Day 1: Mon 23 November London Heathrow - Ho Chi Minh City
We fly direct with Vietnam Airlines on an overnight flight to minimise our journey time. Your pre-flight hotel at Heathrow gives additional opportunity to relax before your long journey (direct flight time is 12 hours).
Day 2: Tues 24 November Arrive Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Arrive at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 0600 hrs and transfer to our downtown hotel to drop luggage. We then take a guided tour of downtown Ho Chi Minh City visiting the former Presidential Palace, the French colonial Notre Dame Cathedral and the old Saigon Post Office. Our guide will point out any birds we see, including common species of the region and perhaps some wintering flycatchers and thrushes. After lunch we enjoy birding at the Botanical Garden, where some more common species may be seen, including Eastern Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Plaintive Cuckoo, Coppersmith Barbet, Eastern Black-naped Oriole, Scarlet Minivet, Brown Shrike, Black and Ashy Drongo, Sunda Pied Fantail, Common Iora, Common Tailorbird, Sunda Yellow-vented and Streak-eared Bulbul, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Ornate Sunbird and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. Overnight at the Bong Sen Annex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 3: Wed 25 November Ho Chi Minh City to Hue
We transfer back to Tan Son Nhat Airport after breakfast for the short morning flight to Hue, the former imperial capital in Central Vietnam. After checking in at our centrally located hotel we will take in the some of the cultural highlights of Hue with visits to the Imperial Citadel from where the Nguyen Dynasty of emperors ruled Vietnam between 1802 and 1945, followed by the impressive mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc with its landscaped gardens and lakes. Birds that could be seen during the afternoon’s sightseeing at this time of the year may include wintering warblers, thrushes and flycatchers as well as the more common resident species. Overnight at Midtown Hotel, Hue.
Day 4: Thurs 26 November Hue to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
We depart Hue by road after an early breakfast for the 4-hour drive north to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. an area dominated by limestone karst landscapes in northern Central Vietnam bordering Laos. The habitat at Phong Nha-Ke Bang is a mix of limestone forest, remnant lowland evergreen forest and areas of cultivation. Species we will be looking for here include two near-endemic limestone specialists, the recently described Limestone Leaf-warbler and Sooty Babbler. Other interesting species at the park include Tonkin Partridge, White-bellied Green-pigeon, Brown Fish-owl, Austen’s Brown Hornbill, Red-collared Woodpecker, Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pitta, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, White-winged Magpie and Indochinese Wren-babbler. Overnight at Saigon Phong Nha Hotel, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park for two nights.
Day 5: Fri 27 November Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
A full day to further explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. In addition to some unique bird species Phong Nha-Ke Bang is also home to two very rare primates, beautiful Red-shanked Douc Langur and the range-restricted Ha Tinh Langur. There is a fairly good chance of coming across both these species while birding at Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
Days 6 and 7: Sat 28 and Sun 29 November
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park to Bach Ma National Park
We will have a final morning of birding at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park before heading south for Bach Ma National Park. Located some 40 km south of Hue, Bach Ma encompasses a range of habitats including cultivation, secondary, scrub, lowland evergreen forest and above 900 m, spectacular montane evergreen forest. After checking in at the park’s accommodation centre below the summit of Mt Bach Ma there should be time for some late afternoon birding.Key bird species we shall be looking for here include Rufous-throated and Green-legged Partridge, Silver Pheasant, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Austen’s Brown Hornbill, Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pitta, Long-tailed and Silver-breasted Broadbill, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, White-winged Magpie, Indochinese Green Magpie, Annam Sultan Tit, Indochinese Wren-babbler, Lesser Necklaced, Masked and Black-throated Laughing-thrush and White-gorgeted Flycatcher. Overnight at the Summit Guest House, Bach Ma National Park.
