Vietnam has a total of 30 national parks dotted around the country from the northern regions to the southern tip. The earliest, Cuc Phuong, was established in 1962 with the latest additions to the list in 2006. Out of the 30, only a few are famous and easily accessible.
Most national parks are on the land and include the protected tropical rainforest in Vietnam. Expect to see a range of wildlife as well as endangered species, caves and waterfalls. The most famous are Bach Ma, Cuc Phuong, Cat Tien and Phong Nha Ke Bang. Cham Islands near Hoi An, also called Cu Lao Cham, are part of a protected marine park are worth visiting too.
The standard entrance fees into the national parks in Vietnam range between 20,000 VND ($0.90) to 150,000 VND ($6.60). Official websites don’t advertise dual prices, and it’s not clear if it exists or not. However, as with much of Vietnam, things can change at short notice. Entrance fees often don’t include a guide. You’re probably going to need to pay a higher price for someone who speaks English.
Facilities in NPs
Some national parks have developed tourist facilities including accommodation in the form of bungalows, hotels and homestay. Others don’t. You can camp overnight in a few of the national parks too. Typical costs can range from as little as $10 for a bed in a hostel-like room up to more than $100 to get a luxurious bungalow surrounded by pristine rainforest. Be aware that given their rural location, electricity may not operate 24/7. Check and book online beforehand to avoid disappointment and complications when you arrive.
More often than not, you should be able to find restaurants inside the national parks. But the type of food, price and opening hours are virtually impossible to find out.
Top 5 Best NPs in Vietnam
1. Bach Ma National Park
Bach Ma, near Da Nang City, consists of three distinct zones with the centre being strictly protected. Typical activities include hiking and trekking to the waterfalls and climbing to Vong Hai Dai’s peak at 1430 metres (4692 feet). Reaching the summit along with ecotourist are the highlights of visiting.
If you want to visit Bach Ma National Park, fly to Da Nang. The park is approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the city. You have three options to get from Da Nang. Either join a tour or rent a motorbike or try your luck on public transport.
The entrance fee costs 40,000 VND ($1.80). But to get to the national park, you need to either get a seat on the minibus or hike 15 kilometres (9.3 miles). The minibuses are expensive and take advantage of tourists by charging a total of 900,000 VND ($40) for a return journey on a six-seater bus. If you’re in a group, split the cost. Groups of less than six either have to pay the total amount of wait for other tourists.
Staying overnight is an option. Either bring your tent and camp or stay in the onsite homestays, hotels and motels at the foot of the mountain.
2. Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong is not only one of the best national parks in Vietnam, but it’s also the oldest too. The relatively small protected area sits approximately three hours south of Hanoi. Tourists say the main highlights of Cuc Phuong include the vast array of wildlife including various primates, mammals and a few endangered species.
If you want to visit, fly to Hanoi. Either join a tour or drive to the park. Consider spending the night to get the most out of your trip. Or, base yourself in Ninh Binh City before making the 40 kilometres (25 miles) journey into the national park. When you arrive, admission costs 20,000 VND ($0.90) and a further 30,000 VND ($1.30) to enter the Primate Rescue Centre. Buy both in the ticket office at Cuc Phuong’s entrance.
Accommodation facilities are available. You can stay at the Park HQ Gate Hotel, Mac Lake Bungalows deeper inside or at the Park Centre. The hotel is near the entrance. If you want to get far into the jungle, head to Park Centre (also called Bong). Expect to stay in traditional stilt houses surrounded by lush rainforest. There are restaurants inside Cuc Phuong, but the location, selection and price range is difficult to determine. It’s advisable to bring food with you.
3. Cat Tien National Park
One of the largest national parks in Vietnam is located in the southern part of the country. Covering a total area of 278 square miles and features countless species of animals including birds and mammals. Begin your trip to Cat Tien by first making your way to Ho Chi Minh City. The national park can be reached within four hours covering approximately 160 kilometres (100 miles). Buses depart from Vietnam’s second largest city to Nam Cat Tien daily at 9:30 am.
