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In our element: Cuc Phuong National Park

April 23rd, 2011 by

Boat! In a Cave!

On our never-ending quest (mostly in Vietnam) to avoid the throngs of other tourists, we took a mini-bus three hours south to Ninh Binh, a lovely small¬† town and a nice break from the incessant honking of Hanoi. The food specialty in the area is goat meat, which (much to Ryan’s chagrin) we never got a chance to try. The main draw of this area is Tam Coc (“three caves”) located about 20 K from the city. Although we’d heard horror stories of too many tourists and aggressive touts, we enjoyed our incredibly relaxed 2 hour boat ride along the river and under the caves. (Ryan: the shtick on the ride back is that someone else takes over the rowing while the original rower brings out a slew of handicrafts for you to buy. We dreaded this bit, but when it came time we actually bought something… then only slightly regretted it after the rower/seller pocketed the tip meant for the young kid forced to row while she hawked her goods).


We only got this nerdy photo because someone offered to take our picture.

Cuc Phuong National Park is about 1.5 hours away from NB, so we rented a moto and scooted over for the night. Luckily we were only on the highway for about 30 minutes (totes terrifying…lots of large fast buses that don’t give two shits about you or your proximity to the ground) and the rest of the trip on mellow back roads that pass through small villages. The weather, which was constantly threatening to ruin our trip in North Vietnam, stayed pretty calm and cloudy.

Much of our time in Vietnam was spent alone, unlike Thailand or Cambodia where we constantly ran into people to chat to. It was odd. Vietnam tourists tend to stick to themselves and follow the designated tourist path. We naturally fell into a sort of lonely rhythm. Luckily we broke this pattern while in Cuc Phuong by meeting a lovely, equally cynical British couple and chatted over beers in the tiny restaurant. It was really an outdoor covered pavilion serviced by a few Vietnamese women. At dusk, a tour group of about 50 Vietnamese teenagers arrived, shouting and chanting around a bonfire. Those crazy kids!

Anyhoo, Cuc Phuong was superb. Let me rip off the description for you…

Established in 1962, Cuc Phuong is the oldest national park in Vietnam. Cuc Phuong boasts engaging cultural and wildlife heritage and enchanting scenery. Magnificent limestone mountains rise up majestically from the green rice-terraces and traditional stilt houses of the Muong hill-tribe. Covered in a dense forest they form a habitat for some of Asia’s rarest species.

Want to know what species? Gibbons, leaf monkeys, and the slow loris to name a few. Did we see any in the wild? Nope. But we DID see over 15 types of gibbons and langurs in the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The animals have all been rescued and live in large enclosures, graduating to “semi-forest”, breeding and eventually being re-introduced to the wild. They all honestly seemed pretty happy. (I don’t know how you can really tell that, but it felt very different from a zoo. The swingin’ guys were quickly floating to and fro, and they all seemed stoked to eat the delicious leaves the park employees delivered to them). (Ryan:¬† One thing we were really impressed by was the fact that the primates were actually flourishing; there were baby gibbons and langurs everywhere, which of course were adorable).

On our way out (with the aforementioned Brits) we were surprised and delighted by an unusual round of singing from our primate friends. Wooooop![flickr video=5627507014]

A few highlights of the trip for us were the 20K motorbike ride stretching through the dense jungle to reach our rustic bungalows and the few hours of hiking around the park. Sometimes it looked and felt like Oregon! Which, admittedly, is probably why we enjoyed it so much.

One strange detail I want to remember, and since this is basically my public journal about our trip, readers have to suffer along with me…Poaching continued to be a huge problem in the park. According to Wikipedia, “In the past the park was home to Asiatic Black Bears, wild dogs, and tiger, but over hunting and lack of prey have most led to the loss of these species.” While playing cards on our bungalow porch late at night, Ryan and I heard a series of gunshots out in the woods. Creepy, since there was no electricity in the park past 10 pm and you are basically alone out in the dark woods. But besides the spooky feeling we just felt sad, especially since the Primate Center guide had told us that poaching had finally been eradicated in the park, and for once we wanted to believe something like that could happen.

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