Day 8: Mon 30 November Bach Ma National Park to Kham Duc
We depart Bach Ma after breakfast continuing south on Highway One with some birding along the way as we skirt the coast of Central Vietnam. Species that may be seen along the shore include recently split White-faced Plover and patchily distributed Light-vented Bulbul. We continue south to Danang on Highway One before branching off on the Ho Chi Minh Highway, built along the route of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Viet Cong supply route between north and south during the Vietnam War. After lunch at the small town of Kham Duc, once a popular base for gold mining in the area, we will explore roadside scrub and remnant patches of forest in the vicinity of Lo Xo Pass where the recently discovered and near-endemic Black-crowned Barwing can be found. While some of the best areas of montane evergreen forest in the area are unfortunately not accessible other species that may be seen around here include White-winged Magpie, White-cheeked, Black-hooded and Red-tailed Laughing-thrush, Red-tailed Minla, Yellow-billed Nuthatch and Green-tailed Sunbird. White-capped and Plumbeous Water-redstart can occur along the river below the pass. Return to Kham Duc in the late afternoon for dinner and overnight. Overnight at Be Chau Giang Hotel, Kham Duc.
Day 9: Tues 1 December Kham Duc to Mang Den
We depart Kham Duc after breakfast and continue south to Kontum where we branch off the highway and climb up to the newly established hill resort town of Mang Den, on the Kontum Plateau. Mang Den is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding areas of montane evergreen forest. The number one target for birders here is the recently-discovered and near-endemic Chestnut-eared Laughing-thrush which despite uncontrolled logging in the area is thankfully still fairly common. The Kontum Plateau shares several specialities with the Dalat Plateau to the south including near-endemic Indochinese Wren-babbler, Black-hooded Laughing-thrush and Yellow-billed Nuthatch. Vietnamese endemic Grey-crowned Crocias, once thought to be restricted to the Dalat Plateau, was also recently discovered here. Overnight at Hung Yen Hotel, Mang Den for two nights.
Day 10: Wed 2 December Mang Den
A full day for further exploration around Mang Den. Other interesting species that can be encountered in the Mang Den area include Pale-capped Pigeon, Austen’s Brown Hornbill, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Rusty-naped Pitta, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, White-winged Magpie, Rufous-faced Warbler, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Black-hooded Laughing-thrush, Indochinese Wren-babbler, Grey-crowned Tit, Grey-headed Parrotbill, and Pale Blue-flycatcher.
Day 11: Thurs 3 December Mang Den to Ho Chi Minh City via Pleiku
A final morning of birding in the Mang Den area before transferring to Pleiku Airport, a 3-hour drive to the south, in good time for the short afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh City. On arrival we return to our downtown hotel for dinner and overnight. Overnight at Bong Sen Annex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 12: Fri 4 December Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien National Park
We depart Ho Chi Minh City after breakfast for Cat Tien National Park, 150 km to the north. The largest remaining area of lowland tropical forest in southern Vietnam, Cat Tien National Park contains a mix of primary and secondary evergreen and semi-evergreen forest with large areas dominated by grassland and bamboo, a result of wartime defoliation and post-war logging. The park is accessed via the Dong Nai River and on arrival we take a ferry across the river to the park HQ accommodation area. Cat Tien boasts an incredible diversity of birds and mammals. Endangered birds include Germain’s Peacock-pheasant, Green Peafowl and elusive Orange-necked Partridge while the mammal list includes Leopard Cat, Lesser Mousedeer, Gaur and three beautiful primates, Black-shanked Douc Langur, Silvered Langur and Buff-cheeked Gibbon. Overnight for four nights at Cat Tien National Park HQ Guest House, Cat Tien National Park.
