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@Treepol I thought you might be impressed by all those birds, my first visit to Da Lat was not many years after yours and my recollection from that time is much the same as yours. 




Rough route



Vietnam from the air by inyathi, on Flickr







Da Nang from the air



About to land 


It’s only a short flight from Da Lat to Da Nang, on our international flight all of the crew were wearing masks, but not the passengers, although some put them on when we landed, on this flight at least after we’d landed, everyone was wearing a mask, so I decided to take a photo as I’d never been on a flight like this before.



The new reality of flying or even perhaps life? :(


On arrival we were met by our new young Vietnamese guide Tim, who we learned was the younger brother of the very nice ranger/guide Dak we’d had in Cat Tien, after grabbing some quick iced coffees, we headed for the carpark, where our new much older driver Mr Tuan was waiting. Our minibus looked identical, except it didn’t have an automatic door, this actually made getting in and out quicker and easier, but best of all it didn’t stink of durian, which was a relief. We headed into the city for a brief lunch stop, Ken then suggested that this would be the best time to drive out to the Son Tra Peninsular.


I’d known when we were planning the trip, that we would be visiting Bach Ma National Park, not far from Da Nang and that there was a chance that we could see the red-shanked douc there, but I also knew that the weather can be terrible there, it can be very wet and foggy, if that proved to be the case, it didn’t strike me that our chances of seeing doucs, would very promising. The red-shanked douc was one monkey species besides Delacour’s langur, that I was not willing to risk missing, fortunately, I’d learned that the best place in Vietnam to see (and photograph) these monkeys is the Son Tra Peninsular at Da Nang, this wasn’t part of Tropical Birding’s standard Vietnam itinerary, I insisted that we had to include it.


Da Nang is the country’s fifth largest city and what’s now the international airport, was during the Vietnam War, a huge South Vietnamese and US Airforce base, the forested Son Tra Peninsular next to the city was known to the Americans as Monkey Mountain and it is home to a good population of red-shanked doucs and sightings are almost guaranteed. I had been a little bit concerned in the planning stages, that with Da Nang being a huge city, it might prove difficult to get to Son Tra, because of traffic, in fact it wasn’t difficult at all. I did wonder when Ken suggested this would be the time to go, whether the afternoon was really be a good time to look for the monkeys, I’m so used to the idea that the early morning is always the best time for wildlife. However, the weather was cold and grey, while this would not be great for photography, I hoped it meant the monkeys would still be active, which might not be the case if it were hot and sunny.



Fishing boats, Da Nang


When we got there it was gently drizzling, I wasn’t too hopeful, but within not many minutes we’d found a small troop of doucs, in the tree tops just above the road.



Red-shanked douc, Son Tra Peninsular, Da Nang


This douc species, is a candidate for the most beautiful monkey in the world, despite the cold and the wet, I was pleased as punch to find some so easily. Photography wasn’t particularly easy because of the weather, but it was a fantastic view of these lovely monkeys.






Mum with youngster







Young douc




Red trousers and white knickers:)









I found it hard to tear myself away to look for birds, we did find a couple though, further along the road were some long-tailed macaques, but I didn’t spot one.






View of Da Nang from the Son Tra Peninsular


Returning for a last look at the doucs through the scope, I thought, hmm I’ve got a mobile phone in my pocket I wonder if I could digiscope them, this is very easy if you have an adaptor to attach the phone to the scope’s eyepiece, without one I discovered that digiscoping is extremely difficult, so was I completely amazed by the results that I got, not because they're great photos, they're not, but just because I got anything at all. Without being able to attach the phone to the scope at all, it takes a bit of effort just to get a view of the subject at all and when you do it's likely to be an extreme vignette, but actually, after a tiny bit of Photoshopping I quite like this effect. 




Getting the phone in the right position to get the full subject with no vignetting was difficult, but I succeeded in the end  







After this brief experiment I went back to my proper camera.





During the war the Americans built a radar station on top of Monkey Mountain, it’s entirely speculation on my part, but I wondered if this was why the doucs had survived so close to such a big city, they are doing very well now, because Son Tra is a protected reserve and the monkeys are well looked after. The red-shanked (Pygathrix nemaeus) is endemic to Vietnam, Laos and very small area of Cambodia. 


Red-shanked douc range map


Second douc in the bag, one more to go :D


The monkeys weren't the only red beauty we spotted, as we were leaving we found this gorgeous bird



Crimson sunbird



Tien Sa Port, Son Tra Peninsular







Bikes, Da Nang







Crossing the railway line, Da Nang




Communist statue


Target achieved, we left Da Nang and joined the highway heading south,



Rice paddies and mountains, Quang Nam Province


to the town of Nui Thanh, although it’s on the coast and not far south of the very popular tourist destination of Hoi An, I suspect very few tourists ever stay here. We checked in to the Thay Thi Hotel, when planning the trip, there had been some concern that this hotel might be a little basic, but in fact it was fine, although the rooms were a bit small and the town rather noisy. The first restaurant we looked at, was exceptionally noisy, it seemed to be full of students, so we found another one.




Hotel Tây Thi, Núi Thành

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We’d been warned that once we left Da Lat, both the birding and the accommodation would get tougher, as you might perhaps imagine from the preceding photo of it, the Hotel Tây Thi wasn’t the best hotel we stayed in, but then neither was it the worst. The rooms were adequate if a little small, but they did have ensuite bathrooms and working wi-fi, I don’t generally need wi-fi on my travels but if it’s there, I’ll make use of it, it’s quite handy to be able to look things up on the web sometimes, so it’s always nice when it works. Evidently at some point the BBC must have upset the government in Hanoi, because when looking for news on the Coronavirus or whatever, the BBC website was one site that I couldn’t access, it’s clearly blocked in Vietnam.   




I don't always remember to photograph hotel rooms for reports and if I do it's almost always after I've messed up the bed, or dumped my stuff everywhere, I think I only photographed one of my rooms earlier in the trip and decided not to put that shot in, but I thought I would put in a room shot here. 



I couldn't get further back from the bed to fit all of it in, which gives an indication of how small the room is. 


Day 10


In the morning we went to a restaurant for pho, but as they weren’t quite open, we visited a coffee shop first and then returned to the restaurant.



Waiting for breakfast, Nui Thanh, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr


Our reason for staying in Nui Thanh, was to try for the last and most endangered of the doucs, the grey-shanked, a few years ago Fauna and Flora International (FFI) were conducting surveys of unprotected forests in the hills on the southern boundary of Quang Nam Province and discovered some previously unknown populations of grey-shanked doucs, Nui Thanh is the nearest town to the hills where the monkeys were found. Originally the grey-shanked was considered to be the same species as the red-shanked, but they are noticeably different, after being regarded as a subspecies, it was relatively recently elevated to a full species, one result of this, is that no one really knows how numerous they were in the past or what their exact range was. The grey-shanked (Pygathrix cinerea) is believed to be entirely endemic to Vietnam, confined to forests in the Central Highlands, it has not been recorded in Laos or Cambodia and it's estimated that only between 550 and 700 of them remain.


Grey-shanked douc range map


However, it is obvious that they must have declined markedly, the reason for this was very clear, as we started going up into the hills, the extent of the deforestation was appalling, what would have been evergreen forest was being completely replaced with plantations of eucalyptus and Acacia mangium, the monkeys were rapidly losing their habitat. What FFI had found, were small isolated populations, surviving in tiny remnant patches of natural forest, doomed to extinction in this area without intervention.


Hope for monkey on brink of extinction: new population found in Vietnam


Discovery of isolated populations of the 'Critically Endangered' grey-shanked douc langur (Pygathrix cinerea) in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam



To try and see the doucs we would head for the village of Dong Co. roughly I would think 30 minutes drive from Nui Thanh, there we would meet some local guides, who would take us by motorbike, up to the forest to try and find the doucs, I really didn't know quite what to expect or whether we would succeed or not. 


I was pleased on the way in, to pass by a large poster with a photo of doucs on it, at the eleventh hour the local authorities have taken some steps to try and save the doucs, their first move has simply been to raise awareness and make sure that everyone in the area, knows about the monkeys and knows that it is illegal to hunt them. Appointing local people as rangers/guides to monitor the monkeys and to take tourists to see them, to provide a financial incentive to save them. It seems in Vietnam, that if laws are properly enforced and people are aware that hunting monkeys is completely illegal, then local people will respect this and leave monkeys alone. It was clear when we met the guides, that this was going to be a proper wildlife adventure, l hadn’t ridden on the back of a motorbike, since backpacking in this part of the world. Looking at the bikes and where we were headed only Ken and I decided to go, I was slightly nervous because I was carrying two cameras and a monopod in addition to my binoculars and didn’t wish to fall off, the track we took up a hill which I believe is called Hon Ong, was a wet, muddy and rutted single lane dirt road, with plenty of puddles to negotiate around, it went up through farmland and what were or would soon be acacia plantations, I wondered exactly where the forest was or what was left of it, we were travelling through a very badly deforested landscape.



Where's the forest gone? the view looking back was very depressing, once this would have all been moist broadleaved evergreen forest, full of grey-shanked doucs, gibbons and other forest wildlife.  


Eventually, our guides decided that the track was too steep, so we should get off and continued on foot, it was a bit of a walk not too far, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be much further to the forest. As we got a bit higher I could see the forest that we were clearly headed for, it was a very depressing sight, the forest was tiny, I’ve seen larger woodlands at home in England, why this little patch remained was obvious when we got close, the ground was just too steep to clear, it was like a cliff in places with some huge rock shelves amongst the trees.



The last forest, Hon Ong Hill



The forest just goes up to the crest of the hill, the shoulder on the left and the entire backside of the hill is all acacia plantation. 


To try and get close enough to the forest to spot something, we left the track and walked up through the young acacia, one of the guides had already gone on ahead up to the edge of the forest, he soon reappeared he’d evidently not seen any monkeys.


From our position in the acacia plantation, we stared up at the forest, hoping to spot any movement in the trees, I wasn’t too hopeful, it amazed me that there could be any monkeys at all surviving in this sorry remnant of forest, (if I have the right forest it is just 5 hectares in size) I couldn’t see any sign of movement or hint of a douc. However, after constant scanning Ken finally spotted one, if you are a professional guide you have to be pretty good at spotting things, whether it’s birds or in this case monkeys, he soon had a monkey in his scope. After a little while we’d spotted perhaps five or so doucs, moving through the trees, they were too far away to take decent photos, walking further up through the acacia to get closer didn’t provide better views of the forest, we thought if we went right up to the edge of the forest, we might spook them or just not be able to see them from that position.



Grey-shanked douc 











Whilst we watched the monkeys, across the way on another hillside, we could see acacia trees being harvested.





I hadn’t been too hopeful of success when we’d set off on this adventure, but it wasn’t actually too much of a surprise that we saw the monkeys, there may be some 14-15 doucs living on Hon Ong Hill trapped in this postage stamp of native trees, we could pretty much see the entire forest from where we were stood, so as soon as one moved, we were virtually bound to spot it. Eventually, we tore ourselves away, and headed back down through the ravaged landscape, this morning had been both magical and severely depressing in equal measure, I’d achieved my hattrick of doucs, :D :D:D something I’d never expected I would ever do, this douc species was also a lifer for Ken, he’d never been to this place before. 



Solid acacia plantations



Leaving the grey-shanked doucs 











A last look back at the forest Hon Ong Hill. 




In this area FFI found four isolated populations of doucs, without serious intervention the monkeys are doomed, one of their reasons for surveying this part of Quang Nam is that a good number of doucs had been seen in 2004, in an area that has since been completely deforested and converted to plantations, those monkeys have all gone. They hope to stop these surviving monkeys from suffering the same fate, there is a plan to buy up 80 hectares of acacia plantation, remove the acacias and replant native trees, the eventual hope is to secure some kind of official protection for these hills and then created corridors reconnecting the four douc populations, hopefully they can achieve this in time to save the monkeys, they will otherwise have no future. Taking tourists to see the doucs should help in this aim.




Edited by inyathi
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Well done on seeing all of your docs.

As you say, the red shanked is particularly beautiful.

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@TonyQ Thanks, I'm sure that a fair few people who've visited Vietnam on birding/wildlife trips have seen the black-shanked and the red-shanked, but I don't imagine that very many have seen the grey as well, before the trip I was really only confident of seeing and getting good views of the red. 


