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CAMBODIA & LAOS

Birdquest's Cambodia & Laos birding tour visits two seldom-visited Asian countries with a superb selection of special birds. Cambodia, which was held in a time-warp by its troubled past, has at the same time held onto large and vulnerable birds like Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis which were rendered extinct elsewhere, while reclusive Laos has its own set of specialities. Among the other great birds we will be looking for are Milky and Greater Adjutant Storks, White-rumped Falconet, White-rumped Falconet, Chestnut-headed Partridge, Bengal Florican, Pale-capped Pigeon, Black-headed Woodpecker, Mekong Wagtail, Bare-faced Bulbul, the recently-described Cambodian Tailorbird, Manchurian Reed Warbler, Sooty Babbler and Cambodian Laughingthrush. A non-birding highlight will surely be a visit to the amazing temples of Angkor Wat.

Saturday 17th February — Wednesday 28th February 2018
(12 days)


Mount Aural Extension: Wednesday 28th February — Monday 5th March (6 days)

Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide in Cambodia

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable to simple accommodations

The Mekong Wagtail is a recently described species that is endemic to a handful of Indochina's rivers. It is not surprisingly threatened by human activity on its preferred waterways (Pete Morris)

The Mekong Wagtail is a recently described species that is endemic to a handful of Indochina's rivers. It is not surprisingly threatened by human activity on its preferred waterways (Pete Morris)

These days Cambodia is open, safe and accessible to the outside world, its turbulent and tragic revolutionary period already decades in the past. This little-known and seldom-visited country, characterized by ancient temples, mighty rivers and remote forests, plays host to some avian delights which are nowhere else found so easily. Ancient Cambodians lived, very much as many of them still do today, in houses on stilts, existing on a diet of fish and rice.

After centuries of wars with the Thais and later the Spanish and Portuguese, the French arrived in 1863 and virtually turned the nation into one of their colonies until eventually, under the guidance of King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia regained her independence in 1953. Following the unsuccessful US bombing of suspected communist base camps in 1969 and subsequent invasion, the Khmer Rouge emerged victorious in 1975 when Phnom Penh fell to Pol Pot’s regime and the country entered it’s most violent and disastrous period of history. Pol Pot’s men systematically killed more than two million Cambodians, targeting the educated in particular, in their brutal attempt to turn Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. Currency was abolished, postal services halted and the population became a work force of slave labourers, effectively cut off from the outside world. In 1978 the Vietnamese invaded, forcing the Khmer Rouge to flee to the jungles along the Thai border from where they sporadically fought the new Vietnamese-backed government. They were eventually outlawed and effectively lost any remaining power with Pol Pot’s death in 1998 (his death was greeted with anger in Cambodia and elsewhere as he was never brought to trial). Hun Sen now leads the nation and this one-eyed strongman has proved to be a stabilizing force for a country with such a tortured history.

Fortunately, throughout the troubles, much of Cambodia’s natural and cultural heritage remained intact, although logging is now proceeding at an alarming rate. Now that travel is safe and easy, this fascinating country already receives a good deal of attention from backpackers and cultural tourists, eager to visit the amazing temples of Angkor Wat.

Happily for us, conservationists have also been hard at work in the last decade and have recently made some unexpected discoveries. The most exciting of these were the discovery of a good population of the legendary Giant Ibis, the only viable remaining population of the White-shouldered Ibis, and a new species of wagtail, the Mekong Wagtail, and a new species of tailorbird, the Cambodian Tailorbird. Straddled between Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia shares much of its avifauna with those countries, so this is a tour for the more adventurous birding traveller that is specifically designed to look for the specialities that either do not occur in these neighbouring countries or which are rarely seen in them.

Before our travels through Cambodia, we shall enjoy a short exploration of the little-visited and rather reclusive country of Laos, a place that has been completely off the birding map until very recently. Laos is a very relaxed and comfortable place to visit, a fact which is gradually attracting more and more visitors to this beautiful part of Southeast Asia.

Here you can be amongst the birding pioneers as we visit some beautiful karst limestone hills, where the interesting endemic Bare-faced Bulbul was only recently discovered for science in the remnant forests on their slopes. Several other interesting species occur in this little-known area, including Pale-headed Woodpecker, White-tailed Flycatcher, the restricted-range Sooty Babbler, Black-browed Fulvetta and the recently-described Limestone Leaf Warbler.

Laos also harbours a population of Jerdon’s Buschat and we shall be visiting an area along the Mekong River near the capital city of Vientiane in search of these dapper birds.

We will begin our Cambodian adventure by flying to Siem Reap in the northwest of the country. Here we will visit the waterbird colonies of Tonle Sap, home to breeding Lesser and Greater Adjutants, Milky Storks and Spot-billed Pelicans. We will also visit the incomparable Angkor Wat temple complex. The 100 or so remaining temples here are the sacred remains of what was once a much larger administrative and religious centre and are one of the world’s cultural wonders.

