Ninh Binh

Cuc Phuong National Park: Ninh Binh’s Trove of Natural Bounty

Cuc Phuong National Park (Vietnamese spelling: Vườn quốc gia Cúc Phương) was the first to be established in Vietnam. It’s located in Ninh Binh about 91 km away from Hanoi, and  is 33 km away from Trang An Landscape Complex.

Cuc Phuong National Park’s ecosystem covers 22 000 hectares and includes 100 km of limestone with various karst terrains and hundreds of large caves. It has a monsoon tropical climate with several climatic sub-zones which give it an abundant and unique bio-diversity of flora and fauna. 

The Muong ethnic group accounts for over half of the total population in the region. Coming to Cuc Phuong, you can visit villages in remote areas that still retain their customs, especially the Gong festival.

View all the locations mentioned in this article

Trekking: The Best Thing To Do in Cuc Phuong National Park

Trekking: The Best Thing To Do in Cuc Phuong National Park
[ image from Facebok ]

Your journey starts at the main entrance where you purchase your ticket. You then proceed to the office near the entrance where you can rent safety gear. From there, choose your point of departure, then your route. 

There are four main centers around the park with departure points to different hiking and trekking activities. Some routes, especially the long and difficult ones, or overnight camping routes, usually require a guide at additional expense.

Although you will receive basic maps with clearly marked trails, a good and informative English speaking guide is still recommended. 

Cuc Phuong Botanical Garden

Cuc Phuong Botanical Garden
[ image from Facebook ]

The Cuc Phuong Botanical Garden is among the three International Botanical Gardens of Vietnam. This place is for conserving rare species and wildlife release programs with a Visitor Center. It’s near the entrance and is the point of departure for five trekking routes.

1. Following the trail around the botanical garden: It’s an easy stroll suited for the early morning. The trek is three kilometers long, takes around less than two hours, and requires a guide.

2. Observation lookout: It’s a short climb for a wonderful view of the forested hills. It takes less than an hour and no guide is required.

3. Muong Village: It’s a moderately easy  16 km trek plus camping in the forest with a guide. The duration is two to three days with one night in a traditional stilt house.

4. Jungle trek: It’s a 20km camping trip plus night wildlife-spotting for the adventurous. For two days, a maximum of five people will be accompanied by a guide and a local scout who will prepare all the equipment. 

5. Jungle trek and villages: It’s similar to the trek above plus one day at a Muong village. It’s a total of 30 km and lasts three days.

Mac Lake and the Park’s Paved Road

Mac Lake and the Park’s Paved Road
[ by pululante from Flickr ]

The lake is about 1.5 km from the entrance and the starting point of four routes. It’s a quiet place with a lot of space for team-building activities.

1. Mac Lake mountain peak: It’s a one-day challenging climb to the mountain top. The maximum number is five people with a required guide.

2. Bird watching: It’s an easy three-hour trip. A guide is still required to lead the way and they’ll give information about the birds.

3. Prehistoric Cave: It used to house prehistoric people, now it’s a gathering place for bats. The path is easy, only 300 m, and takes less than an hour. You’ll need a flashlight but a guide isn’t required.

4. Fossil and ancient trees: You can hike deep into the forest to observe fossils and wildlife. It’s a total of 9 km back and forth, takes around three to four hours, and a guide is required.

Park Center (Xóm Bống)

Park Center
[ by pululante from Flickr ]

This first center of the park is about 20 km away from the entrance and one of the last two points to start your routes. 

1. A thousand years old Dipterocarpaceae tree and Son Cung Cave (cây chò ngàn năm và động Sơn Cung): The paved road makes it easy for wildlife-spotting and bird-watching. It’s a total of 7 km which takes two to three hours without the need of a guide. You’ll need a flashlight for the cave.

2. Ancient trees: It’s an easy stroll on a paved path through the forest so you won’t need a guide. It takes less than two hours and you can do some bird-watching on the way. 

3. Silver Cloud Peak: It’s a challenging climb to Cuc Phuong’s tallest vantage point that requires a guide. It takes around four to five hours to cover a total of 7 km.

Center no2

Center no2
[ by hds from Flickr ]

The second center is next to the first one with a couple of easy fun routes to try.

1. Bamboo rafting on Buoi River (sông Bưởi): It takes less than two hours and requires a park guide plus a local guide.

2. Ngan Hang Cave (Hang Ngân Hàng): It’s easy to get to within three hours and a guide is necessary.

3. Muong Village: The path is easy and you can choose to cycle or walk. The trip lasts from one to two days and a guide is needed.

Cycling and Kayaking

Cycling and Kayaking
[ image from Facebook ]

Mountain bike rental is also available at Cuc Phuong’s office where you rent safety gear. It’s a great way to get through not only the paved road but also the trails in the forest. While staying at the park, you can also do some kayaking on the artificial Mac Lake (hồ Mạc) or the natural lake of Yen Quang (Hồ Yên Quang).

Wildlife-spotting in Cuc Phuong National Park

Wildlife-spotting in Cuc Phuong National Park
[ image from Facebook ]

At present, Cuc Phuong has a total of forty-three biodiversity hotspots with the opportunity to see and study different species of tropical plants. Cuc Phuong is also home to many different species of amphibians, insects, and reptiles.

