The Best Way to Visit Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s Largest National Park
The Story -- Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam
Conservation in Vietnam started at Cuc Phuong National Park. It was consecrated by Ho Chi Minh in 1962, right in the middle of the Vietnam War. The bombs dropped and the defoliants used during the war, destroyed much of Vietnam’s forests and fauna. Ho Chi Minh told the people that protecting the environment is protecting their future. Since then, 29 other national parks have been created in Vietnam, but Cuc Phuong remains the largest.
Sara and I rented a scooter and drove there from Tam Coc. It was a fantastic ride, past limestone karsts, farm fields, and up into the hills of the park. It took us about two hours to arrive at Cuc Phuong Hotel.
Sample Budget (for 2)
Accommodations: 200,000/$10 (1 night)
Meals: 400,000/$20 (1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner)
Attraction admissions: 220,000/$11 (park admission X2 and rescue centres)
Motobike rental: 300,000/$15 (two days)
Total: 1,320,000 ($62)
We would have been there sooner, but we had a bit of difficulty finding the hotel. The map on booking.com is inaccurate, we knew this ahead of time, but the only information we had was that it’s in Dong Tam village, which doesn’t show up on Google Maps. In actuality, the hotel is very easy to find. It’s actually down the road from Cuc Phuong Resort and Spa, which you will see signs for along the way. There are also some hotels on the road to the parks entrance, but Cuc Phuong Hotel was a nice enough place, the owner was very hospitable, and the price was right (200,000 dong/$10 a night). There’s a good chance that you’ll eat all your meals at the restaurant down the street — it’s owned by the guy who owns the hotel. Don’t expect a menu or anything, they’ll probably just suggest something based on what they have available, but you can expect a tasty affordable meal — the highlight being banana pancakes for breakfast.
After we got to the hotel, we headed to the park for a quick hike around. There are many trails in Cuc Phuong, but a lot of them require a guide. Unfortunately, the park headquarters were closed while we were there, and the ticket booth at the park isn’t very helpful. They won’t go over your options — only suggest one or two things to do. Have a read through their website and pick out some options for yourself so you can tell them exactly what you want to do. We did the Thousand Year Old Tree Loop trail, or at least part of it. It’s located at the deepest point of the park. You’ll need a motorbike to get there, or you can hire a driver. The road is paved and smooth, but it takes about 30 minutes. The trail was nice — not too groomed, not too grown over, the right amount of strenuousness. We were hoping to see some animals — there are 97 species of mammal in the park — so we took our time, pausing whenever we heard a noise, sometimes waiting quietly for 10 minutes. It was great. Just a few minutes of standing in silence and you’ll start to hear some noises. They’ll gradually increase the longer you wait. Unfortunately, we only saw some birds and a giant squirrel, but we heard monkeys and some other mystery creatures. Admission to the park is 40,000 dong ($2).
The next day, we went to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) and the Turtle Conservation Centre (TTC). Tickets for both, including a guide, are 30,000 dong ($1.50). It’s a great learning opportunity. The guide was informative and able to answer all the questions we had. It was also very fun to watch the langurs, gibbons, and monkeys jumping around and playing with each other. The turtle centre was less exciting, of course, but it was also interesting and informative.
After that, we hiked up to the observation tower. The trail to it is a short ways from the park headquarters, and the trail itself only takes 20 minutes. The tower is an old rickety accident-waiting-to-happen, but the view from the top was great (see the first photo).
Our last stop at the park was the Cave of the Prehistoric Man. In 1966, the cave was excavated and 7,500 year-old tools were found. To fully experience it, rent a flashlight from one of the ladies at the cave’s parking lot — you’ll definitely need it. It’s a bit spooky inside. You might come across some strange cave bugs. Take the ladder up to the second level where you can climb to an opening. I found it refreshing that the cave wasn’t fitted with lighting. Having to use the flashlight to explore every inch and discover passageways, made it more fun and exciting.
We burned rubber out of town, back to Tam Coc. On the way home, we took an alternate route (about 2 hours long) that had us bumping along a rocky road, but the views were incredible and well worth the butt-hurt. Just make sure you fill up on fuel outside of the park. Other than the beauty, there isn’t much out there. Luckily, that’s all we were looking for.
The Facts -- Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam
Get In and Out
It’s possible to get to the park from Hanoi’s Giap Bat bus station in about 3 hours by direct bus, but it only leaves at 3PM. If you want to get there earlier, you can take a bus from Giap Bat station to Nho Quan, then take a taxi from there to the park entrance. Buses to Nho Quan leave at 8AM, 9AM, 12PM, 1PM, 3PM and 4PM. They cost about 100,000 dong.
A direct bus back to Hanoi will leave the park headquarters at 9AM only (look for the red bus). To go back via Nho Quan, catch a taxi from the park back to the bus station, then a bus back to Hanoi at 7am, 8am, 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, or 3pm.
We went to the park via motorbike from Tam Coc, after visiting the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. It was an easy and beautiful ride.
You could also go from Ninh Binh, which has a large bus station that’s easy to get to from most cities in the area. Once you arrive in Ninh Binh, you can take an expensive taxi ride, or rent a scooter and drive it yourself. It only take a couple hours and, at times, the views are amazing.
Best Budget Hotel by Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam
You can stay in the park, but the accommodations are a bit rough and a bit overpriced. Instead, we recommend Cuc Phuong Hotel, a relatively new place that’s basic, but decent enough, and only $10/night.
Take note, the map on Booking.com isn’t accurate. To see exactly where the hotel is, use our map below. If you’re driving yourself to it, watch for signs to the Cuc Phuong Resort & Spa. Cuc Phuong Hotel is just a half a km down the road.
Best Budget Restaurant by Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam
Your options are limited. If you’re at the park, you might as well try the restaurant at the park headquarters. If you stay at Cuc Phuong Hotel though, we would recommend eating at their “restaurant” down the street. They don’t have a menu, but you can suggest an ingredient and they’ll make something up. The highlight was our breakfast right before heading into the park — banana pancakes. With no menu, you won’t have prices to go on, but we found that everything was reasonably priced.