Whilst most visitors still come to Vietnam to visit the classic tourist sights, more and more guests do take an interest in the flora and fauna of this beautiful country. Vietnam actually hosts a large number of bird species. There are currently more than 850 species that have been recorded (compare this with less than 600 in England), including 12 endemics, or species that cannot be found anywhere else.
Birding in Vietnam is pretty straight forward in the established National Parks and whilst infrastructure is basic at times, accommodation is easily found and food is plentiful and often very good. These parks are very safe, the biggest annoyance being leeches during the wet season. Whilst messy, they do not carry any diseases, and a pair of leech socks and a good blast of repellent will keep them at bay. The forests can be incredibly hot and humid and you are well-advised to take plenty to drink.
Bird watching in Vietnam is really possible all year round, but the rainy season makes walking hard at times. The winter is drier in the North and South; there is also the added bonus of visitors from countries further north. Many birds are at their most vocal in spring and are thus easier to locate.
As birding is still a fairly new concept in Vietnam, there might be some curiosity as to what it is you are doing. By all means do try and explain and let people take a look through your binoculars. Go out there, have fun, and enjoy the great nature that Vietnam has to offer.
Following are short descriptions of a few sites that should be on any birder’s list of places to visit.
Cuc Phuong National Park
This is the oldest park in Vietnam and was decreed by President Ho Chi Minh himself in 1962. Just over three hours away from Ha Noi, the park has good facilities with basic but clean accommodation both at the entrance and at Bong sub-station further inside. The park is best avoided on weekends andDollarbid holidays when it can get crowded and noisy. Food is good and plentiful and, more importantly, there is beer! Trails are well marked and beauties such as Woodpeckers, Broadbills and Barbets are not too hard to see. My personal favorites, Pittas, are also pretty common but require a lot more effort.
Well worth a visit is the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre at the entrance; they do a great job in ensuring that primates have a chance of surviving in Vietnam and deserve your support.
Bach Ma National Park
Less than an hour from Hue, the park has good infrastructure both at the entrance and at the summit. If you do not like leeches, you may want to avoid the park during the rainy season! Also keep an eye on weather Little Green Bee-eaterforecasts as the Center of Vietnam sometimes gets clobbered by Typhoons. As the park covers different altitudinal zones, there is a wide range of bird species. Most sought after are a number of partridges and pheasants but they are not easy to see. However, there are plenty of more conspicuous birds to keep both amateurs and hard-core twitchers happy. If you can, try and hire Mr. Le Quy Minh as a guide. He heads the Ecotourism Department at the park and apart from being a very nice chap also knows his birds.
Cat Tien National Park
This is probably the birding site in Vietnam and should not be missed. Easily reached in three hours from Ho Chi Minh City, this park is again best avoided on weekends and holidays (unless you enjoy a bit of Karaoke). Not only is the park great for birds, there is also a good chance of seeing larger mammals; though forget about seeing the last few remaining Javan Rhinoceroses.
Very good birding can be done from the main road (thus no leeches) and it is relatively easy to see such sought-after birds as Hornbills and Pheasants though luck, as always with birding, is of course required.
Tra Su Forest Reserve
Less then an hour from Chau Do, and close to the Cambodian border, this is one of my favorite sites. The vast number of roosting and breeding egrets, Monksherons, and ibises make it an amazing spectacle, even for non-birders. The site is best visited a couple of hours before dusk when hundreds, if not thousands, of birds come back from feeding on the Cambodian side. The site is private and you may want to check with the Victoria Chau Doc Hotel for permission to access and to arrange a boat to take you to the watch tower in the centre.