehabilitate the animals into the wild. It works with some, with most it doesn’t. But with the number of individuals of each of these species dwindling, the centre plays an important role in their future.
Turtles have also come under the conservation mesh, and a second centre was recently opened to house 19 endangered species. As with the primate centre, part of its role is educational — raising awareness and the training of students, the public and rangers.
Venture past the entrance area — you can drive — and there are a number of other attractions. 7km, on you come to the Cave of Prehistoric Man. A short 300m walk and climb takes you to a cavern filled with altars. Venture further in and you will discover a network of passages, with bats and other animals thriving in the dark. It’s not for the feint of heart, this place, but for anyone into potholing, this could be a nice little journey. Just remember to bring a torch.
Further into Cuc Phuong at the Park Centre in Bong you’ll find trekking paths — the shortest routes are about 7km — 1,000-year-old trees, climb to peaks with views to-die-for, the Palace Cave and tracks leading to two Muong villages.
What makes Cuc Phuong stand out from other such areas of natural beauty is not only its variety — there is a range of attractions here — but the way it is set up. The oldest national park in Vietnam, all visitor needs are catered for. From the daredevil trekker through to the laughing, noise-making member of a Vietnamese tour group, the park seems to have something for everyone.
Buses leave from Giap Bat in Hanoi to Cuc Phuong or nearby Nho Quan five times a day. Alternatively, the drive takes approximately three hours by car or motorbike. Travel agencies such as Buffalo Tours, Handspan and Exotissimo organize trips to the park.
Where to Stay
There is accommodation within the park. See the website below for information. There are also a number of nha nghi options in Cuc Phuong village. For something a bit more upscale, avoid Cuc Phuong Resort and instead head to Emeralda, 30km away in Van Long. Set up like a traditional Vietnamese village, the architecture, fauna and views make this a perfect place to rest tired feet after a day’s trekking in the park.
For more information on the park go to www.cucphuongtourism.com or head to the park’s branch office in Hanoi at 24 Tan Ap, Ba Dinh. Tel: 3829 2604.