Coke & Som Smith Photography & Travelogue

Expedition to Viet Nam 2012!


  A spectacular Pygmy Slow Loris spotted of course by Som, the Amazing!  In all, she got us Two of these amazing primates!

 

 

Viet Nam Wildlife Adventure! 

Since leaving Viet Nam in 1994, I honestly never thought I would return.  Too many memories that were too difficult to deal with, or so I thought.  That was until Som suggested, or more like demanded, that I take her to Viet Nam so she could see her neighboring country for herself.  So here we are, on day two of our expedition to Viet Nam!

 

 

Our main goal was to see Red-shanked Doucs in the wild.  We were not disappointed!

 

Saigon!

Our first stop was to Vinh Nghiem Temple in Saigon to pay our respects to Lien. Some of her cremains are interred here and it was nice to spend time there with my family.

 

Having missed our first planned day in Saigon, we arrived in time to catch a rush-hour drive though many of the neighborhoods I remembered from nearly 20 years ago.  Although Saigon has changed beyond imagination, there were still some areas I could recall vividly.  We had a chance to visit Chua Vinh Nghiem, the temple very near Lien’s family neighborhood.  Although I did not have time to stroll the old neighborhood like I wanted, I was able to at least visit the temple were some of Lien’s ashes are interred.  I was filled with emotion while we scoured the thousands of images of people for whom this temple meditates.  It was surreal to be back to this place, Lien and I had visited so many years before but now with Som and Cokie, my new family.  I was overwhelmed with emotion but I remember the admonitions of the monks at the temple in Sacto that I not show emotion in the temple.  It was hard, very hard.  But somehow it was nice and Cokie and Som are so respectful regarding my "other" life...

 

 Rush hour in Saigon is still dominated by scooters, but there are far more cars than there were 20 years back...

 

Our first and only evening in Saigon was spent strolling the streets near the Opera House, looking for “do an Viet Nam”!  Our expedition organizer, Richard Craik, of Viet Nam Birding, recommended some great grub nearby so we splurged and had one of the best Vietnamese meals I’ve had in so many years!  Finally we were in Viet Nam, and I was feeling good!  Cokie and Som were euphoric about being back in Southeast Asia.  I could tell both of them were already in love with Viet Nam!  Richard, by the way, runs the outstanding birding ecotour company that, although their focus is clearly birding tours, is more than able to put together a smashing and well run mammal tour.  I HIGHLY recommend Viet Nam Birding!

 

Our first of many amazing Vietnamese meals!  Luckily I knew exactly what to order for the best grub!  This trip could have just as easily have been a culinary tour of Viet Nam with all the amazing "do Viet" we ate...

 

Cat Tien National Park

 Crocodile Lake at Cat Tien National Park.  We actually caught a glimpse of a wild Siamese Crocodile in the lake! First one for me!

 

After some killer pho at Pho 24, were on our way to Cat Tien National Park a few hours north of Saigon.  Cruising our way out of Saigon, in to Bien Hoa, and then out was a major flashback to twenty years ago.  While of course so much had changed, there were vestiges of the region that I remembered vividly.  The teak furniture shops and the rubber tree orchards were all so familiar.  And the memories were no where near as painful as I expected them to be.  I am sure this was because Cokie and Som were with me.  But the rubber trees were basically the same size I remembered them way back when!

I began reviewing my very rusty Vietnamese language with our driver and he was very accommodating.  We had many conversations along the way and I could sense my Vietnamese improving with every sentence spoken.  It was a good feeling. But I still broke in to "ThaiNamese" often...

 

Cat Tien was packed with Tomb-sweeping holiday travelers including tons of school children.  Here is my little rock star posing with some new fans...

 

By mid day we’d reached the ferry to cross the river to the park’s main compound.  After getting settled and grubbing down on some killer national park food, we were on our first trek with Duyen, our guide.  Duyen had been working in Cat Tien since 1994, interestingly the very same year I had visited the park for the first time myself.  We joked about our paths possibly having crossed way back then.  Probably not, but it was fun to think about. 

The weather was hot and steamy.  The forest was alive with sounds of birds and cicadas.  This was a better sign than we had in Cuc Phuong back in ’94, when we had absolutely no sounds at all – a completely dead forest.  Cuc Phuong in those days was the classic example of what ecologists call the “silent forest syndrome”.  Everything poached to oblivion, including the insect fauna!  Cat Tien, while poached heavily still, is at least still very much alive and full of biodiversity.  We gave up counting after about 25 Pallas’s Squirrels.  We did not want to miss anything so we basically spent quite a bit of time identifying each squirrel to make sure it was not a monkey or something else. We did even manage to see one Red-cheeked Squirrel and a few Cambodian Striped Squirrels while in the forests.

 

 Cat Tien is home to some splended forests filled with rainforest giants.  Hiking the trails of Cat Tien was in itself a rewarding experience!

