31 January–1 February 2018
Extension to 7 February
A former French colony and then subject to a bloody war, Vietnam has now developed into a thriving country with a good infrastructure and a highly-desirable list of birds including 12 endemics. From the Mekong Delta in the south to mountains rising to nearly 3000 metres in the north, Vietnam has a wide variety of habitats where we will look for Collared Laughingthrush and Vietnamese Greenfinch amongst others.
Day 1 We will catch an overnight flight from London to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 2 On arrival at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport we will transfer by road to Cat Tien National Park, 150 kilometres to the north. Cat Tien National Park contains the largest remaining area of lowland tropical forest in southern Vietnam and an incredible diversity of birds and mammals. Endangered birds found at Cat Tien include Germain’s Peacock-pheasant, Green Peafowl and the elusive Orange-necked Partridge, while the mammal list includes Leopard Cat, Lesser Mousedeer, Gaur and three beautiful primates: Black-shanked Douc Langur, Silvered Langur and Buff-cheeked Gibbon. Four nights at Cat Tien National Park.
Days 3–5 We have three full days of birding at Cat Tien National Park, one of south-east Asia’s premier birding sites. There are excellent trails starting right at the park headquarters and for areas further afield, such as Crocodile Lake, jeeps are used. Cat Tien is well known among birders as the place to see two spectacular jewels of the forest floor: Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pittas. The park has an impressive bird list and species we will be looking for include Chinese Francolin, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Red Junglefowl, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Black-crowned Night-heron, Oriental Darter, Collared Falconet, Black Baza, Black-shouldered Kite, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, White-breasted Waterhen, Black-backed Swamphen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Bronze-winged Jacana, Oriental Pratincole, Emerald Dove, Ashy-headed Green-pigeon, Orange-breasted, Pink-necked and Thick-billed Pigeons, Green Imperial-pigeon, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Red-breasted Parakeet, Asian Emerald and Violet Cuckoos, Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, Asian Koel, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater and Lesser Coucals, Collared Scops-owl, Asian Barred Owlet, Brown Boobook, Blyth’s Frogmouth, Great Eared-Nightjar and Large-tailed Nightjar, Germain’s Swiftlet, Orange-breasted Trogon, Indian Roller, Dollarbird, Banded, Stork-billed, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Oriental Pied-hornbill, Great and Wreathed Hornbills, Red-vented, Green-eared and Blue-eared Barbets, White-bellied, Pale-headed, Black-and-buff, Heart-spotted and Great Slaty Woodpeckers, Dusky, Black-and-red and Banded Broadbills, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Brown-rumped and Scarlet Minivets, Black-hooded Oriole, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Racket-tailed Treepie, Van Hasselt’s and Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Blue-winged and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Asian Golden Weaver, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Golden-crested Myna, Pied Bushchat, Tickell’s Blue-flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Grey-faced Tit-babbler.
Day 6 There will be time for some final early morning birding at Cat Tien National Park before we head up Highway 20 through tea and coffee plantations to the cooler climes of Di Linh. A short drive from Di Linh town, a forested mountain pass known as Deo Suoi Lanh is an excellent site to look for several Dalat Plateau specialities including Black-hooded, White-cheeked and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes and the near-endemic Black-headed Parrotbill. After an afternoon’s birding at Deo Suoi Lanh we will return to Di Linh for the night.
Day 7 We will make an early morning visit to Deo Suoi Lanh to look for other exciting possibilities, which could include Bar-backed Partridge, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Blue Pitta, Indochinese Green-magpie, Spotted Forktail, Green Cochoa, Black-chinned Yuhina and Spot-throated and Collared Babblers, before continuing along Highway 20 to the former French hill station of Dalat. In the afternoon we will make the first of several visits to the Ta Nung Valley, a small but bird-filled area of remnant evergreen forest 10 kilometres from Dalat. This is the most accessible site for the rare, restricted-range Vietnamese endemic, Grey-crowned Crocias. In addition to the much-sought-after crocias, this site is a great place to see Black-headed Sibia, Black-throated Sunbird, and the very distinct, local subspecies of Blue-winged Minla. Four nights at Dalat.
Days 8–10 There are several other excellent birding sites around Dalat. At Mount Lang Bian, a 2169m-high peak 20 minutes’ drive from Dalat, the long list of target species includes Silver Pheasant, Black Eagle, Large Cuckooshrike, Long-tailed Minivet, Eurasian Jay, Gould’s Sunbird, Hume’s Treecreeper, Lesser Shortwing, Large Niltava, Little Pied and Mugimaki Flycatchers, Yellow-cheeked and Black-throated (Grey-crowned) Tits, Kloss’s and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, Vietnamese Cutia and Black-crowned Fulvetta. The biggest attraction at Mount Lang Bian, however, is the beautiful and skulking endemic Collared Laughingthrush, which can be found in the remnant evergreen forest below the summit. Ho Tuyen Lam, a man-made lake on the outskirts of the town, is a great place to look for some of the local pine specialists including Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Slender-billed Oriole, Burmese Shrike, Red Crossbill and the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch. During the winter months Grey-faced Buzzard can be found wintering in the pines while White-bellied Sea-eagle and Osprey are common sights around the lake.
Day 11 This morning we will leave Dalat after an early breakfast for the scenic drive north to Yok Don National Park in Daklak Province. We will arrive in time for lunch at the park canteen before setting out to explore the banks of the Srepok River and the dry, deciduous forests of Yok Don; specialities here that are not easily seen elsewhere in Vietnam include Rufous-winged Buzzard, White-rumped Falcon, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Alexandrine and Blossom-headed Parakeets, Fulvous-breasted, Rufous-bellied and Black-headed Woodpeckers, Small Minivet, Purple Sunbird, Red-billed Blue-magpie and Rufous Treepie. Yok Don is also the only known site in Vietnam for the recently-described near-endemic Mekong Wagtail, which can sometimes be seen on the river near the headquarters accommodation area. Overnight at Yok Don National Park.