We rejoined the highway and headed inland.



Giant cactus by the highway, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr








Uncle Ho



Our destination for the night was Mang Den up in the mountains, we stopped for lunch in a little town on the way, we were well off the tourist track, getting lunch in places like this, it really helped having a Vietnamese guide, Ken didn’t speak any of the language and any menu would be in Vietnamese. The restaurant served mainly beef, sliced very thinly it was very good except that some bits still had the skin on, which made them very chewy.




As at several other restaurants we were served banh da these are huge rice crackers, made from rice and tapioca flour and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, they look like huge poppadoms, only they are perhaps a little bland in comparison. A mini-baguette stuffed beef and Thai basil leaves made for a good lunch.





Travelling in Vietnam you do ideally need to be able to use chopsticks, in restaurants away from tourist areas you won’t be offered a knife and fork, the most you can hope for is a spoon.




Communist propaganda posters of a style similar to that in the old Soviet Union are everywhere.



The drive up in to the hills was very scenic, although we passed plenty of awful deforestation, once we started to properly climb, we passed hillsides still covered in magnificent native forest. 




Rice terraces




















Stopping for a leg stretch and some birding on a bit of road with beautiful forest on the hillside above us, ken and Tim were astonished and extremely excited to hear the distinctive calls of the near mythical crested argus, no birders have seen this pheasant in Vietnam for many years. It’s a big meaty bird and its loud calls make it an easy target for hunters, who catch them using snares, it’s now an extremely rare bird in Indochina. As we were driving on a new stretch of road, we were concerned that the pheasants would not last long, the wrong people would hear the calls and go after them. However, it was an indication of the quality of these forests, and signs that birds at least were doing okay. Mammals I feared not, doubtless at one time these forested hills were home to large troops of grey-shanked doucs and families of buff-cheeked gibbons, but I fear that very few remain. I believe it is possible to see doucs in this area, but only if you are extremely lucky.

































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Mang Den


When we arrived in Mang Den, we birded along a good stretch of road.




Road Mang Den. Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr















Tim birding at Mang Den



Hardcore birding at Mang Den, it's got to be in there somewhere.


He never did spot the bird, this owlet proved slightly easier



Collared owlet






When it started to get a bit too cold, we decided to call it a day and head straight to a restaurant to save time and then go on to the Doi Thong Hotel. This was quite a strange place, certainly this tuktuk with a Christmas tree on it was a little odd, well odd given that it was the 19th of February, but then when we first arrived in Vietnam at Ton San Nhat Airport in Saigon there had been a decorated Christmas tree in the arrivals hall, I guess Christians in Vietnam don't take their Christmas trees and decorations down, since they are fake trees. 




Doi Thong Hotel




When I went in to my huge room I was initially impressed, but this didn’t last, bizarrely there were no curtains or shutters on the windows, so no means of shutting out the lights from outside. The bathroom had no loo paper, but like almost all bathrooms in this part of the world it had a sprayer or ‘bum gun’ as some people apparently call it, I thought I’ll be fine with that, after I went back into the room I started to wonder why I could hear running water, went back into the bathroom and discovered the water jet hadn’t switched off.

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Nice big room, nice bed



but no curtains or shutters on the windows





Day 11


For breakfast we had noodle soup with fried eggs, behind the bar in the dining room, the wall was decorated with two stuffed Indian giant flying squirrels, a rather sad sight, this is sadly the fate of a good deal of wildlife here. I don’t know how common these flying squirrels are in Vietnam, they’re nocturnal so you won’t see them during the day, I would think they are probably doing okay because squirrels breed fairly quickly, so they can cope better with hunting than other animals and the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN.



Indian giant flying squirrels


We returned to the same stretch of road and found a few birds, not as many as we’d hoped.



Coral-billed scimitar-babbler


Walking through the jungles of Vietnam it's hard not to keep thinking about the war, on the side of the road, I found the broken remains of a gun, not a real one of course, it was just a child's plastic toy, but still reminded me of the war.  



A reminder of the war, broken toy gun


At one point I walked off the road into the jungle, I could see through the trees that it looked like there must be an open area ahead of me, I walked a few yards further on and was greeted by this very depressing sight.



Deforestation Mang Den


We couldn’t find our main target for this area, the red-tailed laughingthrush, we presumed this was because they’d started breeding and just weren’t responding to calls. We were supposed to stay two nights, but had come to the conclusion that another afternoon and morning’s birding would not produce the laughingthrush, or many other new birds, so perhaps we should move on, remarkably the trip was very flexible, so it wasn’t a problem just to move onto somewhere else. Before leaving, we would take a short walk inside the forest, to keep us going through the morning, Tim had stocked up on various snacks, this included a box of Malaysian pandan kek lapis, little sponge sandwich cakes individually wrapped in foil, we each took one and then put the empty wrappers back in the box and then the box back in the bus. There is a huge problem with littering in Vietnam, the spot where we’d parked had a lot of rubbish, just before we started walking, I turned around just in time to see our driver Mr Tuan, take the cardboard cake box out of the bus and carefully place it the other side of a large log beside the road, I despaired, but didn’t feel inclined to remonstrate with him, as there was still a fair bit of the trip left and he had a lot more driving to do.



Keep Vietnam tidy





In the forest we managed to find a trogon but as always with Vietnamese trogons it was very shy.


We had lunch back at the same restaurant


We weren't too sure what to make of this slightly funny looking stag's head on the restaurant wall, it has its tongue hanging out, a bit like a pet dog, what we couldn't work out for sure is the species, as there are no native deer with antlers of this size in Vietnam, they look like the antlers of a red deer or of an North American elk.  




And then made a quick stop at a coffee shop, before returning to the hotel to collect our bags.



Tuk tuk and Christmas tree, Doi Thong Hotel


We then left Mang Den for our new next stop the little town of of Tu Mo Rong, close to Ngoc Linh National Park, we’d been warned that the hotel there would not be an upgrade, but I assumed it couldn’t be too bad.

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It was be a bit of a drive to get there, but this was another very scenic drive.




Kon Tum Province







Rice paddies






We stopped on the way to buy some fruit.



Dragon fruit




Fruit seller



Landscape, Kon Tum Province




Bare hilltop, Kon Tum




The last tree








Landscape near Tu Mo Rong


After arriving we decided that we had enough time to do some birding, if we could find a bit of native forest further along the road, we would check in to the hotel later.



Tu Mo Rong



Going bald, receding treeline












Forest near Tu Mo Rong, Kon Tum







Indochinese barbet










Landscape near Tu Mo Rong, Kon Tum


It was just getting dark when we got to the hotel, we decided to dump our stuff in the rooms and go straight to the restaurant, this was the other side of the carpark, the food was fine, but I wasn’t impressed with the décor which included a stuffed civet on the counter and a second one on top of a fridge. After dinner I went up to my room to grab my camera and also my passport as Tim needed to complete our check-in, he suggested I chuck my passport down to him, but I said I was coming down anyway, when I gave him my passport, I said I was just off to photograph the wildlife and indicated the civets. He said that he’d been told about a recent article in the New York Times on Vietnam’s empty forests and then apologised to me for the state of his country's wildlife, I told him he’d nothing to apologise for, it was hardly his fault. I felt very sorry for him, that he thought he needed to apologise, I didn’t know quite what to say, I just wished there were more Vietnamese like him, who really cared about their country’s wildlife.


Vietnam’s Empty Forests



The fate of wildlife in Vietnam, stuffed masked palm civet




common palm civet


The hotel was definitely the worst we stayed in and one of the worst l’ve stayed in anywhere, the bed seemed to have no mattress, it was as hard as concrete. The basin in my bathroom was coming away from the wall, it was hanging at an almost 45 degree angle, the water jet leaked, making the floor constantly wet, there was a shower attached to the wall but with no cubicle, so the water just went straight on to the floor. Back in the bedroom, there was just a couple of sheets on the bed and a single blanket. For several hours after going to bed, there was loud music from the karaoke downstairs, I was very relieved when it finally stopped, but it didn’t help me to sleep, I was just too uncomfortable, I don’t think I slept for a minute.







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Day 12


My sleepless night did not end well, when I had to make a very hasty visit to the bathroom, I didn’t eat much pho for breakfast.


Our plan for the morning was to visit Ngoc Linh National Park, this mountain is the highest in this part of Vietnam and his home to a few local endemics, there were two possible sites we could visit, one of these had some newly established bird hides, that was where I’d hoped we would go and one reason I’d thought it was a good idea to come here, rather than stay on in Mang Den. But you need special permission to visit these hides, as they are close to a Vietnamese (PAVN) military base on the mountain, we’d already learned at dinner the previous night, that permission had been refused. We’d spend a bit of time speculating as to why and what the problem might be, whether there was some security issue on the mountain, even some sort of local insurgency that we weren’t aware of, fortunately, whatever the problem was we could still visit the park and go to the other birding site. As we were leaving for Ngoc Linh, we learned the truth as to why the hides were off limits, the army was simply afraid, that being foreigners we might have the coronavirus. I'm not completely certain if our destination is called Ngoc Linh National Park or Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve as I have found both names used on the web and don't know which is correct, but I've gone with national park.


Ngoc Linh National Park


Having taken some Imodium and drunk a good dose of rehydration salts, I felt fine and had no further problems. As we drove up into Ngoc Linh, we grew concerned that as we’d feared, the weather was not going to be good,  it is after all the highest mountain in this part of Vietnam, initially when we stopped it was just a bit foggy, and there was actually some sun,



Road Ngoc Linh National Park, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr


we were lucky to get good views of a major target, before the fog descended and it became almost impossible to see anything.



Black-crowned barwing


Ngoc Linh is the best place to see the near endemic black-crowned barwing, the IUCN Red List website doesn't have a range map, but it does state the following




Actinodura sodangorum is currently known from just seven associated localities in Kontum province in the western highlands of Vietnam, and one locality on the Dakchung Plateau, Xe Kong province in south-east Laos. It is predicted to occur at other locations in the Xe Kong and Attapu provinces of south-east Laos and Quang Nam province in Vietnam. It appears to be locally distributed, but not uncommon within its known range.




Tim disappearing into the fog



Where's our minibus?



Green-tailed sunbird and yellow-browed warbler



Green-tailed sunbird



This ominous sign, is actually just warning people not to light fires, perhaps if you do soldiers from the PAVN will shoot you ;) 


It didn’t take long for us to conclude that it was very cold and that walking through the thick fog and drizzle struggling to see birds was not a pleasant way to spend our morning, we should quit. I was very glad of the bar of chocolate with arabica coffee that I’d bought at La Viet back in Da Lat.



Forest, Ngoc Linh 








Remarkably on the way down once we were largely out of the fog, we spotted a good-sized flock of Austin’s brown hornbills, in the tops of some trees on the ridge high above us, these hornbills are big birds and therefore pretty rare because of hunting, even in protected areas, they were too far away to take a decent photo, but I took a shot of the tree anyway.




Austen's brown hornbills


Our next destination was Bach Ma National Park, the original idea was that we would spend two nights there in the government run national park accommodation, eating in the restaurant there. Ken now decided to scrap our first night there and stay a night in Da Nang instead, after our awful night in Tu Mo Rong, he thought we’d appreciate a nice hotel. He was also a bit concerned about eating ‘government food’, so I suspect his decision might also have had something to do with the thought of being able to go to a good restaurant in Da Nang. No doubt, because of the many Hollywood movies I grew up watching, as mentioned previously, walking in Vietnam’s jungles, it was impossible not to keep thinking about the war and imagining what it would have been like, now much like the US soldiers back then, we were headed to Da Nang for some R&R.


We stopped in a small town for lunch on the way, one of the dishes was a big chunk of tuna, this had a nice fried fish smell, I made the mistake of trying to attack it with a spoon, to my surprise the spoon bent into a right angle, I did my best impression of Uri Geller to straighten it again. The fish was then promptly taken away, I expected they would just chop it up and bring it back, but no, they decided to cook it more, even though that wasn’t the issue, we agreed that the poor tuna had been killed twice, it was so overcooked it was completely dried out.









We then made our obligatory stop at a coffee shop, the wall on the way in was decorated with birdhouses.





Walking around the coffee shop I saw a cage containing a number of doves, a single ring-necked/common pheasant and three Pallas's squirrels, a sad sight but at least the squirrels were alive and not mounted on the wall behind the bar.



