Viet Nam’s nature is marked by its extraordinary biodiversity that includes over 100 large mammal species, more than 850 species of birds and between 9,600 and 12,000 plant species. Arguably it is one of the world’s ten most biologically diverse countries that hosts about 10% of the world’s species.
Among Viet Nam’s critically endangered mammals are the Cat Ba Island golden-headed langur, Javan rhinoceros, Sumatran rhinoceros and the white-rumped black lemur. Endangered Asian elephants, tigers, otter civets and parti-coloured flying squirrels have also been spotted.
Viet Nam is dedicated to preserving its vast natural resources. Thirty National Parks and over 70 Nature Reserves and conservation areas have been established. It further includes two Ramsar sites, four Biosphere Reserve sites, and five World Heritage sites.
The Viet Nam National Parks and Protected Areas Association (VNPPA) provides an overview on protected areas (www.vnppa.org.vn).
World heritage sites
Situated in the north-east region, Halong Bay is a part of the Bac Bo Gulf and comprises the sea area of Halong City, Cam Pha Town and a part of Van Don island district, Quang Ninh Province. It borders Cat Ba Island to the southwest, and the mainland to the west with a 120km-long coastline.
Halong Bay covers a total area of 1,553km², including 1,969 islands of various sizes; the average geological age of the islands is between 250 and 280 million years old. The beauty of Halong Bay does not consist only in the forms of its mountains, islands and the colour of its waters, but also in its infinitely rich system of grottoes and caves. Each is a grandiose and refined natural architectural creation.
Results of scientific research show that Halong Bay features the ecosystems of a tropical ocean region such as a coral reef ecosystem with 232 species of coral. It is also home to 81 species of gastropoda, 130 species of bivalvia, 55 species of polycheta and 57 species of crab. Also living in this ecosystem are a great many species of animals: migrating birds (200 species), polycheta (169 species), seaweed (91 species), and reptiles (10 species).
This is not all, Halong has been proved by scientists to be one of the first cradles of human existence in the area, with such archaeological sites as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu and Thoi Gieng…
In 1994, Halong Bay was recognised as World Natural Heritage for its natural beauty, and in 2000, Halong Bay was recognised as World Natural Heritage for the second time based on its geological value. The classified area covers 434km², comprises 775 islands and forms a triangle. It is now seriously threatened by mass tourism, years of dynamite fishing, polluting tourism boats and bad practices.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park (www.phongnhakebang.vn)
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park lies in Quang Binh Province, central Viet Nam and covers an area of about 200,000 hectares.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang can be compared to a huge geological museum thanks to its complicated geological structure with different categories of stone including sandstone, quartz, schist, siliceous limestone, granite, granodiorite, diorite, applet, pegmatite, etc. Phong Nha-Ke Bang is the oldest and largest tropical karst formation, formed 400 million years during the main geological periods of the Earth, bearing original topographic and geologic characteristics.
Besides the historical value of geology, topography, geomorphology, Phong Nha – Ke Bang has also been favored by mysterious and majestic natural landscapes. The Phong Nha–Ke Bang Natural Park still hides various myths of nature. It also has 300 spectacular karst caves and grottoes formed hundreds of millions of years. It is home to the Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) discovered in 2009 and which is the world’s largest cave.
With its characteristics of topography, climate, soil and hydrography, and 90 % covered by primeval forests it boasts a rich, diversified and unique flora. Sao La and Mang lon are newly discovered species . Of the 81 recorded reptile and amphibian species, 18 are listed in Viet Nam’s Red Book and 6 in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. In addition, there are 259 butterfly species, 72 fish species, including 4 endemic ones in Quang Binh only and one found in Viet Nam first; 302 bird species including 15 species listed in Viet Nam’s Red Book and 19 in the IUCN Red Book. Phong Nha-Ke Bang is considered a huge biological museum in Viet Nam.
With its vivid evidence of the Earth’s formation; geological, topographic and geomorphologic history, mysterious landscapes, and the bio-diversity of the National Park as well as its unique historical and cultural values, Phong Nha–Ke Bang was declared a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in July 2003.
While you will not be able to visit the world’s largest cave for conservation and safety reasons, you are able to visit three other spectacular show caves – Phong Nha Cave, Tine Son Cave and the recently opened Paradise Cave. Some boat trips are organised and you can lodge in a homestay.
National Parks and Protected Areas
If most National Parks and nature reserves are generally not on the ‘main tourist trail’ with only few international travellers visiting, they have become increasingly popular with domestic visitors, and some of the parks close to Hanoi can become quite busy during the weekends and the holiday season. Access to the National Parks varies depending on their remoteness, but the most popular ones can be easily reached independently or with one of the responsible tour operators we have listed on this site.
Yok Don National Park (1991 -1,155 km² Viet Nam’s largest NP)
It is somewhat remote on the eastern side of the central highlands, but worth visiting for its activities such as elephant riding. The National Park offers overnight accommodation at their headquarters. It includes 464 species of flora, and 17 endangered species of fish.
Ba Be National Park
Ba Be National Park is mainly made up of a lake that includes three bays (Ba Be). You can take a boat ride on the lake and visit the Puong Cave. Part of the National Park and the surrounding area is home to members of the Tay ethnic minority, who live in stilt homes, you can stay overnight at one of the homestays.
Bai Tu Long National Park
Bai Tu Long National Park (www.baitulongnationalpark.vn) is a great alternative to Halong Bay, it takes about two hours longer from Hanoi, but you will not be disappointed. There are regular ferry trips to many of the Park’s islands. Plan at least two nights there and enjoy the white sandy beaches between the limestone rocks. Also boat trips, kayaking, swimming.
Cat Tien National Park
Cat Tien National Park (www.namcattien.org) is about four hours from Ho Chi Minh City. It is the best National Park to see wildlife in Viet Nam. It offers a night safari and you can stay overnight at the park guesthouse, in a community homestay or for more comfort in the ecolodge located in the Park. The highlight of the Park is Crocodile Lake (Bau Sau) where you can stay overnight at the ranger station. At night the rangers take you out in a boat to flirt with the crocodiles.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park (www.cucphuongtourism.com) was Viet Nam’s first National Park. It is well developed and easy to reach from Hanoi. If your travel schedule is tight, visit at least this Park. The Park offers a range of accommodation, and you will learn a lot about Viet Nam’s wildlife and biodiversity at the Park’s information centre. Also make sure you visit the wildlife rescue centre and learn about issues of endangered species and illegal wildlife trade in Viet Nam.
Hoang Lien National Park
Hoang Lien National Park – Mt Fansipan (3,143m), Viet Nam’s highest mountain. The climb takes about two to three days, biking tours are also possible. If you are less adventurous take one of the hiking tours to the Hmong and Dzao villages in or near the National Park and stay overnight with the local communities. When you go to Sapa, you can contemplate the view over the park from any hotel’s balcony.
Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Nature Reserve
Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Nature Reserve was established in 2006 and is located in Hoa Binh Province, South of Hanoi. It offers a great two or three day trekking and biking experience, where you will stay in homestays with the Muong ethnic group. It will give you a feeling of seeing the ‘real’ Viet Nam with lush mountain valleys, rice fields in every corner and welcoming humble people.
– Bach Ma (www.bachma.vnn.vn) -.
– Bidoup Nui Ba National Park (www.bidoupnuiba.gov.vn) –
– Pu Luong Nature Reserve – possibility to sleep in homestays.