Vietnam - Mekong Delta - Cambodia

Combination of birding & cultural tours
Ho Chi Minh city - Cat Tien - Tram Chim - Phu My - Chau Doc - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat - Prek Toal - Ang Trapeang Thmor
16 days
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Vietnam is one of the most beautiful, friendly and fascinating countries in Asia and an early-season visit there finds the country at its best: the winter birds are still present, and the resident birds are getting ready for breeding season. According to your belief on taxonomic species-splitting, Vietnam hosts no less than fourteen true endemic species; this number continues to increase as further work is done and new discoveries are made. Vietnam also has a further seven or so species that are restricted to Indochina, as well as a number of very interesting and distinct subspecies, several of which are destined to be future taxonomic "splits". A large range of Southeast Asian species of wider distribution and a host of birds wintering from further north add to the richness of this destination.

Besides its high biodiversity, the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam displays a variety of physical landscapes but is dominated by flat flood plains in the south, with a few hills in the north and west. This diversity of terrain was largely the product of tectonic uplift and crustal folding brought about by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates about 50 million years ago. The soil of the lower Delta consists mainly of sediment from the Mekong and its tributaries, deposited over thousands of years as the river regularly changed its course due to the flatness of the low-lying terrain.

Cambodia on the other hand is covered more by the deciduous dipterocarp forests that once spread across much of Indochina, which was formerly home to the greatest aggregation of large mammals and water birds that have existed beyond the savannas of Africa. These forests have largely disappeared from Thailand and Vietnam, and currently, the Northern and Eastern Plains of Cambodia form the largest remaining contiguous block of this unique and critically important habitat.

Our unique and comprehensive itinerary has a combination of birding and cultural touring that covers the best sites in the south of Vietnam, where we seek out bird species such as the Green Peafowl, Siamese Fireback, and Great Hornbill in Cat Tien National Park, and the Sarus Crane and Broze-winged Jacana in Tram Chim National Park. Visiting several sites in Cambodia, we have many chances to see both of the rarest ibises (White-shouldered and Giant), as well as the Bengal Florican and Greater Adjutant around Tonle Sap, and many woodpecker species in Ang Trapaeng Thmor. The Angkor Temples are a "must-see" destination at Siam Reap. We shall experience these two countries in a way that very few Westerners ever have.
Transport is by late-model minibus, accommodation is in luxury/good standard hotels and park bungalows, and we will be served memorable Vietnamese/Khmer food throughout.

Day by day itinerary

Day 1. Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City

Participants will arrive in Ho Chi Minh City flights from their homes today.  A private car transfer from the airport to the hotel is available. 

Majestic Hotel

Day 2. Ho Chi Minh City/Cat Tien

We will enjoy breakfast on the hotel roof overlooking the Sai Gon River, followed by a tour of the city. After lunch, we travel to Cat Tien National Park (4-hour drive), the premier National Park in South Vietnam.  Cat Tien is located in Cochinchina in the Da Lat foothills and boasts an impressive mosaic of forest and seasonal wetlands, which largely escaped the defoliants used in the Vietnam War.  We will bird on jeep tracks and forest trails to seek out the endemic Germain’s Peackock-Pheasant, other spectacular birds such as Siamese Fireback, Green Peafowl and Scaly-breasted Partridge, endemic Pittas, the endemic Grey-faced Tit-Babbler and a host of other species from Malaysia and Thailand are also seen here.  We will start exploring the park with some late-afternoon birding around the park headquarters to see the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, and many bulbuls and drongos. For those who are keen birders, we will have a night safari after dinner to look for owls, nightjars and other noctournal birds. 

Forest Floor Lodge (B, L, D)

Day 3. Cat Tien national park

Our first full day birding in Cat Tien National Park, we will trek 5 km to Crocodile Lake, a Ramsar site located in the middle of the jungle.  Along the trail we might have a chance to see the elusive Siamese Fireback, an endemic Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, or the most-sought Bar-bellied Pitta.  Picnic lunch at the lake while we stay to watch several waterbirds, such as Woolly-necked and Lesser Adjutant Storks, Bronze-winged Jacana, bitterns, herons, etc. 