Pallas's squirrel









Buddhist temple


Vietnam's highways have plenty of tolls on them













Bikes, Da Nang


I wasn't sure what our hotel the Golden Sea 3 would be like on the inside, but I judged from the exterior that it would be a significant step up






The view from my room was certainly okay, seafront Da Nang





The hotel Golden Sea 3 was certainly a major upgrade after the dive we’d just stayed in, my only complaint about the room was that to keep the hotel lit up at night, there were lights on on the balcony and no switch to turn them off, I think they operated on a timer so did go off eventually, when I go to bed I like it to be properly dark, the curtains did keep the light out well enough. The views out over the Pacific and looking down the beach to Son Tra were great, but the weather wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been a great time for a beach holiday. Along the sea front were plenty of seafood restaurants, we opted for a Japanese sushi restaurant, I wasn’t unfortunately too hungry, I’d survived the day okay, but realised I was definitely ill, why I’ve still no idea as no one else got ill and we all ate the same food throughout.








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Day 13


Da Nang is not very far from Bach Ma National Park, so staying a night in the city hadn’t made a big difference, we would just drive there after breakfast do some low-altitude birding at the bottom, before going into the park and up the mountain. The hotel may have been very comfortable, but I wasn’t impressed with the buffet breakfast, not that I was inclined to eat anything, and I found the coffee undrinkable.



Fishing boats, Da Nang, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr



Han River Da Nang


Bach Ma National Park


We found our first target a masked laughingthrush next to a cemetery.




Cemetery near Bach Ma National Park




I wasn't able to get close enough to the birds for decent photos but I took some anyway.



Masked laughingthrushes



Racket-tailed treepie


Beside the entrance gate into Bach Ma, are models of some of the park's wildlife, including one beautiful and mysterious animal that until now, I didn't know might occur in Bach Ma, but knew I could never hope to see. 



Saola models


The Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) sometimes called the Vu Quang ox, was only discovered by science in 1992, this beautiful forest bovid is entirely endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. It is critically endangered, no one knows how many remain, habitat loss and hunting has reduced its range and distribution markedly. Just how rare this species is, is illustrated by the fact, that it is very seldom seen by local people, whilst other forest ungulates like muntjac species or serow despite being quite rare are still seen reasonably frequently. There are a very few photos of saola, but none have been photographed in recent years, confirming the presence of saola is difficulty because signs of saola are hard to distinguish from signs of other ungulate species. I fear for the future of the saola as many of the forests where it is found are heavily snared by hunters, snares are indiscriminate, so even if they aren’t specifically targeting saola, they will likely catch them, if they are after bushmeat then they would likely be happy to kill a saola. 


Bach Ma is an eastern extension of the Annamite Mountains, the Saola is said to occur in the park, so I presume it must have been recorded here, but being both extremely rare and extremely shy, no visitor is ever likely to see one. No saola exist in captivity, but the establishment of a captive breeding population is considered vital to saving the species, Bach Ma National Park has been chosen as the location for a proposed in-situ captive breeding centre, actually capturing live saola will prove a real challenge and be very risky, the very few saola that have been kept captive in the past all died. With no idea how many saola are left, capturing animals could jeopardise the survival of the species in the wild.  


Saola range map


These models at the entrance gate at Bach Ma National Park are certainly the only saolas I will ever see, while I had no chance of seeing a saola, I might see more red-shanked doucs



Red-shanked douc models



Bach Ma National Park rules


The other side of the sign was in Vietnamese, sadly we weren't convinced that many Vietnamese people would pay too much attention, we however, were keen to abide by the rules and would take care to avoid getting involved in any illegal aquatic activities :lol:, actually I presume this might mean fish or prawn farming, I don't know what the precise boundaries of the park, but I imagine that in some lower lying areas, people might be tempted to grab a bit of land from the park and put in some ponds, I don't know. 




The weather really wasn’t great, but then we expected it wouldn’t be, Bach Ma is a forested mountain that because of its location is always wet, for much of the drive up, we couldn’t see the view, as it was fogged out. We were still able to do some walking and birding along the road; I unfortunately had a bad stomach ache. It was partly because of concern about the weather at Bach Ma, that I had insisted on visiting Son Tra to see the red-shanked doucs there, I feared that if the weather was bad here, we wouldn’t see them, I also assumed that they might be much more habituated at Son Tra and therefore harder to see here even in good weather.




Annam sultan tit




The common sultan tit found from eastern Nepal and far eastern India across most of South East Asia, has a yellow crest, the birds here in this part of Vietnam have a black-crest, they have recently been split into a new species the Annam sultan tit



Fork-tailed sunbird



Looking out at this view, I thought what a shame there isn't a troop of doucs sat in the tree on the right.




Or troops of doucs in these trees




Golden-throated barbet



Bach Ma 


Not long after thinking, what a shame that some of these beautiful trees don't have troops of doucs sitting in them, I was sitting in the bus with the door open, not feeling good, when I suddenly perked up, after hearing some distinct mammalian grunts from the forest and said "monkeys or squirrels?" I suppose the pessimist in me, assumed it could just be squirrels, because I was worried that monkeys might be rarer than squirrels, but on reflection, I don't think that even a giant squirrel would make such grunts. It was clearly monkeys, it wasn’t a good view at all, but we’d found a troop of doucs some distance away. They were quite well hidden, I could really only see their tails and the poor weather didn’t help, but I was delighted to have seen some here.




I took this as a good sign, and hoped we might get lucky and see more, but didn't have very high hopes.


I was quite relieved when we arrived at the park’s restaurant, even though I didn’t wish to eat, we’d been concerned that being government run, the food would not be great, I was a little bit annoyed when some pieces of grilled chicken and a plate of chips arrived along with other dishes. It seems quite a few tourists just come up to the restaurant have lunch and then go back down, we saw quite a lot of Vietnamese people coming up, as they went on up, we rather wondered what they’d come to see, as they clearly weren’t looking for wildlife and we suspected that the view from the top wouldn’t be great, but maybe they hoped to get lucky and have the weather clear briefly. We'd been a bit surprised to find that when we arrived at the restaurant, a slaty-legged crake had flown in to the dining room and was having trouble getting out again, Tim set off in pursuit and followed it downstairs to where the kitchen is (we didn't think that was a good place, for a Vietnamese bird to end up:lol:) fortunately he managed to trap it and carried it back up stairs, after we had a quick look at it, he took it back outside and released it.






Outside after lunch, I spotted a Pallas's squirrel on the restaurant wall


The one thing that’s not great about the restaurant, is that the toilets are all Asian style squat toilets, just a china foot plate with a hole. I sure hoped this wouldn’t be the case at the accommodation, after lunch we drove on, the national park cottage we were staying in was further up the hill, much further than I’d expected. I was relieved to discover that the en-suite in my room had a proper loo, the room was nice enough, the bed was comfortable and had a decent blanket. Bach Ma is not a very high mountain, the peak is only 1,450 metres, but it’s cold, given the climate, you could be forgiven for thinking you were quite high up in the Himalayas. There was actually a fire place in the room, if there had been some firewood, I would have lit a fire, in front of the cottage was a cafe that was closed, and somewhat surprisingly an empty swimming pool, I wasn’t bothered by the lack of water, swimming was the furthest thing from my mind.


I was feeling sufficiently bad, that I decided just to retire to bed for the rest of the day, the weather didn’t improve and not many birds were seen, I didn’t miss much except for a red-cheeked squirrel, I wasn't aware of this at the time, so wasn't too annoyed. On one of my visits to the bathroom my humour didn’t improve much, when while attempting to hang the ‘bum gun’ back up, I accidentally turned it on and sprayed the loo role which I'd placed beside the basin:lol:. I opted to stay in bed and not go down to the restaurant for dinner, in the hope that I might be somewhat better in the morning. 


Day 14



In the morning we walked down to the restaurant birding on the way.



Primates of Bach Ma National Park, report wildlife crime.


As shown on the sign there are gibbons in Bach Ma, there has for a while been some confusion as to exactly which species of crested gibbon occurs In Bach Ma, my now slightly out of date copy of A Field Guide to the Mammals of South East Asia (2008), shows on the distribution maps buff-cheeked (Nomascus gabriellae) occurring in this area, but Bach Ma’s gibbons were generally thought be southern white-cheeked (Nomascus siki) the type specimen of this gibbon was obtained not far from Bach Ma, by Jean Delacour in 1951. A quite recent research paper I read, states that the true identity of the parks gibbons is yet to be determined, this confusion is down to the fact that the taxonomy of crested gibbons is complicated, originally they were all lumped together as one species, but then taxonomists started to split them, eventually six species were identified. Then a few years ago it was decided based on morphology, genetics and acoustics, that there were actually two distinct species within the range of the southern white-cheeked, thus a seventh species was identified the Annam gibbon (Nomascus annamensis) also known as the northern yellow-cheeked or northern buff-cheeked and this is the species that occurs in Bach Ma, the photo on the sign is labelled Nomascus annamensis. I assume that the new second edition of my mammals field guide would include the Annam gibbon.I don’t know how common Annam gibbons are in the park, I’m inclined to assume that they are rare, because we heard none, it was 06:50 when I photographed the sign, the right time for them to be singing, I felt sure from past experience in this region,  that if I were somewhere with such great looking forest in say Thailand or Malaysia, that I would be hearing plenty of gibbons, even if only in the distance. We were too late to hear gibbons the previous morning, when we drove into the park, so one morning in the park is clearly not long enough to judge how common or not gibbons are in Bach Ma. Researchers have studied gibbons in the park, so clearly, they can be found.  Perhaps I was being unduly pessimistic in thinking that gibbons must be rare and probably still being hunted.


A new species of crested gibbon, from the central Annamite mountain range


A Review of the Distribution of a New Gibbon Species: The Northern Yellow-cheeked Crested Gibbon Nomascus annamensis Thinh, Mootnick, Thanh, Nadler and Roos, 2010





Another sign indicating the park rules, no lighting fires, no hunting, no bringing in livestock and no clearing forest.


I can't believe that signs like this can have much effect, as I would think, that the only people really likely to see these signs are tourists, I suppose some Vietnamese tourists might be tempted to light fires, but I wouldn't have thought that it's tourists who are hunting or farming in the park, but if perhaps it encourages people to report these activities, if they are aware of them, that's a good thing. 


On the side of the road is a Buddhist shrine






I was astonished when we were about halfway to the restaurant, to encounter a troop of doucs almost right next to the road. This turned out to be a better view than at Son Tra, the monkeys were much closer and because the trees they were in were growing on a steep hillside, they were pretty much on the same level as us, so we weren’t looking up at them, the weather wasn’t great.










Although not in the same genus, doucs are related to proboscis monkeys, seen from the back they share the same white-knickers and tail







At one point very briefly the sun came out.





Given the park's reputation for bad weather, I couldn’t have hoped for a better view of these monkeys in Bach Ma, I’d never expected to have two good views of red-shanked doucs, I was well pleased. :D


The monkeys eventually moved away and out of sight, so I didn't so I didn't have to tear myself away.


There are a number of posters on the walls at the restaurant concerning wildlife crime, this first one has photos of some of the endangered species in Bach Ma, asking people to report wildlife crime.



Endangered species of Bach  Ma National Park, report wildlife crime


For interest, I've identified the birds and mammals shown as, Edward's pheasant, Annamite striped rabbit, Saola, Great hornbill, stump-tailed macaque, red-shanked douc, Chinese serow, large antlered or giant muntjac, moon or Asiatic black bear, smooth-coated otter, Asian slow loris and binturong, I presume that the snake is a king cobra but I don't know what the tortoise species is. 



Report wildlife crime



The restaraunt



The view from in front of the restaurant.




Indochinese yuhina





After breakfast we drove higher up the mountain towards the summit, there is a trail to the top where there's a viewpoint but we didn't go up as we would have likely seen nothing, we were just looking for a few more birds, in particular hoping we might get lucky and spot a silver pheasant, none appeared, a blue whistling thrush did fly in and perch very close, but I wasn't quick enough to get a shot. 




Ruined cottage


Bach Ma was used as a hill station by the French in colonial times, there were at one time lots of colonial villas on the mountain, I imagine this could be one of them, nearly all of them were destroyed, there was a good deal of fighting between the Viet Minh and the French here and I think more fighting during the American War, although the forest either wasn't too badly damaged or has recovered well, why this cottage beside the road on the way to the summit has not been restored and turned into tourist accommodation I don't know.


