Bar-bellied Pitta is one of the special birds in Cuc Phuong National Park. Photo: Suppalak Klabdee
Stretching a thousand miles down the east coast of Southeast Asia, Vietnam supports a vast array of habitats. Between the mighty deltas of the Red River in the north and the Mekong in the south are endless beaches, fertile plains, lush rainforests, and high plateaus with rhododendron-covered peaks rising to over 9,000 feet.
It’s no wonder that Vietnam is home to over 850 species of birds, among them more endemics than any other country in mainland Southeast Asia. By visiting both the north and the south we’ll see a great variety of Vietnam’s distinctive birdlife, which combines influences from the Himalayas, the Palearctic, and Malaysia, including a large number of Indochinese specialties that are difficult to find elsewhere in the region.
With the ravages of the past well and truly behind it, Vietnam has emerged as one of Asia’s most thriving economies and one of its most popular tourist destinations. It has an infrastructure to match this popularity, and we’re assured of a warm welcome everywhere we travel in this fascinating country.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour, Cambodia.
Day 1: Participants should arrive in Ho Chi Minh City no later than this evening. Night in Ho Chi Minh City.
Days 2-5: We’ll set out by road on the morning of day 2 for Cat Tien National Park, a journey of around three hours. While there won’t be many opportunities for birding en route, we’ll have a chance to experience the amazing energy of the Vietnamese people as they go about there daily lives on the busy streets of the many towns and villages we pass through.
Cat Tien National Park contains the largest remaining area of lowland tropical forest in southern Vietnam with over 330 bird species including the endangered Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Green Peafowl, and the very elusive Orange-necked Partridge. The list of mammals includes Eurasian Wild Pig, Sambar, Red Muntjac, and Gaur as well as two endangered primates, Black-shanked Douc Langur and Buff-cheeked Gibbon.
We’ll take jeeps to visit areas farther afield such as Bird and Crocodile Lakes, where Gray-headed Fish-Eagle and Lesser Adjutant may be seen. The three-mile walk through the forest to Crocodile Lake is an excellent place to look for Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pittas as well as Red-and-Black and Banded Broadbills and Orange-breasted Trogon among many others. Other Cat Tien specialties include Scaly-breasted Partridge, Siamese Fireback, White-bellied, Great Slaty, Pale-headed, and Black-and-Buff Woodpeckers, Red-vented Barbet, Woolly-necked Stork, and Gray-faced Tit-Babbler. Nights at Cat Tien headquarters.
Day 6: After a final morning’s birding we’ll drive north up Highway 20 toward Di Linh for afternoon birding at Deo Suoi Lanh, a forested mountain pass and an excellent site for several Dalat Plateau specialties including Black-hooded, White-cheeked and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes and the near-endemic Black-crowned Parrotbill. As we ascend from the lowlands to the plateau we’ll see the changes in the landscapes and types of agriculture as we pass by a virtual mosaic of fields of rubber, teak, tea, and coffee plantations, as well as the wondrous Vietnamese architecture. Night in Di Linh.
Days 7-9: We’ll return this morning to Deo Suoi Lanh to look for any of the specialties we may have missed. After lunch we’ll leaving Di Linh and continue up Highway 20 to the cooler climes of the delightful city of Dalat, with its old French colonial buildings and numerous outdoor cafes, restaurants and markets. After checking-in at our family-run hotel there may be time for the first of several visits to the Ta Nung Valley, a nearby area of remnant evergreen forest. This is the most accessible site for the rare and endemic Grey-crowned Crocias as well as White-cheeked and Orange-breasted Laughingthrush, and the recently split Black-crowned Parrotbill. The very distinct subspecies of Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-backed and Black-headed Sibias and Black-throated Sunbird can also be found here. In addition to the wonderful Ta Nung Valley two other sites around Dalat are well worth visiting: Mount Lang Bian and Ho Tuyen Lam. Mount Lang Bian is a 6,700-foot peak about twenty minutes by road from Dalat, and we’ll spend a day exploring its pine and montane evergreen forests. Our target species here include Silver Pheasant, wintering Mugimaki Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Tit, Vietnamese Cutia, Black-crowned Fulvetta, and Vietnamese Greenfinch. The most sought-after species at Lang Bian, however, is the beautiful and skulking endemic Collared Laughingthrush. Ho Tuyen Lam is a man-made lake just two miles from the center of town. The pines here are home to Burmese Shrike, Slender-billed Oriole, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, and Crossbill, among many other species. Nights in Dalat.
Day 10: After an early breakfast we’ll leave on the long but scenic drive north to Yok Don National Park, arriving in time for a late lunch and a search on the Srepok River just in front of the park HQ for the recently described and near-endemic Mekong Wagtail. This recently declared national park borders the Mondulkiri Protected Area in Cambodia and constitutes one of the largest areas of protected lowland forest in South East Asia. The habitat is characterized as a mosaic of deciduous and semi-evergreen forest interspersed with areas of rainforest. Not surprisingly, it’s considered one of the most biodiverse areas of Vietnam and a number of species that have disappeared elsewhere in the region can still be found here. Night at Yok Don National Park HQ.
Day 11: After an early breakfast we’ll cross the Srepok River to bird in and around the Yok Don Botanical Gardens. Specialties here include the scarce White-rumped Pygmy-falcon, Collared Falconet, several woodpeckers including the beautiful Black-headed, Rufous Treepie and the curiously-named Neglected Nuthatch. We’ll leave Yok Don mid-morning for the five-hour drive north to Mang Den in Kontum Province stopping en route for lunch. Night at Mang Den.