 

Only an hour in to our trek in the jungles of Cat Tien, I heard that familiar and welcome call from behind:  “Coke, I just saw a monkey!”  Som was on the job and she spotted our main target for the park – a Black-shanked Douc! We spent the better part of thirty minutes with this spectacular primate as he watched us watching him.  There was definitely mutual curiosity going on, and he did not seem the slightest bit nervous about our presence which was contrary to what I was expecting.  Most trip reports described the wildlife at Cat Tien as being extremely skittish and nearly impossible to photograph. Not this one at least!  Although the lighting could not have been worse.  But the rest of the 30 or so other Black-shanked Doucs were no where near as accommodating as this one was...

 

Our first of at least 30 Black-shanked Doucs!  While the lighting was impossible, I was still thrilled to see our first one!

 

Black-shanked Douc!

 

 

Photo-opps were rare but we still managed to get some images of our targets.  Hard work though!

 

Black-shanked Douc baby!

 

What you lookin' at!?

 

Peeka boo!  I think this was a grizzled old man...

 

When I was corresponding with Richard Craik about our trip, I constantly joked about wanting him to guarantee a sighting of a Pygmy Slow Loris, one of the rarest and most difficult to see primitive primates in Viet Nam.  Of course we both knew I was kidding, but no one was more surprised than I when Som, on our very first night walk on our very first day in Viet Nam, spotted a spectacular Pygmy Slow Loris in a bamboo clump about 2 km down the road from our camp!  Although photographing the little critter was next to impossible, we did get to spend about 20 minutes with this spectacular little booger!  GREAT experience!  Watching that little thing bounce back and forth trying to make his mind up to cross the road or not, was fascinating.  For a brief moment, he and I had a very clear view of his full face and eyes as they gazed at me bewilderment.  He moved much faster than the Sunda and Asian species of slow lorises I had seen in Borneo and Thailand before.  This little dude could book!  As frustrating as it was to capture an image of this tiny, mouse-lemur-sized primate, we finally got the camera to focus on his bum for about a millisecond….And a few days later, Som nailed another that was much more cooperative!  Both are pictured below.

 

 Our first Pygmy Slow Loris at Cat Tien!  This little booger could boogie!

 

 

 Our SECOND Pygmy Slow Loris for the trip, seen in Phong Nha National Park!  Thanks Som! 

 

Our second day at Cat Tien started at 0'dark thirty with a trek up to the gibbon haunt at around 4:30 AM.  Although we were all pretty tired, it was still sublime to walk through the primary forest at that early hour to hear the forest awaken right before us.  The sounds were at times deafening.  And when the Buff-cheeked Gibbons started to sing, the forest was a symphony of sounds, that was both familiar and yet so foreign.  Until you have heard the sound of a forest in full gibbon symphony, you have not experienced the true splendor of what an Asian forest can offer. 

 

 

After finding our way deep in to the Cat Tien forest we found a place to sit and wait and listen for the gibbon song....None sadly were close enough for us to track, however.  We had to wait until our last day before we actually saw one in the wild.

 

Careful where you put your hands!!!

 

Cokie giving us a rainforest ecology lesson by climbing inside the cavity of a Ficus (strangler fig) tree explaining how another tree once lived inside....

 

 Interestingly, even though we heard the chorus for about an hour or so, we were denied the privilege of actually seeing a gibbon this morning.  Well there is always tomorrow or the next morning!  In fact, with the exception of a few birds to the list, we were pretty much skunked this morning. The afternoon hike, however, was a completely different story altogether. 

Starting at 2:30 sharp, we were able to get out to the far end of Cat Tien to search for Annamese Silvered Langurs, which are one of the harder-to-see primates in the park for sure.  And after a couple hours trekking and searching in the rain, we were pretty much resigned to being skunked yet again on the primate front.  But just as soon as I pretty much gave up the wildlife search and started focusing on photographing the flora of the rainforest, Duyen saw a canopy twitch.  Then Som saw a primate of some sort!  And then I actually caught the tail and rump of what sure looked like a Silvered Langur!  Not exactly sure, we searched and bushwacked our way deeper in to the forest to see if we could get a better look but they were gone to next province by now.... But by the end of the afternoon, we nailed at least three and as many as five Silvered Langurs and at least 20 Black-shanked Doucs!  Truly a primate show of a trek if there every was one!  We were stoked!  No great images but some really exciting primate sightings to be sure.

So it rained pretty much all night on our second night in Cat Tien.  Evidently we were fortunate enough to catch the leading edge of the season’s first typhoon to hit the region.  The morning rain was pretty much one of those rains that we knew was never going to let up so we put on our rain gear, adjusted our attitude and got ready for a really wet and muddy day!  We were not let down.  The rain went from sprinkles to deluge many times during the morning and afternoon.  Even our newly bought hi-tech rain gear was drenched all the way through by day’s end and my first technical casualty was experienced when my 50D stropped working at all.  Sadly this was pretty much the only camera we brought with us for this trek and Som’s little camera was battery-dead within three or four shots!  Nice planning…

 

The size of the giants of Cat Tien was truly impressive.  This was an old Tetrameles nudiflora tree, which is no doubt one of the larger tropical trees I'd ever seen.

 

Cat Tien was primarily a Lagerstroemia-dominant forest...

