The Saigon Saga

While Rishi’s 14 hour work schedule was taking a toll on his health, no birding in the past 6 months meant that we had to plan something quick, eventually settling on Vietnam which was a short hop from India and had several endemic birds with unfortunately, an uncertain future. The trip was largely a success with most of the targets seen albeit with a lot of struggle and a few painful misses.
While Vietnam has a very complex history, the locals are very helpful, felt very safe anywhere we went and fell in love with the Vietnamese ice coffee and the rice wine shots with god knows how much alcohol content. Things were pretty cheap too with a nicely maintained resort costing around 20 euros per night and an elaborate meal less than 5 euros.
Worthwhile is to mention the nicely decorated churches with a snowy theme and the Dalat city which was fully lit up for Christmas.
Visa: To avoid delay at immigration, we opted for an e-visa, however were amazed by the number of websites offering this service, many of them being possible fakes/intermediaries. The official website for Vietnamese e-visa is We got our e-visa as soon as we paid the 25 USD fee.
Language: You better speak Vietnamese or have a translation app handy, otherwise it is almost impossible to communicate with the helpful locals.
Money: Everything is cheap, fresh fruits everywhere and CASH is KING. On our last day in Ho Chi Minh city, we walked almost 2 hours, but not a single restaurant accepted credit card, eventually we settled for a cup of coffee and bread.
Food was great for us vegetarians with a lot of water spinach, tofu and rice, and Bánh mì for breakfast.

Ground arrangements: The cheap travel ends the moment you bring birding into picture. As we had no time to plan things ourselves, we contacted several local birding operators and were stunned with the quoted prices. We went ahead with as Andy quoted the cheapest price with accommodation, local transport and a bird guide. The idea was that if we got to the right birding area we could bird ourselves. Things turned out good and we had a good bird guide, Duy and Hung was a very safe driver who loved his SUV and was always waxing it.
The hide business: What we did not realize was the over dependence on birding hides and not the real forest birding that we are used to. Andy told us that the only way we could see the birds was to wait in the hides. We politely refused, but not to demotivate Duy, we decided to spend maybe 30 minutes in the hides and the rest of the day birding the usual way, hearing, scouting and then finally getting some views with a healthy mix of adrenaline.
The problem was that no one knew where to find the birds without visiting the hides and the low bird density made things very tricky. We did end up missing a few birds because they stopped visiting the regular hides. So birding outcome can vary season to season based on which birds are visiting the hides and your tour operator owns which of them.
We also noticed several villagers trying their luck feeding birds inside the forest hoping that a good bird gets accustomed and they can make some money from the hide business.
Another challenge is the bird trade/trapping which is a bigger business than hides. If a bird is visiting a hide, there is a pretty high possibility that it will end up in a rich family’s house. We were told by the locals that some birds can even fetch upwards of a 1000 USD.

Travel Dates: 19 Dec 2023 – 28 Dec 2023, actual birding was for 7 days

Itinerary: We followed a standard birding itinerary covering Cat Tien NP, Dalat Plateau, Bidoup Nuiba NP and Deo Nui San pass; leaving the Central Vietnam portion due to lack of time.

We managed to see the following endemics/near endemics mostly shared with Cambodia
1. Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant
2. Necklaced Barbet
3. Indochinese Barbet
4. Bar-bellied Pitta
5. Annam Prinia
6. Dalat Bush Warbler
7. Gray-faced Tit-Babbler
8. Vietnamese Cutia
9. Gray-crowned Crocias
10. Collared Laughingthrush
11. Black-hooded Laughingthrush
12. White-cheeked Laughingthrush
13. Yellow-billed Nuthatch
14. Vietnamese Greenfinch

A note on subspecies:
Several birds were elevated to a full species status and then lumped back in the past leading to a bit of confusion to decide which species to focus on, nevertheless, following species were seen during the course of the trip:
1. Long-tailed Minivet / Annam Minivet
2. White-browed Shrike-Babbler (Dalat)
3. Green-backed Tit (Langbian Tit)
4. Ashy Bulbul / Brown-backed Bulbul
5. Scaly-crowned Babbler / Indochinese Babbler
6. Streaked Wren-babbler (Annam)
7. Black-headed Sibia (Lang Bian) / White-spectacled Sibia
8. Rufous-backed Sibia (Dalat)
9. Blue-winged Minla / Plain Minla
10. Black-throated Sunbird (Dalat) / Langbian Sunbird
11. Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird / Purple-rumped / Annam Sunbird
12. Red Crossbill (Dalat)
13. Black-throated Bushtit (Grey-crowned)

Missed Endemics/near-endemics/subspecies:
1. Orange-necked Partridge
2. Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon – RR
3. Red-vented Barbet
4. Blue-rumped Pitta
5. Common Green Magpie (Yellow-crowned)
6. Indochinese Fulvetta
7. Black-headed Parrotbill
8. Black-crowned Fulvetta
9. Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler
10. Orange-breasted Laughingthrush

Green Bamboo Lodge Resort, Cat Tien: Excellent property next to the river with a lively vibe, staff is extremely helpful, food is awesome. Not expensive

Hotel de Pins, Dalat city: Decent place to stay, but the property is in the middle of the touristy town so getting there becomes a challenge due to traffic.

Bidoup Nuiba NP Guest House: Basic, clean guest house inside the park. Couple of eating options in the nearby village. Noteworthy birds were the Black-collared Starling and the Red Crossbill that we saw next to our room.