After exploring some grasslands near the eastern end of Tonle Sap, where we will hope to find the spectacular Bengal Florican and the more subtly interesting and little-known Manchurian Reed Warbler, we will head for Prey Veng in search of the rare and difficult White-winged Duck.

We will then make an expedition to the remote north of the country where we will look at a series of forest pools where we have an excellent chance of finding the incredible Giant Ibis, the rare White-shouldered Ibis, White-rumped Falcon, Pale-capped Pigeon, the spectacular Black-headed Woodpecker and Swinhoe’s Minivet.

Next we will drive south to Kratie and take an exciting boat trip on the mighty Mekong River where we will see the recently-described Mekong Wagtail and the fascinating Irrawaddy River Dolphin. On land, Asian Golden Weaver will be the main target.

After visiting a site for the recently discovered Cambodian Tailorbird, we will finish our Cambodian journey at Phnom Penh.

During the optional extension we shall explore the cool hill forests of Mount Aural (or Aoral) in the Cardamom Mountains, where a host of interesting forest species include the near-endemic Chestnut-headed Partridge, the endemic Cambodian Laughingthrush, Silver Pheasant, the beautiful Blue Pitta and the lovely Indochinese Green Magpie.

We will also visit the Pursat area, where we have the chance to see the rare Chinese Grassbird.

Birdquest has operated tours to Cambodia since 2003 and to Laos since 2011.

Angkor Wat Option: The extraordinary temple complex at Angkor Wat can easily justify a couple of days of exploration. If you would like to have more time to explore we can book you one or more extra nights at Siem Reap and you can visit the temples with a local guide or on your own, as preferred. Please contact us if you are interested.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good standard. At several locations the guesthouses are rather simple but perfectly adequate and all rooms have private bathrooms. During the extension there will be three nights of very simple camping at Mount Aural. Road transport is by minibus (and where necessary by 4x4 vehicles) and roads are variable in quality.

Walking: The walking effort is easy to moderate (it is a long walk up Mount Aural but it will be taken slowly and broken by many birding stops).

Climate: Mostly hot. Generally ‘dry’ heat though occasionally it can be fairly humid. Sunny weather may be interspersed by occasional cloudy periods and showers.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Can be taken together with: VIETNAM

Tour Price: £3190, €3770, $4180 Vientiane/Phnom Penh. Single Room Supplement: £275, €324, $360. Deposit: £400, €480, $520.

Mount Aural Extension: £1190, €1410, $1560. Single Room Supplement: £70, €83, $92. Deposit: £150, €180, $200.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Also includes this flight: Vientiane-Siem Reap.

The extension single room supplement refers to Aural town and Pursat only.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The rare Greater Adjutant is present in small numbers at Tonle Sap, and can be seen alongside Lesser Adjutant and Milky Stork (Pete Morris)

The rare Greater Adjutant is present in small numbers at Tonle Sap, and can be seen alongside Lesser Adjutant and Milky Stork (Pete Morris)

The incredible temples at Angkor Wat are set in amongst some fine forest and never fail to impress. These three images speak for themselves! (all by Dave Farrow)

The incredible temples at Angkor Wat are set in amongst some fine forest and never fail to impress. These three images speak for themselves! (all by Dave Farrow)

Cambodia is the last haunt of some critically endangered large waterbirds including Giant Ibis (Pete Morris)

Cambodia is the last haunt of some critically endangered large waterbirds including Giant Ibis (Pete Morris)

... and White-shouldered Ibis (Pete Morris)

... and White-shouldered Ibis (Pete Morris)

The extensive areas of dry deciduous forest that remain in the north of the country are home to the ibises and a number of other interesting species including Chinese Francolin (Dave Farrow)

The extensive areas of dry deciduous forest that remain in the north of the country are home to the ibises and a number of other interesting species including Chinese Francolin (Dave Farrow)

... a variety of woodpeckers including the localized Black-headed Woodpecker (Pete Morris)

... a variety of woodpeckers including the localized Black-headed Woodpecker (Pete Morris)

... and Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Pete Morris)

... and Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Pete Morris)

... and raptors including the rare White-rumped Falcon (Pete Morris)

... and raptors including the rare White-rumped Falcon (Pete Morris)

... and the tiny Collared Falconet (Pete Morris)

... and the tiny Collared Falconet (Pete Morris)

Spot-billed Pelicans are relatively common still (Pete Morris)

Spot-billed Pelicans are relatively common still (Pete Morris)

... and we may well find the scarce Asian Golden Weaver (Pete Morris)

... and we may well find the scarce Asian Golden Weaver (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Oriental Plover is now known to pass through Cambodia on migration, and we will hope to coincide with a flock of these excellent birds (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Oriental Plover is now known to pass through Cambodia on migration, and we will hope to coincide with a flock of these excellent birds (Pete Morris)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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