 

In spite of the downpour, the 10 km trek to and from Crocodile Lake was quite spectacular.  Cat Tien is home to some truly outstanding rainforest with some amazing forest giants of several species.  The forest is dominated by six species Lagerstroemia but the true giants are Tetrameles nudiflora.  While much of the forest we trekked was secondary in nature, there were stands of outstanding primary forest to experience.    The forest is shallowly situated on top of a basaltic fell-field with laterite boulders everywhere.  Very little in the way of soil depth was noticed and the laterite bombs were strewn helter-skelter throughout the entire forest.  This made for some particularly painful hiking with the thin-soled Chinese rubber boots I picked in Jianxu the year before.

Only about 200 meters in to our trek to the lake, I spotted our first and, so far, only Buff-cheeked Gibbon leaping in a Ficus tree off to our right.  The lone male played hide-and-seek with us for about 45 minutes while I tried fruitlessly to snap an image of the elusive semi-great ape!  No luck with the image but at least we nailed our final main primate target for Cat Tien!  In fact, in only 2.5 days at Cat Tien, we nailed at least 15 species of mammals and that is no small feat!  Thank goodness that I have Som and Cokie on my team – two people who rarely complain and truly enjoy working hard to see amazing wildlife!  And both are really good spotters.  I love hearing the pride in Cokie's voice when he knows he is the first one to actually spot something:  "Dad!  Look! Look!  Langurs!!!"   On our final day, we visited the Gibbon Rescue Center where we were treated to a spectacular display of a pair of "semi-wild pre-release" Buff-cheeked Gibbons that gave us a much better look at the species.  The images below are them engaged in a "romantic" encounter...

 

Buff (or Golden)-cheeked Gibbons (cap)

"Hey, good lookin'"

 

 

"Mind if I join you?"

 

 

"Yes I mind!"

 

We concluded our day with a trek off-trail to the “lava tube” to see the bat species I had read about on Jon Hall’s trip report on www.mammalwatching.com.  Luckily, Duyen knew exactly where it was, or we would have never been able to find such a remote and isolated location.  About 1 km off the main trail, we blazed an overgrown ranger’s trail to the site, a partially caved-in lava tube that was easily enterable and stretched back about 30 meters or so.  While there we spent nearly an hour trying to document (with my broken but still somewhat operable camera) the 4-5 species of bats that made there homes the tubes.  We had good luck with the species count and even got a couple decent pics!  And the trek through the forest netted several more Black-shanked Doucs and voices of two troops of Pig-tailed Macaques.

 

Bats of Cat Tien!

Most likely an Intermediate Horseshoe Bat

 

Most likely an Intermediate Horseshoe Bat

 

The lava tube bat cave at Cat Tien was home to at least four, maybe five, species of bats.  It was pretty spectacular to feel the wind of their wing beats "air condition" the cave as they flew chaotically...

 

Most likely some Lesser Brown Horseshoe Bats...

 

Intermediate Horseshoe Bat

 

Greater Roundleaf Bat

 

Lesser Brown Horseshoe Bat (Please feel free to correct!)

 

Since we were soaked to the bone by this point, we all decided to ride back to headquarters in the back of the truck and enjoy the outstanding Cat Tien rainforest.  What a sublime experience.  Even when the tree frog leaped from a passing tree and smacked me right in the face at full force, I really enjoyed our last cruise through the jungles of Cat Tien.  But my face was sore for two days!  I can only imagine how he felt…

Rain continued on our final day at Cat Tien and we opted to hang around the headquarters just relaxing and enjoying the tropical deluge.  We had no idea but when we were basically enjoying the leading edge of the typhoon hitting southern Viet Nam that week, Saigon to the south was getting slammed hard!  Once we finally met our driver (after he was late by an hour and a half, and another less-than-honest driver tried to con us in to driving with him to Saigon for a mere $100…), we noticed some pretty extreme damage to the greater Saigon metropolitan area, mostly in the form of downed trees and billboards, but some houses were caved in too.  Typhoon “Pakhar” was actually a pretty distructive one for sure!

 

Cat Tien actually has a very nice set-up for ecotourists.  Great grub in two proper restaurants, wifi in the HQ and COLD drinks!

 

Da Nang

Da Nang was virtually unrecognizable from to how I remembered it so long ago...

 

Although we were late being picked up, we made it to Saigon in record time, with our stomachs where our throats were normally…And we even had enough time to get on an earlier flight to Da Nang, where we were met by our new guide, Nhan, who made sure we got some killer local grub!  We had time to stroll the streets and river-front of Da Nang, a city I honestly did not recognize, as it had changed so much since the last time I was there nearly 20 years before.

 

 Goi Cuon and other bun wraps were our pleasure this evening!

 

Son Tra Peninsula

The fog was thick when we started our trek at Son Tra Peninsula.  Evidently the area is often foggy, making primate viewing a challenge.  But not for us this morning, thanks to Nhan's eagle eyes!