Day 12 There will be time for some early morning birding at Yok Don before we set off on the scenic drive north to Mang Den in Kontum Province with a lunch stop en route. We will arrive at Mang Den in time for some late afternoon birding in the bird-filled patches of remnant evergreen forest around the town. Two nights at Mang Den.
Day 13 We have a full day of birding in the extensive broadleaved evergreen forest around Mang Den where the recently-discovered endemic, Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush, is the star bird and our number one target. Other specialities of the Mang Den area include the scarce and nomadic Pale-capped Pigeon, Brown Hornbill, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Green-tailed Sunbird and Yellow-billed Nuthatch.
Day 14 Sadly, we have to leave Mang Den mid-morning, but before our departure we will spend a final few hours birding around the area, looking for some of the other species that are uncommon elsewhere in Vietnam; these may include Pale Blue-flycatcher, Grey-headed Parrotbill and Rufous-faced Warbler. We will then make the four-hour drive northwards up the Ho Chi Minh Highway to the Lo Xo Pass, where our target is the Indochinese endemic Black-crowned Barwing, discovered in 1996. Overnight at Kham Duc.
Day 15 There will be time for a return visit to the Lo Xo Pass in the morning to look for other specialities of the area, which include White-winged Magpie and Red-tailed Laughingthrush. We will return to Kham Duc mid-morning and continue northwards to Bach Ma National Park. After checking in at the summit HQ accommodation there should be time for some late afternoon birding. Overnight at Bach Ma National Park.
Day 16 We will spend the morning birding at Bach Ma National Park where targets will include the endemic Vietnam Partridge, Rufous-throated Partridge, Mountain Scops-owl, Long-tailed Broadbill, Sultan Tit, Blue-throated and White-gorgeted Flycatchers, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Golden Babbler and the near-endemic Short-tailed Scimitar-babbler. In the afternoon we will leave Bach Ma for the long drive north to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Two nights at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Day 17 We will spend a full day exploring the limestone forest of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The main targets here are the Indochinese endemic Sooty Babbler, which lives on the limestone outcrops, the rare and restricted-range Red-collared Woodpecker and the recently-split Limestone Leaf Warbler. Phong Nha-Ke Bang is also home to two of Vietnam’s endangered primates: the Ha Tinh Langur and the beautiful Red-shanked Douc Langur.
Day 18 We will leave Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park after breakfast for the drive south down Highway One to Hue Airport to catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport or Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport where we will connect with our return flight to the UK or join the extension to northern Vietnam.
Day 18 On arrival at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport we will transfer directly to Cuc Phuong National Park, three hours south of Hanoi by road. The first national park to be established in Vietnam, Cuc Phuong is an area of limestone hills covered in primary rainforest. The best birding is in the centre of the park where there are several excellent trails including the Loop Trail and the Valley Trail. The main road through the park can also be very productive, especially for over-wintering thrushes early in the morning. Three nights at Cuc Phuong National Park.
Days 19–20 We have two full days to explore Cuc Phuong where specialities include Pied Falconet, Red-headed Trogon, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Eared Pitta, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-tailed Robin, White-tailed Flycatcher, Fujian Niltava and Limestone Wren-babbler.
Day 21 We will leave Cuc Phuong after breakfast to make the journey north to Tam Dao, stopping off at Van Long Nature Reserve en route. Here we take a sampan through flooded rice fields to the dramatic limestone cliffs that are home to the largest population of one of Vietnam’s critically-endangered primates, Delacour’s Langur. During the winter months large numbers of waterfowl can be seen here as well as a raptor or two. From here we will continue to Tam Dao, a rather run-down but atmospheric former French colonial hill station. We will arrive mid-afternoon in time for some late afternoon birding. Two nights at Tam Dao.
Day 22 Tam Dao’s specialities include several species that are more usually associated with China and cannot be seen elsewhere in south-east Asia, such as the attractive Chestnut Bulbul and Grey Laughingthrush. Resident species here include Grey Treepie, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails, Coral-billed and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers and Rufous-headed and Short-tailed Parrotbills. Winter visitors that may turn up between November and March include Scaly, Grey-backed, Japanese, Eyebrowed and Black-breasted Thrushes and Chestnut and Tristram’s Buntings.
Day 23 There will be time for some final early morning birding at Tam Dao before driving north to Ba Be National Park, where the main draw is the extremely rare and seldom-seen White-eared Night-heron. Until the recent discovery of this site it was pretty much impossible to see this almost mythical species. Arriving mid-afternoon will give us the first opportunity to search for White-eared Night-heron as the birds leave their day roost for their night-time feeding sites. Overnight at Ba Be National Park.
Day 24 We will have another chance to search for White-eared Night-heron early this morning as the birds return to their roost in the pre-dawn half-light. Other species possible here include Mandarin and Tufted Ducks and Streaked Wren-babbler. We will leave Ba Be mid-morning and transfer to Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport for our flight back to the UK.
General Information The climate can vary from hot and humid in the lowlands to cool in the mountains and the northern regions. Rain is possible in the central and northern regions. The tour pace is moderate with generally easy walks, mostly on level ground. There are health requirements and you must consult your GP. Accommodation is in twin-bedded rooms in medium-standard hotels (with the exception of the one night in Ba Be on the extension, where it is dormitory-style accommodation).
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 2 leaders.