The wars in both countries had definitely affected the wildlife. It was very noticeable that few wild birds/creatures lived outside the protected areas and the culture of eating ‘bushmeat’ still prevailed. Therefore the importance of these nature reserves is considerable and it was encouraging to see that, in Cambodia in particular, the authorities were trying to integrate the local people into helping manage the reserves and thus benefit from the ensuing tourism.
Feb 23rd Arrival in Siem Reap
We flew from Bangkok and arrived in the afternoon in Siem Reap and after checking into our hotel we took advantage of the few spare hours to investigate the local market at Psar Chas with its closely packed stalls and narrow alleyways. Everywhere there were bars, food stalls, restaurants, spa’s and many shops in a large area surrounding an aptly named ‘Pub Street’ which was well known for its nightlife.
Feb 24th Angkor Wat
Leaving our hotel early we drove the few kilometres to the entrance to Angkor Wat, and after getting our tickets we drove to the back of the temple complex and entered by the East Gate to do some early morning birding. As we walked the deserted grounds we saw Olive-Backed Sunbird, Common Myna, Black-Naped Oriole, Lineated Barbet, Streak-Eared Bulbul and Shrika but the highlight was a Black Baza. We then emerged from the grounds through a large ruined temple gate and walked alongside the huge moat which surrounds the whole complex. Here we saw Asian Openbill, Blue-Eared Kingfisher, Bluethroat, Little and Indian Cormorants, and an unexpected Crocodile.
At 9.00 we met our Angkor Wat guide and we spent the rest of the day exploring and learning the history of the vast number of temples which were spread within the complex walls. Angkor Wat was built during the 12th century as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple later in the century and is the largest temple complex in the world. Few birds were flying around but we did see a Blue Rock Thrush which added to the pleasure.
Feb 25th Siem Reap to Tmatboey via Kompong Thom
Arriving at Kompong Thom we drove about 15 kms into the flat grasslands to a reserve specifically created to protect endangered species and here we saw the threatened Bengal Florican and after a hunt through some bushes we had good views of the Manchurian Reed Warbler. Also here were Sarus Cranes, Pied Harriers, Small Button Quail, Straited Grassbird, Indian Spot-Billed Duck, Painted Stork, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Red-Wattled Lapwing, Oriental Pratincole, Dusky Warbler, Rufous-Capped Babbler and Pied Starling.
After a further drive and lunch we stopped by the road and saw Sooty- Headed Bulbul, Taiga Flycatcher, Common Woodshrike, Paddyfield Pipit and Rufous-Winged Buzzard before proceeding to Tmatboey Eco Lodge.
Here in the late afternoon we saw a nesting rare White-Shouldered Ibis, Indonesian Bushchat, Red-Billed Blue Magpie, White-Rumped Falcon, Crested Tree-Swift, and Indochinese Cuckooshrike.
Feb 26th / 27th Tmatboey
Tmatboey is an isolated village located in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in the north plains. It is a unique project to protect endangered species whilst involving the local people who act as guides and who help maintain the environment. In return they receive income based on the number of visitors with which they fund the local school, road repairs and wells.
The different habitats include open deciduous dipterocarp forest, scattered wetlands, small paddyfields (dry when we visited) and grasslands.
The first morning we started before daybreak walking for several kilometres as we needed to be near the roosting site of the Giant Ibis at dawn. Our local guides did not find it but we had some excellent birding seeing Crested Serpent Eagle, Lesser Adjutant, Woolly-Necked Stork, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-Winged Buzzard, Yellow-Footed and Orange-Breasted Pigeons, Alexandrine Parakeet, Black Drongo, Scarlet Minivet, Black-Hooded Oriole.
Then just as we were about to start back we heard the Giant Ibis calling and were fortunate to have excellent flight views of this rare bird.
In the afternoon we visited a different habitat of densely packed short deciduous trees with a few large open areas and here we saw Indian cuckoo, Spot-Breasted and Black-Headed Woodpeckers, Lesser Yellownape, Large Cuckooshrike, Burmese Shrike, and Purple Sunbird but the highlight was getting within a few meters of a Savannah Nightjar, which, without our guides we would never have spotted.
