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Phong Nha Ke Bang, Vietnam (Center on Interactive Map)

Map of Phong Nha Ke Bang, Vietnam

Map of Phong Nha Ke Bang, Vietnam

Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete) Unidentified Insect (Antherina ssp) Gray-headed Lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) Oriental Pipit (Anthus rufulus)

A mountain range of spectacular karst formations and some of the world's largest caves.


Around The World in 66 Days

1/16/2013: Mud.

After our boring trip to Halong Bay, I was ready for some adventure, and from the reports, an area full of caves and "90% primary forest" to the southwest of Hanoi looked promising. So, we took the overnight train to visit Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

I had called up a tour operator that led trips to the more remote parts of the jungle with the hopes of finding a trip that would be suitable for my travel partner (who is pretty much afraid of everything: heights, running water, rocks, camping, and vegetables to name a few). We also, naively, hoped that we could see some wildlife. We settled on the hike described as "easy" on their web site.

Before setting out on the hike, we were geared up with ropes, helmets, and waterproof bags. They tried to get me to use their shoes, but I was pretty confident with my own (made in Vietnam) shoes. After some discussion, we left for the hiking site. I thought that it was a bit odd that we needed all this gear for their "easy" hike.

So, there we were, walking around the former DMZ from the Vietnam/American War carrying loads of gear and wearing helmets. It became very quickly clear why the Americans had so much difficulty. The hike consisted of walks through mud and/or climbing rocks. By the time we reached the campsite a few hours later, we were both exhausted from one of the more difficult hikes I have ever done. I was pretty annoyed by the bait and switch from the tour operator. To top it off, the sounds of nature in the "90% primary forest" consisted of chainsaws and explosions from a rock quarry somewhere in the distance. I learned from our guide that we missed out on seeing the gibbon as it had just been shot for meat a week earlier. On the other hand, we were in a valley with huge towering limestone pinnacles surrounding us. One gets the sense that there are places in those mountains that will never see people.

As I walked around with the cows and buffalo that had been set upon this national park, I noticed that the birds were also extremely skittish, and I am guessing that anything goes on the dinner table in these parts. Fortunately, we had arranged for vegetarian meals on the trip.

Heading back to civilization the next day required climbing a forested limestone ridge. Of course, the moment we set out walking, it started to rain. We climbed up the hill through sometimes knee-deep mud and various thorny plants. The path down the other side of the hill was a pure mud slick, and I made my way down by sliding on my feet and grabbing vines on the way down to keep a reasonable speed.

Then there were some more rocks and mud. And then some more mud. We had to give up any hope of getting to the "good" cave. Finally, we walked through some mud and a swollen river to get back to a village where we had the opportunity to hose off several pounds of mud with freezing well water.

In the village, two squealing pigs were being tied upside-down to the back of a motorcycle.

Previous Visit (Halong Bay: 1/15/2013)
Next Visit (Hoi An: 1/18/2013)

Species Recorded (39)

Birds ( 34 )

Old World Tree Warblers ( Phylloscopidae )
Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus

Herons ( Ardeidae )
Eastern Cattle Egret - Bubulcus coromandus
Striated Heron - Butorides striata
Little Egret - Egretta garzetta

Kites, Hawks, Eagles, and Allies ( Acciptridae )
Eastern Buzzard - Buteo japonicus

Grouse, Turkeys, and Allies ( Phasianidae )
Red Junglefowl - Gallus gallus

Plovers ( Charadriidae )
Gray-headed Lapwing - Vanellus cinereus

Sandpipers and Allies ( Scolopacidae )
Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Pigeons and Doves ( Columbidae )
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia
Oriental Turtle-Dove - Streptopelia orientalis

Cuckoos ( Cuculidae )
Asian Koel - Eudynamys scolopaceus

Typical Owls ( Strigidae )
Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl - Ketupa nipalensis

Sunbirds ( Nectariniidae )
Plain Flowerpecker - Dicaeum minullum

Kingfishers ( Alcedinidae )
Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

Piculets and Woodpeckers ( Picidae )
Bay Woodpecker - Blythipicus pyrrhotis
Lesser Yellownape - Picus chlorolophus
Gray-capped Woodpecker - Yungipicus canicapillus

Cuckoo-shrike ( Campephagidae )
Scarlet Minivet - Pericrocotus speciosus

Drongos ( Dicruridae )
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - Dicrurus paradiseus

Bulbuls ( Pycnonotidae )
Gray-eyed Bulbul - Iole propinqua
Stripe-throated Bulbul - Pycnonotus finlaysoni
Black-crested Bulbul - Rubigula flaviventris

Jays and Crows ( Corvidae )
Racket-tailed Treepie - Crypsirina temia

Orioles ( Oriolidae )
Black-naped Oriole - Oriolus chinensis

Old World Warblers and Gnatcatchers ( Sylviidae )
Dark-necked Tailorbird - Orthotomus atrogularis
Sooty Babbler - Stachyris herberti

Laughingthrushes ( Timaliidae )
Black-browed Fulvetta - Alcippe grotei
Masked Laughingthrush - Pterorhinus perspicillatus

Thrushes and Allies ( Turdidae )
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher - Culicicapa ceylonensis
White's Thrush - Zoothera aurea

Wagtails and Pipits ( Motacillidae )
Paddyfield Pipit - Anthus rufulus
Gray Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea

Leafbirds ( Chloropseidae )
Blue-winged Leafbird - Chloropsis moluccensis
Asian Fairy-bluebird - Irena puella




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