We'll put in a few postcards as the whim takes us ... see here for a good reason to be here rather than at home. Bird list and bird photos.
Arrival 20/12-08 to Ho Chi Mihn City at about 10:00 am. After booking into one of the Lonely Planet recommended hotels in the backpacker district ..
Pictures show the rather uninspiring view from an otherwise perfectly respectable hotel (Mai Phai), Saigon airport and the view as we left Bangkok.
Walking tour in "District 1" of Saigon and some botany, Sunday afternoon. Very enjoyable. The middle top picture is the interior of the main post office, and yes the electricity supply does look like this, all over the city. Experienced the water puppet theatre in evening. An export from the north, but absolutely worth seeing. The puppeteers are actually in the water for the entire show. Wet work! After scouring Saigon, for a dragon, we bought a water puppet dragon as our main souvenir. Followed this with food from a street stall. Language is a barrier, but the menu has pictures. We still don't know what we drank, but it was grass green - and the tummies survived.
21/12 - an organised tour to the Mekong Delta at My Tho, finishing with a rather good sail through the sunset back to Saigon. The tour gave some sampling of local produce including a manufacture of coconut toffee, folk music, a "chauffeured" canoe trip through a swamp and a cycle ride on some of the worst bikes we have ever experienced, through a village. And quite a lot of sales pitch. The Mekong river is joined at My Tho to the Saigon river by a canal, which is not shown on any of the maps we have seen. A cheap and relaxing start to the trip.
22/12 - to Cholon - China town - by local bus. Cost 1 dkkr each way. Lots of pagodas, and an amazing market. The Thien Hau Pagoda, lots of fine ceramic friezes and swallows, weavers and Munias in cages outside to be bought and freed - Nghia An Quan Pagoda is noted for its wooden friezes ... Quan Am Pagdoda, in fact we think we saw 5 different pagodas representing Fujian, Cantonese and Chaozhou congregations.
23/12 - tour to the Cu Chi - Viet Cong underground fortress, a "must-do" when in Vietnam. Gruesome methods on both sides, but interesting to see. In the afternoon we visited the Saigon Botanical gardens and zoo. The most interesting animals were outside the cages, wild cat, rats, a snake hunting a lizard, a palm civet and of course the birds. :-) Some of the cages were big enough.
24/12 - tour to Cat Tien National Park. 720 km² lowland tropical forest , 150 Km north of Saigon. We were picked up from our hotel at 7:30 am and arrived at Cat Tien in time for lunch. The road simply ends, by a wide river with 5m high mud banks. You take a small ferry across the river to the park headquarters and lodge. After lunch we had a guided walking tour through a fairly open part of the forest and saw, among other interesting things, Pied Hornbills and a palm civet in the early dusk. We also aw 4 spp Drongo, including racket-tailed. After a fine (Vietnamese) Christmas dinner we had a game drive along the same route that we had walked and beyond to a savannah area were a spotlight was used to pick out mainly Sambar Deer, but also a single, huge nightjar on top of a tree. It was an "eyes in the night" tour, an we saw about 25 deer in the hour or so. After a nightcap in the bar with Vietnamese Christmas videos on the box, we retired under our brand new mosquito net.
25/12 - 6:30 breakfast, for a 7 am start. A 5 Km drive on increasingly bumpy roads through the forest to the Crocodile Lake Trail. A 5 Km walk through the forest via a 700 year old podocarp (pictured) to a small resort by the lake, which appeared to be several interconnected lakes. Lots of herons, swamp hen, and David's first wild ducks in Vietnam - Lesser Whistling ducks. Returned hot and sweaty over the lava and mud. No crocodiles, but several leaches, including one gourging itslef on David's wrist, just out of sight (didn't feel a thing), a giant gecko, a sambal and many butterflies. After another fine lunch, we were driven for the 160 Km and nearly 4 hours to Da Lat where we are stayed at the Thien An Hotel.
26/12 After waking up to a fine view of a pagoda, an 8:30 breakfast with lots of fresh fruit, good coffee and marmite :-). Da Lat is 20 to 25, rather than 27-30oC. Da Lat is the "city of flowers", a reason for coming here. Also for honeymoons We strolled to the gardens where the first flowers that caught our eyes were Poinsettias and Kalanchoes... Andrea was disappointed! Not the Chelsea Flower Show or Kew Gardens. Nothing new under this sun. Huge numbers of different flowers. The birds were OK though (several lifers) and we had a pleasant morning strolling round finding birds in the trees. Andrea was especially proud of spotting a Pin-tailed Snipe as it landed, then (after calling David) flushing it by hurling a rock into the water meadow facilitating identification. Team work!
As usual, bird id's on a postcard :)
Afterwards, we strolled back to the town along the lake, ate in a soup-cafe (Pho) above the main market before "diving in". Animal welfare is an unknown concept here, but at least the chickens are fresh and had access to food and water. Andrea found a kitten. After further strolling we had coffee, booked a local tour for tomorrow and had a soup dinner - cooked on own pot at the table.
