Cúc Phương National park
Cúc Phương National park is the oldest such reserve in Vietnam. It was founded in 1962 and encompasses 25 000 hectares of forested mountains and valleys. It’s an extremely important area for the conservation of plants and animals in Vietnam which are increasingly being threatened and wiped out with each passing year.
The park itself is perhaps not the best place for motorbike touring. There is one cement road into the park which is very beautiful and a fun ride but you must return on it the way you came. Cuc Phuong does however make for a good place to stop while on tour- its proximity to other nearby attractions is handy and there are some very interesting things to see and do there. There are also some nice country roads to ride around the outskirts of the national park.
The Local People of Cuc Phuong
The Cuc Phuong National Park and surrounding area is traditionally home to the Muong ethnic minority. In the late 1980s many folk were repatriated outside the park although some people still inhabit the park, mostly around its periphery.
Geography of Cuc Phuong
Cuc Phuong is situated in northern Vietnam, around 120km from the nation’s capital – Hanoi. The Karst Mountains of the national park stand at elevations ranging from 150 to nearly 700 meters. Like much of Vietnam the limestone geology is suitable for the formation of caves and here it is no different – the park is littered with them. It was also once an underwater landscape -fossils of sea reptiles dating from 200-230 million years ago have been uncovered.
Flora and Fauna in the National Park
Over 2000 varieties of plants exist in Cuc Phuong with some trees towering up to a height of 70 metres. There is also a botanical garden where rare plant species are cultivated to be later relocated into the wild.
The park is home to 135 different mammals. Beasts of note include the Duoc Langur, Owsten’s Civet, the Asian Black Bear and the Clouded Leopard. Although it is mentioned in Cuc Phuong’s official brochure, we are not sure the black bear is still around.
The trees are home to 337 bird species such as hornbills, brown hawk-owls, silver pheasants, racket-tailed drongos and 122 kinds of reptiles also dwell in the forest. The subterranean ecosystem is home to approximately 40 bat species and even a special kind of fish.
Animal Conservation Efforts in Cuc Phuong Park
Cuc Phuong has 3 animal conservation programs with centers you can visit. One is for primates, one is for turtles and the other is for carnivores and pangolins. To visit these places you need to hire a guide at the main gate ticketing office.
The Endangered Primate Rescue Center is currently caring for over 180 animals from 15 separate species. The primates are mainly from the Gibbon, Langur and Loris families. The most important efforts here focus on the preservation of the Ha Tinh Langur and the Grey, Red and Black-Shanked Langurs. If you’d like to learn more about the EPRC check out their website at https://www.eprc.asia/
The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program rehabilitates animals that have been seized from the criminal wildlife trade. Threatened animals are also successfully bred here to be later released into the wild. Most of these creatures are nocturnal so you need to be in the park at night to seem them in action.
The Turtle Conservation Center is all about…..turtles. They look after some 600 turtles of which 19 species are endemic to Vietnam. This center undertakes captive breeding, along with training and awareness programs. Read more about them at their website here – http://www.asianturtleprogram.org
Points of Interest
For nature lovers there are quite a few hikes to do that don’t require a guide. A lot of the trails lead to ancient trees residing in the forest. If you want to do longer, more challenging or night walks, the park requires you to take a local guide.
Silver Peak Mountain is one of the most popular spots to visit but you must be prepared to hike there. It offers a view of the park from above although most of the time the summit is covered in low cloud and mist – hence its name.
There are also caves to visit that were once home to prehistoric men some 7 500 to 12 000 years ago. Ancient graves have been discovered and prehistoric axes, spears, knives along with other tools have been excavated. Hang Cave and Moong Cave are the most popular and easiest such places to visit.
Time to Visit
The best part of year to spend time in the park is during the months of December to April. The weather is typically dry and there are much less mosquitos at this time.
The park has a visually astounding time to visit at the start of summer which is generally mid-April through to late May. During this period Cuc Phuong bursts to life with butterflies and the air teems with clouds of moving colour. It’s a popular time of year for Vietnamese visitors who love to come and take photographs.
On Average Cuc Phuong receives rain around 200 days year so be sure to pack some wet weather gear if you are planning on a visit.
Places to Visit Nearby
There are lots of places to visit close by to Cuc Phuong in all directions. For example, if you travel 26 km to the east you will find the tourism hotspot of Trang An. Near Trang An is the huge Bai Dinh Pagoda complex and the Hoa Lu Ancient capital. Roughly 65 km to the south-east is the amazing Phat Diem Cathedral.