Finding reliable information about the park fees is a challenge. Admission into the park costs 60,000 VND ($2.70). After entering, you’ll need to pay another round of charges to take part in the different activities. Visitors, especially foreigners, are often pressed to hire a guide. However, most speak limited English and lack expertise. If you want to rent a bicycle inside, expect to pay up to 50,000 VND ($2.20) per hour.
Accommodation inside Cat Tien National Park varies from a bed inside the bamboo lodge costing as little as $10 to a luxurious night at the Jungle Lodge for $100. The first resembles more of a hostel with multiple beds and no air-conditioning. The Jungle Lodge has a comfortable interior, temperature control and better views.
4. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha-Ke Bang, in Central Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province, features a unique attraction. It houses one of the biggest caves in the world. If you visit this national park, you’ll have a once in a lifetime experience. Boat rides will take you through more than 300 caverns and caves. Mountain climbing and forest trekking are favourite activities here too.
Getting to this national park, named after the famous Phong Nha Cave, poses several challenges. The first is the location between Da Nang City and Hanoi. Most fly first to Da Nang and then endure the five-hour journey to Dong Hoi, which itself is approximately one hour from the park.
The next challenge is knowing how much to pay. Admission costs 150,000 VND ($6.60) to get into the park. You’ll need to pay extra to do other activities. Finding out reliable information is difficult, especially since each cave seems to have their own additional cost. If you want to spend the night, a few hotels and homestays are a short distance from the park. Prices are around $40 per night.
5. Cham Islands (Cu Lao Cham Marine Park)
Although not technically a national park, Cham Islands deserve a special mention for its status as a Protected Marine Park. Located off the coast of Hoi An, speedboats take tourists to the islands. Expect to find gorgeous, unpolluted beaches and some of Vietnam’s best diving spots. Speedboats cost around 250,000 VND ($11) per person one-way taking 30 minutes. It might be better value for money if you take a tour. Basic homestays are available on the island.
Top tips for visiting NPs in Vietnam
Avoid weekends if possible
Tourists aren’t the only ones who like to enjoy the country’s natural beauty. On weekends, local visitors head to the national parks to escape to noise and pollution of the cities. Cham Islands are particularly busy on Saturday and Sunday. Expect hundreds of Vietnamese, South Korean and Chinese tourists. Fewer visit on weekdays.
Cover exposed skin and wear a hat and wear sunscreen. The sun is hot and you’ll be out for most the day inside the national parks. Remember to bring sunscreen as the prices inside the parks are two or three times higher.
One of the world’s most annoying and disgusting parasites live inside Vietnam’s forested area: the leeches. Wear leech socks. Or cover up and tuck your socks into your trousers. Expect endless insects and mosquitoes too.
Decide beforehand whether you want to stay overnight in the national park. You can visit some on a day trip whereas overnight stays are more suitable for others. Research and book accommodation in advance to make sure you have a place. Or, look for something in the nearby towns, which will be cheaper.
Visiting national parks as part of a motorbike trip
A favourite way for adventurous tourists to explore Vietnam is on the back of a motorbike. Some drive from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south or vice versa. Many like to stop by at the national parks. Be aware that you might not be able to take your motorbike inside. Instead, you’ll need to park and then pay for a seat inside an official jeep.
As obvious as it sounds, bring plenty of water and food. While you can find restaurants and vendors inside the national parks in Vietnam, prices are much higher. The money saved by not eating inside will more than likely cover any extra admission fees.
Make sure you know the entrance fees
The entrance fees might change at short notice, be outdated and ambiguous. It can sometimes be challenging to find out if the price includes guides and transport. Try to find out exactly what you need to pay for and what the ticket does and doesn’t cover.
Visiting Cham Islands
The islands are a popular getaway from Hoi An. It’s best to avoid travelling here in the rainy season. Many tourists also advice against staying on the islands and finding accommodation in Hoi An instead. Stay in Hoi An and visit the islands on a day trip.
Trying to visit at least one of the best national parks in Vietnam described above should be on any travellers bucket list. Book a tour or rent a motorbike and get out into wild Vietnam, you won’t regret it.