Apologies for the delay in posting the third part of my Vietnamese saga.
A while ago I upgraded my account to gain more storage space. I quickly used up the allocated storage (by uploading photos at too high a resolution). I was under the impression that my annual subscription would give me that much space every year. In late August I was debited $99 as expected but no extra storage was allocated. It transpired that the extra storage was a one-off and the $99 was how much I had to pay per year to access it. Either that or don’t pay and the blog disappears! WordPress want me to upgrade to ‘business class’ at $300 per year to give me more storage which at the moment I have declined to do.
So I now have the choice of limiting what I upload or deleting old posts, something that I find hard to do, as it’s my personal history.
Anyway whinge over, time for some more travel pics.
This third post on my Vietnam trip covers the sites of Cuc Phuong and Tam Dao in former North Vietnam. We didn’t visit Ba Be, however there was an extension to Sa Pa and Fansipan mountain in the far north-west which is not shown on this map (follow a line 30 degrees NW from Hanoi to the Chinese border if you want to know where it is).
Here in the north there were many more reminders of the Communist past. Vietnam, remains a socialist republic, although free trade rather than a state monopoly is the order of the day.
We spent two nights at Cuc Phuong NP.
We had two excellent morning here and saw some excellent birds like Malay Night Heron, Red-collared Woodpecker and Limestone Wren-babbler but for the much of the time it was very overcast and dull (useless for photography) and the late mornings and afternoon were birdless. In spite of it being a national park locals still use it to graze their water buffalo.
We visited a cave which was used by people as a shelter some 7,500 years ago. This time period in Europe is known as the Neolithic and is characterised by the start of farming but I don’t know if this time period in Asia would still be characterised as the Mesolithic. All that walking and climbing is taking its toll of some of the participants knees, as can be clearly seen in this photos.
There might not have been many chances to photograph birds in Cuc Phuong was we did see some remarkable insects such as this bug …
… a lovely butterfly in flight …
… or this stunning dragonfly …
Cuc Phuong also has a captive breeding centre for local primates. These are usually individuals seized from the illegal pet trade that are being rehabilitated for release in the wild. I have already uploaded photos of Black-shanked and Grey-shanked Douc Langurs taken in the wild earlier on the tour. I didn’t get a decent shot of the third species, Red-shanked Douc Langur so here are some more Grey-shanks.
We also paid a couple of visits to Van Long marsh. Surrounded by rugged limestone hills it would have been very scenic had it not be for the persistent grey skies.
It is quite a tourist hot spot and many take a boat trip on the lake, however we just scoped from the shore.
If you look at the cliffs in the last photo then you will see how far away these monkeys really are. These are Delacour’s Langurs, another endemic and critically endangered species, showing off their white shorts.
We headed north towards the capital Hanoi. Traffic congestion increased as did the incidence of dodgy driving and overtaking on blind corners.
We only passed through the outskirts of the city but even there the traffic was dreadful.
We eventually reached our hotel at Tam Dao. It seemed like we were the only people staying but we still ended up with rooms as far up the hill from the restaurant and parking lot as possible. It was a bit of a trek every time you need to go back to your room but I suppose it was training for the rigours of Fansipan mountain in a few days time. The hotel, although well equipped was characterised by an almost complete lack of visible staff.
Thick fog and overcast skies continued …
… great birds like Grey Laughingthrush and Short-tailed Parrotbill were seen but not photographed on this trail.
In the afternoon we visited some forest near a Buddhist temple which seems to have been set up in this hanger.
An unexpected find was this migrant Rufous-bellied Woodpecker.
Early the next morning we climbed these steps to another temple, seeing more laughing thrushes and other forest birds. On our way down we came across these lads who were already ‘Brahms and Liszt’ in spite of the time of day.
At the base of the steps local traders had set up stalls and we were able to stock up on Vietnamese candies.
It was then the long drive to Sa Pa. This was an optional extension but everyone on the trip had decided to take it, which was great as we didn’t have to go back to Hanoi to drop anyone off at the airport and so gained extra time in this lovely location. Although the weather remained overcast I have to say that this was the most enjoyable part of the entire trip.
Sa Pa is located next to this lake and surrounded by mountains.
The area is full of western tourists and tired locals.
The narrow streets with their stalls selling everything imaginable are a pleasure to see.
There is a great birding location right in the town, Ham Rong Gardens gave us great views of a wide range of species.
