BEST OF VIETNAM TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Best of Vietnam: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Ho Chi Minh City (the official name for Saigon), from where we will drive to Cat Tien for a four nights stay. The city was dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ during the French colonial period and some of the old flavour remains. We will arrive at Cat Tien in time for some initial exploration.
Best of Vietnam: Days 2-4 Cat Tien was the first national park to be established in southern Vietnam and is situated only 100 kilometres to the northeast of Saigon. The park lies at the base of foothills which eventually lead to the Da Lat highlands. The beautiful lowland forest in the eastern half of the park is probably one of the last remaining areas that supports almost the full spectrum of the rich Cochinchinese avifauna and was very fortunate to escape the spraying with defoliants during the civil war that destroyed vast tracts of forest elsewhere in southern Vietnam.
The park is a mosaic of different habitats, dominated by a series of seasonal wetlands at its centre. Small flocks of waterbirds including Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, and Chinese Pond-Heron, gather to sun themselves in the trees. Overhead larger birds such as Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant and Grey-headed Fish-Eagle flap past in search of a quiet place to feed. In the early mornings, Green Peafowl can be heard calling from the larger trees surrounding the wetlands, where they have a good preen before flying down to commence feeding. Along the edges of pools and marshes, we may find Cinnamon Bittern, White-breasted Waterhen, Stork-billed Kingfisher and Palearctic migrants from northern Asia such as Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers, Lanceolated Warbler and Dusky Warbler.
In the evening groups of Great Eared Nightjars emerge to hunt over open areas while Large-tailed Nightjars fly low over forest clearings. After nightfall, we will have a good chance of seeing Asian Barred Owlet and Brown Hawk Owl.
Other birds we should see in the open grassy habitat include Striated (or Little) Heron, Collared Falconet, Red-wattled Lapwing, Lesser Coucal, Indochinese Bushlark, Black-hooded Oriole, Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Baya Weaver and White-rumped Munia. If we are very lucky even the rare Asian Golden Weaver can show up.
A driveable track, leading from the park headquarters in the south to Dac Lua substation in the north, bisects the reserve. The first part of the track runs close to the banks of the Dong Nai River. In the mornings many birds are active along the riverbanks and we should encounter White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black-and-red Broadbill, Racket-tailed Treepie, Rufescent Prinia and perhaps winter visitors such as Thick-billed and Radde’s Warblers. As we move further into the heart of the park the partly deciduous forest becomes taller, although still open, and is interspersed with dense patches of evergreen forest and thorny clumps of bamboo.
Much of the bird activity will be concentrated around fruiting trees where we will find birds such as Thick-billed, Ashy-headed and Orange-breasted Green Pigeons, Green Imperial Pigeon, Red-breasted Parakeet, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Green-eared and Lineated Barbets, the little known near-endemic Red-vented Barbet, Ochraceous and Black-headed Bulbuls, Great and Common Ioras, Golden-fronted and Blue-winged Leafbirds, and Asian Fairy-Bluebird. In roving flocks we should find Green-billed Malkoha, Laced Woodpecker, Banded and Dusky Broadbills, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Abbott’s and Scaly-crowned Babblers, and Pin-striped Tit-Babbler.
Clearings in the forest are always a good place to linger, attracting such species as Black Baza, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Crested Serpent Eagle, Red Junglefowl, Red Collared and Spotted Doves, Plaintive and Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoos, Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Germain’s Swiftlet, Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Indian (Black-billed) Roller, Dollarbird, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-eared and Coppersmith Barbets, the huge Great Slaty and White-bellied Woodpeckers, Striated Swallow, Stripe-throated and Streak-eared Bulbuls, Black and Hair-crested Drongos, Brown Shrike, Chestnut-tailed and Vinous-breasted Starlings, Golden-crested and Hill Mynas, Black-naped Oriole, Ashy Woodswallow, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Yellow-vented and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, and Paddyfield Pipit.
Venturing along the smaller side trails into patches of evergreen forest, we will be looking in particular for such secretive specialities as Siamese Fireback, the near-endemic Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Green-legged Partridge, Black-and-buff Woodpecker and the near-endemic Bar-bellied Pitta. With persistence, we have a good chance of seeing all of them during our stay.
In this habitat we should also be able to locate Emerald Dove, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Greater Flameback, White-browed Piculet, White-rumped Shama, the endemic Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-naped Sunbirds and Little Spiderhunter.
Other species we may well encounter at Cat Tien include Crested (or Oriental) Honey-Buzzard, Common Flameback, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, as well as such wintering species as Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue Robin, Pale-legged Leaf and Two-barred Warblers, and Red-throated (or Taiga) and Asian Brown Flycatchers.