We went back down to collect are bags and then set off back down the mountain. 



This was our accommodation, perhaps not quite as nice as it looks, but really not a bad place to stay at all, far better than I'd feared given it's government run. 





After some brief birding on the road as we approached the gate, we left the park

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Re the Saola. I'm also worried that there even seem to be so few camera trapping images from them. In 2015 the Saola working group estimated fewer than 100 Saola to be alive, in fragmented populations (from article in Science in September 2017). They indicated there is no chance of recovery unless animals are caught and brought to safe habitats and an ex situ breeding population is set up. I think that's still the idea, but it hasn't materialize yet.


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We had a long drive north to our next stop Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, still being ill, I wasn’t looking forward to the drive, but fortunately Imodium sorted me out. We stopped in Hue, for lunch opting for an Indian restaurant called Ganesh, our driver Mr Tuan was not impressed, normally he and Tim chose to eat at a separate table, but Ken suggested they join us, so they could share the food, that he would choose for all of us. Ken loves Indian food, he guides a lot in India, so knew his way around the menu, he ordered three or so different curries and lots of naan bread. Tim had eaten Indian a few times so was entirely happy to join in, Mr Tuan wasn’t he wanted to walk out, Tim persuaded him to stay and ordered a plate of steamed rice. We were very amused when the manager, a nice Nepalese man came over, he explained that the trouble with Vietnamese people is that they just won’t try new food, whether it’s Italian or Indian or whatever. Mr Tuan was complaining that he preferred fried rice, when the manager walked over slopped a large spoonful of dhal onto the rice and said “just eat it”, reluctantly Mr Tuan started eating and gave a thumbs up, but I wasn’t convinced. It was all very funny :lol:, I was just annoyed to be still ill :(, as I love good Indian food, it was delicious and if I’d been well, I would've stuffed myself, but I thought that might be unwise. After lunch we stopped off at a branch of Highland Coffee.





Given Vietnamese peoples' evident reluctance to try foreign food, the existence and success of an Indian restaurant, is entirely down to the fact that Hue is a major tourist city, because it was once the imperial capital. We weren’t here for sightseeing and only caught a very brief glimpse of the Imperial Citadel as we drove through. I visited the citadel on my last visit, what’s left of it, that is, there was heavy fighting in Hue during the French Indochina War and then again in the American War, during the Tet Offensive, initially the US military wanted to avoid destroying the historic architecture, but as the battle raged on and casualties mounted, they soon started to abandon any attempt to save Imperial Hue, the resulting damage was horrendous, of 160 buildings that once stood within the old walls, only 10 remained standing. Since it became a World Heritage Site, a great deal of work has been done to try and restore everything, that can be restored, work is ongoing.



Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr








Mid-way through the drive I was very pleased to see a decent sized flock of Asian openbill storks, in Vietnam's otherwise almost entirely birdless countryside.





We didn’t get to Phong Nha Ke Bang town until the evening, there wasn’t time to go birding in the national park. I hadn’t attempted to visit the park the last time I was in Vietnam, I’m not sure I was that aware of it, it certainly wasn’t on the beaten track, it is now, a coach load of young backpackers on a Vietnam tour were checking-in to our hotel at the same time as us. It’s now very clearly part of the backpacker circuit, almost everyone we passed in the town seemed to be a young Westerner.



Phong Nha Ke Bang

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@ForWildlife Thanks for that link, I hadn't come across the Saola Working Group's website before, it is certainly very worrying that conservationists are not obtaining camera trap images of Saola, this suggests that they are very rare in the areas being surveyed, if not already extinct, I've been just been reading a blog written by someone working for WWF in the Annamite Mountains, including in Bach Ma and he has not succeeded in getting any camera trap images of saola, we can only hope that enough do survive to start a captive breeding program. interestingly he also has a post on the Edward's pheasant shown on that poster, and says that this endemic species may already be extinct in the wild, like the saola it is not showing up in camera trap images, but fortunately, unlike the Saola there is a healthy captive population. The issue as with so much of Vietnam's wildlife, is that you may be able to save some species by breeding them in captivity, but you then have to able to return them to the wild and with the level of poaching, especially snaring going on, this isn't really an option. Even those poor grey-shanked doucs get caught in snares, because they are forced to come down to the ground, to try and get from one forest fragment to another, if their habitat was intact, they'd likely never come to the ground.  





It seems from what I read on the SWG website, that intention is to establish a captive breeding population in Vietnam first, so this would presumably be in Bach Ma, and then another captive breeding population in Laos, we can only hope that it's not already too late and that achieving this, is not just wishful thinking. 



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Day 15


Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park



The landscape of the park is made up of forest covered limestone karst mountains, a dramatic and beautiful landscape typical of this part of the world. In the morning we drove into the park and birded along the road through the stunning landscape.



Road Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr







Plaintive cuckoo



Limestone jungle










Limestone jungle



in due course we drove on over to one of the park’s main tourist sites Paradise Cave,



Paradise Cave car park and shops


From the large car park it was a short walk to the gate where you have to buy a ticket.



Regulations for visiting Paradise Cave


I paid particular attention to rule 5, I'm always keen to avoid uncontrolled self-behaviour, when visiting caves.:lol:


For the lazy to get to the start of the actual path uphill to the cave, you can take a buggy, if you’re not lazy or you are a birder, there’s a concrete path alongside the road, it’s a pretty easy walk as it’s flat and not very far. Our aim was to see bird species dependent on this limestone habitat, but it’s not just birds that depend on the limestone forest, I’m always keen to see new bird species and spectacular landscapes, but my real interest in coming to this park was to find another monkey, the Hatinh langur. Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, protects the largest remaining single population of this monkey, the Hatinh langur (Trachypithecus hatinhensis) is endemic to the northern end of the Annamite Mountains in this area of Vietnam and the neighbouring area of central Laos. I wasn’t that hopefully that we would find it, at least not today or not on the way to Paradise Cave, as there were more than a few other tourists, but I wasn’t too bothered as we were going to visit a site specifically for the monkey the following morning.





Karst cliff






Limestone leaf warbler





It’s a bit of a walk uphill to the cave, on a concrete path with steps in places but not too far and not difficult, and there are some toilets halfway up as you may be a long time in the cave,  we birded our way up the path,




The sooty babbler is endemic to this region of Vietnam and Laos




The sooty babblers are reasonably confiding, presumably because they are very used to tourists walking past all the time.


Just short of the cave entrance is a cafe, with great views.




Limestone jungle





We stopped for a cold drink, apparently langurs are sometimes seen here, but there were lots of other tourists and it was pretty noisy, I assumed you’d have to be very lucky to find them here, unless you happened to come on a very quiet day. Since we’d come this far, we thought we might as well go into the cave, I’d visited a lot of caves, when I last travelled around this region, and felt afterwards that I wouldn’t mind if I never went into another one. As we went in, I looked at the huge flight of wooden stairs that descended into the depths of the cavern and wondered if I would really get all the way to the bottom,



A long way down


without stopping to think about the fact that if I did, I’d have to climb all the way back up again. I then did go all the way down and was seriously impressed, the cave is massive (although not as big as the park’s Han Son Doong Cave, the largest in the world, we weren't going there it involves a 3-4 day trek), at the bottom I carried on along the walkway, this seemed to go on forever, I gave up trying to reach the end, this has to be one of the most impressive caves I’ve ever been in.






























It was a bit of a challenge to climb back up the stairs.




This map gives some idea of the length of the cave, the section shown that people visit is roughly 1 km, the full length of the cave is around 31 kms











Back at the bottom of the path, having laughed at the lazy people arriving by buggy, we decided that actually it might not be such a bad idea to take a buggy back to the car park.






Way out


I was very displeased on the way out to spot two shamas in cages right next to the entrance gate, if I’d been there on my own as a young backpacker, I’d have been very tempted to try and let them out, to be free in the park where they should be. In Vietnam you get used to seeing caged birds in shops and restaurants, but this was inside a national park.



Captive, white-rumped shama
















Edge of town


We headed back into town for lunch, I was pleased when we decided to go to another Indian restaurant, however, I was still ill, indeed I was seriously fed-up with being ill, the trip was still amazing everything we were seeing was fantastic,  I just wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have been, so I decided it was time to go for what I call the nuclear option, Ciprofloxacin, only I didn’t have any. These days I no longer travel with a course of Cipro tablets, I believe pretty strongly that with growing concern about antibiotic resistant bugs, you really shouldn’t take antibiotics unless you absolutely have to, and normally on all my travels, I either don’t get ill or not ill enough to want to take Cipro, if I do get a stomach bug, it passes very quickly, taking enough oral rehydration and Imodium stops it being a problem. Also to get hold of Ciprofloxacin tablets you need a prescription, the company I buy malaria tablets from, doesn’t offer them, although I think they used to, and I can’t be bothered to go to my local surgery and have to argue with them as to why I need the tablets. That’s why I like buying malaria tablets online, the online prescription process is easy and I don’t have to waste time driving to and from the surgery, where after telling the nurse where I’m going, which tablets I want and exactly how many I need, I then have to go through a  10-15 minute consultation, that involves her checking her computer and various books, asking me again where I’m going and for how long, going through the different options, and then telling me, I need exactly what I told her I needed, when I first walked in.


Since I brought up malaria, most of Vietnam is considered low to no risk and the rest as low risk, it is arguably a country where it is not essential to take tablets, but having had malaria, I always take tablets if there is any risk, so I’d bought sufficient tablets for the whole trip. However, after I’d been ill for a few days, I decided to stop taking them because I wasn’t sleeping well, I thought on balance that the malaria risk was very low and stopped taking them, because insomnia is known side-effect. At the time this was a bit annoying, because I still had a lot of tablets left, but couldn’t sensibly keep them for a future trip, because I’d got the tablets cheap, as they were about to expire, they were dated best before March. Of course, now like many people I have no idea when my next trip to anywhere might be, so I suppose if I’d bought a newer batch of tablets, they might also have expired before my next travels. Having said that malaria tablets may not be essential for Vietnam, I should say that anyone thinking of visiting Vietnam in the future, should still check the latest medical advice.  


The bug that I had inexplicably picked up, was showing no signs of going away and I really wanted to enjoy my remaining few days, in particular our search for Delacour’s langur, so before lunch Ken and Tim went of to a pharmacy to buy some Ciprofloxacin. When I got home, I actually discovered I still had an expired packet that I hadn’t thrown out, the best before date was 2013, so that’s an indication of how long it's been, since I last carried a course of Cipro. It was a big relief to have something to deal with my bug, I could now enjoy my lunch. 


The butter chicken, lamb rogan josh and other dishes with naan bread was delicious, as was the fresh mango that followed, it was noticeable that Mr Tuan didn’t come in, choosing to eat lunch elsewhere. However, there was a group of young Vietnamese kids on the next table, they clearly had no trouble with foreign food. This restaurant was though clearly catering mostly for backpackers and other tourists. I didn't dislike the food in Vietnam, but it was nice to have something different once in a while, especially when in the case of both Indian restaurants we went to, the food was excellent.







In the afternoon we headed back into the park to look for more birds along a different stretch of road, we picked up a few species but not the woodpecker we were looking for.









Limestone karst rocks


To my absolute amazement we spotted a troop of red-shanked doucs moving through the trees on the hillside above us, it wasn’t anything like as a good view as previous ones, as they were much further away, but I hadn’t even considered that we might see them here. We’d encountered a lot of young backpackers, mostly couples riding motorbikes through the park, I doubt any of them had binoculars, those that passed us on this road, would have had no idea that they had just ridden past a troop of monkeys, and without binoculars would never have got good views. Most people come here for an adventure visiting the caves, even so I’d assume that many tourists, would actually be quite keen to see these doucs, if they knew about them This was now my fourth red-shanked douc sighting and to have seen them in three different parks was pretty astonishing.



Not the monkeys I'd been hoping for, but still fantastic to see.




