You can’t visit Vietnam without going a little wild. Though its two powerhouse cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – draw plaudits for their awe-striking museums, enlightening historical monuments, and seam-splitting food scenes, the country really sparkles when you step into one of its national parks.

These vast green spaces (there are 33 of them in total) are home to gargantuan caves, dramatic limestone mountains, golden coastlines, and dense thickets of jungle where gibbons dangle from vines and the promise of adventure lurks behind every mangrove tree. Here’s our pick of the best national parks to visit in Vietnam.

A small wooden boat containing two fishermen floats on a vast lake surrounded by green mountains in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam.
Cat Tien National Park is made up of lowland tropical rainforest © Rae_The_Sparrow / Getty Images

Cat Tien National Park is the best park for bird-watchers

One of the outstanding natural treasures of southern Vietnam, the 72,000-hectare Cat Tien National Park comprises an amazingly biodiverse region of lowland tropical rainforest, and the hiking, mountain-biking and bird-watching here are some of the best in the country.

Bear in mind that visitors rarely see the park's larger animals (like elephants and leopards), which live deep in the jungle, but you have a good chance of spotting primates such as pygmy lorises and langurs monkeys, as well as gibbons (which are the focus of early-morning guided tours). Birdlife includes rare species such as the orange-necked partridge and Siamese fireback. Like most parks on this list, Cat Tien tends to get busy during weekends and public holidays – visit during the week for a more serene experience.

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A lone woman gazes up to a hole in the ceiling of Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam. The cave is gigantic and the beam from her head torch goes a long way up to the ceiling.
While a visit to the dramatic Hang Son Doong might prove too expensive for most, there are many other caves to explore in Phong Nha-Ke Bang © john spies / 500px

Explore underground at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park 

With jagged hills shrouded in rainforest, and mountain rivers coursing through impressive ravines, above ground the Phong Nha-Ke Bang region is one of Vietnam's most spectacular national parks. 

Head underground for even more proof that this area should be part of any Vietnamese itinerary. Fortunate travelers (with a cool $3000 to spare) can experience the cathedral-like chambers of Hang Son Doong, one of the world's largest caves, on a four-day expedition. More affordable multi-day tours include other caves for a fraction of the cost, such as the vast Hang En, which boasts its own beach. 

Cuc Phuong National Park is a top place to go hiking

Established in 1962, this national park, three hours south of Hanoi, is one of Vietnam’s most important protected areas. Though wildlife has suffered a precipitous decline in Vietnam in recent decades, the park’s 222 sq km (86 sq mile) of primary tropical forest remains home to an amazing variety of animal and plant life: 336 species of bird, 135 species of mammal, 122 species of reptile, 2000 plant species and counting.

Hiking is the name of the game here. Short walks include a 220-step trail up to the Cave of Prehistoric Man, where human graves and tools were found that date back 7500 years, making it one of Vietnam's oldest sites of human habitation. Longer undertakings, meanwhile, include a strenuous 15km (9 mile, approximately five-hour) hike to Kanh, a Muong village, where you can stay overnight with local families and raft on the Buoi River.

A sandy cove with turquoise ocean backed by lush jungle. A single motorboat is in the bay
Phu Quoc is recognized as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve © Hang Dinh / Shutterstock

Phu Quoc National Park has stunning beaches

Despite ongoing development to the island (including, but not limited to, an international airport, a Vietnamese version of Disneyland and the world's longest over-sea cable car), nearly three quarters of Phu Quoc is forested, and the trees and adjoining marine environment enjoy official protection as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. 

Arguably the biggest draw here are the park’s picturesque beaches (ranking among the best beaches in Vietnam), where visitors can laze on golden sands or snorkel above stunning coral reefs. But in-land there are pagodas, temples, and waterfalls to be uncovered, entangled in the thick jungle. The best way to explore is by motorbike or mountain bike that can tackle the bumpy dirt roads that cut through the park.

A cruise ship with two large red sails in a bay with several large limestone islets
Bai Tu Long Bay is like Halong Bay without the crowds © ronemmons / Getty Images

Take an overnight cruise around Bai Tu Long National Park

The spectacular islands of Bai Tu Long Bay, immediately northeast of Halong Bay, form Bai Tu Long National Park, a protected area that is every bit as beautiful as its glamorous, world-famous neighbor to the south. Despite this, Bai Tu Long manages to fly somewhat under the radar, remaining far quieter, less polluted, and relatively undeveloped by comparison. 

As with Halong Bay, the best way to experience the full limestone-pinnacle-scattered seascape is on an overnight cruise, where passengers can hop off to sun themselves on one of the island beaches, take to the calm blue waters in a kayak or simply sit up on deck with a cold beer and watch the sun slip beneath the bay – possibly the most leisurely way to explore a national park.

Trekking and biking in Ba Be National Park is perfect for adventurous visitors

Detour off the regular Vietnam tourist trail in Ba Be National Park. Located in the far north of the country, it’s an essential destination for adventurous travelers, with towering limestone mountains, plunging valleys, and evergreen forests. 

Waterfalls, caves, and lakes combine in a landscape that sustains over 550 different plants and hundreds of different bird and animal species. Explore Ba Be’s natural spectacle by boat or on trekking and mountain-biking excursions, before relaxing and recharging in the rustic homestays and village guesthouses of the local Tay ethnic minority.

A young woman sitting on a rocky edge and looking at the hills of Cat Ba National Park. The surrounding hills are covered in green forest.
Hit the hiking trails of Cat Ba National Park to incredible jungle viewpoints © Daliusposus / Shutterstock

Short hikes in Cat Ba National Park lead to dramatic jungle views

Cat Ba Island's beautiful national park is home to 32 species of mammal, including most of the world's 65 remaining golden-headed langurs, the world's most endangered primate. There are some good hiking trails here, including the short but strenuous hike to the top of Ngu Lam peak, which offers dramatic views over the surrounding jungle, as well as the challenging 9km (5.5 mile) hiking trail through the park to the village of Viet Hai – best done with a guide. Lunch and homestays are available in Viet Hai.

Of the mammals present in the park, the more commonly seen include macaques, deer, civets and several species of squirrel, including the giant black squirrel. Seventy bird species have been spotted here, including hawks, hornbills, and cuckoos.

Bach Ma National Park is full of wildlife

A French-era hill station, this national park reaches a peak of 1450m (4757ft) at Bach Ma mountain, only 18km (11 miles) from the coast. The cool climate attracted the French, who built over a hundred villas here (many of which were destroyed in the Resistance War Against America that scarred this region). 

Today the national park stretches from the coast to the Annamite mountain range at the Laos border, and is easily explored as a day trip from the popular tourist towns of Hue or Danang. More than 1400 species of plants, including rare ferns and orchids, have been discovered in Bach Ma, representing a fifth of the flora of Vietnam. As for wildlife, there are 132 kinds of mammals (three of which, the antelope-like saola, and deer-resembling Truong Son muntjac and the giant muntjac, were only discovered in the 1990s), and nine species of primates, including small numbers of the incredible-looking (and incredibly-rare) red-shanked Douc langur. There are also some nice hikes to scenic viewpoints to tackle, plus some waterfalls for swimming. Unexploded ordnance is still around, so ensure you stick to the trails.

You might also like:
How to get around in Vietnam: all the transport options for the perfect trip  
15 incredible things to do in Vietnam  
When to go to Vietnam

This article was first published Mar 19, 2021 and updated Mar 31, 2022.

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