Located about 100 km South of Hanoi, Cuc Phuong is the first and one of the most impressive national parks in Vietnam.
Home to a diversified flora and fauna system owning typical features of tropical rain forests and highly-endangered species, Cuc Phuong National Forest is a conservation area covering an area of 25,000 hectares and located in the territory of 3 northern provinces: Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. On a par with the most famous primeval forests in the world, experiencing many historical changes since it became the first national park in Vietnam, Cuc Phuong National Park still retains its wild beauty and precious “treasures” endowed by Mother Nature such as fossils of Con Moong Cave, ancient trees, Cave of prehistoric man, etc
120 kilometers south of Hanoi Capital and located deep in the heart of Tam Diep mountains, Cuc Phuong National Park is bordered by 3 major Northern provinces: Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. Located in Ninh Binh Province, Cuc Phuong National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Vietnam. This natural park is home to the vast amount of local plants and animals which represent a crucial source of biodiversity. Visiting this park, tourists will have a chance to explore the beauty of Vietnam’s nature, and money generated by tourism can save many endangered species and boost the local economy.
I. Overview of Cuc Phuong National Park
Covering an area of 25,000 ha of three provinces: Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh, and Thanh Hoa, Cuc Phuong is the first and largest nature reserve of Vietnam. This park is a typical tropical rainforest that hosts many diverse and unique flora and fauna.
This old forest is the natural habitat of more than 2000 plant species and 2600 species of animals including 2000 species of insects, 135 mammal species, 122 species of reptiles and amphibians, 65 species of fishes, more than 336 species of birds. Many endangered species have been found and protected here including Draco, spotted deer, golden monkey, bear, leopard, fox, horse, and the famous black and white Douc langur.
II. History of Cuc Phuong National Park
The national park was officially established in 1960. Two years later, in 1962, President Ho Chi Minh consecrated this park to raise the awareness of environmental and animal protection. From then, Cuc Phuong National Park has become one of the most important biological sites in Vietnam.
Cuc Phuong was also the habitat of the prehistoric man dating 7,000 – 12,000 years ago. In numerous milestone caves at the park site, many ancient tools such as bone spears, shell knives, stone axes were found. In 1798, Quen Voi – a part of this park was the main battle of the civil war between Thang Long and Nguyen Hue.
Recently, there have been conflicts between governors and Muong people who settle, hunt and farm inside of the park. To prevent poaching and farming practices of local ethnic people, in 1987, 500 Muong people were inhabited outside of the park. Now governments and regional residents are working together to alleviate poaching making this park site become the best place for animal conservation.
III. Highlights of Cuc Phuong National Park
Known as the most-visited attraction of Ninh Binh – the city of tourism, Cuc Phuong National Park stands out with the enchanting natural beauty, engaging culture and wildlife legacy.
1. Natural Landscapes
Placed in two karst mountain ranges, the Cuc Phuong national park’s landscape is a superbly abundant ecosystem. Cuc Phuong Park is located in the place where the mighty limestone mountains stand up majestically above the beautiful rice terraces and the unique traditional house of Muong people. In May or April, visitors will be blessed with the opportunities to admire thousands of colorful butterflies.
Cuc Phuong National Park is also famous for its numerous mountain cave landscapes. The park includes a lot of milestone mountains and lavish valleys. With the impressive heights vary from 150 meters to 656 meters, the karst formations create plenty of limestone caves, a lot of which can be accessed easily for exploration.
2. Cultural Highlights
In the past, Cuc Phuong national park was home to more than 2000 Muong people. Today there are still a few small villages located around the park’s territory and these people still thrive with their intriguing history and distinctive culture. Visiting these ethnic communities, tourists will be overwhelmed by the skillfulness of local people by examining their living structures and tools such as water wheel, communal house, stone rice mortar…
IV. What to See and to Do at Cuc Phuong National Park?
1. Visiting Famous Caves
► Prehistoric Man Cave: A settlement of primitive people who lived in Ninh Binh about 7000 – 12,500 years far away from us today. Here you will see the two new discovered ancient tombs along with Neolithic remains and evidence of stone implements.
► Con Moong Cave: Con Moong means animals in Muong language. In the font of the cave, there is a big stone that has the shape of animals. This cave used to be home to ancient people and is also a principal archaeological area considered a national monument.
► Trang Khuyet Cave (Crescent Cave): this cave is located deep in the forest and from a distance, visitors will find the entrance of the cave protruding in the shape of a waning moon.
