A tour of UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserves in Vietnam

 Vietnam has 11 UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserves, second in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, boasting pristine landscapes and rich biodiversity.

Hang En Waterfall inside Kon Ha Nung Biosphere Reserve in Gia Lai Province. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Nguyen

Kon Ha Nung Plateau in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai received UNESCO recognition as a global biosphere reserve on Sept. 15, becoming one of the two latest in Vietnam to receive UNESCO status.

The biosphere reserve covers more than 413,500 hectares. The reserve has over 860 plant species and over 380 species of wild animals, including 80 mammals, 228 birds and 38 reptiles.

A remarkable feature of the reserve is its 12 waterfalls lying at a height of over 15 meters in the middle of primeval forests. Due to their seclusion, these waterfalls have remained pristine and have yet to be overrun by tourist hordes.

The buffer zone of the reserve is home to 17 families of the Ba Na ethnic minority whose livelihood mainly depends on livestock and forest resources.

Amanoi Resort inside Nui Chua National Park in Ninh Thuan Province. Photo courtesy of the resort

Situated at a height of 1,000 meters above sea level, Nui Chua National Park overlooking Vinh Hy Bay in the south central province of Ninh Thuan was also recognized as a world biosphere reserve on Sep. 15.

Established in 2003, the national park boasts nearly 20,000 hectares of primeval forests and is home to 300 animal and 600 plant species. It is also home to a black-shank douc langur population, an endangered species.

The park is one of the few mainland areas in Vietnam where sea turtles come to lay their eggs each year. The reptile’s nesting season usually lasts from March to October and peaks in June and July.

Amanoi Resort, the first six-star resort in Vietnam, is surrounded by green trees and rich biodiversity inside the national park, making Nui Chua a rising tourist destination in recent years.

A lake inside Bidoup – Nui Ba National Park in Lam Dong Province. Photo by VnExpress/Andy Nguyen

In the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, Langbiang Biosphere Reserve received UNESCO status in 2015.

Covering an area of over 275,000 hectares, the reserve covers the entire Bidoup – Nui Ba National Park, also recognized as an ASEAN heritage park. The national park was established in 2004 and is named after the two highest peaks on the Langbiang plateau: Bidoup (2,287 meters) and Nui Ba (2,167 meters).

The reserve is home to more than 2,000 floral and nearly 400 fauna species, of which 127 are rare species identified on Vietnam’s red list.

Boats are seen on Cham Islands in Quang Nam Province. Photo by VnExpress/Do Anh Vu

In 2009, Cu Lao Cham (Cham Islands)-Hoi An in the central province of Quang Nam was recognized a world biosphere reserve. Its core zones include the UNESCO heritage site Hoi An ancient town and Cham Islands, a cluster of eight islands with just 3,000 inhabitants.

The biosphere reserve covers 5,000 hectares including 165 hectares of coral reefs, 500 hectares of underwater plant life and 947 aquatic species.

Cu Lao Cham-Hoi An has initiated the elimination of plastic bags and other single-use plastics since being recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Ca Mau Biosphere Reserve is surrounded by green forests. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Van Truyen

Ca Mau Cape, in Ca Mau Province on the southernmost tip of Vietnam, was recognized as a UNESCO world biosphere reserve in 2009.

The 371,506-hectare reserve is home to over 170,000 people and a rich biodiversity encompassing three types of ecosystems including marine, mangrove and tropical rainforest.

The biosphere reserve also houses Mui Ca Mau National Park and U Minh Ha National Park, widely known for their peat swamp forests, along with a vast diversity of rare animals and plant species.

A waterfall inside Pu Mat National Park Western Nghe An Biosphere Reserve. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran

In the north-central province of Nghe An on the border with Laos, Western Nghe An was recognized as a world biosphere reserve in 2007.

Covering nearly 1.3 million hectares, it is the largest biosphere reserve in Southeast Asia. Its core zone consists of three nationally protected areas: Pu Mat National Park, the Pu Huong Nature Reserve, and Pu Hoat Nature Reserve.

The reserve is home to 130 species of mammals, 295 bird species, 54 species of amphibians and reptiles, 84 species of fish and 39 species of bats.

Thom Island on Phu Quoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Tran

Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve, which received UNESCO status in 2006, is in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang near the Cambodian border. It comprises 105 islands, the biggest of which is Phu Quoc, a popular tourism hotspot famous for long, sandy beaches and five-star resorts.

The reserve consists of three parts – Phu Quoc National Park, U Minh Thuong National Park and the Kien Luong-Kien Hai coastal forest.

Covering an area of over 1.1 million hectares, the reserve has 1,489 floral species, including 116 rare ones, and 860 fauna species, 78 of them rare.

Xuan Thuy National Park in Nam Dinh Province is seen from above. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang.

Red River Delta Biosphere Reserve, spanning the three northern provinces of Thai Binh, Nam Dinh and Ninh Binh, got UNESCO recognition in 2004 as a haven for over 200 birds, including 50 water birds.

The nature reserve is also home to more than 100 aquatic animal species - around 80 fish and 20 crustacean species.

Its core zone includes Xuan Thuy National Park, recognized as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance, and Tien Hai Wetland Nature Reserve.

After receiving UNESCO status, the reserve has become a popular eco-tourist site in the northern region.

Cai Beo floating village in Lan Ha Bay on Cat Ba Island, Hai Phong City. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Huy Trung

In 2003, Cat Ba National Park near the northeastern shore of Vietnam on Cat Ba Island was recognized by UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve in order to protect its multiple terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as well as its diverse plant and animal life.

The national park is famous for its limestone karst mountains rising from turquoise waters that make it an ideal destination for cruise tours.

There are 2,026 species found in the biosphere reserve including rare ones. Especially, Cat Ba is home to the critically endangered Cat Ba langur, one of the rarest primate species in the world.

In recent years, tourism has developed on Cat Ba Island, home to Lan Ha Bay and ancient fishing villages, with a series of hotels and luxury resorts dotted along beaches.

People row their boat inside Cat Tien National Park, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Andy Nguyen

Recognized as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2001, Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve is the new name of the former Cat Tien biosphere reserve, home to about 1,500 species of animals, including several endangered species, such as the red-faced monkeys, pig-tailed monkeys, the black-shanked douc langur, and yellow-cheeked gibbons and lorises.

Covering 977,000 hectares in five provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Lam Dong, and Dak Nong provinces, the reserve boasts abundant natural resources and biodiversity.

Its core zone includes Cat Tien National Park, Vinh Cuu Nature Reserve, the Inland Wetland Protected Area of Tri An- Dong Nai, and Bau Sau Ramsar Site.

The best way to approach wildlife inside Cat Tien Park is via binoculars. Entry tickets to the park cost VND60,000 ($2.63) per person.

Can Gio Mangrove Forest is seen from above. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

In 2000, Can Gio Mangrove Forest, or Sac Forest was recognized as a world biosphere reserve.

Located 40 kilometers from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the reserve is an important wildlife sanctuary in Vietnam characterized by a wetland biosystem dominated by mangroves and many rare species.

Covering over 75,000 hectares, the reserve is currently only connected to the rest of HCMC by ferry, though a major bridge has been approved. It is home to 20,000 hectares of mangrove forests and the kingdom of over 1,500 wild monkeys often pegging tourists for food and drink.

Lying 50 kilometers from the city center, Can Gio is the only district of HCMC bordering the sea, with a coast length of 23 kilometers. The district covers an area of more than 71,300 hectares, 70 percent of which is taken up by mangrove forests and waterways.

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