 

Our next day was an early one.  We made it out by sunrise and headed over to the Son Tra Peninsula to search for the elusive Red-shanked Doucs that are the name-sakes for the peninsula.  I could tell that Nhan was a bit stressed and even prepped me for disappointment a bit.  I know how hard it is to be a wildlife guide, never knowing if the species your clients are looking for will actually make an appearance.  It’s not like a typical tour guide.  Let’s face it, the Notre Dame Cathedral will actually be there when yo arrive!  Well, his nervousness was for nothing!  After about 20 minutes of light strolling and about 300 meters level trekking, Nhan pointed up to the trees just above our path, and there were about 17 or so spectacular Red-shanked Doucs, grazing on the leaves of the canopy, enjoying views of us from their vantage point.  We spent the better part of an hour with these amazingly beautiful primates. 

 

Red-shanked Doucs

Red-shanked Doucs!  A more beautiful primate would be hard to find.

 

Who is watching whom?

 

We spent the better part of an hour with these critters!

 

Simply beautiful...

 

Well, with our target met by 7AM (!!!), we had a decision to make:  continue birding in the hot central Vietnamese sun OR head over to Hoi An for some tourism and some relaxation!  Well, obviously, Cokie and Som chose to bird for another six hours in the grueling sun….Right….  About an hour later, we found ourselves strolling and "sitlo"ing our way through the ancient streets and alleyways of Hoi An.  We enjoyed the respite from the wildlife watching, especially since our second major target species was under our belts!

 

I was really hoping the Doucs would find their way to this glorious old tree for the perfect shots...They didn't.  Still a nice tree though...

 

Hoi An

After searching forever for "Cao Lau" (a very famous food from Hoi An that I mistakenly thought was the name of this bridge - Cao Chua), we finally found the "real" bridge I was looking for...

 

Hoi An was nothing like I remembered it 20 years ago.  The streets were filled with tourists and the rows of fine art shops and cafes found there in the early 90’s were replaced with trendy eateries and a somewhat cheesier selection of standard Asian souvenirs that can be bought pretty much anywhere from Delhi to Siem Riep.  But it was still nice to be there looking for “Cao Lau” because I had to “de cau”…because I was “muk ie”!  (Very inside joke…)

 

We also found "Cao Lau" as well...

 

Although Hoi An was much more touristy than when I visited in the early '90's, it still had a very quaint artsy feel to it.

 

Interesting roof-tops and facades were everywhere in Hoi An.

 

Still a nice place to spend a hot afternoon, especially after nailing our target Red-shanked Doucs!

 

Hoi An

 

Our evening was spent once again strolling the streets of Da Nang, but only after I received the massage from hell, from what I was pretty sure was a “working" girl.  After they separated MY WIFE and me, the masseuse who was to try to mend my incredibly sore back, wanted me to jump in the bathtub with her….After about 13 milliseconds of “thinking about it”…(just kidding!), I finally convinced her in my broken massage-parlor Vietnamese, that all I wanted was a good lower BACK massage and nothing else.  She then proceed to beat the living crap out of me with her tiny little sledge-hammer fists for the next 60 minutes!  My back was pretty much worse off than when I went in the joint… The bathtub might have been nicer.  Som at least told me that here massage was one of the best she’d had in years!  I wonder if she was offered the bathtub as well…

 

Bach Ma National Park

 

While we didn't see much in the way of mammal wildlife at Bach Ma, once the road to the summit opens up, we will be back!

 

Our next day was off to Bach Ma National Park, a couple hours north of Da Nang.  While Bach Ma offers the serious mammaler some of Southeast Asia’s most rare species, such as the White-cheeked Gibbon and the Large-antlered Muntjac, it is pretty much a no-go-zone if the road to the summit is closed, which it was when we visited.  After spending our afternoon basically walking around the village near the entrance, we decided there was no point in being there at all, with the exception of a few good birds, so I made the executive decision to head directly to Phong Nha early the next morning and get a good start there.  We did trap a very large and healthy Asian House Shrew that evening so the destination was not a complete bust.  But the uplands did look very appealing from down below and Som and I do plan on returning again someday to Bach Ma when the road opens.  A stay of three or so days on the summit is recommended for some impressive mammals.

 

All that splended jungle out of reach....this time...

 

We did nail a new species here though - an Asian House Shrew.  This one was a fatty!

 

For birders the lower elevations have a bit more to offer at Bach Ma, such as this Masked Laughingthrush (Garrulax perspicullatus).

 

Bach Ma did have a good selection of leaches however!

 

Even Cokie got nailed by DracuLEECH!

 

 

 

 

We even got in some good beach time at Vinh Lang Co near Bach Ma!

 

 

 

Cokie is definitely getting in the wildlife viewing these days.... Or maybe it's just fun to use the binos...

 

 

Phong Nha National Park!

Both the park itself and the surrounding countryside of Phong Nha is absolutely one of the most spectacular regions of Viet Nam for sure.

