PRIVATE TOUR – CODE: VIA04

Regrettably, many people still associate Vietnam with war and hardship. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Vietnam today is a fast-developing country with mostly good infrastructure, extremely friendly people, and cheap to boot. Apart from the birding, Vietnam also has a very rich culture, a wide diversity of people, and great scenery, making it worthwhile to visit for both birders and non-birders alike.

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Travel route: Hanoi – Halong bay – Cat Ba national park – Hanoi – Cuc Phuong national park – Ho Chi Minh city – Cat Tien national park – Ho Chi Minh city – Departure

BRIEF ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Hanoi arrival (D)
  • Day 2: Hanoi (B,L,D)
  • Day 3: Hanoi – Halong bay – Overnight on boat (B,L,D)
  • Day 4: Halong bay – Cat Ba national park – Hanoi (B,L,D)
  • Day 5: Hanoi – Cuc Phuong national park (B,L,D)
  • Day 6 & 7: Cuc Phuong national park (B,L,D)
  • Day 8: Cuc Phuong national park – Van Long nature reserve (B,L,D)
  • Day 9: Cuc Phuong national park – Hanoi – Flight to Ho Chi Minh city (B,L,D)
  • Day 10: Ho Chi Minh city – Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)
  • Day 11: Cat Tien national park – Crocodile lake (B,L,D)
  • Day 12: Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)
  • Day 13: Cat Tien national park – Dong Nai river (B,L,D)
  • Day 14: Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)
  • Day 15: Cat Tien national park – Crocodile farm – Ho Chi Minh city (B,L,D)
  • Day 16: Cu Chi tunnels – Departure (B,L)

DETAIL ITINERARY

Day 1: Hanoi arrival (D)
Upon arrival at Hanoi international airport, after clearing customs and immigration we will transfer to our hotel for a night of much needed rest. Enjoy a welcome Vietnamese dinner at a restaurant close to Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiem Lake. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 2: Hanoi (B,L,D)

Today will be a fairly easy day to aid in our recuperation from the long journey. After breakfast we will begin a series of meetings that are meant to introduce us to the conservation issues facing Vietnam. We will likely meet with personnel from the Institute for Ecology and Biological Research in order to gain some important background before our exploration of Vietnam’s National Parks begins. We will have lunch between meetings and after dinner we will return to the hotel for a night of rest as we continue to try and reset our biological clocks.

Day 3: Hanoi – Halong bay – Overnight on boat (B,L,D)

Today we will depart early for the Vietnamese coast crossing over the Red River Delta along the way. We should arrive in Halong City, the gateway to the magnificent World Heritage Site of Halong Bay, by noon where we will transfer to our private sailing junk. Halong translates to ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ – an apt description for the thousands of jagged islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. We will sail through this spectacular seascape full of tiny beaches, grottos and forested slopes echoing with bird song. We will be served a lunch of fresh seafood while we pass through beautiful areas of the Bay such as Seadog Rock, Fighting Cock Islet and Surprising Cave. After lunch we will stop at Ba Trai Dao (Three Peaches Beach) to enjoy some swimming and kayaking. Back onboard we will enjoy a fantastic sunset and dinner. We will overnight aboard the boat in a harbor near Cat Ba Island.

Day 4: Halong bay – Cat Ba national park – Hanoi (B,L,D)

After an early breakfast on the boat we will disembark to explore Cat Ba National Park. Cat Ba NP is home to more than 70 species of birds and 32 species of mammals. As we trek into the Park we hope to see butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and a host of birds. Mammals are present in the park, but are rarely seen. We will return to the boat in the afternoon to cruise back to the Halong City Wharf and transfer back to Hanoi. This evening we will witness an art form unique to northern Vietnam as we enjoy a water puppetry show. After the show we will head to a local restaurant for dinner and overnight in Hanoi.

Day 5: Hanoi – Cuc Phuong national park (B,L,D)

After an early breakfast we will depart for Cuc Phuong National Park. Our drive will take us past a mosaic of rice paddies, rural hamlets, limestone cliffs and green mountains. Located south of Hanoi, the forested limestone slopes of Cuc Phuong protect an impressive variety of animals and plants. It is home to some spectacular primates including gibbons, macaques and rare and endemic Delacour’s leaf monkey. The Park is also home to some fantastic birds including red-collared woodpeckers, limestone wren-babblers, fork-tailed sunbirds and many others. During April and May, just before the onset of the rains, the Park is filled with literally millions of butterflies. We will arrive at Cuc Phuong in the early afternoon and will visit the Park’s Turtle Conservation Center. This sanctuary was established to protect and breed many species of Asian turtles and tortoises all of which are endangered from over-harvest for the food markets of China and Taiwan. In the late afternoon we will have our first chance to look for wildlife along the Park’s main road before we settle into our rustic, but comfortable, accommodations at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouse. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouse.

