Our three day trip to Cuc Phong National Park in northern Vietnam was fantastic.
The adventure started with figuring out how to get from the town we were staying in, Nin Bihn, to the park, which is 50 km away. Of course, our hotelier had a tour to sell us, but we hate being shuttled around and don’t need someone to show us how to walk on a marked trail, so we decided to pass.
We decided instead to use our now well-honed barganing skills and find two motorbike drivers to give us a ride up. I quickly learned that laughing in the face of the person you’re bargaining with is part of the bargaining process here in Vietnam. You offer a price and he/she laughs at you. Then you’re offered a price and you get to laugh back (which makes being laughed at a lot easier). We finally agreed on a price and zoomed up to the park.
Cuc Phong is Vietnam’s first National Park. It was founded in 1963 and is 200 square kilometers of beautiful jungle-covered mountains. It’s also home to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center and the Turtle Conservation Center, both incredible places. More about them later. The park has bungalows and stilt houses that you can stay in so that you can be up early to see birds or out late to sneak up on flying squirels. More about that later too.
After picking the bugs out of our teeth, we hopped off the motorbikes and wandered through the park’s botanical gardens. It didn’t look that different from the rest of the park, but we did manage to see a spotted deer. Of course, being from the Mid-Atlantic, seeing a deer is about as exciting as seeing mouse ears in Orlando.
The next stop was the Primate Center, which rescues animals that are confiscated from poachers that sell the monkeys as pets or for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The primates kept at the center, set up with a mate and make baby monkeys. The monkeys are then transitioned to one of two large (5 & 11 acres) semi-wild enclosures so that they can get used to foraging and living in the jungle again. The monkey families are kept together, too. And it’s not just great for the monkeys. The center employs local people, so they don’t have to make a living poaching wildlife or illegally logging. Just down the road from the Primate Center was the Turtle Conservation Center, which much it neighbor, rescues illegally collected turtles, feeds them, makes turtle babies and releases them into the wild.
While in the park, we saw an 800 year old and a 1,200 year old tree, explored a cave, went night spotting (saw some flying squirrels), and took a trek to a traditional Muong village. The trek was led by a fantastic guide named Viet, whom we’d met the night before on our night spotting adventure. He grew up in the area and has been a guide in the park for 10 years. The trek led us through beautiful, thick jungle and up and over limestone mountains and finally into a beautiful valley filled with rice paddies, stilt houses and water buffalo. We spent the night with a local family, all 12 of us asleep on mattresses on the floor and the pigs making lots of noises in the pen below.
After such a great experience, we’re looking for other parks to explore. We’ll let you know what we find.