Over the other side of the road some distance away was a huge karst cliff covered in forest, along the way I’d scanned parts of it for langurs but had no luck,




when we walked back along the road, Tim called out very excitedly, he too had been scanning the karst forest. From his excitement it was clear that he had spotted a monkey, he’d been determined to find one and once we got the scope on it, we confirmed that he had indeed definitely got one. The Hatinh langur or as some prefer to call it the Hatinh lutung, is a smaller almost all black monkey with a crest and narrow white-sideburns. Because they belong to the genus Trachypithecus, whereas most of the Indian langurs are in the genus Semnopithecus, some scientists prefer to use the Indonesian Sundanese name lutung for these leaf monkeys, to distinguish them from true langurs, but I’ve stuck with langur as it’s the name I’m familiar with. We watched the Hatinh langur for a little while, scanning the surrounding trees for more monkeys, they are after all social animals, but surprisingly there were none visible, we assumed there must have been more somewhere, just hidden from view. Soon the monkey departed, it might have only been a very distant view, but I was very glad to have seen it and gave Tim a well-deserved high-five, it was a challenge to spot.



Hatinh langur


Back at the hotel restaurant we were very surprised to be given ostrich, the little bits of meat were very tough, if it was ostrich, they clearly didn’t know how to cook it.


I hoped in the morning to get better views of the Hatinh langur, we would then just have Delacour's langur to find, the last of Vietnam's monkey species, that we could hope to see on this trip.

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Final leg


Day 16


Our eventual destination for the night was Van Long a good long way further north, but we intended to stop at a site to see Hatinh langurs, if that is we could find it, we’d opted not to have breakfast before leaving, instead we would stop for food somewhere on the way. We decided to stop at a coffee shop first, there was a restaurant a few doors up, so to save time Ken suggested Tim go and order some Pho, we were slightly astonished, when they offered to deliver it to the coffee shop.



Limestone karst mountains and rice paddies, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr


One of the major threats to species dependent on limestone forest, is quarrying, here and further north we saw a lot of quarrying, with whole mountains destroyed, the limestone is pulverised to be used for making cement for all the construction projects going on in Vietnam. 



Limestone quarry



I was quite surprised at how many churches there are in North Vietnam, I might have expected there to be more in the South, but I don't think there's much difference.








It took some time to find the monkey site, but we got there eventually



Special use forest for the protection of the Hatinh langur


Google translate and apps that can translate text from photos, really struggle with Vietnamese for some reason, my photo caption is therefore a rough translation of the top part, the rest is pretty much explaining that hunting is forbidden and such like. 


Although it had taken quite a bit of time to get here from Phong Nha Ke Bang, we were actually just outside the park, the other side of the mountains, where we should find the monkeys are inside the park. When we finally found the right place, we were met by a guide who would lead us there, passing a couple of other tourists on the way. To get to the edge of the karst mountain we needed to walk through some farmers' fields, getting through some of the hedges and makeshift fences, was a bit tricky at times. Eventually some monkeys were spotted high up on some rocks enjoying the morning sun, we were led over to a spot where we could see them. It was a much better view than we’d had of the solitary monkey inside the park, although this photo is cropped as the one of that monkey was also, I could really have done with a tripod and a bigger lens, to take a few more close up shots, but this does at least show the monkeys in their habitat. 



Hatinh langurs


I didn’t actually gather what the name of this site is, and it doesn’t give the name on the sign, but I imagine that most Vietnamese companies offering wildlife tours would know where it is, given we weren’t the only tourists here. 


Hatinh langur range map







One the way back to the bus we passed a cemetery, which had a section with clearly Christian graves and then these more Chinese style graves. 



 Man with cow and water buffalo




Forest view on the drive north




Propaganda posters are everywhere in Vietnam




Happy New Year 2020




Or perhaps not so happy


Although remarkably, I've just read that Vietnam are now just ending their lockdown and have had no reported coronavirus deaths, this seems pretty extraordinary, I never thought I was at any risk in Vietnam and now I'm clearly at far more risk in the UK, than I ever was in Vietnam.


Our destination Van Long is close to the town of Ninh Binh, the landscape all around this area is characterised by limestone karst mountains, too often the view was marred by the sight of cement works, these were doubtless consuming plenty of pulverised limestone, quarried from these beautiful landscapes. 



Cement works near Ninh Binh









It was a long drive on up to Van Long, where we would stay just the one night in the Van Long Garden Hotel, our objective here was to visit the Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve in the morning, probably the most successful ecotourism site in Vietnam. It was here that we hoped to see Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) one of Vietnam’s and the world's most endangered monkeys and the one that had inspired this extraordinary adventure.  


Day 17



After breakfast it was just a short drive to the nature reserve, Van Long is one of the most extraordinary places I’ve visited, a large wetland at the base of fantastic karst mountains, creating a magical landscape.



Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve





Local women take you by boat out into the reserve to look for monkeys, there are also plenty of good water birds to be seen, as you are paddled around, we saw both yellow and black bitterns, pheasant-tailed jacanas and various other species.



White-breasted kingfisher















The water is evidently quite shallow, because on our way around we encountered other local women, who make their living wading in the lake panning for shellfish.




Panning for shellfish






















Ken and I were amazed when our boatwoman said monkey! monkey! We frantically scanned the cliff but could see nothing, it was only when we got closer to the cliffs, that we saw a black and white monkey moving across a rock face. How she had spotted it from so far back we had no idea, Delacour’s looks like a much larger version of a Hatinh with a much thicker bushier tail and what looks to me a little like a pair of white Bermuda shorts, albeit rather high wasted shorts. By the time I'd actually spotted it, I only had time to take a very few shots while we were still some distance away. 



Delacour's langur 




Cropped version


The monkey quickly disappeared into some trees, before we could get much closer and was quite well hidden when the other boat arrived, there seemed to be a second monkey there, but we could only see bits of them.











We hoped they might come back out into the open, but they did not, for photography, you hope to see the monkeys in the open on the rocks, but of course, the rocks are not really their actual habitat, the trees are, they are leaf monkeys after all and the trees are where all of their food is, they just use the rocks to cross from one little forest patch to another. You really have to hope that some might stay on the rocks for a while to catch some sun. No doubt in the past, the cliffs afforded protection from natural predators, like leopards, clouded leopards, even perhaps tigers but all of these must be long gone. We spotted two more monkeys higher up in some trees, but they weren’t that easy to see, although I did get a shot of one of them.






Not sure if there are any monkeys in this shot, but there is purple heron just barely visible on the rock in the top right corner









With the first two monkeys showing no sign of coming out again, we decided to move on.


















After a little while, we spotted a whole troop of I think six, in the top of a tree high up on a cliff, not the best view but still great to see. 





And a couple more on some rocks close by.











We went back to see if the first pair of monkeys might be more visible, they weren't, they were even less visible.




Satisfied with our views, even if the monkeys had been a bit hidden or distant, we decided to head back, disturbing a flock of Asian openbill storks, that took off in front of us and were amazed to see one more monkey in a distant tree right out in the open. 



Asian openbill storks





I took a very short bit of video, really for the sake of having a bit of video, but the monkey wasn't doing that much and was quite far away.



Curiously the only other mammal that we saw, was a large billy goat on one of the cliffs it was clearly a domestic goat, but whether it was feral or not I'm not sure, if it wasn't it was quite a long way from any village, he was quite an impressive animal, but not one I wanted to see, if only it had been a Chinese serow that would have been amazing, but although the distribution map for serow shows them in the area close to the reserve, I think I would have fallen out of the boat, if I had actually seen one, they're well protected in Thailand but not so in Vietnam. 


Even if I didn't get the greatest monkey photos. it was fantastic to have succeeded in finding our most important target species, the critically endangered Delacour's langur in the wild :D, I'm not wholly sure, but I think in total we saw 13 monkeys, it is a frightening thought, that we may have seen just over 6% of the entire population of these monkeys. :( There are thought to be only around 200 left in the entire world, a few years ago their situation was thought to be even more perilous, but then in 2016 FFI discovered a previously unknown population of some 40 monkeys. Thanks to the success of the ecotourism project, the monkeys here in Van Long are well protected and no longer hunted, but elsewhere they are still hunted and limestone quarrying also represents a serious threat to their survival, if you take a look at Van Long on Google Earth, you can see the horrendous amount of limestone quarrying, that is going on right on the edge of the reserve. Delacour's langur must be without doubt the rarest mammal, I think I've ever seen in the wild anywhere in the world. 


Delacour's langur range map


Conserving Delacour’s langur in Vietnam


On our way back something slightly strange happened, Ken said he’d heard a splash and that something had fallen off the boat, looking down at his belongings to see what if anything was missing, he couldn’t see anything, but then suddenly noticed that the battery compartment on his camera, was hanging open and empty, somehow it had sprung open and the battery had dropped out into the lake, we stopped and had a poke around in the water, but clearly it was gone forever, very strange, a battery shouldn't just fall out.









Asian openbill stork


















After exiting the boats we went across the road from the reserve for some coffees, and then got back into our bus and returned to the hotel, mid-way I happened to look down at my EOS 70D and was astonished to see that the plate from top of the mode dial was missing, it had somehow fallen off, this hadn’t been the case when I’d been using it in the boat, I can only assume it had dropped off in the coffee shop, why it came off I’ve no idea, I decided it would be a bore to have to turn around and go back to look, especially if I then didn’t find it. It was very annoying but not the end of the world as far as photography was concerned, because I could check the camera’s settings on the back, to see that the dial was on the right setting, so figured I could live with it, since we only had the afternoon and the following morning left, and I also had my other camera, so if for some reason it did become a problem, I could always put my 100-400 on my 50D and use that for the last few birds. 



A bad day for cameras


After looking into the issue of the missing mode dial plate on my 70D, it seemed likely that Canon would charge me an arm and a leg, to replace the plate, even though it should be extremely cheap, after all it’s just a metal ring with some symbols printed on it. Also given current circumstances with coronaviras, I didn’t want to have to take my camera to the post office to send it off for repair. I know from experience having sent cameras or lenses for repair in the past, that repair shops usually ask you to send it to them, before they will give you any sort of quote, then because you’ve paid quite a lot for postage, you feel you have tell them to fix it, you do want to have to send it somewhere else in the hope of getting a better quote. I’ve opted instead just to buy a replacement plate through Ebay, which will come from Hong Kong and likely arrive sometime in the next month. It doesn’t come with instructions as to how to attach it, so I need to figure that out, it looks a bit of superglue and some tweezers may be the answer, it’s only costing me £6.04 with no postage, so I reckoned it had to be a better answer than sending it to a repair shop. I ordered the plate a few weeks ago but it hasn't arrived yet.   



Rice paddies and graves


After lunch back at the hotel, our next and final stop was Cuc Phoung National Park, close to Van Long and not far south of Hanoi.



Van Long Garden hotel




The rooms were fairly basic but entirely comfortable and the food was very good, originally the idea had been to stay in Cuc Phuong National Park and visit from their, but staying here made much more sense, as it is so close to the nature reserve and I would think much nicer than any of the hotels in Ninh Binh, where you could also stay to visit Van Long.



Landscape Van Long 


A boat is always a great way to see wildlife, especially a boat that doesn't have a noisy engine on the back, what makes boating at Van Long so special, is travelling peacefully past those extraordinary karst mountains, add to that the opportunity to see one of the world's rarest mammals and you have, what I have to say is one of the world's great wildlife experiences. If I'd been a bit more switched on at the time, I could have tried to do this trip on my last visit to Vietnam. 



Edited by inyathi
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Great that you found your main target, especially given how rare they are. 


I had the same thing happen for my mode dial plate on my 6D a few years ago. I took it into a local camera repair shop, and as you say they wanted a lot of money to fix it, so I Akari went the ebay route. A couple of dabs of super glue and it hasn't come off again. It must be a Canon issue. 

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Great you got so many monkeys. That lake looks really beautiful, impressive scenery.

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@Zubbie15 Thanks.


Interesting, it would seem to be a Canon problem, but not one I was aware of until it happened to me, having said that I’d not received the new plate, predictably it arrived in the post today, they have supplied a ring of double-sided tape, but from what I’ve read I’m not convinced by that, I suspect it wouldn’t last that long, I think I will follow your example and use superglue, but I’ll have another look at a few YouTube videos first, just to be sure I know what I’m doing, I don’t want to glue it on the wrong way around or get any glue where I shouldn’t.


@michael-ibk Van Long is a very special place, I've seen plenty of stunning landscapes around the world, but not many places that look almost more like the set of some fantasy film than a real place, definitely one of the absolute must see places in Vietnam for any nature lover.


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The landscape of Van Long looks utterly amazing.  So serene.  And to think it could have been bombed to pieces...