Day 6 & 7: Cuc Phuong national park (B,L,D)

Dedicated in 1962, Cuc Phuong was Vietnam’s first national park and is one of the few remaining areas of lowland and limestone forest left in the north. We will have two full days to explore the forests and trails within the Park’s karst ecosystem. We will begin each day at dawn when animal activity is at its peak, take a break during the heat of the day and continue exploring in the late afternoon and early evening. We will also take a few night game drives in hopes of glimpsing some of the nocturnal mammals that inhabit the park. Mammals are difficult to see in the Park, but birds are common and we should observe some reptiles as well. We will have our meals and overnight at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 8: Cuc Phuong national park – Van Long nature reserve (B,L,D)

This morning we will visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center located near Park Headquarters. The Center is home to around 14 species of primates, mostly gibbons and langurs that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. The Center not only rescues the animals, but is breeding them for eventual reintroduction back into the wild. Vietnam is home to a fantastic array of primates most of which are endemic or near-endemic. They are almost all endangered as well so the Center is doing really important conservation and education work. Our visit will also likely be our only chance to see some of these animals. The exception to this may be the rare Delacour’s langur which is endemic to the region in and around Cuc Phuong. After lunch we will travel to Van Long Nature Reserve to hopefully observe these fantastic black and white primates as they scamper up and down the limestone pinnacles and cliff faces. When we arrive at Van Long we will board traditional reed boats that will take us to the edge of the towering cliffs that rise up out of the water. The langurs are most active in the late afternoon and early evening and it will truly be a privilege to observe them in the wild. The boats are operated by the local community providing a sustainable income that also promotes wildlife protection. As the sun slips behind the mountains we will boat back to our bus and return to Cuc Phuong for dinner and overnight.

Day 9: Cuc Phuong national park – Hanoi – Flight to Ho Chi Minh city (B,L,D)

We will depart Cuc Phuong very early this morning and drive back to Hanoi and the airport to catch our early afternoon flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Once we arrive in Saigon we will check into our rooms at the Sapphire Hotel before departing for a short city tour to visit some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most important cultural sites including the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame Church, the Central Post Office and the Ben Thanh Market. After we finish our tour we will return to the Sapphire Hotel to prepare for dinner.

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh city – Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)

We will depart early for the 170 km trek to Cat Tien National Park. Along the way we pass through some beautiful countryside including a number of rubber plantations. Upon arrival at Park Headquarters we will check-in at the Guesthouse and begin our exploration of this incredible park. Cat Tien protects 77 species of mammals, 326 species of birds, 457 species of butterflies and numerous reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Among those species are some of the rarest animals in the world: leopard, Asian elephant, gaur (the largest species of wild ox), and clouded leopard are just a few of the mammal highlights. These large mammals are rarely seen, but we do have a good chance of seeing sambar deer, treeshrews and primates. Cat Tien is home to some endangered primates and we could see gibbon, douc langur and long-tailed macaques. Cat Tien is blessed with fantastic birds including green peafowl, orange-necked partridge, Siamese fireback pheasant, and numerous hornbills, broadbills, and babblers. The Park is also one of the last strongholds for the Siamese crocodile. We will overnight at the rustic, but comfortable Cat Tien Guesthouse. After dinner we will have a night game drive in the park to look for sambar and barking deer, civets, owls, ferret-badgers and other nocturnal creatures.

Day 11: Cat Tien national park – Crocodile lake (B,L,D)

This morning we will have an early breakfast before we begin our hike to Crocodile Lake. The hike winds through an incredible rainforest and we will walk slowly and quietly in order to maximize our chances of viewing wildlife. We could see primates and fantastic birds such as Germain’s peacock-pheasant, bar-bellied pitta, orange-breasted trogon and red-and-black broadbill. We should also see gliding lizards along this trail as they cling to tree trunks and extend their dewlaps in territorial displays. Once we arrive at Crocodile Lake we will eat lunch and have some time to set up our tents for the night. In the late afternoon we will explore the area around the lake and after dinner we will spot light the lake and lake shore looking for Siamese crocodiles, wild boar, civets and sambar deer. We will overnight tonight in tents provided by the Park.

