Cuc Phuong National Park’s Wasted Problems

The harsh truth about Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam.

Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash

Cuc Phuong is Vietnam’s oldest national park. Established in 1962, and at a size of 222 square kilometres, it is one of the most important sites for biodiversity in the country.

It maintains a sterling reputation as a highlight in Vietnam’s seemingly endless list of not-to-miss attractions. As such, you would think the government, the Vietnamese people and all tourists, would do everything they can to protect and conserve this forested region.

To strive to maintain a high level of cleanliness and preservation. Unfortunately when we visited in December 2014, this did not seem to be the case.

Check out our guide on Travelling To Vietnam.

Lesh and I have been lucky enough to travel through some of the world’s most pristine and awe-inspiring environments. We’ve trekked for days through jungles and over mountains to reach isolated spots, just so we can bask in the planet’s captivating splendour.

Compared to the majority of the population, we are quite well-educated and incredibly lucky to be able to travel the way we do. We are in a position to understand and improve many of the places we find ourselves in.

That is one reason we put such a high emphasis on sustainable travel and environmental protection.

Lake View Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash
Cuc Phuong National Park has some wonderful scenery, when you look past the trash.

Waste disposal in developing nations can be a touchy subject for some of us. Naturally we want to conserve this beautiful planet to the best of our abilities, and it can be a shame when we come across people who quite clearly don’t care in the slightest.

I for the most part have usually defended those who come from less-wealthy countries when it comes to their littering habits. It is easy for someone from a privileged background to point fingers at those we consider to be not so fortunate.

In the case of littering, the lack of care may come from from a lack of education. Perhaps it stems from bigger economic problems, where there is more to worry about in their personal lives than how they are going to recycle a plastic bottle.

Arguments could go back and forth for hours over how we can improve this situation in certain countries.

Sign Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash
The sign that you walk past at the very beginning of one of the hikes.

Do we try to teach every one of the world’s 7 billion people about the effects of climate change? Or how incorrect waste disposal kills millions of specimens of marine life every year due to 80% of our trash finding its way to the oceans through rivers and streams?

Surely if we push the cold hard facts and figures into the minds of everyone they will make a conscious effort to improve their bad habits.

But here in Cuc Phuong National Park in Northern Vietnam, I have no answers. Just bitter disappointment.

Off Path Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash

A Change Is Needed In Cuc Phuong National Park

At the beginning of Cuc Phuong National Park’s most popular trail is a large sign with the famous mantra: “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”

Emblazoned on the 3m tall sign in English and Vietnamese, it is as obvious a statement as you could ever get. Add to that the stone rubbish bins planted periodically along the way, and it should be clear that this is not the kind of place you carelessly throw your rubbish on the ground.

Yet as we trekked along the path we were absolutely shocked and appalled at the amount of litter dumped on the trail and in the adjacent wilderness.

I would almost go so far as to say we saw less litter on the streets of Hanoi than we did in Cuc Phuong. It was heartbreaking to see. Plastic bottles, food wrappers, bags and labels strewn across the forest.

Nice View Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash

The places we did find garbage bins, in particular at rest areas, they were overflowing and neglected. Obviously the national park doesn’t have money in its budget for waste management.

At times we actually had to step over piles of rubbish to continue on the hike. Not something you expect for a place the country is trying to preserve.

Maybe we just got there on a bad day. Perhaps for the most part it is well-maintained and we wandered in on the ranger’s day off. Even if that is the case, there is still the underlying problem to deal with.

What is the cause of this blatant disrespect for nature? How do we fix it? Is it even possible to fix it? We love Vietnam, its people and its landscapes.

The country as a whole has captured our hearts more so than any other place we have travelled to. But visiting Cuc Phuong National Park was one of the most disappointing and upsetting experiences of our trip so far.

Resting Area Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash

We have seen local tourists blatantly ignore signs in spectacular caves, and wander past barriers to touch stalagmites.

People finish eating their food and throw the plastic wrappers out the window of a car or bus. Flick cigarette butts directly into the ocean.

Unless it is a Western tourist, I keep my mouth shut. I am far from perfect, and this is their country after all. But something needs change.

How do we start to make a difference when it comes to waste management in developing nations? How can we provide education to those who don’t even have permanent access to clean drinking water?

As I walked through Cuc Phuong National Park, filling up plastic bags of rubbish in my futile attempt at solving the problem, I hope there is a better solution.

Clean Path Cuc Phuong National Park Waste Litter Trash
Hopefully one day Cuc Phuong can be a shining example of how we can turn things around.
Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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7 thoughts on “Cuc Phuong National Park’s Wasted Problems”

  1. Good post on a sad subject. I think you’re right that it isn’t just about education — poverty plays a big role. Garabage disposal isn’t easy and cheap in most of the developing world and it isn’t going to be a priority for people who are struggling just to meet their daily needs unless they see some real value to it. It would be nice though if the government would put enough money into the parks to fund garbage removal in the parks. What really bothers me are the tourists — educated and realatively wealthy visitors — who damage environmental and/or historical resources and leave their own trash. There’s no excuse for that! Unfortunately that happens everywhere, even in the parks in the US and Canada.

  2. Very beautiful place there, sad that I see garbage in a few pictures.
    I want to go to visit that place and I need to know if I can camp there in a tent without making mess of course.
    I’m used to sleep outside in a tent and I want to try this experience there if I can.

    • I’m sure you could find some spots to go camping mate. Let us know how you go 🙂

  3. That is heartbreaking. I’m in the same position as you – I try to understand that the people aren’t educated, they simply just don’t know and they need to be taught to clean up. But it’s hard to change a whole nation’s way of thinking unless it starts from their own government (I think) and in school. It’s saddening to see a beautiful place just littered with garbage, ruining the serenity and nature. I have seen this a lot in Central America where kids just throw bottles out the bus windows, burn plastic and throw plastic bags in the ocean with no regard. Hopefully we can spread awareness and do our part as much as we can.

    • We had the same experiences in Central America as well, Samantha. Truly is heartbreaking, and it is tough to try and come up with an excuse or an answer. Hopefully one day the education will be higher in these parts of the world. Although admittedly, there are a lot more other things we should be trying to fix as well. Thanks for reading and letting us know your thoughts. 🙂

  4. That is a huge problem that we noticed in many other part of Asia too and as you said it’s pretty difficult to solve especially when there are other huge issues that might be of a bigger concern for the. I think education maybe be one of the key to help raise awareness within the local communities and educate them on the issue.

    • We definitely feel that education needs to be pushed out around these parts. But we need to focus on quite a few different issues at the same time. Hopefully we can get on top of these things in the very near future.

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