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@Safaridude Yes quite, but I think it's just far enough away from Hanoi, that the USAF shouldn't have been dropped too many bombs there, even by accident, but the Vietnamese are making up for that with all the quarrying that's going on, one just has to hope that they are only blowing up the smallest mountains, even if that is still despoiling the landscape.


Cuc Phuong National Park



Entramce Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam by inyathi, on Flickr


This is the one national park that I had visited before. On that occasion I’d stayed at a hotel in Ninh Binh and booked a day tour, to persuade my travelling companion to come on this adventure, I made a compromise and set of much later than I would have liked. As there were just two of us, we were taken to Cuc Phoung in an old Russian Lada, every time we stopped, we had to push the car to get it going again. The tour involved a jungle trek, by the time we started our walk it was really too late in the morning, I did not see a single bird or other animal the entire time. I recall the guide pointing out a tree with a root that was supposed to look like an elephant, and thinking that was probably the only living thing resembling an elephant seen in these parts for a long time. We saw some magnificent trees, got very hot and sweaty, had some fun, but it was a waste of time from a wildlife point of view. If I’d been on my own or with another birder or wildlife person, I would have aimed if possible, to do the trek hours earlier, then perhaps I might have seen a couple of birds, or at least heard some. The tour also included a visit to the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, this was a major reason I chose to visit Cuc Phoung, along with the fact that the park was easier to get to than some of the other parks.



1000yr old terminalia tree 






Back in 1993 a German conservationist Tilo Nadler arrived in Cuc Phoung, to begin a project to train the national park rangers with funding from Frankfurt Zoological Society, he soon found himself presented with two subadult Delacour’s langurs, this species is the symbol of the park. Knowing that these monkeys are critically endangered, he knew he had to save them, in the course of raising the two langurs, he realised that all of Vietnam’s primates are in trouble, that there were other orphans in need of rescue and that what was needed was a dedicated facility, to look after rescued monkeys and gibbons and try to rehabilitate them, in the hope of returning them to the wild, while at the same time establishing captive breeding populations as an insurance against their possible extinction in the wild. The EPRC was the first wildlife rehabilitation centre in the country, I was very keen to visit, because at the time, I knew this would be my only opportunity to see some of Vietnam’s monkeys and gibbons, species that at that time I couldn’t hope to see in the wild or didn't know it was possible to see in the wild and I wouldn't likely see in captivity anywhere else, the EPRC has the only captive populations of some of Vietnam’s primate species. I saw a number of doucs, Delacour’s langurs and Vietnam’s most endangered langur, the golden-headed or Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus) this species (formerly considered a subspecies of the white-headed langur found in China) is endemic to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay, the population has been reduced to double figures perhaps 60, it may now be the world’s rarest monkey. I actually visited Cat Ba Island, I stayed in Cat Ba Town, but I wasn’t able to go and search for the monkeys, I’m not sure how easy they are to see, they’re best seen from a boat. The rocks of their karst habitat are razor sharp, trying to reach the parts of the island where they still live by land, is I think almost impossible, you need to sail around the island and try to spot them from the sea. I don’t think this option was on offer, when I visited. At the time I thought that once I was on Cat Ba Island, I might be able to find some way to get to look for the monkeys, but I didn't, perhaps I just wasn't there for long enough, I did visit the hopeful sounding Monkey Island, but this is just a beach destination, the only monkeys there are long-tailed macaques.  



Golden-headed or Cat Ba langurs


The EPRC has I believe the only golden-headed langurs in captivity, they should provide some insurance if the monkeys continue to decline, they may be the world's rarest monkey, but not the rarest primate, that sad title belongs to the Hainan gibbon, endemic to the Chinese island of Hainan shown on my map in post 65, there are now only around 15-20 of this crested gibbon species left.  



View of Cat Ba Island 


We sadly didn’t have time to include Cat Ba this time, as I would have been keen to try for the Golden-headed langur.


The EPRC also has a good breeding population of Hatinh langurs, some of their primates are kept in what they call semi-wild enclosures, I had my best view of a Hatinh langur at the EPRC it just wasn't a wild one



Captive Hatinh langur


As mentioned earlier, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park has the largest single population of Hatinh langurs, when I saw this captive langur, I don't think they had got as far trying to reintroduce these monkeys to the wild, but in 2015 a reintroduction was attempted, five captive bred langurs from the EPRC were released into the wild, in the hopes of creating a second good-sized population, unfortunately the langurs became involved in a serious confrontation with an aggressive troop of rhesus macaques, a totally unexpected event, three females died, one disappeared and the one male was recaptured and taken back to the EPRC, it's thought, that these captive bred langurs simply had no experience of dealing with macaques. A second release was attempted at a different release site in the same reserve, I hope further reintroductions will prove successful and that this will lead to the establishment of a second viable population.


Unexpected incidents during reintroduction of Hatinh langurs (Trachypithecus hatinhensis)



One of the reasons why langurs/lutungs are not very common in zoos, is that they’re really not easy to keep in captivity, they are known as leaf monkeys for good reason, over 50% of their diet is made up of leaves, to digest the cellulose, they have multi-chambered stomachs much like ruminants. They also eat flowers and a certain amount of unripe fruit, if they eat too much ripe fruit, this will cause a condition called bloat which is usually fatal. This is one of the big problems for these monkeys, hunters will kill a female, take the baby either to keep or sell as a pet, and then not knowing how to look after the young monkey, will just feed it fruit, because it’s cheap and easy to get lots of fruit, it will then quickly sicken and die. This is makes it vital to try and find young orphaned langurs and rescue them before they die. while the EPRC does a great job rescuing primates, they still haven’t as far as I can see, managed to stop poaching in the park, as mentioned Delacour’s langur is the symbol of the park, but I fear it may already be extinct in Cuc Phuong, I was told that there are still a few, but I’m very sceptical about this.


Endangered Primate Rescue Centre



I didn’t revisit the EPRC, after all by this point, I’d seen all the doucs, plus the Hatinh and Delacour’s and buff-cheeked gibbons in the wild, something I never expected I’d do, when I saw them years before in cages at the EPRC. My main aim at Cuc Phoung this time was simply to see some birds, having seen none the last time. Just recently a couple of bird hides have been set up in the park, they haven’t been in operation for as long as those in the South, there have been hides down south for some years now, in the North there are just a few and they’re very new. This time I would be staying in the park accommodation, albeit for only one night, this would be a big advantage, after checking in we drove to a restaurant out in the middle of the park, not for more food, but because the hides are close by. 




Next to the restaurant were some sign boards with posters about the national park





The sign says, "Cuc Phuong, is amazing! It is difficult to see animals in the dense forest, but many of these species and thousands more could be living in the forest all around you right now. Stay very quiet as you walk in the forest, listen out for animal calls and look around you for claw marks, footprints or the remains of a predator’s meal. Cuc Phuong is an evergreen limestone forest and many species have adapted to life on the limestone you see all around you. Despite hunting and forest exploitation there are still over 336 species of bird. 76 species of reptile, 46 species of amphibians, 133 species of mammal and 66 species of fish."


I was very sceptical of the advice on this poster, no matter how quiet you are, I suspect you would be very lucky to hear anything other than a few bird calls and perhaps squirrels, I doubt you'd hear other animals and I fear you'd be very unlikely to see claw marks, obviously there are no tigers or leopards in Cuc Phuong, they must be long gone, I rather wonder just how many clouded leopards survive and whether the photo on the poster was taken in the park and if so when and likewise if the bear bottom left was photographed in the park. A major reason for my scepticism was the next poster, which shows fairly clearly why you're not likely to see much in Cuc Phuong.



Threatened wildlife


This poster says


"Human actions are threatening the survival of many animals that live in Cuc Phuong National Park, if nothing is done to stop these threats, several species face extinction.
Illegal hunting of wildlife is widespread in Vietnam’s forests and protected areas.


Hunted wildlife is sold in towns and cities and also exported internationally. Wildlife is traded for a range of reasons including meat, traditional medicine, decoration, souvenirs and pets.

Wildlife is mainly used by wealthy people living in towns and cities. It is rich people who eat and display wildlife trophies as decorations to demonstrate their status.


Scientists have shown that many wildlife products have no medicinal value and some may even harm consumers.


Illegal and unsustainable forest exploitation remains a major problem in Vietnam.


The illegal timber trade and collection of medicinal plants, endangered orchids and trees for firewood present major threats to the forest in Cuc Phuong.

Damage by visitors


Cuc Phuong is a fantastic place to relax and learn about the forest and its wildlife, but tourism has a price. Some visitors damage the forest through graffiti, littering, removing animals and plants and starting fires.


It is illegal to damage Cuc Phuong’s flora or disturb its wildlife." 


However, on a less depressing note, you can at least see some birds in the park, we walked to the nearest hide spent a bit of time there, then walked to the second one which was much further away, this involved going up a good deal of concrete steps and then down a trail into the forest. Neither hide was that great, they’re just not as well set up as the ones in the South and don’t have water pools. We did though see the blue-rumped pitta again, these birds here are a different subspecies, to the ones we saw at the start of the trip in Cat Tien.




Fantastic to see white-rumped shama in the wild and not in a bird cage for a change







This gorgeous Fujian niltava was a great new bird






Snowy-browed flycatcher





Rufous-tailed robin





For most Vietnamese tourists, at least for the younger ones, their main activity was finding some suitable national park sign to take selfies in front of, it became something of a running joke between Ken and myself as to whether or not we should jump out of the bus and take some selfies, whenever we spotted a sign saying 1000 year old tree or whatever..



Checking selfies


I like to photograph signs now and again, just not with my ugly mug in the shot



This I've no doubt would have been the trek I did when I last visited Cuc Phong




Leave nothing but footprints





Blue-rumped pitta








Back at the HQ we after dark we managed to find a brown boobook owl.


The dining room was huge, like some great hall filled with tables, but there were only about four other people there, the food really wasn’t that great but okay. The rooms were big with a comfortable bed, the bed just had a folded duvet cover on it, but there was a duvet in the cupboard, it wasn’t too cold at Cuc Phoung, but cold enough to get the duvet out. It’s perfectly good place to stay.



Dining room

Day 18


On this last morning our plan was to get up really early and drive into the park, the idea was to drive very slowly to spot any thrushes that might be on the road, Mr Tuan didn’t speak English, so Ken had to rely on Tim to pass on instructions, regrettably they fell out. Tim evidently told him to drive more slowly once too often, Mr Tuan snapped and came out with a great long stream of Vietnamese along the lines of get off my back. Thankfully, it was the end of the trip. We drove back to the restaurant, to have breakfast of pho, we weren’t keen on the coffee though. It was then back to the nearest hide, our aim was to be there early enough to try and see the Tonkin partridge, if we could call it in. We sat waiting for a long time, not many birds came in, but a northern tree shrew arrived, it perhaps kept some of the birds away. The partridge did eventually come, but was very shy, I only caught glimpses of it.







Northern tree shrew






White-tailed blue robin female


Once we were satisfied that no more birds would appear, we headed off to The Cave of Prehistoric Man, we weren’t interested in the cave just part of the trail, where there are suitable limestone rocks, where another karst bird the limestone wren babbler lives.



Limestone jungle




Limestone wren babbler








At the side of the road was a little food stall, they were cooking sweet potatoes and whole eggs on a little barbecue, we bought some, the eggs were very good, but a little hot. After a little more birding on the road, it was back to the HQ for lunch, after packing our bags and some last birding near the HQ, we left for Hanoi, very slightly later than intended, it was a bit of a drive to the city and took a while to get to the airport, we arrived in time but had a bit less time than we would have ideally liked. From Hanoi it was back to Bangkok and then onto London and home.



Landscape near Cuc Phuong National Park




Fixing the tracks, Hanoi



Red River, Hanoi



Church, Hanoi




Pagoda, Hanoi











This had been an amazing trip, had I not been ill for goof bit of the latter part of the trip, I would have been sorry to have been going home, as there was certainly more of North Vietnam to be explored, that pretty much wraps up my report, but I will likely add another couple of posts just to finish things off. 



Edited by inyathi
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@inyathi trust me that is not unique to canon.  The glue under modes plate for my Nikon D750 just melted in 45 degrees of heat in India ! 

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Van Long looks really beautiful, and the boat ride a great experience.

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@Chakra interesting to hear that, in my case it certainly wasn't excessive heat, if that were the likely cause I might have expected it to come off in Chad or somewhere rather than Vietnam, whatever the cause I'm just glad it happened almost at the very end and not at the beginning. 