27/12 Da Lat - A car tour with the Groovy Gecko through the Dá Tiën valley. First stop was a greenhouse - protected flower production. We took several birding stops through pine forests across the watershed to Ta Nung which gave the local endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch (called Da-lat Grønirisk in Danish) among several other species. The second tourist stop was rice wine production - in the back end of the pigsty, with chickens and ducklings running around. Rice beer was brewed in plastic buckets for about three weeks, then distilled into rice wine. We even bought a bottle. The next visit was a fungus farm, which was really interesting which produced two types of fungus - oyster hats, and black ear. The production system was amazing. Sawdust was packed into 3L plastic bags, autoclaved and inoculated, then hung in open barns, 60 bags per m2, and irrigated for three weeks before harvesting could start. They fungi continued to produce for about 3 months. After a banquet lunch overlooking a fish pond, we visited the the elephant waterfalls, a beautiful but wet experience. Rock formations like the Giant's Causeway (which neither of us have ever seen). Saw some weaving (Koho tribe), then a silk factory (Cuong Hoan), the Happy Budha (Lin An) Padoga and an ethnic village - Chicken, also Koho Tribe. We were dropped off at the Hang Nga Crazy House - a Gaudi-inspired monstrosity back in town. Dinner was pho soup.
28/12 Da Lat - As we are writing this (7:30 pm) we can hear - and have a panoramic view of - from our 3rd floor window - a ceremony in the Buddhist pagoda behind us, which is well lit with yellow candles. It is sufficiently calm that most of the candles are alight. We borrowed mountain bikes from the hotel and cast ourselves out in the Da Lat morning traffic into Groovy Gecko where we organised tomorrow's cycle trip down to Mui Ne. And we booked three nights on the coast at Thai Hoa Resort. Sorted we headed out of town. Several wrong turns, and about an hour later, we found ourselves heading back the way we come, admittedly off the map. Finally we found the rough track into the forest we had been guided to - Ho Chien Thang. Should anyone wish to retrace our steps... you take the turn off Nguyen Tra Luc (passed the Flower gardens) onto Vong Lam Vien. This track is very rough and descends between greenhouses. After about 1½ Km - 2-300 m after a grave/shrine with a faded tiger there are two bricked pillars guarding a track into the pine forest. The area to the left is being developed as villas for the rich. Fine pine forest with a small lake or two and lots of birds. There was some kind of amateur mining activity going on in the forest. Perhaps sulphur
29/12 We cycled from Di Linh to Phan Thiet, from 1400 m to see level through magnificent forest, mostly good secondary growth. Lots of birds and exhilarating descents. Not much traffic! Arrived at the beach in time to enjoy the tropical sunset on a picturesque palm-tree beach, sharing a bottle of Da Lat red wine. Not bad! Cheers! :-D Staying at Thai Hoa Resort by the Mui Ne beach.
30/12 Up at dawn expecting an empty beach to be met by many beach fishermen with long siene nets. After breafast, we strolled along the beach to the fishing "village" with at least 500 fishing boats. We believe in over-fishing in these waters. But the fish tastes good. Perused the local market and bought bags of lovely, fresh, tropical fruit. Made up for the meagre breakfast at this hotel.
31/12 Up at dawn and found an "almost empty" beach! Headed along the beach, then cut back to, and over the road, to climb the dunes behind, where most of these pictures were taken. After breakfast, we hired a scooter and head off to find the "fairy stream". We had a fine trip through the hinterland before three boys (who spoke better English than many of the locals) guided us through a construction site to show the remarkable rock formations in the "fairy stream" canyon. After we had delivered the scooter to its owners, we found a new local restaurant and had the best lunch here to date. Excellent giant prawns and sautéed ginger pork.
1/1 We did not make it onto the beach for dawn but after a short foray to the local market by bike to buy supplies, we managed to find the normal route to the fairy stream. This was a really nice walk up the creek in 5cm water on a sandy bed. After an early lunch. We took the train back to Saigon. Cost D 140 000 for 200 Km. Taxi to station: D 400 000 for 20 Km. Train journey was pleasant, punctual and air conditioned, and designed for the Vietnamese, i.e. one head and shin smaller than us. The route took us through Dragon Fruit Plantations, Cassava and Rubber. Very dry in places, and signs of many fires. Birding from trains is not easy, especially difficult when facing backwards, but we did see bee-eaters and rollers and lots of cattle egrets. We arrived to a very busy and extremely noisy Saigon celebrating (our) New Year. We decided to take the city bus to our hotel which was easy enough when we eventually found the bus stop - moved due to major road works. The walk from the bus station (1 Km) to the hotel was challenging, especially with two backpacks each, but - phew - we survived the onslaught of motorbikes. After a well-needed shower at Mai Phai, we headed out into the flood of people and dived into the nearest back alley where we found an excellent and authentic curry house, the Taj Mahal.
2/1 Saigon. Wandered around and shopped for various useful items. Visited the former presidential palace which was quite interesting.
3/1 Saigon. Walked to the Botanical/zoological gardens and visited the historical museum. Home for Andrea - and Can Tho for David - the incoming flight from Frankfurt was about 1 hr late so 1 am by the time I was in my room in CanTho Saigon Hotel - where I have stayed the last two trips. The bridge across the southern arm of the Mekong is now visibly finished and should be open in a few months. ... be a vast improvement - we had to wait 1 hr for a ferry across on the way home.
4/1 bought some souvenir's in the morning, workshop in the afternoon and had a snake dinner in the evening
5/1 workshop all day
6/1 A trip to the Delta at Co Do wher we visited a field trial
9/1 home for David after the workshop in Can Tho - and a dawn trip to the famous Cai Rang floating market on the river