On the second day we went a short distance to a river valley and in the afternoon walked in an open woodland looking for woodpeckers. During the day we saw Red Junglefowl, Greater Coucal, Brown Fish-Owl, Crested Treeswift, Blue-Bearded and Chestnut-Headed Bee-eaters, Blossom-Headed and Red-Breasted Parakeets, Large and Common Woodshrikes, Swinhoes Minivet, White-Browed Fantail, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Indochinese Bushlark, Chestnut-Bellied and Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch, Black-Crested and Stripe-Fronted Bulbuls, Dark-Necked Tailorbird, Pin-Striped Tit-Babbler, Abbott’s Babbler, Asian Brown and Verditer Flycatchers, White-Rumped Sharma, Golden-Fronted Leafbird, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird and Grey-Capped, Yellow-Crowned, Rufous-Bellied, Laced, Rufous, Black and Puff, and Heart-Spotted Woodpeckers as well as a Common Flameback.
Feb 28th Tmatboey to Kratie
Before we left we had a short walk to get excellent views of a Spotted Owlet. Then we had a 5hr drive to Kratie but at a petrol station we had a Plain-Backed Sparrow.
Arriving at Kratie, a lovely town on the banks of the Mekong, we went on a 3hr boat trip specifically to find the Mekong Dolphin, which we did within minutes, but the threatened Mekong Wagtail took much longer. Whilst among the small islands we saw a Grey-Throated Sand-Martin, Germain’s Swiftlet, Blue-Tailed Bee-eater, and Oriental Darter.
March 1st Kratie via Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam)
Most of the day was spent travelling but our guide took us to a site near Phnom Penh Airport where within minutes we had seen the rare Cambodian Tailorbird and Watercock. Sadly we said good-bye to our superb bird-guide here and flew to HCM where we were taken to our hotel in the centre of the city. We had a most enjoyable evening just wandering through this beautiful old French colonial city.
March 2nd /3rd HCM to Mekong Delta and back to HCM
We were driven south to the Mekong Delta where we boarded the Bassac, a converted traditional wooden rice barge. We cruised along the river watching the lush tropical scenery pass by. There were few birds to be seen but the normal activities of the Delta people was incredibly fascinating as they went about their daily routines.
At one village we disembarked and had a tour through the winding paths, dwellings and fields and were given tea with samples of all the fruit grown locally. We saw domestic ducks being used in the paddyfields to eat snails and other pests. Back on board we cruised until nightfall then had a delightful meal on deck before retiring to a well equipped cabin for a peaceful night.
The second day the Bassac took us to a floating market, not of the tourist type, but a wholesale market where produce grown in the Delta was brought for sale to local shops/cafe’s, whose owners came out to buy from the market in their own smaller boats The larger boats stayed in the river until their produce was sold, which could be up to a week, when they returned to their home base to restock.
Then we left the Bassac and transferred to a smaller boat for a 2 hr tour of the narrow waterways with fascinating scenes of floating houses, gardens and riverside workshops. We even managed to see a Ashy Tailorbird and a Collared Kingfisher.
When we arrived back in HCM we had a guided tour of the Presidential Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, and many other historic sites.
March 4th HCM to Cat Tien National Park
After breakfast we met our new birdguide and then took a 3hr drive to arrive at the boundary of Cat Tien National Park, which was a small river. Here we had to leave the car and go by ferry across the 100mts wide river to enter the Park and found our lodgings a few hundred metres away.
The Park is about 720 sq kms. It is one of Vietnams largest and most important, with now rare lowland woodland and areas of old-growth primary forest. The Park woodland is seasonal tropical forest, with semi-deciduous mixed jungle characterised by many climbing lianas, with large areas of grassland and wetland.
The Park is seen by walking or being taken by one of the few Park jeeps and then walking to an agreed pick-up point.
In the afternoon we walked around the Park Headquarters buildings and down to Heavens Rapids on the river, about 2 kms away.
We saw Thick-Billed and Ashy-Headed Green Pigeons, Green-Billed Malkoha, Indian Roller, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Green-Eared, Blue-Eared and Coppersmith’s Barbets, Black and Red Broadbill, Ashy Woodswallow, Blue-Winged Leafbird, and Oriental Magpie Robin,
After our dinner taken in an open aired rustic building overlooking the river we were taken to see Great-Eared Nightjars. A perfect end to the day.
March 5th and 6th Cat Tien National Park
This first day was spent walking broad forest tracks in the morning and narrower tracks in the afternoon. During the day we saw new birds including the elusive Orange-Necked Partridge, the endangered Siamese Fireback, Green Peafowl, Green Imperial Pigeon, Lesser Coucal, Asian Barred Owlet, Orange-Breasted Trogon, Stork-Billed Kingfisher, White-Browed Piculet, Greater Flameback, Pale-Headed Woodpecker, Common Iora, Ashy, Bronzed and Greater Racket-Tailed Drongos, Racket-Tailed Treepie, Golden-Crested Myna, Grey-Eyed and Ochraceous Bulbuls and Yellow-Bellied Warbler.
