Cuc Phuong and Van Long

When pedaling into a new country, I feel a strong curiosity to discover new landscapes and hope for many encounters with wildlife.

After leaving the mountains behind us, we dropped down into the spectacular limestone landscape in Ninh Binh province and made way to the Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam's first national park.

Even though its hard to spot large mammals here, its great for bird watching and the large old trees give us the feeling of being in natural and untouched jungle. A road leads into the park, making it easy to explore with the bicycle. While cycling here, we were in for a nice surprise. All around us we had butterflies swarming to find a partner, often using the road as an easy way to navigate along the forest. We literally cycled alongside hundreds of these graciously fluttering creatures.

Of course I was also hoping to meet some rangers, but once again this proved to be difficult, mainly due to the language barrier. However, a pangolin rescue center is located just outside the park and run by a local NGO called Save Vietnam's Wildlife, where some staff do speak English. They explained to us, that pangolins are unique mammals, as their body is covered by keratin scales giving it a reptile like appearance. Unfortunately, the scales are widely used in traditional Asian medicine and the intense hunting of pangolins has turned this ancient species into a highly endangered species. The rescue center was established to care for confiscated pangolins and release them again into the wild. But as pangolins are still trapped and hunted even in national parks, releasing them can sometimes also mean their certain death. Better law enforcement to prevent poaching and a decrease in demand are essential to save this species.

The next day we set off to another smaller protected area, the Van Long Wetland Reserve.

It was only 30 kms away, leaving us with lots of time to enjoy the scenery and do some more bird watching.

Above: a kingfisher sits on the look-out, while tourists take a boat in the background

A cuckoo, which luckily sat long enough on that branch to take a nice photo.

A pond heron, moves a lot slower and is easier to photograph :)

And below a purple swamphen wading through the floating vegetation.

We cycled around the large limestone mountains encompassing the wetland reserve and were in for a sad surprise on the other backside. Looks like its used as the local dump site.

But we finished the day with this lovely white throated kingfisher. What a mighty beak!