 

So off the next morning to Phong Nha for hopes to see our final primate target, the extremely rare and endangered Hatinh Langur, which has one of the smallest distributions of any primate species.  The drive was quite spectacular taking us through Hai Van pass and Hue city and eventually to lush green rice country of Quang Binh province in Viet Nam’s central north.  Our initial destination was “Phong Nha Farm Stay”, which as far as I knew before arriving, was a farm in the middle of the rice paddies that allowed bums like us to flop for a few nights.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Phong Nha Farm Stay is a lovely inn in the middle of a very quaint village about 40 minutes from the park which doubles as a working rice farm and comfortable hotel with a great atmosphere, good grub and lots of interesting company to share stories with.  I would recommend Farm Stay for pretty much anyone wishing to get to Phong Nha National Park

 

Phong Nha Farm Stay is a great place to use as home base while exploring Phong Nha!  Your hosts are absolutely wonderful and go out of their way to make you feel at home.

 

Once we got situated, so did the rain.  It poured torrentially for a couple hours before we basically said, “to hell with it”, and loaded up the gear in the car and made our way through the karst limestone jungle that is Phong Nha, to spend a few hours in the park looking for the langurs.  Phong Nha is simply one of the most spectacular places I’ve been in Southeast Asia.  Without a doubt, the waters are some of the most emerald-colored on the planet.  The karst topography is stark and dramatic.  The forest is recovering nicely in many places from the Agent Orange attack the USA rained down on it some 40 years earlier.  We spent several hours coursing the first three to four kilometers of the main road looking for anything to move.  Aside from a few birds, the forest was quiet no doubt due to the rain, that was by now starting to ebb a bit.

 

The rivers of Phong Nha were incredibly blue...

 

The karst topography of Phong Nha was easily as spectacular as Ha Long or Guilin...

 

The villages and rice paddies surrounding Phong Nha were poetic...

 

Phong Nha is riddled with caves, but unfortunately the ones we explored were pretty much   "bat-less"...

 

By the time we finished our late afternoon search, I convinced Nhan to take us deeper in to the park to try to see some night critters.  He was reluctant and tried to talk us in to working the road some more instead.  But after a little more convincing, he agreed and we drove several more kilometers in to the park, where we waited for some pitch black conditions.  As soon as it was dark enough, I armed everyone, including Cokie, with our powerful little spotlights, and we proceeded to drive through Phong Nha looking for anything that moved.  About ten meters later, Som saw something!  Too quick but definitely something with two eyes in a bush.  Just another one of those mystery mammals you see too many of on night safaris…

 

After several mystery sightings, we eventually nailed a good look at a couple flying squirrels.  First what I believe was a Particoloured Flying Squirrel (small and greyish...) and then this splendid Lesser Giant Flying Squirrel (I think) which gave us long views.

 

After a successful night drive through Phong Nha, we made it back for a nice dinner at Farm Stay.  "Get to bed early" was the command as we had a 4:30 AM departure to get back to the park to see the langurs, this time for sure! The drive through the spectacular rice paddies situated between the gigantic karst giants in time for sunrise was an amazing way to start the day.  Even if we were to be skunked on the langurs, the drive itself was worth the trip!  But we were not to be skunked at all.  In fact, immediately upon entering the park, we spotted ALL 17 of the Hatinh Langurs located in this part of the park!  They were located on both sides of the canyon.  About ten or so where still waking up on the far side of the canyon, still clinging to the sheer limestone cliff face with nothing that would constitute anything more than few centimeters of rock edge on which to grab.  How anyone could get any sleep at all grabbing on to a few millimeters of rock 100 meters up on the air is beyond me!

 

Hatinh Langur

We were amazed to see the Hatinh Langurs clinging to the sheer cliff faces of Phong Nha!

 

The Hatinh Langur show lasted at least a couple hours while I tried, mostly fruitlessly, to get “the shot”.  Finally, just as I was about to give up, one decided to jump a few meters to the next three and I was able to snap the images that I wanted, or at least as good as I was willing to try to get at this stage.  The morning was getting hot!  Convinced that we’d already had a great morning, we headed back to Farm Stay for some will deserved R&R.  Cokie was pleased to get some more pool-time in for sure. 

 

After a bit of waiting in the hot sun of Phong Nha, the Hatinh Langurs decided to give us a bit of a show.  So fast but so spectacular!

 

One of the rarest primates in Asia, the Hatinh Langur are best seen in Phong Nha!

 

Going for it!

 

What an amazing place to sleep through the night...

 

Noodle Ramen!  The breakfast of wildlife-watching champions!

 

Farm Stay is a seriously nice place to stay while exploring Phong Nha!

 

Just like the day before, we made out for a late afternoon return to the park.  It was really too hot for any mammal action to speak of, so we simply strolled the deeper sections of the park road until darkness set in.  Once we got the spotlights in everyone’s hands, we headed out on yet another amazing night at Phong Nha!  It wasn’t more than one kilometer when Som screamed again,  “Two eyes!”  After a few moments of misidentifying the hell out of the critter, he finally made a good enough appearance so that I could clearly make out that he was another Pygmy Slow Loris!  Finding two of these on one trip is really unprecedented, as far as I know.  We did get some outstanding views of this little booger after blazing a trail deeper in to the forest. 

 

Killing time before the night safari!

 

Pygmy Slow Loris

I am still in awe of Som's spotting abilities.  What an amazing wildlife experience!

 

Wow!