Day 12: We’ll have a full day’s birding at Mang Den, where the seldom-seen endemic Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush will be our main quarry. Discovered in 1999, it has been seen by only a handful of birders. The quiet town of Mang Den is located in Vietnam’s central highlands, and just a few kilometers from the town we’ll explore a large area of excellent montane forest. This is the most reliable site in Vietnam for three other scarce birds: Pale-capped Pigeon, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, and Black-hooded Laughingthrush. Night at Mang Den.
Day 13: We’ll leave early for the four-hour drive northwards up the newly built Ho Chi Minh Highway to the Lo Xo Pass. Located on the Kontum Plateau, the peaks surrounding the pass are cloaked in undisturbed evergreen forest where we’ll look for the recently discovered Indochinese endemic Black-crowned Barwing, which favors the roadside scrub and secondary growth. Later we’ll continue north to Bach Ma National Park, breaking the journey at Lang Co on the coast to look for wintering shorebirds, including the recently described White-faced Plover. Night in Bach Ma.
Day 14: We’ll have a full day in Bach Ma National Park, where the Annamite Mountains meet the sea. This beautiful forested area is home to several Vietnamese and regional endemics, including Annam Partridge, Silver Pheasant, Red-vented Barbet, White-winged Magpie, and Indochinese Wren-Babbler. Other spectacular birds here include Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Indochinese Green Magpie, Black-throated and Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes, and a distinct subspecies of Sultan Tit with a glossy blue-black crown—a possible future split. The beautiful and endangered primate, Red-shanked Douc Langur, is sometimes seen in the treetops below the summit trails. Night in Bach Ma National Park
Day 15: We’ll have a final morning for birding in the lower reaches of Bach Ma, to look for the very shy Annam Partridge and Masked Laughingthrush, before we continue after lunch northwards up Highway One to Dong Ha for the night. We’ll spend the afternoon traveling although we’ll stop for breaks along the way. Overnight at the Mekong Hotel, Dong Ha.
Day 16: We’ll depart Dong Ha after breakfast driving eastwards on Highway 9 to the site of the former Khe Sanh Combat Base, and follow the Ho Chi Minh Highway West northwards along the Lao border. The main target today is the rarely-seen Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrush and we have a good chance of seeing Moustached Barbet at its only Vietnam location. After lunch we’ll drive north to the scenically stunning Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its extensive cave systems and rugged limestone karsts. Once in the park we’ll look for limestone specialists like the near-endemic Sooty Babbler and Limestone Leaf-warbler. Night in Phong Nha.
Day 17: We’ll have a full day to explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in search of limestone specialists like the near-endemic Sooty Babbler and Limestone Leaf-warbler. The scarce and rarely-seen Red-collared Woodpecker is also possible here as is a scarce endemic primate, Ha Tinh Langur. The birdlife here is active and exciting with large mixed flocks often containing some very glamorous species; Sultan Tit is common, Purple Cochoa is sometimes seen, and the rarely-seen Red-collared Woodpecker is possible. For those who wish and if time permits, we’ll be able to briefly explore at midday the world-renowned cave system of this remarkable area. Night in Phong Nha.
Day 18: We’ll have a little time this morning to further explore the limestone forest of Phong Nha National Park before driving to Dong Hoi Airport for our flight to Hanoi. We’ll arrive in late afternoon when the main portion of the tour concludes in time to connect with international flights home. Night in Hanoi.
Day 19: We’ll depart Hanoi after an early breakfast for Cuc Phuong National Park, the first national park to be established in Vietnam and an area of limestone hills covered in primary rainforest. It’s a three hours’ drive to the park but we’ll stop on the way at Van Long Nature Reserve to take a sampan to the dramatic limestone cliffs that are home to the largest population of the endangered Delacour Langur. Various waders, herons, bitterns, and a breeding pair of Bonelli’s Eagles are often seen here. Leaving Van Long, Night at the Park Headquarters guest house.
Days 20-21: We’ll have two full days to explore the national park and we’ll hope to see some of the park’s special birds, including Bar-bellied, Blue-rumped, and Eared Pittas, Silver-breasted Broadbill, White-tailed Flycatcher, White-winged Magpie, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Rufous-throated Fulvetta, Limestone Wren-Babbler, Fujian Niltava, and Pied Falconet. Nights at the Park Headquarters guest house.
Day 22: After breakfast we’ll leave Cuc Phuong for the hill station of Tam Dao. We’ll drive north on Highway 21 to Tam Dao, where we should arrive in time to spend the afternoon birding in the park. Tam Dao means three peaks in Vietnamese, although they are seldom seen as they are most often cloaked in mist. This very beautiful reserve is rich in biodiversity and there are a number of sought after birds to be found here. The town itself is fascinating – perched on the hillside it is a popular place for visitors from nearby Hanoi. Night at Tam Dao.
Day 23: We’ll spend the day in the montane evergreen and bamboo forest above the town. Specialties here include Chestnut Bulbul, Gray Laughingthrush, Coral-billed and Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babblers, Collared Babbler, and Greater Rufous-headed and Short-tailed Parrotbills. Winter visitors to Tam Dao include Fujian Niltava. In the late afternoon we’ll return to Hanoi. Night in Hanoi.
Day 24: The tour concludes this morning, with transfers for international flights home.
Updated: 04 December 2012
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 10. Both leaders will accompany the group regardless of group size.