Ho Chi Minh established Cuc Phuong in 1962 as Vietnam's first national park, and it remains a source of national pride. The park is a lush mountain rainforest with more than 300 bird and 100 mammal species, including tigers, leopards, and the unique red-bellied squirrel. But the park's many visitors -- mostly large domestic tour groups, especially on the weekends -- might keep you from the kind of wildlife experience you expect in the brush.
Cuc Phuong is just 120km (75 miles) south of Hanoi and a 30-minute ride from Ninh Binh. A little town with very basic services (food stall, gasoline stand) is outside the park's first gate. Once in the park, you'll pass first the visitor center, a small museum on your right, and then the park's popular Primate Resource Center on your left before reaching the main gate. There, check in at the main information booth, pay the 40,000 VND entry fee (children 20,000 VND), and connect with the park's able guides and rangers (ask to talk with a guide named Mr. Som). Your entrance fee includes a guide who will accompany you on a visit to the Primate Resource Center and who can be hired for $15 a day to take you on hikes in the park.
A well-paved road runs through the length of the park, and trails and roadside sites are all well marked. Cuc Phuong hosts good hikes, including ones to the park's 1,000-year-old tree, a waterfall, and Con Moong Cave, where prehistoric human remains have been discovered. The park holds 117 species of mammals, 307 types of birds, 110 reptiles and amphibians, 65 species of fish, and 2,000 kinds of insects. The rare Asian black bear and the golden leopard live here.