We also have a reasonable chance of finding Blyth’s Frogmouth, Violet Cuckoo, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Blue-rumped Pitta, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Asian Golden Weaver. If we are very lucky we will come across the little-known, near-endemic Orange-necked Partridge (once thought endemic, this species has now been found in Cambodia).
In addition to birds, Cat Tien’s forests are an important refuge for Black-shanked Douc Langur, one of the most colourful and least known primates in Asia, and Buff-cheeked Gibbon. If we are very lucky we could even come across the rare Annamese Langur.
Best of Vietnam: Day 5 After some final birding at Cat Tien we will drive north to Di Linh for an overnight stay. In the afternoon we shall start the exploration of the Deo Nui San area.
Best of Vietnam: Day 6 Today we will have all day at Deo Nui San, a pass surrounded by impressive forested hills. We will look for a number of species which are easier to find here than on the Da Lat Plateau including Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Speckled Piculet, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, the near-endemic Black-headed Parrotbill, Black-hooded and White-cheeked Laughingthrushes, the endemic Orange-breasted Laughingthrush, Streaked Spiderhunter and the distinctive local races of Black-headed and Rufous-backed Sibias, Blue-throated Flycatcher and Black-throated Sunbird (here of the beautiful, red-breasted johnsi race). If we are lucky we will find one or two of the more secretive birds of the area such as Bar-backed Partridge, Blue Pitta, Alström’s (or Plain-tailed) Warbler, Spot-throated Babbler, Rufous-browed Flycatcher and Indochinese Green Magpie.
In the late afternoon we will drive to Da Lat for a three nights stay.
Best of Vietnam: Days 7-8 The Da Lat (or Lang Bian) Plateau is home to a remarkable avifauna dominated by Indochinese endemic species and also Indochinese subspecies of birds with Himalayan affinities. The town of Da Lat itself is a traditional hill resort for the inhabitants of Saigon and was a major destination for bird collecting expeditions during French colonial times: many of the unique birds discovered on the plateau were taken close to the town limits or on the nearby peaks. The resort was founded in 1893 by the famous French doctor Yersin, who recognized the site’s health-giving qualities and the surrounding area now produces large quantities of fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park which also includes Mount Lang Bian (c2200m), the third-highest peak of the plateau, is only a short distance from the town. We will also visit the mixed forest surrounding Tuyen Lam Lake and some other localities. Native pine forests abound with such species as Large and Indochinese Cuckooshrikes, Long-tailed Minivet, Burmese Shrike, Ashy Drongo, Slender-billed Oriole, Grey Bushchat, Yellow-browed and Kloss’s Leaf Warblers, Green-backed Tit, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch. Interesting local subspecies of Eurasian Jay and Common (or Red) Crossbill can also be found here.
In the open areas, we should see Black-collared Starling and winter visitors including Grey-faced Buzzard, Blue and White-throated Rock Thrushes, and Olive-backed Pipit. In evergreen scrub running through the pine forest and along the evergreen forest edge we should see Banded Bay Cuckoo, Necklaced Barbet, Black-crested, Red-whiskered, Flavescent and Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Hill Prinia, Verditer Flycatcher and Scaly-breasted Munia. Regular scanning of the skyline may produce Black-shouldered Kite, Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, and House Swift.
Bird flocks will be encountered almost constantly once we enter the evergreen forest and will consist of species such as Bay Woodpecker, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Ashy Bulbul, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain (Annam) Fulvetta, Blyth’s Leaf, Grey-cheeked and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Mountain Tailorbird, Little Pied and Mugimaki Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail, Black-throated Bushtit, Hume’s Treecreeper, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird.
In the best evergreen forest we should find Wedge-tailed Green and Mountain Imperial Pigeons, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Indochinese Barbet , Mountain and Himalayan Black Bulbuls, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Maroon Oriole, Lesser Shortwing, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, the beautiful endemic Collared Laughingthrush, the endemic Grey-crowned Crocias, the endemic Vietnamese Cutia, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, Clicking Shrike-Babbler, the endemic Black-crowned Fulvetta, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-bellied Tesia, Ashy-throated Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, Large Niltava and Yellow-cheeked Tit.
If we are lucky we will find one or two of the more elusive inhabitants of the area such as Chinese Francolin, Rufous-throated Partridges, Silver Pheasant, Green Cochoa, Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler, Dalat Bush Warbler, Brown Prinia or a wintering Siberian Thrush.
