CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
Cuc Phuong National Park ( 846006; Nho Quan district, Ninh Binh province, admission 40,000d 04-829 2604; 1 Pho Doc Tan Ap, Hanoi), established in 1962, is one of Vietnam’s most important nature reserves. Ho Chi Minh personally took time off from the war in 1963 to dedicate this, Vietnam’s first national park. He offered a short dedication speech:
Forest is gold if we know how to conserve it well, it will be very precious. Destruction of the forest will lead to serious effects on both life and productivity.
This national park is 70km from he coast and covers an area about 25km in length and 11km in which in the provinces of Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. The elevation of the park’s highest peak, Dinh May Bac (Silver Cloud Peak) is 648m. At the park’s lower elevation elevations, the climate is subtropical. The stone tools of prehistoric human have been discovered in Con Mong Cave, one of the park’s many grottoes. The park is home to the excellent Endangered Primate Rescue Center – see the boxed text in this chapter for details.
Though wildlife has suffered a precipitous decline in Vietnam in recent decades, the park’s 22 sq km of primary tropical forest remains home to an amazing variety of animal and plant life. There are 320 species of bird, 97 species of mammal including bats, and 36 species of reptile identified so far. Of the 1983 known plant species, 433 have medicinal properties and 299 are food sources. The park is also home to a species of tree called Cay Kim Gao (for aspiring horticulturists, the Latin name is Podocarpus fleuryi hickel and it’s also found in Cat Ba National Park). In ancient days, kings and noble people would only eat with chopsticks made from this lumber – it was said that anything poisonous it touches turns the light colored wood to black! These chopsticks make a nice souvenir.
Poaching and habitat destruction is a constant headache for the park rangers. Many native species, such as the black bear, wild cats, birds and reptiles, have perished in the park as a result of human impact. Episodes of violence have erupted between the Muong and park rangers who have tried to stop logging in the park. The government has responded by relocating the villagers further from the park’s boundary. Hopefully the park authorities will be able to create opportunities for the local people to participate in the eco-tourism ventures, thereby giving conservation an economic value that will benefit the environment. A highway has recently been scheduled to bisect the park and this, of course, will have a huge impact on the growth, movement and conservation of plants and animals.
The best time of year to visit the park is in the dry months from October to March. From April to June it becomes increasingly hot and wet, and from July to September the rains arrive, bring lots of leeches. Visitors in April and May should be lucky enough to see literally millions of butterflies that breed here.
There is a low-key, informative visitor center a few hundred meters before the park entrance.
Hiking in Cuc Phuong
Excellent hiking opportunities abound in the park and you could spend several days trekking through the forest here.
Short walks include a large, enclosed botanical garden near the park headquarters where some native animals – deer, civets, gibbons and langurs – have been released. Another short trail leads to steep stairway up to the archaeologically significant Cave of Prehistoric Man.
Popular day-trails include an 8km return walk to the massive 1000 year-old Big Tree (Tetrameles nudiflora), and a longer hike to Silver Cloudy Top Mountain.
There’s also a strenuous five-hour hike to Kanh, a Muong village. You can overnight here, and raft on the Buoi River.
Park staff can provide you with basic maps to find the well-marked trailed heads, but a guide is recommended for day trips and is mandatory for longer treks. A guide will cost a minimum of US$5 per day for up to five people, plus US$1 for each extra person.
Places to Stay & Eat
There are two accommodation areas in the park, with a complicated range of prices and options.
You can stay in the center of the park, 18km from the gate, which is the best place to be if you want to do an early morning walk or bird watching. Here there are basic rooms (US$6 per person) in a pillar house, or a couple of self-contained bungalows(one person/two people US$15/25). There’s also an enormous river-fed swimming pool.
At park headquarters, and along the quiet park access road, there are self-contained bungalows and guesthouse rooms(US$15/20 for one/two people). There are also rooms in a pillar house (US$5 per person). You can camp(US$2 per person), but need to bring you own gear. You can order food from reception, including a vegetarian option.
It can get very busy here at weekend and during Vietnamese school holidays; you may want to avoid these times of the year. Reservations can be made by contacting the national park office.
Getting There & Away
Cuc Phuong National Park is 45km from Ninh Binh. The turn-off from Hwy 1 is north of Ninh Binh, and follows the road that goes past the Kenh Ga floating village. There is no public transport on this route.