This week we travel overseas for a very unique nature walk!
A travelogue with photos by Danya Furda and Jim Pinkham who share with us their trip to Vietnam and the Cat Tien UNESCO Biosphere Preserve.
Jim and I love to travel and had been taking one or two trips a year up until now. One of our favorite regions has been Southeast Asia where we have taken three vacations since 2007. Our last trip was 23 days in Vietnam from December 2019 into January 2020. One of my highlights was an all-too-brief side excursion to Cat Tien National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protecting a vast lowland tropical forest, about 4 hours northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
Cat Tien was a great place for Jim to practice his photography and for me to see birds. (My interest in birding developed slowly over the past ten years and began with my first sighting of the Lilac-breasted Roller! Since then, we’ve put up several bird feeders, got better binoculars, bird books, the game “Wingspan,” and an eBird account.)
On January 2 after a quick breakfast and with great anticipation, we walked down to the ferry and crossed a small river to enter the park. We had arranged for a birding guide, which I highly recommend because there is no way for a foreign birder to know the best spots to look for local birds. Birding is best in the morning so we got on the first ferry of the day. We could hear the noisy gibbons in the distance; they are, no doubt, one of nature’s alarm clocks.
As soon as we began walking in the park on the sidewalk near the national park’s lodgings, we spotted birds. (I’d imagined that we would be walking deep into the forest, but this wasn’t necessary at all.) The most difficult thing about birding is trying to describe where a bird is so that others can find it too, especially when the bird is hidden or so far away. “There, in the tree” doesn’t really get the job done. Luckily, our guide had a spotting scope so he could show us a bird and then Jim could find it to photograph. In late morning when the birding was dying down, we visited a few hides in the forest where our guide put out some mealworms to attract birds. Some of our best photos were taken from one of the three hides we visited. We also visited the ancient Tung tree which is famous in the park.
We took a break for lunch at the Yellow Bamboo Restaurant and went over the names of the birds that we had seen. Jim, not being a die hard birder like myself, wanted to see gibbons, which turned out to be difficult to find because they are only noisy in the mornings and now they would be high up in the trees sleeping. Nevertheless, after quite a search and stopping to photo more birds, our guide found a teenage male gibbon resting up in a tree.
Then it was time to say “goodbye” and “thank you” to our guide back at the park headquarters. We also signed up there for the night safari. Even though our guide said that we would likely only see some deer, we thought that would be just fine. We ate dinner at the Yellow Bamboo Restaurant in the presence of a Tokay gecko. As it turned out, we were 2 of around 16 guests for the one hour night safari. We saw two different kinds of deer – the Sambar and the barking deer, an owl, and a Malayan porcupine who we watched weave back and forth along the road in front of the open bed truck for a long time before making its exit into the grass. Unfortunately for Jim, taking photos from a bumpy truck in low light conditions proved frustrating. Sometimes one just has to appreciate the moment and take a mental photograph instead.
The next morning we were scheduled to return to Ho City Minh City around noon. We decided skip breakfast to follow the call of the gibbons back across the river on the first ferry. This time we were luckier and got pictures of them right behind the park lodging which made getting up early entirely worthwhile! In all, Jim and I only saw a small sliver of this incredible park in a day and a morning. I wish we had more time here, but I am very grateful for all that we were able to see and experience.