Coc Phuong National Park: Primate Research Center
We got up bright and early to explore Ninh Binh before heading south to Vinh. Also up early was an extremely loud cat, which wished us goodbye from her perch high above.
This morning we were heading to Coc Phuong National Park, home of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The ride there treated us to some much nicer views of the Ninh Binh region than we’d had the day before. Much like Halong, dramatic limestone cliffs rise up all around, but here they rise from rice-covered river plains rather than sea.
Access to the primate rescue center is only available via a guided tour. We’d heard conflicting reports about the quality of these tours, with most people saying that the guides were very knowledgeable (they all have other jobs at the park), but also very short on time. When we arrived we were surprised to see fairly large groups of locals turning up, mostly family groups with young children.
We were ready for a crowded, hectic tour, but as it turned out there were separate Vietnamese and English tours. As we were the only English speakers, we had one guide all to ourselves, while the other guides wrangled groups of 20 or more.
First up was the primate centre, but we were told that after that we’d get to see a turtle centre which was a nice bonus.
As predicted, our guide was a little harried, but he seemed happy to be taking a small group rather than one of the large ones. As we made our way around the sanctuary, he studiously avoided running into the larger groups. He explained that large groups, and particularly local Vietnamese, were often too loud around the animals and disturbed them. We’d see the monkeys behaving more naturally if we were quiet and kept to quieter areas.
Most of the primates here have been seized from the illegal wildlife trade, and this particular sanctuary aims to release almost all its occupants back into the wild. To that end, they have an awesome, tiered system of enclosures. New rescues begin in quarantine, before moving on to larger cages shared with others of the same species, where they’ll stay until they’re healthy. Then, if they’re to be released back into a similar climate to the local area, the move into a much larger enclosure where they can learn to fend for themselves, gathering their own food from the trees with supplementary feeding kept to a minimum.
While our guide didn’t actively herd us, he was clearly in a bit of a hurry. When we reached the turtle centre across the road, he apologised and said he needed to return to the entrance to take the next group of visitors. It seems they were allowing about 30 minutes per tour, so it’s little wonder they have to rush people.
The Turtle sanctuary (I don’t know what it was actually called) contained a few interesting surprises. One of them was what we believe was baby leeches spawning in a little overflow pond. They were all suspended in some kind of goo, and all wriggling slightly.
We did not pat the leeches, but we did poke them with a leaf.
There were also some local turtles which were tame enough to hand-feed. For 10,000 VND you could get a small bag of turtle treats. The turtles would patiently hold their mouths open, waiting for you to drop it in.
The white, fluttering puddle
As we wandered back from the Turtle center to the entrance of the park, we spotted what looked like a small, fluttering puddle of white leaves in a field.
Closer inspection revealed it was actually hundreds of white butterflies!
We still have no idea what they were doing or why. Unless someone has an idea, perhaps it will have to remain a happy mystery.
The ride onward to Vinh, where we’d be staying for the night, was relatively uneventful. For South East Asian standards at least. I got to once again feel like a giant while stopping for a drink:
Lauren unlocked a new motorcycling achievement:
Be booped by a car and a motorcycle at the same time.
And a group of three locals at a petrol station chatted with us via google translate for half an hour, before taking photos to prove they did indeed talk with a white man with a giant red beard:
The Avatar Hotel
For whatever reason, we decided to ‘treat’ ourselves to a real hotel. Through Agoda, it cost only a couple of dollars more than a guesthouse, but came with a few freebies like breakfast, and was less likely to be awful.
We plotted a GPS course to the “Avatar Hotel”, and upon arriving found nothing even remotely like a hotel at the location shown. After 15 minutes of riding around the streets, we eventually located the Avatar on a completely different street, around half a kilometer away.
The first person to greet us was the world’s most insistent parking lot security guard. He repeatedly showed us that we should park our bikes in the Hotel parking lot, around 100m from the entrance, and became visibly distressed when we instead parked right outside the entrance to start the process of de-gearing ourselves and the bikes. All attempts to explain that we’d put the bikes in the garage as soon as we’d checked in were met with confusion, or strong agreement that yes, we should put our bikes in the garage. Now please.
We left the concerned man with the bikes and went to check in. Despite speaking quite good English, the lady at reception seemed baffled by the idea that we’d made an online booking. She didn’t appear to know what Agoda was, and had no record of us on her computer. Nonetheless she did eventually agree to match the price from the app, and found a room for us.
When I reappeared 30 minutes later to put the bikes into the parking lot, the security man was so relieved he offered me a puff of his tobacco… at least I think it was tobacco. I politely declined.
We took at 20 minute stroll through Vinh to find Miaow Pizza, a “Western Themed” pizza place which was one of the few restaurants we could find any information about in town. As we walked it became pretty obvious that not many western tourists stay in Vinh. Or at least, not many western tourists walk about on the streets in Vinh.
We were watched with equal parts interest and amusement, but got lots of smiles and waves. On our way home, we’d find out that a taxi to cover the same distance only cost 20,000 VND, less than $1. Perhaps that’s why white people don’t walk.
Miaow was a lovely little restaurant, filled entirely with locals. Great food, and a lovely atmosphere.