Wildlife night-spotting offers opportunities to see the more elusive mammal species of the park including the Black Giant Squirrel, the Indian Flying Squirrel, Samba Deer, Loris, and several other small carnivores.

Bird-watching in Cuc Phuong is ideally in the early morning or in the late afternoon. You may encounter the Silver Pheasant, Red-collared Woodpecker, Brown Hornbill, Bar-bellied Pitta, and so on.

Community-based Eco-tours in Cuc Phuong National Park

Community-based Eco-tours in Cuc Phuong National Park
[ by Pavel Kirillov from Flickr ]

These tours help visitors experience the hospitality of local Muong people. While in the village, you will live with a family, get to know their culture, try some bamboo rafting, and participate in the Gong festival (lễ hội cồng chiêng). The festival has traditional music performances displaying their cultural beliefs with the themed instrument being the gong.

Some long treks also include Ngoc Son Nature Reserve (Khu bảo tồn Ngọc Sơn) and Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Khu bảo tồn Pù Luông). There, you can experience one or two nights of homestay in traditional stilt houses.

Visitor Center and Awareness Programs

Visitor Center and Awareness Programs
[ by Jos Dielis from Flickr ]

Alongside the Cuc Phuong Botanical Garden, Cuc Phuong’s Visitor Center aims to increase the environmental awareness of visitors through documentary photos displays.

The Turtle Conservation Center is the flagship for efforts to protect tortoise and freshwater turtles in Vietnam including the native keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhotii).

In the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife’s Carnivore and Pangolin Education Centre, you can see rescued animals in well designed and spacious enclosures. The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program is recognized globally as a world leader in pangolin research and captive care. 

The Endangered Primate Rescue Center currently houses about 160 individuals of 15 species and sub-species. In 2007, eight Hatinh langurs have been released into the semi-wild enclosure at Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. The center is also home to six langur species nowhere else in captivity including the Delacour’s langur. 

Biodiversity of Cuc Phuong National Park

Biodiversity of Cuc Phuong National Park
[ by ThuyHaBich from Pixabay ]

Cuc Phuong National Park comprises limestone running from Yunnan (China) to Mộc Châu plateau (Sơn La), Pù Luông (Thanh Hoá), Ngọc Sơn range (Hoà Bình) through Cuc Phuong and Tam Điệp range (Ninh Bình), and end at Nga Sơn sea (Thanh Hoá).

Cuc Phuong contains many indigenous and non-indigenous plant species with some listed in the IUCN Red List. The indigenous ones are of Magnoliaceae, Meliaceae, and Lauraceae families. The non-indigenous species include the Dipterocarpaceae family from the warmer southern region and the Fagaceae from the north.

The park has recorded 659 vertebrate species with 85 in Vietnam’s Red List: 336 species of birds, 76 species of reptiles, 46 species of amphibians, and 66 species of fish. 

The invertebrates number to 1,670 including 16 spider-shaped species, 14 crustacean species, 129 species and type species of mollusc, 52 species and type species of annelid, 18 species and type species of myriapod, and many other species that haven’t been researched.

Traveling Tips for Cuc Phuong National Park

Traveling Tips for Cuc Phuong National Park
[ by Bree’s World from Facebook ]

1. Entrance ticket: Adults: 60 000 VND per person ; Children: 10 000 VND per person.

2. At Cuc Phuong’s office, tours can be specifically tailored to meet individual interests. Information on occasional and daily tours, rooms for rent with meals including vegetarian options are on the official website.

3. Best time to visit depends on your preference and you can also check the natural events calendar on their website. Around the latter half of April to the first half of May has nice weather and you’ll get the chance to see butterflies fill the park.

4. Pack light if you intend to trek and leave your luggage at your hotel.

How to Get to Cuc Phuong National Park

If you’re in Hanoi, you can book a tour to Ninh Binh that includes Cuc Phuong National Park, or go straight to the national park. You can also go directly to Giap Bat Station and buy a coach (travel bus) ticket to Cuc Phuong.

From Ninh Binh, you have a few options to get there. Check our article on 25 Best Things To Do in Ninh Binh to know how to get to Ninh Binh and from there to Cuc Phuong National Park.

  • Grab allows you to book taxis faster and cheaper similar to Uber. You only need an Internet connection and a phone number to receive SMS. For more information, check out their website
  • Motorbikes for rent can easily be found at local homestays or online.

Where to Stay in Cuc Phuong National Park

The park’s office is also where you can rent tents for the night at the designated camping site (no fee for day camping), and book rooms in bungalows or hotels. The prices may vary depending on the time of year.

If you’re going in groups, you can stay in a stilt-house near Mac Lake and hold a campfire. You can also do a homestay for one or two days in local ethnic communities.

Eating in Cuc Phuong National Park

There are restaurants near hotels in the park and diners in the Muong villages. Goat (dê) charcoal-grilled, stir-fried, steamed, curry, or in a hotpot is always recommended. 

Savory rice crisps (cơm cháy) are tasty both as a complement to goat dishes and a snack. Mountain snails (ốc núi) is a local delicacy only available from March to July.

What to Bring to Cuc Phuong National Park

  • A good pair of walking shoes, flashlights, hats, and adequate water.
  • A basic first-aid kit, including insect repellent, just in case.
  • A GoPro is neat for recording your trip.
  • A USB power pack will make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during long treks.
  • Drybags are convenient for kayaking. 

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