Day 12: Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)

The real magic of Cat Tien can best be witnessed early in the morning at Crocodile Lake. Mammals can sometimes be seen coming to the water to drink, but the birdlife is fantastic. Flocks of lesser whistling ducks dabble in the shallows while stork-billed kingfishers, grey-headed fish-eagles and purple herons hunt for fish. Bronze-winged jacanas, greater painted snipes and purple swamp hens work the shoreline and both yellow and cinnamon bitterns haunt the reeds. Great hornbills hop through the treetops and male green peafowl sometimes fan their incredible feathered tail as they dance near the lake. Crocodile Lake in the morning is a glimpse of what much of Asia used to look like and will hopefully provide some awe-inspiring highlights. After our morning on the lake we will hike back along the trail watching for wildlife as we go. Once we reach the trailhead we will transfer back to our rooms at the Cat Tien Guesthouse and wait for the heat of the day to subside. In the late afternoon we will use a vehicle to explore other areas of this great park. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cat Tien Guesthouses.

Day 13: Cat Tien national park – Dong Nai river (B,L,D)

This morning we will have an early boat trip along the river to view wildlife along the riverbanks. This is a great way to see wildlife including some that may be difficult to see otherwise like wooly-necked stork, blue-bearded bee-eater and maybe even elephants if we are really lucky. We will stop at a local village and have a chance to see how the people of the village are benefiting from the ecotourism the park generates. We also will have the opportunity to purchase some of the local handicrafts produced by the villagers. After our visit we will board the boats for the journey back to park headquarters. In the late afternoon we will once again have an opportunity to explore more of Cat Tien. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cat Tien Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 14: Cat Tien national park (B,L,D)

We will have another full day to explore Cat Tien. If yesterday’s boat trip was canceled due to rain we will have another opportunity to boat the Dong Nai River today. If the boat trip was successful yesterday, we will use the park vehicles to visit some of the more remote areas of the park. These could include Bird Lake and the Ficus Trail in the northern section of the park and/or the Ta Lai area. This is an incredible park with varied habitats full of wildlife, so no matter what we decide to do it will be a privilege to have another full day in the park.

Day 15: Cat Tien national park – Crocodile farm – Ho Chi Minh city (B,L,D)

We will have another early morning to bird and observe wildlife in Cat Tien before breakfast. After breakfast we will depart Cat Tien by crossing the Dong Nai River. Once across the river our bus will be waiting for us and we will drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. We will visit and have lunch at a large crocodile farm outside the city. This farm raises mostly Siamese crocodiles which are endangered in the wild. Breeding them in captivity lessens the pressure on the wild population and has contributed to the overall conservation of the species. We should arrive at the Sapphire Hotel in time to freshen up before dinner.

Day 16: Cu Chi tunnels – Departure (B,L)

This morning we will travel just northwest of the Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were a vast network of tunnels (250 kilometers in Cu Chi District alone) built during the Vietnam War in order to facilitate Viet Cong control over large rural areas close to Saigon. They were also used for protection from American bombings and as way to mount surprise attacks against American forces. Today the tunnels have been enlarged slightly to accommodate visitors. After our visit we will travel back to Ho Chi Minh City and transfer to a standard hotel/restaurant for lunch and refreshment. Afternoon take your flight back home. End of services.

INCLUSION

  • English-speaking  tour guide for the whole trip (1 tour guide escorts the group together with other local professional tour guides at each National Parks: Cuc Phuong, Phong Nha, Nam Cat Tien)
  • Double/Twin-shared rooms at hotels in cities and guest house in National Parks
  • Rooms reserved for group without surcharge in Nam Cat Tien when overnight at Crocodile Lake
  • Meals as mentioned in the program ( Full board)
  • Land transfer by air-condition van.
  • All Domestic air ticket Hanoi – Saigon with Vietnam Airlines and airport tax according to program
  • Boat trip in Van Long, Cat Tien national park and private junk for overnight in Halong Bay
  • Canoe in Nam Cat Tien (7 pax/ canoe)
  • Admission to all tourist sights.
  • 01 FOC for tour leader in Single room ( not inclusive of domestic air ticket)

EXCLUSION

  • International airfare and airport tax
  • Visa arrangement
  • Early check-in, late check-out surcharge
  • Other meals
  • Drinks and personal expenses (phone call, laundry, tipping etc.)
  • Any services not mentioned in the program