 

After snapping “the shots” I wanted, we let our little primate friend return to his night’s activities.  Luckily he was no where near as fast as the one we saw at Cat Tien, earlier in the week.  What a treat! This time even Cokie got a great view of this little critter, although we were all a bit nervous about how deep we were in the forest and the thought of snakes never left our minds.  After some more views of Indian Giant Flying Squirrels and some sort of civet, we all agreed this was a stellar night safari!  Watching our guides and driver totally get in to the experience was almost as good as the species we saw.  None of them had ever done such a thing and watching their smiles was a great experience.

 

What a fitting end to our wildlife adventure in Viet Nam:  finding a small troop of Hatinh Langur bedding down for the night on a cliff face 100 feet up the sheer limestone cliff face of Phong Nha.  Truly an amazing sight!

 

Phong Nha National Park

 

I was really nervous about returning to Viet Nam.  I had no idea how I would deal with all those painful memories and how my family would react to seeing me react.  But all of my worries were for nothing.  As soon as our first night in TPHCM, I was at ease in my second country.  I used to joke with Lien that I felt Viet Nam was my third country, after Japan of course, and that would irritate her to no end.  But now I can saw with full confidence that Viet Nam is my second country (Thailand being my first and the USA way down the list...;-)) and we will return again soon.  Hey, there are still a half dozen or so primates left to see afterall!

 

Other Critters!

Our very first and only Indomalayan Niviventer!  No trip is complete without one...I love how Som has no fear whatsoever in releasing this little guy...

 

Pallas's Squirrels (Callosciurus erythraeus flavimanus) were pretty much everywhere at Cat Tien

 

We had fewer of the northern subspecies of Pallas's squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus erythraeus)

 

High up on the karst we caught a glimpse of one lone Rhesus Macaque...

 

Female Buff-cheeked Gibbon at the Cat Tien Primate Rescue Center

 

Red-shanked Doucs!

 

A lovely family...

 

I love gibbons!

 

Asian House Shrew!  It's not dead - it's just climbing over the brick...

 

Tibetan or Asiatic Black Bear!  I could not believe how lucky we were to see this!.....in the Cat Tien Bear Rescue center....  Three captive "Moon Bears" were in a sizable enclosure.  Not sure if reintroduction to the wild is on the agenda or not.

 

Chinese Pond Herons were everywhere but this one was particularly nice with its breeding plumage...

 

We caught this Blue Whistling Thrush (Myiophoneus caeruleus) sleeping during a night drive at Phong Nha NP.

 

Oriental Pied Hornbills were seen commonly on the trip.  We did also catch good looks, but no images, of Wreathed Hornbills.  We even saw a nice pair of Great Hornbills at Phong Nha.

 

Stripe-throated Bulbuls were another common species...

 

Lesser Whistling Ducks flying in the rain at Cat Tien...

 

Intermediate Egrets at Crocodile Lake...

 

 

Common Tailorbird at Phong Nha

 

Dark-necked Tailorbird at Cat Tien

 

Olive-backed sunbird (Aethopyga saturata) Phong Nha

 

Venous-breasted Starling (Sturnus birmannicus) at Bach Ma

 

Long-tailed Shrike at Bach Ma

 

Although it was a distant view for sure, it was still nice to see a wild Green Peafowl perched high in the canopy of Cat Tien near Crocodile Lake.

 

Cruddy image but a real treat to see our first Banded Kingfisher at Cat Tien!

 

Sooty-headed Bulbul at Bach Ma

 

Large Wood Shrike (Tephrodornis virgatus) at Cat Tien

 

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird at Phong Nha....(confirmed thanks to Richard!)

 

Water Monitor Lizard hanging in a tree - his tree!

 

With basically my entire reference library safely in storage in Thailand, it may be a while before I can ID this little gecko....feel free to contribute to the effort!

 

Flaming Red Fence Lizards (Calotes versicolor) were fairly common in Viet Nam.

 

 Another Agamid garden lizard (Calotes species) in Bach Ma...

 

Not an overwhelming amount of coleoptera fauna this trip (compared to '94 when I discovered Tam Dao!), but this little Meloid was nice to see....One of the few poisonous beetles...

 

Large Ciccindelid Tiger Beetles were everywhere!

 

This was one big Charon grayi, or Whip Spider.  At about 12 cm it was almost as large as I'd seen in SE Asia...

 

 