Days 13, 14 and 15: Sat 5, Sun 6 and Mon 7 December Cat Tien National Park
We have three full days to enjoy some wonderful birding at Cat Tien National Park. There are excellent trails starting right at the park headquarters, and with no outside vehicles permitted in the park we will use jeeps to access areas further afield such as Crocodile Lake and the Ta Lai grasslands. The 5 km walk through semi-evergreen forest to Crocodile Lake can be an excellent place to look for Germain’s Peacock-pheasant as well as two of the park's other star birds, near-endemic Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pitta, while the beautiful Siamese Fireback can often be seen on an early morning drive. Among the many other avian treats to be found at Cat Tien are Indochinese Frogmouth, Great-eared Nightjar, Grey-headed and Lesser Fish-eagle, Great and Wreathed Hornbill, Banded and Stork-billed Kingfisher, Red-vented Barbet, Heart-spotted, Pale-headed, Black-and-buff, Great Slaty and White-bellied Woodpecker, Collared Falconet, Dusky, Black-and-red and Banded Broadbill, Golden-crested Myna and Grey-faced Tit-babbler. Large waterbirds including Lesser Adjutant and Asian Woollyneck are commonly seen in more open areas, particularly in the vicinity of Crocodile Lake, where Asian Golden Weaver can also be found breeding in lakeside reeds. Large flocks of doves, pigeons and parakeets can often be seen in the grassland areas in the late afternoon.
Day 16: Tues 8 December Cat Tien National Park to Dalat
There is time for some final early morning birding at Cat Tien National Park before heading up Highway 20 to the cooler climes of the Dalat Plateau. Situated at an elevation of 1,500 m, the former French hill station and honeymoon capital of Vietnam, Dalat, will be our base for exploring the Dalat Plateau. The Dalat Plateau is one of Vietnam’s five Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) as defined by BirdLife International and is home to several endemic and near-endemic bird as well as some very distinct and endemic subspecies. As well as being a popular tourist destination Dalat’s temperate climate makes it one of the major vegetable and flower growing areas in the country and the city boasts some wonderful restaurants. Overnight for four nights at Dreams Hotel, Dalat.
Days 17, 18 and 19: Wed 9, Thurs 10 and Fri 11 December Dalat
The habitat on the Dalat Plateau is a mix of coniferous (dominated by Benguet Pine), montane evergreen and secondary forest. The montane evergreen forest extends up to 2,287 m on Mount Bi Doup and 2,167 m on nearby Mount Lang Bian, the second and third highest peaks on the plateau respectively. The long list of endemic and near-endemic species and subspecies found in this area includes Lowe’s Green-pigeon, Red-vented, Necklaced and Annam Barbet, Dalat Shrike-babbler, Annam Minivet, Yellow-crowned Green Magpie, Langbian Tit, Annam Grasshopper-warbler, Brown-backed Bulbul, Grey-crowned Tit, Indochinese Fulvetta, Black-headed Parrotbill, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Annam Streaked and Indochinese Wren-babbler, Vietnamese Cutia, Orange-breasted, Black-hooded, White-cheeked and beautiful and skulking Collared Laughing-thrush, White-spectacled Sibia, Plain Minla, Grey-crowned Crocia, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Langbian Lesser Shortwing, Langbian and Annam Sunbird and Vietnamese Greenfinch. Other specialities of the Dalat area include Bar-backed Partridge, Silver Pheasant, Yellow-vented Green-pigeon, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, Rusty-naped and Blue Pitta, Maroon and Slender-billed Oriole, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Burmese Shrike, White-faced Jay, Manipur Treecreeper, Dark-sided Thrush, Green Cochoa, Large Niltava, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Spotted Forktail and Red Crossbill. There are several excellent birding sites all within a short drive of Dalat including Mount Lang Bian and Tuyen Lam Lake, both of which have a mix of coniferous forest at lower elevations with montane evergreen at higher elevations. Other areas to explore in the vicinity include the forested valley en-route to the village of Ta Nung, and some of the more accessible areas of Bi Doup-Nui Ba National Park.
Day 20: Sat 12 December Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City
We have a final morning to enjoy the birding around Dalat before transferring to Dalat Airport for the short afternoon flight back to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport in good time to connect with our departure flight back to the UK (NB this flight is not direct, we have one stop-over).