Forest Floor Lodge (B, L, D)

Day 4. Cat Tien/Tram Chim

After early-morning birding and breakfast, we will make a longish drive to Tram Chim National Park, Dong Thap Province (6-7 hour drive). We'll stop en route for sightseeing and lunch.  In the mid-afternoon, we will take a boat trip to Zone A4 in Tram Chim National Park.  Birdwatching today is for our main target, the Sarus crane, but we will also see many other species, including Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Asian Openbill and passerines, e.g. Grassbird and Asian Golden Weaver. 

Hoang Gia Hotel (in Tam Nong Town) (B, L, D)

Day 5. Tram Chim

We will have a full day to explore Tram Chim National Park.  In the morning, we will take another boat trip to Zone A2 to study the conservation situation and do some birding and then return to the town for lunch.  In the afternoon, we will take a walk along the dike boundary to see local cultures, landscape and birding. 

Hoang Gia Hotel (in tam Nong Town) (B, L, D)

Day 6. Tram Chim/Ha Tien

We leave Tram Chim in the morning and travel to Ha Tien Town, Kien Giang Province (4-hour drive).  On the way we will have a chance to see how the Vietnamese live day-to-day in the Mekong Delta region.  We will lunch in Ha Tien and check-in to our hotel by noon.  Later in the afternoon we'll take a city tour around Ha Tien yown and visit several cultural sites.  Dinner at Nui Den Restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. 

Green Island Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 7. Ha Tien/Chau Doc

After breakfast at our hotel, we will visit the Phu My Project to learn about community-based wetland conservation and have lunch at the Phu My Project office.  We will depart for Chau Doc in the afternoon and we will check-in to our five-star hotel on the bank of the Bassac River later in the day. 

Victoria Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 8. Chau Doc/Phnom Penh

We spend our early morning taking a look at the river and seeing local people in their daily activities.  Later we will travel up the river by boat to Phnom Penh, arriving by noon for check-in at our hotel.  The afternoon is free time for a city tour, a visit to a market, or to the Golden and Silver pagodas.  We will dine at the Foreign Correspondent Club. 

Hotel TBA (B, L, D)

Day 9. Phnom Penh/Siem Reap

This morning, we will take an early morning flight to Siem Reap, and transfer to our hotel.  There will be free time to visit Angkor Wat or Siem Reap city in the afternoon. 

Apsara Holiday Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 10. Siem Reap

We have a full day visit to Prek Toal Wildlife Sanctuary on Tonle Sap Lake.  Birding here is good and we should see the Greater and Lesser Adjutant storks, Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, Milky Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, Grey-Headed Fish Eagle and many more species. Return to Siem Reap later afternoon. 

Apsara Holiday Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 11. Siem Reap

We'll leave Siem Reap after breakfast for a full day trip to Ang Trapeang Thmor, a nature reserve based around a reservoir dating from the Khmer Rouge era. The reserve now harbors a unique wetland set among grasslands, dipterocarp forest and rice fields. Ang Trapeang Thmor is an important wintering site for the endangered Eastern Sarus Crane between February and March. Other highlights of Ang Trapeang Thmor are the breeding colonies of Spot-billed Pelican and Painted Stork and often large numbers of waterfowl, including Spot-billed Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Garganey, Black-backed Swamphen, and Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas.   

Apsara Holiday Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 12. Siem Reap/Ho Chi Minh City

We will have final morning of free time in Siem Reap to pursue other interests around the town before flying to Ho Chi Minh City in the afternoon. 

Majestic Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 13. Ho Chi Minh City

Here we'll visit Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve to learn about mangrove ecology and restoration. Keen birders will have chance to see many species of waders, including the White-faced Plover, the rare and endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank, and a slight chance for seeing a rare and endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper or two.  An alternative option is to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, a renowned Vietnam War historical site some 50km from Ho Chi Minh City center. Located here are just a part of the huge and complex underground tunnel system constructed and used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War. 

Majestic Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 14. Ho Chi Minh City

Free time in the afternoon for shopping and farewell dinner this evening. 

Majestic Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 15. Departure

Transfer to the Ho Chi Minh City international airport for flight check-in and departure.  (B)

Code:  Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Itinerary subject to change.