Viet Nam Mammal List

  1. Black-shanked Douc (Pygathrix nigripes)*                     30 
  2. Red-shanked Douc (Pygathrix nemaeus)*                 18-20
  3. Pygmy Slow Loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus)*                  2
  4. Red-cheeked Squirrel (Dremomys rufigens)                   1
  5. Pallas’s Squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus flavimanus)*       40+
  6. Pallas's Squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus erythraeus)* 2
  7. Cambodian Striped Squirrel                                          3
  8. Buff-cheeked Gibbon (Nomascusgabriellae)*                   1
  9. Annamese Silvered Langur(Trachypithecus margarita)*      3-4
  10. Hatinh Langur (Trachypithecus hatinhensis)*                   17
  11. Pig-tailed Macaque (Voice only)
  12. Indomalayan Niviventer (Niviventer fulvescens)*               1
  13. Great Roundleaf Bat (Hipposideros armiger)                     25+
  14. Greater False-vampire (Megaderma lyra)                          3
  15. Intermediate Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolaphus affinis)*             100+
  16. Lesser Brown Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus sthenoI)*           25+
  17. Least Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus pusillis)*                       6-10
  18. Northern Tree Shrew                                                      1
  19. Asian House Mouse (Mus musculus)                                  1
  20. Long-tailed Macaque                                                      1++
  21. Lesser Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista elegans)                   1
  22. Indian Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista philippensis)     1
  23. Particoloured Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes alboniger)*              1
  24. Asian House Shrew (Suncus murinus)*                              2
  25. Rhesus Macaque                                                            1
  26. Leschenault’s Rousette (Rousettus leschenaultia)*              6-10
  27. Intermediate Roundleaf Bat (Hipposideros larvatus)*             5
  28. Masked or Common Palm Civet (So fast!!!)     1

 

Bat ID's:  Bats were identified using mediocre images and trip report account and distribution maps.  While species number are accurate, species ID's may need revision.

Lesser Giant Flying Squirrel ID:  Based on coloration, I've assigned our pictured squirrel to P. elegans,  subject to verification.  Although we saw as many as two P. philippensis on the trip, this one was no more than half the size and considerably more orange-red.  Please feel free to correct!

 

 

Viet Nam Bird List

  1. Chinese Pond Heron
  2. Little Egret
  3. Great Egret
  4. Lesser Whistling Duck
  5. Honey Buzzard
  6. Grey-headed Fish Eagle?
  7. Common Kestrel
  8. Japanese Sparrowhawk
  9. Siamese Fireback Pheasant
  10. Red Junglefowl
  11. Green Peafowl
  12. Annan Partridge (voice only)
  13. Purple Swamphen
  14. White-breasted Waterhen
  15. Bronze-winged Jacana
  16. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  17. Grey-headed Lapwing
  18. Green Imperial Pigeon (Ducula aenea)*
  19. Emerald Pigeon
  20. Spotted Dove
  21. Green-billed Malhoha
  22. Lesser Coucal
  23. Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri)*
  24. Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micopterus)*
  25. Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides)*
  26. Brown Hawk Owl
  27. Red-eared Nightjar*
  28. Nightjar species at Phong Nga - research
  29. Stork-billed  
  30. Common Kingfisher
  31. Banded Kingfisher (Lacedo pulchella)*
  32. White-throated Kingfisher
  33. Blue-bearded  Bee-eater
  34. Oriental Pied Hornbill
  35. Wreathed Hornbill
  36. Great Hornbill
  37. Red-throated Barbet
  38. Common Flameback
  39. Great Slaty Woodpecker
  40. Black-and-red Broadbill
  41. Dusky Broadbill (Corydon sumatranus)*
  42. Asian Palm Swift
  43. Barn Swallow
  44. White Wagtail
  45. Scarlet Minivet
  46. Large Wood Shrike (Tephrodornis virgatus)*
  47. Ruby-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes singalensis)*
  48. Olive-backed Sunbird
  49. Stripe-throated Bulbul
  50. Streak-eared Bulbul
  51. Puff-throated Bulbul (Criniger pallidus)*
  52. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  53. Black Drongo
  54. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  55. Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)*
  56. Black-hooded Oriole
  57. Large-billed Crow
  58. Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)*
  59. Striped Tit Babbler (Macronous gularis)*
  60. Sooty Babbler (Stacbyris herbeti)*
  61. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush (Garrulax monileger)*
  62. White-throated Laughingthrush
  63. Masked Laughingthrush (Garrulaxn perspicullatus)*
  64. Black-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax chinensis)*
  65. Dark-necked Tailorbird (Orthotomus atrogularis)*
  66. Common Tailorbird
  67. Ashy Tailorbird (Orthotomus sepium)*
  68. Oriental Magpie Robin
  69. Blue Whistling Thrush (Myiophoneus caeruleus)*
  70. White-rumped Shama
  71. Brown Shrike
  72. Long-tailed Shrike
  73. Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica)*
  74. Blackbird species - research
  75. White-vented Myna
  76. Crested Myna
  77. Common Myna
  78. Hill Myna
  79. Venous-breasted Starling (Sturnus birmannicus)*
  80. White-collared Starling
  81. Crimson Sunbird
  82. Black-throated Sunbird (Aethopyga saturata)*
  83. Sunbird sp.- see picture
  84. Sunbird species – see picture
  85. Asian Golden Weaver (Ploceus hypoxanthus)*
  86. Eurasian Tree Sparrow

 

Other Stuff!

Lien's Aunt's neighborhood in Saigon.  If I didn't know for a fact that it was, I never would have recognized it.  Last time I was here the road was a muddy path...

 

Notre Dame!

 

Bun for sale in Bien Hoa!

 

Bac Ho!

 

Hue's Citadel

 

A foggy and cool morning on Hai Van Pass!

 

Pho yah!