► Yen Quang Lake: Also known as Nho Quan Lake, Yen Quang Lake is a renowned tourist attraction with the lake surface as the gathering venue of various birds to swim, a small island lying in the middle of the lake along with the temple on the island. For the first time coming here, visitors will feel lost in the fairy landscape with the wild and tranquil beauty of the lake surrounded by immense forest and mountains.
► May Back Peak: As the highest peak at Cuc Phuong National Park with an altitude of 648 meters, May Bac Peak is where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the national park’s forest and plains as well as the ancient capital Hoa Lu, and Bai Dinh Pagoda. However, this place is only suitable for someone in good health because the road leading to the peak has many difficult-to-go rocky slopes.
2. Activities at Cuc Phuong National Park
Possessing dozens of walking trails through the forest and diverse discovery contents, Cuc Phuong National Forest is the ideal place for you to take exciting trekking routes and explore the diverse ecosystem of the park, getting fascinating and unforgettable experiences. Visitors can explore on your own or based on the guidance of guides who help you better understand plants and animals there.
One of the favorite activities of many travelers when visiting the national park is kayaking on Mac Lake and Yen Quang Lake. With the boat swimming price of 50,000 VND/person/hour, you can get the feeling of floating on the water while admiring the gorgeous surrounding natural scenery. Besides, if you travel in a large group, everyone can hold a kayaking race, thereby stirring up the trip atmosphere.
Cuc Phuong Park offers plenty of jungle routes which attract many tourists from all over the world. Tourists can go alone in some popular trekking routes, but other routes require tourists to go with local people or a park scout.
Overnight camping in Muong Village can be the most strikingly adventurous and interesting experience for tourists when visiting Cuc Phuong. Tourists must go in a group of at least 6 people and walk through 30 km of Cuc Phuong forest in about 2-3 days, therefore it is considered the hardest jungle route in Cuc Phuong National Park.
As one of the popular activities in Cuc Phuong National Park, cycling not only helps you to truly feel the natural breath and explore more clearly the ecosystem here but also gives you a sense of peace after hard working days. Don’t miss out on cycling experience through the national park as this can also be your opportunity to encounter rare animals.
Besides the above activities, Cuc Phuong National Park is also a suitable place to participate in bird watching experiences, observing animals, reptiles and amphibians. On the other hand, visitors can learn more about the lives of locals through community activities, or ethnic art events.
3. Bird and Animal Watching
Throwing themselves into Cuc Phuong nature, tourists will have a chance to see with their own eyes some rare species listed in Vietnam’s Red Book and species featured by the Cuc Phuong jungle. This park site is also an ideal destination for bird-watching as many flocks of tropical birds choose this forest to be their home and favorite nesting spot.
In butterfly season from April to May, tourists will be blessed to witness the stunning landscape that comes from thousands of flying multi-colored butterflies.
4. Visiting the Conservation Centers
The reservation center was established in 1985 and is known as the highlight of this national park. This center is built to protect the precious genetic resources along with rare animals and plants. In this center, researchers and activists rescue and cure wounded primates like Cat Ba langur, Gray langur. After being rescued, strong individuals will be released to their natural habitat and observed by researchers.
Tourists can also visit the Cuc Phuong Museum, a famous place displaying specimens of insects, butterflies, bears, leopards, monkeys…This museum is regarded as a useful study site for students, experts, researchers, and tourists to earn more academic knowledge.
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V. What to Eat at Cuc Phuong National Park?
Visiting Cuc Phuong, tourists are suggested to try some forestry specialties that are all made of local produce. The following are some featured dishes that tourists should try when visiting Cuc Phuong National Park.
1. Com Lam or Burned Rice
This is the popular snack of local people. This dish is a great combination of rice, bamboo fragrance, and stream water. To keep the bamboo scent, people stuff sticky rice into the bamboo’s steam and toast it directly on charcoal until the bamboo’s steam turning black.
2. Goat Meat
This is a must-try dish when tourists visit Ninh Binh Province. Because of living in the rocky mountains, goats can run and jump freely so they have more meat and less fat than domestic goats. So when tasting the goat meat in Cuc Phuong Park, tourists can easily tell the difference as the meat here is much more fresh, delicious and firm.
3. Cuc Phuong Chicken
Grilled chicken is the unique and flavorful specialty of Nho Quan District, Ninh Binh Province. The crispy and yummy dish becomes favorite for many tourists when visiting Cuc Phuong in the winter.
4. Cuc Phuong Snail
Tourists can only try this special dish in the dry season from March to July. This delicacy charms tourists by its typical taste of fresh snail along with a mix of aromatic lemongrass, fish sauce and hot chilly.