Before leaving the Hoa Binh / Thanh Hoa / Ninh Binh region (a.k.a. Cuc Phuong National Park) for Saigon we made a morning stop at the Van Long Nature Reserve. Van Long is also known as the Ha Long Bay on land as it contains similar limestone features found in Ha Long Bay to the North East. Actually, the entire northern portion of Vietnam consists of limestone bedrock and Karst topography. The extreme northern tip of Vietnam (Ha Giang and Cao Bang provinces) make up the Dong Van Stone Highlands which is a member of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network (GNN). Limestone is typically a very dynamic material in that it tends to weather easily. So, looking at these pictures you can imagine just how the landscape has changed over time and how it will possibly change in the future.
I digress, Van Long is more than the limestone features. Simply put, it is a bucket list worthy experience (Note: I am way too young to have a bucket list, but, this hasn’t stopped me from labeling experiences I’ve had as bucket list worthy). Upon arriving we were greeted by a dozen locals, mostly women, who were our guides in the water. They were responsible for rowing our sampans. A sampan is a flat bottomed wooden boat that is common in Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam. Sampans are the ideal vessel as they work perfectly in the shallow wetlands found throughout the area. The two hour tour was breathtaking. We slowly made our way through flooded rice fields and canals between karst limestone mountains. Interestingly these mountains are home to the ovly viable population of the Delacour Langur, one of Vietnam’s (and the world’s) most critically endangered primate species. Some estimate that there are less than 200 individuals remaining globally. Unfortunately many scientists believe that the Delacour Langur could be the first primate species to become extinct in the 21st century. If the Delacour Langur is to survive, it will be due in large part to the dedication and work of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, established by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, at the Cuc Phuong National Park (please see my previous post on our stay at the park). Unfortunately during our trip through Van Long we didn’t spot the Delacour Langur. Nonetheless, my visit to Van Long easily ranks in my top five places visited in my lifetime.