The local inhabitants originate from hill tribes with their own traditional costumes. Many Vietnamese tourists buy these outfits and then get photographed wearing them in the park.
Away from the town were a number of scenic areas, birds like Little Forktail, Blue Whistling Thrush, White-capped and Plumbeous Redstart were seen by this waterfall …
… and the seldom seen Pale-throated Wren-Babbler showed brilliantly a few miles further along the road. Photo by tour leader Craig Robson. Copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
A number of hiking trails can be found in the area, some like this one just visit local waterfalls, others ascend Fansipan mountain and require a guide and three days to complete.
Along the trail we saw this Brown-breasted Flycatcher, an unexpected ‘write-in’ for the trip. Breeding in southern China and wintering in S India and Sri Lanka this might have been a migrant returning to its breeding area or perhaps its breeding range extends to extreme northern Vietnam.
We also sw this White Wagtail of the race leucopsis. Clearly a first year male with very bleached primaries and contrast between moulted and unmoulted coverts visible in the field.
We walked though some lovely forest …
… alongside a river …
… up and down multiple steps …
… before reaching the ‘Love’ Waterfall.
We were amused by this information board back at the park HQ. Clockwise from top left, Red-winged Laughingthrush, a bird that occurs in north Vietnam but we didn’t get a sniff at, Common Pheasant judging by the habitat probably an introduced bird photographed elsewhere, Great Hornbill which only occurs in the south in Vietnam and a photo of an American Bald Eagle captioned with the scientific name of Western Marsh Harrier! Sorry about the funny angle it was necessary to prevent the photo being ruined by reflections of the flash.
On our second day full at Sa Pa the weather improved somewhat and we took the opportunity to go to the top of Fansipan Mountain. Not having three days to climb to the summit, we took the cable car. The service holds two Guinness World Records for the longest non-stop three-rope cable car in the world, spanning 6.3 km and the greatest elevation difference by a non-stop three-roped cable car for the 1,410 m difference in elevation between the termini (taken from Wikipedia)
We were soon crossing the valley and looking down at the rice paddies far below …
… and back at the terminus.
As we climbed we left the open areas behind and soared over the forest …
Eventually we reached the summit, 1.4 km higher than where we had started. The mountain is 3,143m asl and is the highest point in Indochina. Half the group opted to stay around the summit visitor centre and descend at their convenience, the other half plus the leaders set off on an arduous hike towards the best birding areas.
The views of the surrounding mountains were spectacular and I certainly felt that this was the best day of the trip.
We dropped a fair way the started climbing again to pass this saddle then descended further on the other side before returning the same way.
Some of the rock outcrops were crossed by a series of steps bolted to rock, others required climbing ladders and a good head for heights.
I only took my pocket camera, wishing to reduce the weight I had to carry but tour leader Craig Robson got a great photo of one of the targets, ‘Tonkin’ Fulvetta, a potential split from the Chinese and Himalayan White-browed Fulvetta. Other highlights included Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Scaly-breasted Cupwing and Chestnut-headed Tesia. Photo copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
By the time we had returned to the cable car terminus the mist had rolled in.
Knackered but happy (though local leader Quang who did the entire hike in sandals is hamming it up a bit).
The other end of the cable car might be 6.3 km away but with a modern camera it can seem to be within touching distance.
The day on Fansipan mountain was the highlight of the trip, the combination of great birds, great scenery and the sense of achievement when you push your physical abilities to the limit combined to make a day I will never forget.
Since I originally started work on this post I have received the official report from Birdquest and a CD of Craig Robson and local leader Quang Hao Nguyen photos. The majority are better versions of birds that I uploaded in posts 1 and 2 but the following are worth adding. Note all are from locations that were visited in post 2.
Black-crowned Fulvetta photographed at Bi Doup Nui Ba NP. Photo copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
Stripe-throated Yuhina was seen at Ngoc Linh. Photo copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
Pygmy Cupwing at Bi Doup Nui Ba NP. Photo copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
Black-headed Sibia of the race kingi which may be split as ‘Brownish-backed Sibia’ at Ngoc Linh. Photo copyright Craig Robson/Birdquest.
Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush at Mang Cahn. Copyright Quang Hao Nguyen/Birdquest.
Silver Pheasant of race annamensis at Bach Ma NP. Copyright Quang Hao Nguyen/Birdquest.
I’ll conclude this account of my trip to Vietnam with another photo of the mountain scenery at Fansipan.