On the second day we drove to another forest region and again birded along wide paths but in the afternoon we took a 3hr drive deep into the park to an area which was more open grassland with fewer trees.
In these locations we saw Chinese Pond Herons, Emerald Dove, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, Brown Hawk Owl, Silver-Backed Needletail, Dollarbird, Banded Broadbill, Long-Tailed and Ashy Minivets, Black-Winged Cuckooshrike, Greater Iora, Black-Naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Ruby-Cheeked Sunbird, Siberian Blue Robin, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Pale-Footed Bush Warbler, Grey-Faced Tit-Babbler, Puff-Throated Babbler and Common Tailorbird amongst other species.
March 7th Cat Tien to Da Linh
We started the morning by birding around the buildings but saw nothing new, before recrossing the river and starting our drive to Da Linh which lies at 1200 mtrs in a chain of low, broad-leaf evergreen forested mountains. Here birding is very different and the climate cooler. In the afternoon we drove from our beautifully located chalet into the hills to a forested mountain pass known as Deo Suoi Lanh. Here we walked along the road as well as venturing into the forest.
Including a short morning walk around the main buildings before we left Cat Tien we saw during the day Besra, Red-Collared and Spotted Doves, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Koel, White-Throated Kingfisher, Long-Tailed Broadbill, Bar-Winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Lesser Racket-Tailed and Crow-Billed Drongos, Large-Billed Crow, Tiger Shrike, Little Spiderhunter, Purple-Naped Sunbird, Scarlet-Backed Flowerpecker, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Black Bulbul, White-Cheeked and White-Crested Laughingthrushes and Rufescent Prinia.
March 8th Da Linh to Dalat
Leaving Da Linh we drove 30kms to the Nui San Pass and climbed a steep rugged path seeing a good selection of birds, but unfortunately we heard almost as many birds as seen.
Later we drove to Dalat, a delightful old colonial town set in the highlands at 1600mtrs although the surrounding hills go up to 2400mtrs. Here the climate is temperate making it a centre for tourism for the Vietnamese to escape the heat of HCM. This town was, by agreement, not bombed during the war and so retains its old world charm. The birding was done in the hills above Dalat up to about 2000mtrs. Most of this terrain is cloaked in pine but the more interesting birding is done in the broadleaf evergreen forest.
Today we saw Rock Pigeon, Red-Headed Trogon, Annam Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Grey-Headed and Bay Woodpeckers, Grey-Chinned Minivet, Spangled Drongo, Indonese Green Magpie, Brown Shrike, Fire-Breasted Flowerpecker, Vietnamese Greenfinch, Grey-Headed Canary-Flycatcher, Ashy Bulbul, Yellow-Browed warbler, Chestnut-Capped and Collarded Babblers.
March 9th /10th Dalat
The first morning saw us taking a jeep up Mount Lang Bian into Bidong National Park and then walking up through open woodland. In the afternoon we went a short distance to a nearby lake and birded the surrounding woods.
The second day we started by another lake and continued walking in the woodlands seeking out rare or local birds which we had not previously seen.
Over these two days we saw Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo, Grey Nightjar, Golden-Throated Barbet, Dalat and Clicking Shrike-Babblers, White-Bellied Yuhina, Slender-Billed and Maroon Oriels, White-Throated Fantail, Mrs Gould’s and Black-Throated Sunbirds, Streaked Spiderhunter, Grey Wagtail, Red Crossbill, Hume’s Treecreeper, the endemic Yellow-Billed Nuthatch, Vinous-Breasted Myna, Black-Collared and White-Shouldered Starlings, Common Hill-Myna, White-Throated Rock-Thrush, Grey Bushchat, Blue Whistling-Thrush, Little Pied Flycatcher, Green-Backed and Yellow-Cheeked Tits, Flavescent and Mountain Bulbuls, Red-Rumped Swallow, Grey-Crowned Tit, Plain-Tailed and Spectacled Warblers, White-Tailed Leaf-Warbler, Vietnamese Cutia, Collared Laughingthrush, Blue-Winged Minla, Black-Headed and Rufous-Backed Sibias, and Hill Prinia.
March 11th Dalat to HCM
The morning was spent looking for two endemics in primary jungle but whilst they were heard we did not get good sightings of them. In the afternoon we took the flight back to HCM where the tour ended.