The sound of birdsong disturbs the silence. That’s right, complete silence. Such a welcome break from the buzz of Hanoi. No motorbikes, no horns, no market vendors yelling, no drilling. Just complete and utter silence. For the first time in months, I concentrate on breathing the clear fresh air, relax and feel my tense muscles unclench. Finally, I can hear myself think and am alone, surrounded by nature and centuries of evolutionary miracles.
I have come to Cuc Phuong National Park, after a 90 minute motorbike ride from Ninh Binh City. After leaving the city, the road winds its way through small villages surrounded by rice paddies. Soon the houses give way to more rice paddies, interspersed with stunning limestone karsts. The landscape is very similar to the karst formations of Northern Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, yet, due to its in-land location, obviously lacks the marine features of its coastal counterpart.
Cuc Phuong is Vietnam’s oldest national park and was established over 50 years ago. The scenery that unfolds before my eyes is breathtaking, and the calls of insects, birds, and primates lure me into the dense forest. On walks I explore the park’s extensive trekking trails, listen to the mystical sounds of the jungle and visit some of the villages in the area, where I could see some of the traditional stilt houses, agricultural tools and, luckily, musical performances by some of the region’s ethical minority groups.
The park is also home to some of the region’s most successful conservation centres, where injured and confiscated animals from the wildlife trade are rehabilitated and prepared for their re-release into the wild.
Visiting the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre was my highlight, and I spent close to two hours watching over 100 primates of over 15 different species of gibbons and langurs play, feed and nurture their young. At the Turtle Conservation Centre close to 20 different turtle species that have been rescued from the wildlife trade are housed and bred, and possibly will be re-introduced into the wild eventually.
As most of these species are endangered, the conservation centre also functions as a place of education and provides vital information about the key turtle species in Vietnam. For example, did you know that it can take up to 30 years for a turtle to hatch from an egg, mature, and procreate? The life cycle of these stunning creatures is unbelievably slow, and sadly the high demand for turtles (as pets or meat) is devastating turtle stocks across Vietnam.
The Small Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Centre next door is home to some of the most endangered small mammals in Vietnam, such as the Owston civet or leopard cat.
After visiting all three centres and learning about the natural heritage and biodiversity of Vietnam, I walked back to my lodge contemplating the beauty of it all: the landscape, the conservation efforts of so many dedicated individuals and organisations, the fascinating species of animals and plants that are unique to this part of the world, and our role of humans within it all.
Faced with such spectacular surroundings, I felt very small. Standing there, alone, in the middle of thousands of years of evolutionary processes, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future would bring – would we as humanity manage to come together to preserve our natural beauty, or would we continue in our path towards destruction and extinction? I guess only time will tell.
However, I can say for certain that Cuc Phuong National Park is a wonderful place to escape to and provides the perfect backdrop for profound thoughts and musings about life.