THE FAR NORTH || THE NORTHERN COAST ||
CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
In 1962 Vietnam’s first national park was established around a narrow valley between forested limestone hills on the borders of Ninh Binh, Thanh Hoa and Hoa Binh provinces, containing over two hundred square kilometres of tropical evergreen rainforest. Cuc Phuong is well set up for tourism and sees a steady stream of visitors, attracted principally by the excellent primate rescue centre, but also by the easy access to impressively ancient trees. With more time, you can walk into the park interior, overnight in a Muong village and experience the multi-layered forest. The most enjoyable time for walking in these hills is October to January, when mosquitoes and leeches take a break and temperatures are relatively cool – but this is also peak season. Flowers are at their best February and March, while April and May are the months when lepidopterists can enjoy the “butterfly festival” as thousands of butterflies colour the forest.
Cuc Phuong’s flora and fauna
Even now the park has not been fully surveyed but is estimated to contain approximately three hundred bird species and ninety mammal species, some of which were first discovered in Cuc Phuong, such as red-bellied squirrels and a fish that lives in underground rivers. Several species of bat and monkey, including the critically endangered Delacour’s langur, inhabit the park, while bears and leopards roam its upper reaches. Hunting has taken its toll, though, and you’re really only likely to see butterflies, birds and perhaps a civet cat or a tree squirrel, rather than the more exotic fauna. What you can’t miss, though, is the luxuriant vegetation including 1000-year-old trees (living fossils up to 70m high), tree ferns and kilometre-long corkscrewing lianas, as well as a treasure-trove of medicinal plants.
Walking in Cuc Phuong
Of several walks in the park, one of the most popular starts at Car Park A, 18km from the park gate. For a steamy 7km (roughly 2hr), a well-trodden path winds through typical rainforest to reach the magnificent cho xanh tree, a 45m-high, 1000-year-old specimen of Terminalia myriocarpa – its dignity only slightly marred by a viewing platform. Dropping back down to the flat, take a left turn at the unmarked T-junction to bring you back to the road higher up at Car Park B. This second car park is also the start of the “Adventurous Trail”, an 18-km hike through the park to Muong villages, noted for their gigantic wooden waterwheels, for which you’ll need a guide and a night’s accommodation.