Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park (Vườn Quốc-gia Cúc-phương) is in Ninh Binh Province of Vietnam. Cuc Phuong National Park is Vietnam’s largest national park and one of the most important sites for biodiversity in the country. It is homes to hundreds of species of flora and fauna. The park can be visited from Hanoi as a day trip or visitors can stay at the park’s lodging for a longer stay. Visiting the park is a terrific opportunity to get a close look at Vietnam’s nature and fees generated from tourism help protect the parks wildlife and improve the local economy. The best time of the year to visit the park is during the dry season, from November to February.
Located 120 South-West of Hanoi on 22,200 ha of rainforest, Cuc Phuong National Park is the centerpiece of Vietnam’s conservation efforts and one of the most accessible parks in the country. Vietnam’s largest and first national park, Cuc Phuong beauty and a few of its thousands of species of plants and animals can be seen with the help of a local park ranger. If you’re not interested in hiking up and down the karst mountains a good alternative is the easy but rewarding trip to the primate and turtle rehabilitation and breeding centers.
In 1960 Cuc Phuong was made into a forest reserve and in 1962 Cuc Phuong National Park was consecrated by Ho Chi Minh, who reminded the Vietnamese people that protecting the environment is protecting their future. But mankind's relationship with Cuc Phuong began long before Ho's visit. The remains of prehistoric man dating 7,000-12,000 years ago have been found in the numerous caves in the park. In 1789 the Quen Voi section of the park was the site of a major battle in the civil war between Nguyen Hue and Thanh Long. More recently, conflicts have emerged between the government and 2,500 Muong ethnic minority tribesmen who live, farm, and hunt in the park. In 1987, 500 Muong were relocated outside of the park. The government and international conservation groups have worked to alleviate poaching by employing locals in the park and selling Muong handicraft in gift shops.
Cuc Phuong is situated in the foothills of the northern Annamite Mountains. The park consists of verdant karst mountains and lush valleys. Elevation varies from 150 meters (500 feet) to 656 m (2,152 feet) at the summit of May Bac Mountain, or Silver Cloud Mountain. The limestone formations produced numerous caves, many of which are accessible for exploration.
Flora and fauna
Cuc Phuong is home to a huge diversity of flora and fauna. Inhabitants of the park include 97 species of mammals, most notable are the endangered langurs; 300 species of birds; 36 reptilian species; 17 species of amphibians; 11 species of fish; 2,000 species of vascular plants, and thousands of species of insects, most of whom do not bite. A number of species in the park are listed on Vietnam Red Book of endangered species.
Primates in the park include macaques, gibbon, Francois' leaf monkey and slow loris. Other mammals including bats, porcupine, flying squirrel, small striped squirrel, belly-banded squirrel, and the rare giant black squirrel. In the past Asiatic Black-Bear bears, wild dogs, and tiger have been spotted in Cuc Phuong, but over hunting and lack of prey have jeopardized the existence of these species within the park. Leopard, clouded leopard and jungle cat may still stalk prey in Cuc Phuong. 
Bird species include Bar-Backed Partridge, Scaly-Breasted Partridge, Silver Pheasant, Red Jungle Fowl, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Laughing Thrushes, Red-Vented Barbet, Green-Eared Barbet, Scimitar-Billed Babblers, Brown Hawk Owl, Scarlet Minivet, Racket-Tailed Drongos, Racket-Tailed Magpie, White-Winged Blue Magpie. Migrant species include thrushes, flycatchers, tits, finches, pipits amongst others. Hornbills can also be spotted in the forest. 
An endemic sub-species of sub-terranic cave fish is also located in the park. 
Mosquitoes and leeches are present in the park, but they are not as bad as you may imagine and repellent keeps most of them away.
Flora in the park includes multi-layered canopy; trees up to 70m in height; flowers, including, orchids; ferns with amazingly tall leaves; and an abundance of lianes and cauliflory. The park also contains plants used for such practicalities as spices and medicines as well as edible fruits, nuts, and shoots. 
The average temperature in Cuc Phuong is 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit), with a mean winter temperature of 9C (48F). High temperatures can reach above 30C (85 F) and lows are just above zero (32 F). At the low elevations in the valley the temperature is hot and humid while at higher elevations the temperature drops and frostbite is a threat. On average it rains more than 200 days a year and the average annual rainfall is 2,100mm (7 feet). The dry season is November to February, the driest months being December and January.
Visitors can arrive at Cuc Phuong National Park via Hanoi’s Giap Bat Bus Terminal, the city’s southern bus terminal. Hop on a bus going to Nho Quan, the nearest town to the park. There are several buses in the morning and afternoon and tickets will cost roughly 50,000 dong. From Nho Quan you can catch a motorcycle taxi to the park headquarters for about 40,000 dong. The total travel time is 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours.
An alternative is to book a trip with one of the many travel agencies in Hanoi who can arrange convenient and comfortable, yet pricy, trips to the park.
If you plan on making only a day trip to the park then it’s best if you go through a travel agency, but if you’re going to stay for one or more nights then the public bus option is viable.
From Ninh Binh City:
From Ninh Binh city a motorcycle taxi to the park’s headquarters will cost approximately 100,000 dong and a hired car is 300,000-400,000 dong.
The entrance fee is 40,000 and can be purchased at the park headquarters. [Sep 2013]
Travel within the park can be done on foot or by motorbike, bicycle or car. A twenty kilometer paved road cuts to heart of the forest and passes a number of paths leading to caves. Bicycles are the most environmentally friendly alternative and with less noise you’re more likely to see wildlife. Bicycles and motorbikes are available for rent at the park headquarters. Once you’ve reached the park’s center there are numerous stone paths for trekking.
The Visitor’s Center located at the park’s headquarters is a good place for information about Cuc Phuong.
