Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park, stretching through the Vietnamese provinces of Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh, and Thanh Hoa, has become a hugely popular destination in recent years. It’s especially busy during ‘butterfly season’, when it’s possible to see thousands of these beautiful creatures all around the park.
Located 120km from Hanoi to the southwest, it takes about 3 hours to ride from Hanoi to Cuc Phuong National Park. Covering an area of 22,200 hectares right by Tam Diep mountain, Cuc Phuong has about 2,000 plant species and 2,600 animal species, many of which are listed in the Red Book of Vietnam and the world. This is one of seven centers of great plant diversity in Vietnam.
Best time to visit?
With caves, thousand-year-old trees, a few animal rescue sanctuaries and the seasonal presence of butterflies between the end of spring and the beginning of summer, the park attracts visitors from all over the country. In April and May, 400 different species of butterflies appear about the same time. The forest becomes a huge garden of color.
Cuc Phuong National Park has a variety of butterfly species, including the atlas moth and the swallowtail butterfly. ‘Butterfly Season’ is the best time to visit, especially right after a rainy day when kaleidoscopes of butterflies can be easily spotted floating around in the sunlight. Visitors can ride their motorbikes deeper into the center of the park alongside the butterflies, or stop and wait for them to land on their helmets, shoulders and side-view mirrors.
Of course, the park’s great in its own right, so you’ll have a great time whenever you visit.
How to Get There
Our Favourite Route
We feel that the best route to take is ‘Route 3‘, the green route. This is because it gets you out of the city rather quickly and then you follow the Red River, which is quite nice. Granted there is a little section of ‘Hell Road’ but that is over quite quickly.
Our second favourite would be ‘Route 2‘, the orange route. This is a great route if you are leaving from the West of the city and it quickly gets you out onto a pretty, fairly quiet road.
Our best suggestion would be to combine these two routes to make a loop.
The Fastest Route
The fastest route takes the old highway (the ‘red’ route) and, even though it has been upgraded, is still not a very nice route as there is lots of traffic. If you are taking a car or a bus, you will probably go on the new highway CT01, the thin black line on the map.
Getting There by Train
We do not really recommend taking the train to Cuc Phuong like we do to Ninh Binh because you will need to get a bus or a taxi from the station to Cuc Phuong. This is possible but is not too easy.
This is the main area for accommodation at the park.
Here you will find that there is a range of sleeping arrangements. There are small bungalows tucked away in the forest as well as some nice hotel rooms that can accommodate anything from 2 to 12 people.
Ho Mac / Mac Lake
Just 1km inside the park on the main road you will find Mac Lake.
Here there are some small bungalows that would suit a couple or a small family. As well as this, there are two large stilt houses that have group sleeping arrangements. If you are in a large group you could choose these.
Bong - Park Centre
Because this is slap bang in the centre of the park, you will be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the evening as well as, potentially a beautiful view of the stars.
The options for accommodation are similar but on a more limited scale and this part of the park needs to be booked way in advance. The simple reason for this is that it is 20km from the gate and the logistics of arranging this need to be thought out beforehand. Do not turn up unannounced and expect to stay here.
Outside the Park
There is a huge choice of accommodation outside the park. You can easily see this on Google Maps, Agoda, TripAdvisor and the like. The types of place to stay range from small family run homestays with dormitory type sleeping arrangements, through small hotels with aircon and private bathroom to high end resorts (yes, that means buffet breakfast, swimming pool and room service.
We feel there is far too much choice for us to give a recommendation and also that these are outside of the park so we are not sure why you would choose them.
What to Bring to the Park
Most of the items below are equally useful whether you are trekking the loop or actually staying in the centre of the park. It is not exactly an amazonian expedition these few items will make your life much more comfortable.
- Long sleeved shirt and trousers – to keep mosquitoes at bay.
- Mosquito repellent – er, ditto.
- Water bottle/water – to take on the 5km trek. It is wise to keep hydrated.
- Sunhat – actually to keep mosquitoes off more than protect from the sun.
- Small bag – for any rubbish
- A snack (chocolate bar, peanuts) – who knows?
Map of Things to Do
Things to do in the Park
First Stop - Tickets, Food and Accommodation
You will need to buy your tickets to the park and arrange your accommodation at the park gate. This is quite easy and is just like any other attraction / hotel.
If you are just visiting for the day, all you need is to buy the entrance ticket and you are set.
If you are staying overnight and need accommodation, you may have booked already and simply need to let the receptionist know who you are. It pays to book in advance in the Spring and Autumn as these are the peak periods. the type of accommodation you want may get booked up.
You then have the choice of settling in to your room, getting some food or getting on with your visit to the park.
At the main gate there are one or two food stalls that have a decent range of Vietnamese dishes. You could also head in to the main restaurant at the Entrance Gate and get some lunch there.
Wherever you are staying you will be able to get Breakfast and Dinner. You can usually rely on Lunch being available at the Park Gate and at Mac Lake, but not in the Park Centre.
Cave of Pre-Historic man
This cave is set in the rock face around 50 metres up. There are steps up to the cave and pretty much anyone can make the climb, though obviously some more easily than others. It can be a hot sticky climb in the summer.
Once you make it to the top there is not much to see. It’s just a bit of a cave so after one or two photos you will probably be itching to get on your way.
Bear in mind there is no wheelchair access from the main road. Any visitors must be capable of climbing stairs.
1,000 Year Old Tree
From ‘CUC PHUONG KHU A’ you can take the 5km trek, which is a loop back to the refreshment area. On this trek, you can view the 1,000 year old tree. It is at roughly the furthest point of the trek and roped off so very easy to see. You can take a few pictures near this but you are discouraged from getting too close.
The 5Km loop trek that you can take from the refreshment centre is quite an easy one. The trail through the forest is clearly marked and well-worn. At first, the route rises and falls quite gently but after a short time there are some ascents and descents (with steps) that are somewhat uneven. Caution is needed here.
As is quite typical in Asia, the trail is strewn with rubbish from previous visitors. We suggest you bring a small bag and pick some of this up as you go along. Make a competition of it for the kids 🙂
There is no assistance for people with disabilities / wheelchairs. All trekkers will need to be fit enough to climb stairs and walk on uneven terrain without risk of falling.
Endangered Primate Centre
For over 25 years now the Endangered Primate Centre in Cuc Phuong has been working in the park with the aim of rescuing endangered primates from the illegal wildlife trade and rehabilitating them. Part of this work is educating people on what the primates need and how to protect them.
It is a great place to visit. You can take a tour and see some very rare primates including: Gibbons, Langurs and Loris. A guide will show you around and answer all of your questions. It is best to book in advance to avoid disappointment and you can contact the Primate Centre here on their website.
Turtle Conservation Centre
The Asia Turtle Program was established in 1998 and, since then, has been working on the conservation and re-introduction to the wild of all manner of endangered and critically endangered turtles.
They have a large facility by the park gates and a turtle education centre that you can visit.
You may even like to Adopt a Turtle, which you can then go and visit 🙂
Save Vietnam's Wildlife Centre
This is the newest of the wildlife protection projects, set up in 2014, in the park. They are very active in the protection of several species and prevention of the illegal trade of these animals. They focus on:
- Leopard Cat
- Owstens Civet
You can adopt one of these animals and help support the efforts of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife.
Cuc Phuong is Well Worth a Weekend Visit
So, for an overnight trip, Cuc Phuong is a great place to visit. It is not too far from Hanoi and there is something for everyone. Whether you need to get out of the city, want to get some exercise, or find out more about Vietnam’s wildlife there is something for you.