Best of Vietnam: Day 9 Today is a travel day as we first travel north to Pleiku and then head for Mang Den in Kontum province for a two nights stay.
Best of Vietnam: Day 10 The hill forests of the Mang Canh region hold many species of birds, some of which we will encounter for the first time, but the key speciality here is the endemic Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush, first discovered only in 1999, which we have an excellent chance of observing. We should also have more chance to see the superb near-endemic Yellow-billed Nuthatch and the enigmatic, near-endemic Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler (the latter, also known as Indochinese Wren-Babbler and sometimes placed in Rimator as it appears to be a close relative of the Long-billed Wren-Babbler) and our first chance to see the localised and unique, black-crested, gayeti race of the Sultan Tit. Others interesting birds here could include Jerdon’s Baza, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Austen’s Brown Hornbill, Necklaced Barbet, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler, a different race of Black-hooded Laughingthrush, Grey-headed Parrotbill and Blue-throated Flycatcher. If we are really lucky we can come across Rusty-naped Pitta or a Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.
Best of Vietnam: Day 11 After some early morning birding around Mang Den we will continue northwards to remote Kon Tum Province where we will stay for two nights at Tu Ma Rong. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration of the area.
Best of Vietnam: Day 12 The Central Highlands are the least populated part of the country and probably the last untouched wilderness of Vietnam where unbroken forest stretches as far as the eye can see. This border area with Cambodia and Laos is where two new bird species to science (Golden-winged Laughingthrush and Black-crowned Barwing) were described as recently as the 1990s! These new species were originally found by Birdlife International expeditions to the remote Mount Ngoc Linh (2598m), which is the highest peak of the Central Highlands.
Today we will visit the slopes of this amazing mountain where we will look for both of these recently described birds! We will have a very good chance to see the superb Black-crowned Barwing but we need a modicum of luck to connect with the Golden-winged Laughingthrush. There are two more exciting birds leave in this forest, the Red-tailed Laughingthrush and the Indochinese Fulvetta. We will certainly be on a lookout for both and any other interesting birds we can find in this virtually unknown area. Other species we may well encounter include Asian Emerald Cuckoo, the rare and striking White-winged Magpie, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Spot-throated Babbler, Red-tailed and Blue-winged Minlas, Rufous-backed Sibia and Green-tailed Sunbird.
Best of Vietnam: Day 13 After some final birding in the Mount Ngoc Linh area, we will drive to Lang Co near Da Nang for an overnight stay.
Best of Vietnam: Day 14 Overlooking the South China Sea, the resort grounds are good for birds and early morning we will look for Light-vented Bulbul, Daurian Redstart, Mandarin (or Chinese) Blackbird, Masked Laughingthrush, Brown-throated Sunbird and Grey-capped Greenfinch.
After breakfast, we will drive to Bach Ma National Park for an overnight stay.
This park is situated in the narrow central region of Vietnam, just north of the Hai Van Pass where the Annamite Mountain Range meets the South China Sea. In 1932 a road was built to the summit of Bach Ma (1448m) and the area became a French colonial hill resort. The area was officially classified as a national park in 1991, consisting of 22,000 hectares of core area plus 21,000 hectares of buffer zone. Lowland evergreen forest is the dominant forest type below 900m, with montane evergreen forest taking over above this elevation. Bach Ma has a special microclimate and rather changeable weather. Indeed, it is one of the wettest places in Vietnam with some 8000mm of precipitation falling annually at the summit!
A number of different trails give access to the forest at various altitudes and we will explore some of these during our visit. One of our prime targets here is the skulking Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler and the unobtrusive White-gorgeted Flycatcher. Other birds we may well find include the unique, black-crested, gayeti race of the Sultan Tit, Puff-throated Bulbul, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Black-browed Fulvetta, Silver-eared Mesia, White-crowned Forktail and Red-flanked Bluetail. If we are very lucky we might see a Rufous-throated or Green-legged (Annam) Partridge or even the fantastic Silver Pheasant. In March and April, this area can be very good for migrants and we often see here various thrushes, flycatchers and warblers. Mountain Scops Owl is not uncommon in the forest but usually difficult to see because of the steep slopes. We also have our first chance to locate the stunning Red-shanked Douc Langur and if we are very fortunate we will also encounter the recently-split Annam Gibbon.
Best of Vietnam: Day 15 After some final birding in Bach Ma National Park we will head for Da Nang airport where the tour ends this afternoon.
[There are frequent flights from Da Nang to both Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi for international flight connections. We can easily make the internal flight booking for you on request, even if we are not arranging your international air tickets.]