Just for you @Atravelynn I had to include a post on sockets. :D


Some time ago I read that Vietnam uses Type G sockets like we have in the UK, for a 3-pin plug and had remembered this because, I thought it was a bit surprising, not that many countries use the same sockets as us, and when I knew I was going to Vietnam I thought that's handy, if I don't need an adapter, I was then slightly surprised, to see in the information provided by Tropical Birding, that they also use 2 types of 2-pin socket. A few years ago I was given a universal travel adapter made by Intelligent Pelican, it works in 150 countries and helpfully in its instructions under each of the four different plug types that it contains, it lists the countries that use that type of socket, so I looked at this and sure enough Vietnam is listed 3 times, for our Type G plug and for a US 2-pin and a European 2-pin. So I then thought, it would obviously be sensible to bring the adapter and since in addition to lots of UK power cords, I have some round 2-pin European power cords for my battery chargers, that came with various cameras, because at least in the UK, they often supply two different power cords, I should bring one of those. Then if need be, I could charge two batteries at once, if I found Type G sockets, I could use the adapter to plug in the 2-pin cord and if I found 2-pin sockets, obviously I could then use it to plug in the Type-G cord. In fact, I did not as far as I can recall, see a single Type-G socket in any of the hotels we stayed in anywhere, despite all the information I've seen saying that Vietnam uses them, so I used the 2-pin cord. The intelligent Pelican adapter, also has, 2 USB sockets on it, so I left the plug for my iPad at home and just brought the USB cable and plugged it into the adapter, to charge my iPad or phone. It also has a short USB cable with a bundle of little plugs on it for different gadgets one of which fits a Kindle, which I now us for reading, so I could charge it from the adapter as well, if need be.


This was the most common socket type I found.





Just for illustration I took this next shot, to show how I could charge 2 camera batteries and my iPad at the same time if need be, I have plenty of spare batteries for my cameras anyway and electricity wasn’t an issue anywhere, power seems pretty reliable in Vietnam, so I didn’t actually ever need to charge 2 batteries at once.




I do also have a power bank also made by Intelligent Pelican that came with the adapter, but I left this at home, as I didn't need it, but it can be quite a useful thing to have, if perhaps you need to charge your phone when you're on the road.   

Edited by inyathi
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So much useful information that I will have to reread the whole trip report a couple of times, @inyathi. But all of your trip reports are an educational trip through the history and nature of a specific country.


Paradise Cave is one seriously good looking cave, and I am comparing it to one of the world's best :). It is also interesting to see how different karst can be in Viet Nam in comparison to Slovenia (which gives the name to it - Kras / Karst).


Who need a top dial plate anyway?! You put it on M and leave it there :D.

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8 hours ago, xelas said:

Paradise Cave is one seriously good looking cave, and I am comparing it to one of the world's best :). It is also interesting to see how different karst can be in Viet Nam in comparison to Slovenia (which gives the name to it - Kras / Karst).


I didn’t know that.


It seems that in the tropics, where there are deep soils, thick vegetation and very high rainfall, there are much higher levels of carbon dioxide in the soil, when this dissolves in rain water it produces carbonic acid and this then erodes the limestone, creating the dramatic rock formations, or that’s my understanding, after reading a bit about it.

Karst in other lands: tropical regions


The karst landscapes are even more dramatic in southern China, besides similar karst mountains they have what they call shilin or stone forest, which I think is also known as pinnacle karst, I haven’t been there, nor for that matter to Madagascar. it has some truly extraordinary karst landscapes, where the rock has been eroded into knife blade like formations known as Tsingy. I’ve not explored the UK as much I should have, because in the North of England we do have some karst landscapes, in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales there are significant areas of what’s called limestone pavement, the formations are nothing like as dramatic as some the karst landscapes in the tropics, but still beautiful and interesting.   


I don't recall the name of your cave, but I believe coincidentally, that I received an old fashioned postcard of it quite recently, as my brother visited your beautiful country some time last year. 


I will hopefully add, what I think will be a final post quite shortly.   

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In the course of writing about the birds that I saw on this trip, on the website Vietnam Birding, I came across an interesting page about ornithological discovery in Vietnam, with some information on Jean Delacour, if I'd come across this earlier I would have put it in my introduction.


A brief history of ormithological discovery discovery in Vietnam



1920-1939: The golden age



A collection of birds from northern Tonkin was made for the British Museum between 1923 and 1924 by a Mr H. Stevens shortly before the arrival in French Indochina of Jean Delacour, a name that will be forever linked to the history of ornithological discovery in Vietnam. Jean Delacour, a wealthy young aviculturist and ornithologist, funded and led a total of seven expeditions to French Indochina between 1923 and 1939 resulting in the discovery of over 140 new bird species, 230 species new to Indochina and a collection in excess of 30,000 specimens.


Delacour’s companions on his various Indochinese expeditions were Pierre Jabouille, a French civil service administrator stationed in Hue, Willoughby P. Lowe, an experienced collector for the British Museum, and the American ornithologist James C. Greenway.


During this time Delacour also worked closely with two ornithologists employed by the French Colonial Service in Indochina, Pierre Engelbach and Andre David-Beaulieu. Jean Delacour was a prolific writer on Indochina’s birds and published dozens of articles and reports culminating in 1931 with one of the classic bird books of the 20th century, the beautifully illustrated four volume “Les Oiseaux de l’Indochine Francaise” written in collaboration with Pierre Jabouille.



As an indication of just how biodiverse Vietnam is, according to the book Birds of Vietnam it has 916 bird species, India a country that is almost ten times the size, has 1,342 (according to Wikipedia), so that’s just 426 more, despite the massive size difference. And as it says on the back of the book, Vietnam boasts 19 endemic species and subspecies groups, and another 27 near endemic species, the largest number of any country in mainland South East Asia. Of the near endemic species most of those would only be shared with Laos, there may be some that also occur in Cambodia or perhaps China, but the country’s longest border is with Laos. I have only just briefly looked into it, but Laos is really not a country you’d want to try and go birding in, unlike Vietnam where birds end up in cages, in Laos they don’t do that, they just eat them along with everything else, wildlife in Laos is just meat as far as the majority of people are concerned. The one trip report I’ve looked at, written by someone mad enough to try birding around Laos, starts off with a whole list of all the dead or soon to be dead birds and mammals, they saw destined to be cooked and eaten. On top of that getting to the country’s protected areas, where you might still find birds, is much more difficult than in Vietnam, and you have to very careful exploring the wilder more remote parts of Laos, despite the number of years that have now passed, the country still has a massive problem with UXO unexploded ordinance.


Laos is the most bombed country in the world, the USAF dropped more bombs on Laos 2 million tons, than they dropped during the whole of World War Two. In 1959 a civil war had started in Laos between the Royal Lao Government and the communist Pathet Lao guerrillas, the US conducted a secret war in support of the Royal Lao Government, in an attempt to hold back the Pathet Lao, an international treaty prevented them from openly sending troops into the country, so they recruited an army largely made up of people from the Hmong ethnic minority to fight the communists and then provided air support. As well as not wishing Laos to fall to the communist, the Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through the country, which they were determined to disrupt, so it was often bombed. Also when flying bombers, it’s never a great idea to land with bombs still on board, if you have a dodgy landing, a couple of bombs could seriously ruin your day, during the Vietnam War most USAF bombing raids against targets in North Vietnam, were conducted from air bases in Thailand, to get home they had to fly over Laos, if they hadn’t dropped their full load on Haiphong or wherever their target was, they would simply drop the spare bombs on Laos, to ensure they could land safely, back in Thailand. The result of all of this, is that Laos is still littered with tons of UXO, one might hope that this could have a positive benefit for wildlife, keeping people out of areas that are still consider dangerous, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the Laotians emptying their forests with snares.  


This really means that to see the Indochinese endemic birds, you’ve got to go to Vietnam, especially the Annamite species, those species that occur in the Annamite Mountains that straddle the border and extend just into the very far northeast of Cambodia, so the Annamite endemics are mainly confined to Vietnam and Laos.


Our score for birds seen on this trip, was I think 332, that’s over a third of Vietnam’s birds and I would think a pretty good score for the trip, particularly if you discount most of the waders and sea birds, terns, gulls and the like, as they’re not common nor likely to be seen on a trip like this, barring a couple of waders we saw in Cat Tien. I’m certainly impressed by how many species we saw, given that on my earlier visit, I barely saw a dozen species, and this trip scored me four pitta species, three of them new species putting my total for pittas up to nine, and two of them the bar-bellied and blue-rumped are near endemics, I have to say though in case any other birders have pitta envy, that nine species is not that many, there maybe forty-two species in total. Even so, four pitta species on one trip is pretty amazing. I decided rather than add the full bird list, that I would just list the endemics and near endemics.




Scaly-breasted (Tonkin) Partridge (Arborophila chloropus tonkinensis)

Long-tailed (Annam) Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus annamensis)

Dalat Shrike-Babbler (Pteruthius annamensis)

Green-backed (Langbian) Tit (Parus monticolus legendrei)

Black-crowned Fulvetta (Schoeniparus klossi)

(Annam) Streaked Wren-Babbler (Turdinus brevicaudatus rufiventer)

Orange-breasted Laughingthrush (Garrulax annamensis)

Collared Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron yersini)

Black-headed (White-spectacled) Sibia (Heterophasia desgodinsi robinsoni)

Grey-crowned Crocias (Crocias langbianis)

Black-throated (Langbian) Sunbird (Aethopyga saturata johnsi)

Vietnamese Greenfinch (Chloris monguilloti)


Near endemics


Germain's Peacock-Pheasant (Polyplectron germaini)

Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon (Treron seimundi)

Red-vented Barbet (Psilopogon lagrandieri)

Necklaced Barbet (Psilopogon auricularis)

Indochinese (Annam) Barbet (Psilopogon annamensis)

Red-collared Woodpecker (Picus rabieri)

Blue-rumped Pitta (Hydrornis soror)

Bar-bellied Pitta (Hydrornis elliotii)

(Annam) Sultan Tit (Melanochlora sultanea gayeti)

Ashy (Brown-backed) Bulbul (Hemixos flavala remotus)

Limestone Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus calciatilis)

Black-throated (Grey-crowned) Tit (Aegithalos concinnus annamensis)

Black-headed Parrotbill (Psittiparus margaritae)

Grey-faced Tit-Babbler (Mixornis kelleyi)

Sooty Babbler (Stachyris herberti)

Short-tailed (Indochinese) Scimitar-Babbler (Napothera danjoui)

(Tonkin) Streaked Wren-Babbler (Turdinus brevicaudatus stevensi)

Vietnamese Cutia (Cutia legalleni)

Black-hooded Laughingthrush (Garrulax milleti)

White-cheeked Laughingthrush (Ianthocincla vassali)

Black-headed (Brownish-backed) Sibia (Heterophasia desgodinsi engelbacki)

Blue-winged (Plain) Minla (Actinodura cyanouroptera orientalis)

Yellow-billed Nuthatch (Sitta solangiae)

Lesser (Langbian) Shortwing (Brachypteryx leucophris langbianensis)

Mrs. Gould's (Annam) Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae annamensis)


I copied the scientific names for these birds from the checklist that Ken created for the trip, all of those that have trinomials, indicating that they are subspecies, are now treated as full species in the book, Birds of Vietnam, so in the book they would have binomial scientific names, and the new English common name that's shown in brackets, but I’ve kept the scientific names as trinomials, because they are still known to many by those names, so you will find them described as subspecies on various websites with those trinomials and with either the old species name or the new one. 


That’s a score of 12 endemics and 25 near endemics, so that only leaves 7 endemics and 2 near endemics and in total I think I scored 88 lifers, had I only been to India and not birded previously in Thailand and Malaysia it would have been a fair few more.


As mentioned in the report, the introduction of bird hides has completely revolutionised birding in Vietnam, the hides have made it possible to see species that in the past were very difficult, I’ve just read a Tropical Birding report from 2013 that says the following



Mount Lang Bian, we thought would provide the toughest challenge in the area, both physically, in terms of climbing the mountain, and mentally, in terms of trying to see the notoriously elusive collared laughingthrush. This species which like the grey-crowned crocias and Vietnamese cutia, completely restricted to the Da Lat Plateau EBA, required us to take a jeep ride to the trailhead, then hike up to the edge of the mixed evergreen forest from there, where the bird has typically been found. On passing through the pine-dominated lower slopes and reaching this key site, we immediately heard a pair of these Technicolour laughingthrushes calling at close range and so we quickly moved into position, where at the first attempt, the birds gave remarkable views, when the pair hopped into a low open shrub in the understorey, allowing both good and prolonged looks, Most unexpected indeed. 


