Vietnam: A Cross-section of Indochina
Forests full of beautiful birds
A cursory glance at a map of Asia will show that Vietnam is an unusually-shaped country; roughly like an hour-glass, it is remarkably long and thin. A narrow north-south sliver on the eastern edge of Southeast Asia, the country covers a huge latitudinal range. The northern Red River Delta and southern Mekong Delta dominate the country’s geography. The Truong Son Range traces the very thin central part of the country, while further south the Da Lat Plateau divides southern and central Vietnam. This topography explains Vietnam’s extraordinary biological diversity. Vietnam is in Earth’s top 25 countries for species richness. It is home to two-thirds of mainland Asia’s babblers (five of which are endemic) and 14 species of range-restricted primates (of which, seven are endemic).
Day 1: Arrival in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). After your arrival in southern Vietnam’s commercial center, you will be transferred to a local hotel, where the tour will begin with dinner on this night.
Day 2: Ho Chi Minh to Nam Bai Cat Tien National Park. After an early breakfast at our Saigon hotel, we will depart for Nam Cat Tien National Park. In the afternoon, after lunch, we will begin our birding exploration of the park. We will be staying right within the park.
Days 3-5: Nam Bai Cat Tien National Park. Three full days will be spent within the park, checking for the varied birdlife within the diverse habitats inside the park, such as steamy lowland evergreen forests, meandering rivers, seasonal ponds, and semi-deciduous woodlands. Seasonally flooded wetlands not only support an abundance of wetland bird species such as Stork-billed Kingfisher, Painted and Woolly-necked Storks, and Baya and Asian Golden Weavers, but also support some important species in the surrounding trees, such as Collared Falconets, and Green Peafowl. Rivers bisect the park and provide important habitats for Black-and-red Broadbill, the oddball Racket-tailed Treepie, and the spritely Chestnut-headed Bee-eater. We will be on the lookout for fruiting trees in the park, which could hold Red-vented, Lineated or Green-eared Barbets, or Vernal Hanging-Parrots. The evergreen forests will require more effort but will be well worth it for the avian treasures held within such as the spectacular Bar-bellied Pitta, handsome Banded Kingfisher, inconspicuous Orange-breasted Trogon, shy Siamese Fireback and Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, the striking Black-and-buff and Pale-headed Woodpeckers, and diminutive White-browed Piculet, among a long list of other species. After dark we will have chances for the enormous, Short-eared Owl-sized Great Eared-Nightjar, as well as the possibility of Brown Hawk-Owl, Collared Scops-Owl, or Asian Barred Owlet.
Day 6: Nam Bai Cat Tien NP to Di Linh. We will leave Cat Tien after an early breakfast and head north towards the Da Lat Plateau, which offers the greatest number of endemic on the tour. A mountain pass around Di Linh along the way provides an excellent stop-off along the way to search for some of the specialties of the plateau such as Black-hooded, White-cheeked, and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes, and the local Black-crowned Parrotbill. Other juicy possibilities around the pass include Speckled Piculet, Long-tailed Broadbill, Indochinese Green Magpie, Black-headed Sibia, and Great Hornbill.
Day 7: Di Linh to Dalat (Ta Nung Valley). After a final bit of birding at the pass, Deo Nui San, we will head up on to the endemic-rich Da Lat plateau, with time available in the afternoon for a visit to Ta Nung, a valley which holds some key Indochinese species such as the recently-rediscovered Gray-crowned Crocias, Vietnamese Cutia, White-cheeked and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes, Clicking Shrike-Babbler (a split from White-browed Shrike-Babbler), the local endemic races of Rufous-headed and Black-headed Sibia, Blue-winged Minla, Slaty-backed Forktail, and Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon.
Days 8-10: Dalat area. We will have three full days to explore the endemic-rich plateau around Dalat, (sometimes spelt “Da Lat”), visiting well-known birding sites such as the 2170m/6700ft-high Mount Lang Bian, and the mixed woodlands surrounding Ho Tuyen Lam lake. The slopes of Lang Bian hold both native pinewoods and lush evergreen forests, which will be scoured for endemics and specialties like Yellow-billed Nuhatch, the recently split Vietnamese Cutia, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, and the multicolored (and extremely shy) Collared Laughingthrush, and colorful flycatchers like Mugimaki and Rufous-browed Flycatchers. Around the man-made lake of Ho Tuyen Lam the woodlands hold Slender-billed Oriole, Burmese Shrike, the local endemic race of Red Crossbill, and the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch, which is confined to the plateau. The nights will be spent in the cool city of Dalat, a former French Hill Station, which will provide a pleasant change in climate from the hot and sweaty conditions experienced previously on the tour around Cat Tien.
Day 11: Dalat to Hanoi. A final morning will be spent in the Dalat area, at whichever site most requires further attention, before we depart for Dalat Airport for a late afternoon domestic flight to Hanoi. After arrival in Hanoi we will drive for 1-2 hours directly to Tam Dao, a former French Hill Station at around 1300m/4000ft elevation.
Day 12: Tam Dao. A full day will be spent exploring the evergreen forests, native bamboo thickets, and natural pinewoods above the town of Tam Dao, which are distinct and offer up many species either not possible or rare elsewhere on this tour, such as Gray Laughingthrush, Chestnut Bulbul, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Red-headed Trogon, Collared Babbler, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Red-billed Blue Magpie, and even the rare and elusive Blue-naped Pitta.
Day 13: Tam Dao to Cuc Phuong National Park. After breakfast we will hit the road and head south to Cuc Phuong National Park. Along the way, we break the journey for a side trip into the rice paddies and limestone cliffs of Van Long Nature Reserve, where the critically endangered Delacour’s Langur occurs, which with a population of some 250 individuals unfortunately rates as one of the rarest primates on Earth. There are also wetland birds including Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Gray-headed Lapwing, and Asian Openbill. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of Cuc Phuong National Park, which offers many new birds for us.
Days 14-16: Cuc Phuong National Park. This dramatic national park was Vietnam’s first, established in 1962. The landscape is striking: limestone hills covered with rich primary forest. A combination of road and trail birding will be undertaken to search for the many exciting birds in the area, including three pitta species: Bar-bellied, Eared, and Blue-rumped, in addition to the elusive ￼￼￼￼￼￼White-winged Magpie, just plain odd Ratchet-tailed Treepie, and Rufous-throated and Black-browed Fulvettas. Flocks move through the forest here and will be scoured for some of the more flashy residents within them, like Sultan Tit and Silver-breasted Broadbill. With the limestone comes some limestone specialties like the Limestone Wren-Babbler. We will also keep a sharp eye on any emergent snags, which may hold the immaculate, and tiny, Pied Falconet. The nights will be spent at accommodation right within the park itself, at the park HQ, within easy reach of the best road and trail birding in the park.
Day 17: Cuc Phuong to Ba Vi National Park. After a final morning within Cuc Phuong, we will depart north for Ba Vi National Park, which lies to the west of the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. We will arrive there in the afternoon, after a 3-hour drive from Cuc Phuong.
Day 18: Ba Vi National Park. A full morning will be spent in the park, which offers chances at the localized Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrush, (a recent split from Gray Laughingthrush), as well as Red-billed Blue Magpie, which is especially common around the accommodations of the park HQ. In the afternoon, we will make the 3-hour drive back to Hanoi, to connect with departing international flights.