Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh

The Oldest & Largest National Park in Vietnam

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: February 3, 2020

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 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.

2. Hiking in Cuc Phuong Primary Forest

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.

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.

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.

VI.  How to get to Cuc Phuong National Park from Hanoi?

1. By Bus or Car

Traveling by bus can be a very affordable choice to get access to Cuc Phuong National Park because the price of the ticket is economical. Tourists need to call the bus agent, book their seats in advance and arrange the schedule. Another way is to come directly to Giap Bat Station and buy the ticket from the ticket counter.

Going by private car can be an expensive yet more comfortable option, especially with tourists who are unfamiliar with Vietnamese roads. If traveling with a large group of family and friends, a private car will be definitely a better choice because they do not have to worry about being crammed on a crowded bus.

2. By Train

Tourists can buy a ticket from Hanoi’s train station. After arriving at Ninh Binh train station, tourists have to take a taxi or local bus to get Cuc Phuong Park. Traveling by train is a quite comfortable experience for tourists as they can also see a few beautiful landscapes along the journey.

3. By Motorbike

From Hanoi, tourists take the National Highway 1A and go straight to Gian Khau junction in Gia Vien district of Ninh Binh City. After that, tourists should turn to Highway 12A passing Nho Quan Town 2km and turn left to access the gate of Cuc Phuong Park.

VII. Tips on Visiting Cuc Phuong National Park

  • The best time to visit Cuc Phuong is in the dry season from October to Frebuary because at that time the weather is nice and warm. In the rain season, the roads are slippery and there are many leeches and mosquitoes in the forest. Especially in May, tourists can admire the strikingly stunning landscape of millions of butterflies flying in the sky of Cuc Phuong National Park’s Forest.
  • Visitors should wear comfortable clothes and durable walking pairs of shoes for comfort. In summer, visitors will need to bring extra mosquito repellent, sunblock, and a hat. In winter, tourists are suggested to wear layers of warm clothes for flexibility as they can easily take it off after getting warmer by climbing the mountains.
  • Tourists are recommended to bring plenty of water and snacks as they have to do a lot of walking around the forest. And to avoid getting lost in the Cuc Phuong Forest, visitors should bring a map or go with a local guide.

With its diversity of fauna and flora, its beautiful landscapes, its cultural and historical richness, Cuc Phuong National Park has become an attractive destination for both domestic or international tourists and researchers.

So what are you waiting for? Let escape from the busy and hustle of the industrial lives to explore the Cuc Phuong jungle. Pack your luggage, book a tour and you will find yourself enjoy the fresh air in a pristine natural site of the Cuc Phuong forest. Have a safe and joyful trip!

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