Day 1: Mon 2 December 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 3 December 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 4 December 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 5 December 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 6 December 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 7 and Sun 8 December
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 9 December 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 10 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 11 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 12 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 13 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.
Indochinese Green Magpie
Days 13, 14 and 15: Sat 14, Sun 15 and Mon 16 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 17 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 18, Thurs 19 and Fri 20 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 21 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).
Le Quy Minh is a well-known figure in the conservation community in Vietnam and one of the most experienced birding guides in the region, Minh has been head guide at Vietnam Birding since 2007. Previously he worked at Bach Ma National Park in Central Vietnam for 12 years, heading up the ecotourism and environmental education departments. Minh is the co-author with Richard Craik of the recently published ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Vietnam’.
Gerard Gorman is a very well-travelled, experienced and skilled birding tour guide, and has led for Heatherlea over many years and destinations. He has birded extensively in south-east Asia, including in Vietnam with Minh. He is also well-known as an expert on woodpeckers, and is author of Woodpeckers of the World: The Complete Guide, and several other well-informed bird and wildlife books.
Le Quy Minh and Gerard Gorman
Accommodation: We stay at smaller hotels and guest houses. There is some variation in standard, and accommodation at national parks tend to be more basic, though all rooms have air-con or a fan and en-suite bathroom facilities. Wifi is available at all accommodations with the exception of Bach Ma National Park summit which is without wifi and mobile phone coverage. Not all our hotels have websites.
Food: Expect generous portions of typical everyday Vietnamese dishes at national parks and a wider range of both local and international dishes at Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat. Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, tofu and other vegetarian options should be available everywhere. Vietnamese cuisine comes as a very pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh, being bought the same morning straight from the market. Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam. Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio, deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts. Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available.
Walking: Generally easy/moderate. There will be some long walks along roads, tracks and forest trails over generally flat terrain with some steeper sections particularly in the Dalat area, and generally an average level of fitness is required. We take advantage of the cooler mornings and late afternoons to see birds at their most active, usually returning to our hotel for lunch and a midday break.
Weather: Midday temperatures in December are usually around 25-30 C in the south though cooler in central regions. In the mountains of the Dalat Plateau it can be considerably cooler in the evenings and a sweater or fleece may be needed. The weather in the south is generally dry and pleasant at this time of the year while there may be some rain further north in central Vietnam.
Insects: There are biting insects including mosquitoes. Before travelling consult your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication, and on arrival take adequate precautions against mosquito bites. You may encounter leeches on forest trails especially after rain or in damp areas but a good spray with insect repellent on your boots and socks should keep them at bay.
Travel: Driving distances between various locations on the tour are mostly between 3 – 5 hours. Although distances are not so great, driving on the crowded Vietnamese roads takes far longer than in the UK.
Visa: United Kingdom citizens will need a passport valid for at least six months from date of departure and a visa to enter Vietnam. Visas are available from your nearest Vietnam embassy or consulate or on arrival with prior arrangement through https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/en_US/web/guest/trang-chu-ttdt
Flights: Flights from London Heathrow.
Photos: Excellent photographic opportunities.
What's included in your holiday price:
* return scheduled flight from London Heathrow – Ho Chi Minh City, internal flights, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
* airport transfers, ground transportation, entrance fees, accommodation and meals as specified.
* the services of Heatherlea leaders.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions.
What's not included in your holiday price:
* travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, baggage above airline included limit
* incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.
Photo credits; our thanks go to Vietnam Birding and photographers whose images are used on this page;
Lowland semi-evergreen forest at Cat Tien National Park (Richard Craik)
Bar-bellied Pitta (Niall Perrins)
Grey-crowned Crocias (Chris Bradshaw)
Vietnamese Greenfinch (John Barkla)
Montane evergreen forest in Central Vietnam, Black-crowned Barwing, Sooty Babbler (Le Quy Minh)
Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush (Brian Lloyd)
Langbian Sunbird, Indochinese Green Magpie, Collared Laughingthrush, Dalat Shrike-babbler, Black-throated Sunbird (Luyen Nguyen)
Blue-rumped Pitta, OB Trogon (David Bowman)