Day (-)1: 19 Dec 2023 (Delhi – Ho Chi Minh City – Cat Tien NP)
Took an overnight flight to Ho Chi Minh City reaching at 0620 Hrs and after surviving the chaotic immigration control, reached the Green Bamboo Lodge by afternoon. Had loads of ice coffee, smoothies and shakes to save ourselves from the heat.

Day 0: 20 Dec 2023 (Cat Tien NP)
Rishi was sucked into some official calls during the day, so no birding, just a walk around the park. Met Andy in the evening, got introduced to Duy, planned for the next days, the target birds etc. Andy informed that the Orange-necked Partridge stopped visiting the hide and the Orange-breasted Laughingthrush were all trapped and not seen since the past several months.

Day 1: 21 Dec 2023 (Cat Tien NP)
Crossed the river and went straight to a bird hide, saw the highlight, Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant and moved to forest birding. Too hot, persisted till afternoon, came back for lunch at Green Bamboo and then continued birding till evening in the park. Heard Blyth’s Frogmouth, but no sighting.
Birds: Siamese Fireback, Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Red Collared Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Zebra Dove, Greater Coucal, Green-billed Malkoha, Violet Cuckoo, Germain’s Swiftlet, Asian Palm Swift, Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Green Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird, Blue-eared Barbet, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Red-breasted Parakeet, Small Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Black-naped Oriole, Common Woodshrike, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Great Iora, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Rufescent Prinia, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Indochinese Blue Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Thick-billed/Striped Flowerpecker, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Ornate Sunbird

Day 2: 22 Dec 2023 (Cat Tien NP)
Having seen all targets in Cat Tien, Andy suggested that we try to search for Orange-necked Partridge in its natural habitat, so hired bicycles and rode deep inside the park, spent the entire morning, but returned with a complete blank and a lot dehydrated. Highlight for the morning was when a troop of Black-shanked Doucs crossed us at close range.
Evening coffee at the Forest Floor lodge along with a nice sighting of the Great Eared Nightjar. Spent several hours within the forest for the Blyth’s Frogmouth, only heard, returned midnight to the lodge by a private boat.
Birds: Green-legged Partridge, Great Eared Nightjar, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Bar-bellied Pitta, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Abbott’s Babbler, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Trogon

Day 3: 23 Dec 2023 (Cat Tien NP – Dalat)
A quick round of the NP and then drove to Dalat, on the way lunch at Tâm Châu restaurant. Afternoon birding around the Datanla tourist area (11°54’14.0″N 108°26’56.8″E). Cool weather, fleece jackets came in handy.
Overnight at the Hotel de Pins, dinner at an overpriced touristy area.
Birds: Ashy Drongo, Green-backed Tit, Flavescent Bulbul, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Grey Bush Chat, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Black-throated Sunbird, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Scaly-breasted Munia

Day 4: 24 Dec 2023 (Dalat – Bidoup Nuiba NP)
Extremely windy, spent the morning hours at the Hoa Son Dien Trang Ecotourism Destination, then moved on to the Bidoup Nuiba NP, lunch at a street food joint, overnight at the NP guest house.
Birds: Crested Honey Buzzard, Long-tailed Minivet, Black-throated Bushtit, Grey-crowned Crocias, Black-headed Sibia, Rufous-backed Sibia, Verditer Flycatcher, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, Vietnamese Greenfinch, Flavescent Bulbul, Burmese Shrike, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Black-collared Starling, Red Crossbill

Day 5: 25 Dec 2023 (Bidoup Nuiba NP – Dalat)
Rain in the morning, rented gum boots from Điểm dừng chân Liên Quân and spent the day at Bidoup Nuiba NP, visited a hide, returned to Liên Quân for lunch and then drove towards Dalat stopping enroute for some roadside birding.
Birds: Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Clicking Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, White-throated Fantail, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Annam Prinia, Hill Prinia, Pygmy Cupwing, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, Grey-bellied Tesia, Black-throated Bushtit, Rufous-capped Babbler, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Mountain Fulvetta, Collared Laughingthrush, Black-hooded Laughingthrush, White-cheeked Laughingthrush, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Large Niltava, White-tailed Robin, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pygmy Flycatcher, Vietnamese Greenfinch, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Black-headed Sibia

Overnight at Hotel de Pins.

Day 6: 26 Dec 2023 (Dalat – Dilinh)
Spent the day trying our luck for the Dalat Bush Warbler, climbing a couple of grassy slopes eventually hearing the bird and maybe seeing a dash or was that a construct of our minds.
Birds: Necklaced Barbet, Dalat Bush Warbler, Black-throated Bushtit, Black Bulbul, Mountain Fulvetta, Mugimaki Flycatcher, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Mountain Bulbul

Day 7: 27 Dec 2023 (Deo Nui San pass – Ho Chi Minh City)
The last 10 minutes of our birding in Vietnam turned out to be the most exciting with Vietnamese Cutia and Yellow-billed Nuthatch seen at Deo Nui San pass. We then made our way back to Ho Chi Minh City staying overnight close to the airport.
Birds: Indochinese Barbet, Blue Pitta, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Eurasian Jay, Ochraceous Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, Buff-breasted Babbler, Streaked Wren-Babbler, Vietnamese Cutia, Blue-winged Minla, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Orange-headed Thrush, White-throated Rock Thrush

Day 8: 28 Dec 2023 (Ho Chi Minh City – Delhi)
Thought of having a nice brunch, but no restaurant accepted credit cards and strangely no bank was open in the afternoon for currency exchange, finally had some coffee and called it a day, took a evening flight back to Delhi

Do feel free to contact us for any further information on the sites visited, bird list is here.

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