Exploration of Cuc Phuong's many limestone caves makes a rewarding excursion. The cave' include Thang Khuyet Cave, Con Moong Cave, Pho Ma Cave, and Nguoi Xua Cave and the Cave of Prehistoric Man (Dong Nguoi Xua). The Cave of Prehistoric man is the site of the one of the earliest discoveries of human habitation in Vietnam. Excavated in 1966, the cave revealed human graves, stone axes, pointed bone spears, oyster shell knives, and tools for grinding dating back 7,500 years ago. These artifacts have long been removed and the cave is open to tourists. The entrance to the cave is littered with picnic refuse and spent incense sticks, but if you duck under the first crevice to the right you’ll find a stairway that takes you 10 meters up for further exploration. Make sure to bring a torch (flashlight)!
The Botanical Garden located near the park’s headquarters is good place to take a stroll and get an introduction to the region’s flora. Early in the morning you can hear birds singing, accompanied by perhaps a gibbon or two.
The Endangered Primate Rescue Center is an important rehabilitation center for Vietnam's critically endangered and majestic primates. Langurs, loris, and gibbon species are housed at the center and include the critically endangered Delacour's Langur, Golden-Headed Langur, Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey and Black Crested Gibbon. The center was established in 1993 with the help of the Frankfurt Zoological Society and has grown to 100 animals in 30 cages, 4 houses, two semi-wild enclosures. The primate species at the site were confiscate from wildlife smugglers and include representatives of 16 Indochinese primates. The center can be visited during the day and donations are encouraged. A small gift stand is located in the center. The center is a 10 minutes walk from the park headquarters.
The Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Center was established in 1998 and is home to some of the most endangered turtles in Vietnam. Six-hundred turtles representing 15 of Vietnam’s 23 native species are bred at the center and released back into the wild. At the center it is possible to see hatchlings and adult turtles. The turtles at the center are mostly specimens rescued from smugglers who supply the illegal trade in Vietnamese turtles to China, where they end up on restaurant menus. The center can be visited during the day and donations are encouraged. A small gift stand is located in the center. The center is a 10 minutes walk from the park headquarters.
A Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Center is located next to the turtle center and houses civets, including the rare Owston’s civet, and other small carnivores (including weasels, otters and wild cats) and pangolins rescued from the wildlife trade. Due to quarantine restrictions and the need for secluded breeding facilities for endangered civiets the center is not open to visitors unless special arrangements are made in advance.
Nearby Cuc Phuong National Park is a preserve at Van Long where you can see Delacour’s Langur in the wild. Cuc Phuong’s park headquarters can help arrange a trip to Van Long.
Dozens of trails cut through the forest and can be used for simple hikes for an hour or two day treks through the forest. Trekking options include loop trails that take only a few hours of moderate walking to a two day trek across the park. If you do decided to get off the path and into the brush make sure you are wearing a long sleeved shirt and long pants. The prickly vines will make mincemeat out of any exposed flesh and the disgusting, yet harmless, leeches will find a quick and easy lunch.
Ornithologists flock to Cuc Phuong to catch a glance at Silver-Pheasant, Red-Collared Woodpecker, Brown Hornbill and Bar-Bellied Pita and others amongst the three hundred birds that inhabit the park.
Tour guides are available for a reasonable fee and can bring you on day or night time treks, which is probably the best way to spot Cuc Phuong’s numerous little creatures.
The park headquarters can also arrange river rafting trips and tours catering to your needs.
Contacting the Park by Telephone, Fax and E-mail
To contact the park office at Nho Quan call (84) 30.848006, fax (84) 30.848052, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A branch office is located at Ba Dinh: tel. (84)4.8292604, fax (84)4.9133644.
Gift Shops are located at the park headquarters and the lodging in the heart of the forest. A wide selection of T-shirts and wood carvings by the local Muong minority are available for sale. Proceeds go to support the park and ethnic minority Muong who live in the park.
Food is available at a restaurant at the park headquarters and at the lodging in heart of the park. If you bring food into the park just remember to properly dispose of any plastic wrappings, bottles, and cans.
Water is a must for anyone spending time in forest. Make sure to stock up at the shop, at the park headquarters or at the restaurant in the heart of the forest.
As of March 1, 2013 the park offers lodging in three price ranges. The first being dormitory style rooms housing up to 40 people at $7/pp however these are reserved for large groups. The only other options offered are bungalows at $23/night for up to 2 people and then a "deluxe" version of the same thing for $27/night. The bungalows have been badly neglected over the years and are quite moldy and filthy. Some of the rooms have broken fans or air conditioners and hot water does not last long. A simple breakfast is included in the price and there is a restaurant located next to the park reception. While boldly stated that vegetarians are catered for, options are sparse and the quality of the food is low. All-in-all, the value of their lodging is terrible. Reservations can be made at park headquarters. Wifi available at park headquarters as well as an overpriced souvenir & snack stand.
There are at least three guesthouses in town approximately 1-2km outside of the main park gate and Cuc Phuong Resort & Spa is a bit down the road. A small selection of typical Vietnamese restaurants are also available.
Check at park headquarters for camping options.
Home stays in the Muong village deep in the forest are available for those who are making two day treks across Cuc Phuong.
The trails in the park are made of stone steps that can be slippery, especially after it rains. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes.
The main road through the park is frequently by many Vietnamese tourists in motor vehicles. It may be difficult for them to see you on a bicycle along the hilly road and you may have a difficult time hearing any cars come as you rip down a hill at 50 km per hour so you should proceed cautiously.
Cuts and scrapes are common on hikes. It is recommended to bring antiseptic and some bandages.
For the safety of the wildlife in the park please don’t start any fires and dispose of trash properly.