Not too far from Hanoi (about three hours by bus) is the oldest national park in Vietnam - it was established in 1962 and it is adorable. As a New Zealander, it isn't what I think of when I think 'national park' (I think: wild, untamed, a place where I need skills and supplies), but it is truly a lovely spot and it's hyper-accessibility doesn't usually impede on the natural beauty loafing about for all to see. Refer to the swan boat on stilts above, for example.
There are paved roads, which you can motorbike or cycle or walk on (Elizabeth and I opted for the latter two options, but I imagine moto-ing around would be bliss too), there is copious accommodation at various places and there is a restaurant serving vegetarian dishes (not many, but still - imagine asking for tofu and garlic fried spinach in a national park restaurant in New Zealand? Just kidding, there isn't a restaurant and all restaurants that do exist within a 100km radius of a park entrance would give you a pineapple and cheese sandwich and send you on your merry way). There are a million times a million mosquitos, and I didn't bring 1. a pair of long trousers, or 2. repellant. I actually have photographs of my legs where it looks like I have some medieval version of the pox, but I have chosen not to put them on my blog; my self-respect and pride have, for once, impeded me.
|Picnic - gouda, cherry tomatoes, gherkins and tea|
|Tea in the Jungle|
So, in New Zealand, there is a famous outdoor supplies brand called Kathmandu. When I was a teenager, I thought it was the best shop ever and would drag my mother there come birthdays and Christmases. She's German, so she had no problem forking out for goose down sleeping bags, sensible socks and other such highly practical, survivalist items. I liked the idea of being the kind of lady who would use such things (now I am such a lady, but I take perverse pride in fashioning my own survival kits from cheap hunting gear shops instead).
In any case, after we cycled a full seven kilometres and looked at one famous 'Cave of the Prehistoric Man' (actually, Cave of the Man of 700 Years Ago, so: not very prehistoric guys) we sat down for our luxe picnic and tea and made a list of all the things we would not achieve on this trip. Here is a sample:
* Go into the interior of the park
* Cycle further than 14 kilometres
* Go see the langurs at the wildlife rescue centre
* Kayak on the lake
* Go to the other cave
* Go to this extremely old tree
In any case, those are all options for you should you wish to visit Cuc Phuong National Parks and, by all accounts, you'd have a lovely time. Us, we mostly like drinking tea and reading 1920s British satire aloud. We are not very effective, as we have come to call it, Kathmandu Explorers.
I take not being a Kathmandu Explorer to ridiculous heights and even lived in Israel for four months without going to the Dead Sea. That was actually stupid, and I regret it. (I was hideously broke at the time, but really: I should have walked).
To cheer you up after that utterly hopeless thought, here is Elizabeth modeling the wonderful grounds at Headquarters, Cuc Phuong:
And here are some parting shots from the bus trip home, including one of a dream cottage; a place I imagine I could wile time away drinking tea and pottering about on small projects, where I could take several hours to do the laundry and consider that to be my day, spent.*
* NB: Pretty sure the people who actually live there work harder than I care to imagine, judging by the meticulous garden out front and the verdant grounds.