In our case we really only had to walk a few hundred yards from the bus up through the jungle to a hide sit down and wait and as shown, had stunning views of the gorgeous collared laughingthrush. At the moment there many more hides in the south of Vietnam, I think the hides in Cuc Phuong may be some of the only hides in the north, but I’m sure that in future there will more hides appearing at various locations including in the north. After my first near birdless visit to Vietnam, I never imagined that I would one day be recommending the country as a birding destination, I would have suggested Thailand or Malaysia if you want to bird in South East Asia and perhaps Cambodia, but not Vietnam or at least that you should go to those other countries first. Now after this trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Vietnam for a birding trip especially the south, and particularly anyone who takes their bird photography, much more seriously than I do and has the right kit, you can imagine from my hide photos what great shots you’d get ,of some rare and very special species. The North also has plenty going for it, but the birding is more difficult, the birds are very shy, but if more hides are put in besides the ones in Cuc Phuong, birding in the North may get easier, it may then be possible to see various species that you might otherwise need to visit China to see.   




The major attraction besides all those birds was of course the primates, just as Vietnam is really the only place to see the endemic and near endemic birds, it is also really the only place to see most of the primate species that we saw, the two exceptions being the near endemic black-shanked douc and buff-cheeked gibbon, both of which can be seen in Eastern Cambodia in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, the other near endemics red-shanked douc and Hatinh langur you will only likely see in Vietnam, finding them in Laos would be extremely difficult I imagine, then of course the endemic grey-shanked douc and Delacour’s langur are obviously only found in Vietnam. There is in fact one monkey species the Lao langur which is endemic to Laos, but I don’t know if it’s possible to see it, should one visit Laos.


To have had good enough, to excellent views of all of these monkeys and the (southern) buff-cheeked gibbons was pretty amazing. We only missed out on the Annamese silvered langur, this species which is a quite recent split, is a near endemic found in the south of Vietnam, in eastern Cambodia and the very far south of Laos. It was really just bad luck that we didn’t see any in Cat Tien, having said that, I suspect from what I’ve read that there may be better sites to look for it. Otherwise with exception of lorises, we really saw all of the primates we could really hope to see, on the trip.


What has happened to mammals in Vietnam is very sad, the country has either already lost or nearly lost all of the large charismatic species, you can as I said back at the beginning still see gaur in Cat Tien, but I don’t think anywhere else, likewise the two common deer species in Cat Tien, Sambar and northern red muntjac, you won’t I think see these species elsewhere. There are still a few wild elephants in Vietnam’s largest national park Yok Don, but from what I’ve read, it seems that you are really only likely to see domesticated elephants there. Other large herbivores that should be there, like gaur, banteng, Eld’s deer are if they survive at all, extremely rare and unlikely to be seen.  Vietnam certainly according to the Mammals of South East Asia has lots of interesting small carnivores, like small and large-toothed ferret badgers, hog badgers, yellow-throated martens and various civets and small cats, but Cat Tien is really the only place where you have any chance of seeing any of them. Across Vietnam as whole, I tend to think that these small carnivores are unlikely to be common anywhere, except for some remote and inaccessible places, simply because of the amount of snaring that goes on. Cat Tien is without doubt the best place to see mammals in Vietnam, but of course, not all species occur there, one beautiful species not found there is Owston’s civet, a species that I sadly think would be very difficult to see in the wild, apparently they still seem to be reasonably common in Ngoc Linh National Park, but I think in most other parks have been hard hit by snaring, and they are nocturnal, which would make them hard to see even in the few places where they might be common. There are some in captivity, but I’m not sure if there are enough for the population to be genetically viable in the long term, Vietnam really needs to try and get on top of the snaring issue, before too much more of its wildlife vanishes. Here’s a video of captive Owston’ s civets that I found, to show what they look like.



Since my mammals list is relatively short, I’ve included the complete list


Northern Treeshrew (Tupaia belangeri)

Northern Slender-tailed Treeshrew (Dendrogale murina)

Lesser short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus brachyotis)

Hatinh Langur (Trachypithecus hatinhensisnear endemic

Delacour's Langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) endemic

Red-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix nemaeusnear endemic

Grey-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix cinereaendemic

Black-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix nigripesnear endemic

Northern pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina)

Southern buff-cheeked Gibbon (Nomascus gabriellaenear endemic

Masked Palm Civet (Paguma larvata)

Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica)

Small Asian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus)

Eurasian Wild Pig/boar (Sus scrofa)

Northern red Muntjac (Muntiacus vaginalis)

Sambar (Cervus unicolor)

Black Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor)

Pallas' Squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus)

Variable Squirrel (Callosciurus finlaysonii)

Cambodian Striped Squirrel (Tamiops rodolphei)

Indochinese Ground Squirrel (Menetes berdmorei)


Three species I didn’t see but Ken recorded were


Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta)

Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

Red-cheeked Squirrel (Dremomys rufigenis)


That's a personal score of 21 mammal species and 13 of them including 6 primates were lifers, which I think is pretty amazing, considering the conservation situation for wild mammals in Vietnam and the fact that this was not my first visit to South East Asia.  


Besides the species that I saw, there are more monkeys to look for in Vietnam.


I said in my introduction that Vietnam has 25 primate species, but since I wrote that, I’ve been trying to determine the identity of all of these species, this is proving slightly difficult, simply because primate taxonomy is very complicated, and people disagree, for example on the WCS website they state Vietnam has 24 primate species. While I still think that the number is 25, I edited, what I had written in post 2, because I’d said that there are 5 gibbons and 6 macaques, when actually there are 6 gibbons and only 5 macaques. I hadn’t taken into account, the newly identified Annam gibbon found in Bach Ma National Park and had somehow added an extra macaque species from somewhere. There are though still 12 species of leaf monkeys, langurs, doucs etc, but it is as I say complicated, it seems that there in fact 2 species of silvered langur in Vietnam, the Annamese (Trachypithecus margarita) and the Indochinese (Trachypithecus germaini), this is a recent split and I wasn’t totally certain, if the latter occurs in Vietnam, but it does. In the Mammals of South East Asia book, there is a species called the black langur (Trachypithecus ebenus) this species is said to be exactly like a Hatinh langur, except that it is all black having no white-sideburns, it is also said to occur in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park as well as in Laos, as far as I can tell the taxonomy of this species has always been questioned, it would seem now, that genetic evidence indicates that it is not actually a valid species at all, that black langurs are just Hatinh langurs that don’t have any white on them.   


Of the leaf monkey family, besides the 2 silvered langurs mentioned, there are then another 4 of these monkeys in Vietnam that we did not see, the Golden-headed or Cat Ba langur mentioned in post 69, Phayre’s langur, Francois’s langur and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. Since writing that bit about the Cat Ba langurs, I came across an interesting website called Primate Watching, that has information on how to see primate species around the world, although it’s a work in progress, so it doesn’t yet have information for most species. The website was started by a Singaporean conservationist/scientist called Andie Ang, her ambition is to try and see all of the 511 primate species discovered thus far, in the wild, a bit of a tall order perhaps, but an interesting challenge, I’m not aiming quite that high, but I’d like to still add a few more. Being Singaporean her major interest is the Asian leaf monkeys, so there’s somewhat more information on most of them thus far, she has studied some of Vietnam’s monkeys, so the site has information on seeing some of them, including the Cat Ba langur, this confirms pretty much what I thought, which is that there are no official organised trips to see the monkeys. What she doesn’t say, is that to try and see the monkeys, you have to find someone with a boat and hire them to take you around to the right part of the island and then as I said, try and spot them from the sea. Perhaps she doesn’t want to encourage people to do this and instead just suggests contacting the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project, but the links provided don’t work. For anyone who is interested they do have a facebook page and hopefully this link does work


Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project


I thought I’d read about people going to see the langurs and seen some photos, after a brief search, I found an article in the New York Times, that describes a trip to see the Cat Ba langur




Clearly when I visited the island, I could have tried to do this, how you ensure you’ve found someone reputable, I’m not sure, I’m guessing now that there may be a few boatmen who take people to see the monkeys often enough, so maybe it’s not that difficult to find a boat, I didn’t look into it, for this trip, because as I said earlier, we didn’t have time to include a visit to Cat Ba.  


Here’s a video by Andie Ang of the langurs




As mentioned earlier, the Cat Ba langur was considered a subspecies of the white-headed langur, it is still regarded as such on the IUCN Red List website, I guess they haven't updated it, so their range map shows the distribution of the white-headed langur in China, as well as the Cat Ba Langur, but really you just need to know where Cat Ba Island is, as they occur nowhere else. 


Cat Ba langur range map 


Phayre’s langur occurs in the northwest of Vietnam, I don’t know if it is realistically possible to see them anywhere in Vietnam, I suspect that northern Thailand would be a better bet, as their range covers the whole of northern Thailand, but I don’t know where the best place to look is, I  certainly didn’t see any in Thailand.


Phayre's leaf monkey range map


I’ve seen Francois’s langurs in captivity at San Diego Zoo, they are very similar to the Hatinh langur, and occur in North Vietnam north of Hanoi,  but from what I can see on the primate watching website, they're best seen over the border in China, I don’t know of a good site to look for them in Vietnam.



Francois's langurs


Francois langur range map


The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is a Vietnamese endemic and another of Vietnam’s and the world’s rarest monkeys, with only perhaps 250 left, it is one species that I would really love to see in the wild, having not visited China I've never seen any snub-nosed monkey species, I presume, that as there are none of these monkeys at the EPRC, that there are likely none anywhere in captivity, they occur in a very small area of the country north of Hanoi, in between the capital and the Chinese border, according to the IUCN Red List website, it is known to occur in Na Hang Nature Reserve and Cham Chu Nature Reserve. The largest single population is in an area of forest called Khau Ca in Ha Giang Province, Andie Ang has studied these monkeys there, on Primate Watching she says




“Seeing this Species


The Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys are shy and elusive. They are also extremely fast. To catch a glimpse of them requires luck, patience and good physical fitness to keep up with them. They live in tropical evergreen forests within karst limestone hills which are also difficult terrain to handle.  


Khau Ca forest, Hà Giang Province, Việt Nam 


Due to their critical conservation status, you cannot visit the Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkeys without a permit. Find out more by contacting me.”




Here’s her video of these extraordinary looking monkeys



Tonkin snub-nosed range map


FFI Vietnam's painted monkey



Its striking facial appearance – protuberant pink lips and upturned nose; powder-blue mask; and patches of pale-blue skin around its eyes – gives the distinct impression that this monkey has been applying heavy make-up without the aid of a mirror.


I think to try and see the snub-nosed and the Cat Ba, would be the only reason I would seriously consider another visit to Vietnam. If I were to ever do that, then I'd want to properly explore the region north of Hanoi, which I’ve never visited, I’m sure there are more than a few good birds hiding in this region if one can find them, I think there are certainly some good species to be found on Mt Fansipan Vietnam’s highest mountain.


If you are visiting Vietnam as a naturalist, your focus really has to be on birds and primates, because even given how terribly rare some of the monkeys now are, you do have as I discovered a very good chance of seeing them, whereas seeing other mammals except squirrels and tree shrews, anywhere outside Cat Tien is a real challenge. I hope with this report that I may have at least persuaded a few people to take a look at Vietnam. As this was really a combined birding and primate watching trip, we didn’t obviously do any sightseeing other than perhaps going into Paradise Cave, but we didn’t visit any historical or cultural sites. That didn’t bother me, because there wouldn’t have been time and I’d done that sort of sightseeing on my previous visit and wildlife takes precedence over my other interests. However, if you are not that serious a birder and you’ve not been to Vietnam before, I wouldn’t think it would be too difficult to combine some of the wildlife and the cultural sites. To visit Cat Tien, Da Lat, Son Tra and Van Long, but also Hoi An and Hue and a few other non-wildlife places.     


I hope that this report has proved to be of some interest, to everyone who's read it, and that when it is possible to travel normally again, some readers might consider a visit, to this fascinating country, finally thanks to everyone who commented. :)


Edited by inyathi
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