 

Just outside of Bach Ma, there is the BEST noodle stand in Viet Nam!  Bun Bo Hue baby!

 

"Tom" baby!

 

We initially bought this "nem" for bait in our traps, but we ended up eating most of it ourselves!  Delish!  But we opted to fry it up instead of eating the pork pickled-raw....Our guides had never eaten raw nem but they really liked it!

 

 

 OK!  Yes I know - crap image!  But photographing the elusive and nervous Annamese Silvered Langur in a typhoon and very poor light, while running through the leech-infested Cat Tien jungle...I was lucky to get this shot! (So I slipped it in at the end of the page...)

 

Best umbrella money can buy!

 

Cokie tried to "keep" this one...didn't last long..

 

Gathering vines at Bach Ma

 

What you lookin' at?

 

Chef Som checking out the kitchen near the beach seafood stop at Bach Ma...

 

Amazing dinner!  With our crew - Hoa, our driver (on the left), Nhan, our wildlife guide extraordinaire (middle), Cokie, our little monkey (on the right) and Som, my sweetie!

 

Our table after we finished....Actually a bunch of local chaps had a night out...

 

Cruising the back roads near Bach Ma, we found the best damn Bun Bo Hue in Viet Nam!

 

Seriously tasty!  Note the crab cakes...

 

Our bun bo chef at work!

 

 "Hey!  I thought YOU packed Cokie's belt!"  "No, I thought YOU packed it!"

 

First day, first target seen...It's "Bia Saigon" time!

 

Da Nang still had a lot of its original character and it's river promenade was a pleasure to stroll in the cool evenings...

 

Cokie really took a liking to Vietnamese cuisine.  He ate like a horse!

 

Da Nang

 

Old town Hoi An!

 

Sit Lo in Hoi An....Uhh, Som, take off the lens cap...

 

Hoi An home!

 

Ao Yai

 

No morning is complete in Viet Nam without "cafe sua da"!

 

Ngong lam!

 

Gia dinh toi!

 

Farm Stay Phong Nha!  More like a cush resort!  They do a GREAT job!

 

"Toby" was our constant companion on this expedition.  Lucky ape!

 

Rush hour - Hue style!

 

Evidence of the "American War" was still visible at Hai Van Pass...

 

"Bat" Woman!

 

Banh My anyone?

 

Di cau!!!

 

My little man.  I hope he is having a great journey...

 

 

 

 

***

 

The Trip That Almost Didn't Happen...

Every expat living in China needs to get some “outside-of-China” time from time to time.  We are no different so we were more than ready to get out of Shanghai for a few days.  The days leading up to our departure were some of this year’s smoggiest days so far, and we were looking forward to breathing some fresh, Southeast Asian air!   

On the way to Pudong International Airport, our taxi driver noticed that there was fog.  He told us that no way were we going to leave tonight!  But I knew better, I mean after all we were able to see about 1 km or more and no self-respecting airline would cancel their flights with fog this light…

Our taxi driver was correct.  As we approached our gate, we noticed a lot of passengers were already pretty agitated and the mood was more than a little sour.  After several hours of watching our flight being delayed and delayed again, I began to realize that they were most likely going to cancel it.  And by around 2 AM (5 hours late), they canceled the flight.  By this time, the passengers were so irate that I was convinced that there was going to be a riot in the terminal.  It would not have been so bad, but China Eastern’s policy is to tell people absolutely nothing and to simply station a grunt ground personnel there to suffer the brunt of the anger from the travelers.  They were clearly instructed to tell us nothing and to simply refuse to get a supervisor down to handle the crowd.  Exact words:  “Our supervisor will not be coming here to talk to passengers.  They are in their office.”  The situation was truly ugly.  This continued for most of the night.  I was actually pretty amazed at how long people’s anger could last and how long they would persist yelling, screaming and cussing at the ground personnel, at least two of whom were by now balling their eyes out. 

 

 Flight Cancelled!  Was this trip even going to happen?

 

After a few more hours, China Eastern opted to get us out of their hair and in to a local hotel.  We were afraid that if we went home, China Eastern would never honor their commitment to get us to Viet Nam, so we decided to stay at the hotel with the rest of the passengers rather than head home for the evening to try again the next day.  Actually the hotel they sent us to was quite nice and we were able to grab a couple hours sleep before rushing back to the airport.  We did not trust China Air to actually bring us back to the airport so we hoped another bus to terminal one and we checked in for our flight to Saigon that was supposed to leave by 8AM….And finally at 2PM, after watching only two men load our plane with luggage and shipments, and then off loading the plane again when one of the passengers decided to give up and go home, we were finally on our way...  As soon as we took off, everyone’s mood went from outright hatred for everything China Eastern to a festive mood that people heading toward vacations should have!  If only, after all of those delays and hours upon hours loading the plane, China Eastern could have remembered to load food.  That’s right, there was NO food on our flight.  Salt on the wound, I guess is what they were shooting for.  Seriously, more amazingly mismanaged airline would be pretty much impossible to find.

 

Check Out or Pbase Viet Nam Galleries! 

 

Check Out or Pbase Viet Nam Galleries!