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.
Vietnam, being 1,600 km long, with over 3,000 km of coastline, has a wide variety of habitats and seasons. There is really no best time to visit Vietnam, it will almost always rain in one part of the country, and be hot and dry in another part. In the very north, it can get quite cool; it even snows occasionally, in winter, whereas the south is hot and humid year-round. However, from a birding point of view, winter is probably best for such specialties as Black-faced Spoonbill, Sarus Crane, and Spoon-billed Sandpiper, amongst others.
Although much of the forest that used to cover Vietnam has been destroyed, there is still excellent birding to be done here. However, due to excessive hunting, the best birding is confined to the numerous national parks in Vietnam. There are a number of tour operators who specialize in nature and birding trips, but the country can easily be explored independently. Although English is not much spoken outside the cities, patience, sign language and a good sense of humor will get you anywhere. With ten endemics, the largest number in mainland SE Asia, and a total of 826 species, Vietnam must rank as one of the prime countries in Asia for bird watching. Visiting VN01 Cat Tien, VN02 Cuc Phuong, VN03 Da Lat, VN05 Tam Dao, VN07 Xuan Thuy and Sapa during a 3-week trip should easily net 200+ species.
Vietnam is a very safe country to travel (apart from the traffic); with crime being primarily confined to pick-pocketing, especially in Saigon. One word of warning though: Parts of Vietnam were heavily bombed and mined during the wars, certain areas, especially along the old DMZ are still no-go areas. Do stick to well-trodden paths in those regions.
Vietnam Land of Endemic Species
Vietnam, a country that for a generation was associated with suffering, has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of war to become one of Asia’s dynamic rising tigers. Vietnam’s economy is booming and travelers from around the world are discovering its ancient culture, picturesque countryside, deserted beaches, delicious cuisine and its friendly, smiling people. But what may come as the real surprise to many birders is that Vietnam has the highest number of endemic bird species on mainland South-East Asia.
There are currently twelve species of bird that are found only in Vietnam, though this figure is liable to change at any time as taxonomic changes are made and species are 'split'. In addition to these twelve endemics there are many more near endemics, bird species restricted to Vietnam and a few neighbouring countries.
Since the 1990s the number of birders discovering Vietnam has risen steadily and its unique and exotic avifauna of over 850 species make it an enticing destination for the traveling birder.
Up to 2012, Vietnam recorded 891 species. There are now considered to be twelve true Vietnamese endemics if we count species found only in Vietnam. Two species, Imperial Pheasant and Vietnamese Pheasant are no longer considered true species. Imperial Pheasant is now thought to be an Edwards’s x Silver Pheasant hybrid and is considered an invalid taxon by BirdLife International. Vietnamese Pheasant is most likely just a form of Edwards's Pheasant.
The twelve endemic species are Annam Partridge, Edwards’s Pheasant Lophura edwardsi, Orange-breasted Laughingthrush, Collared Laughingthrush, Golden-winged Laughingthrush, Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush, White-throated Wren Babbler, Pale-throated Wren Babbler, Vietnamese Cutia, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Grey-crowned Crocias, Vietnamese Greenfinch
Near endemics and specialities Many of the most sought after birds in Vietnam are Indochinese endemics and are only found in Vietnam and Cambodia or Laos. Other specialities are species whose ranges are limited to Indochina and Thailand, China or Myanmar, or are globally threatened species that over-winter in Vietnam. Near endemics and specialities include the following species:
- Orange-necked Partridge (Vietnam & Cambodia)
- Siamese Fireback (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Thailand)
- Germain’s Peacock Pheasant (Vietnam & Cambodia)
- Crested Argus (Vietnam, Laos & Malaysia)
- Red-collared Woodpecker (Vietnam, Laos & China)
- Red-vented Barbet (Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos)
- Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Thailand)
- Yellow-vented Green Pigeon (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand & Malaysia)
- Bengal Florican (Vietnam, Cambodia, India & Nepal)
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia & Singapore)
- Saunders’s Gull (Vietnam, China, Taiwan, South Korea & Japan)
- White-shouldered Ibis (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Borneo)
- Giant Ibis (Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos)
- Black-faced Spoonbill (Vietnam, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan & Borneo)
- Blue-rumped Pitta (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos,Thailand & China)
- Bar-bellied Pitta (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Thailand)
- White-winged Magpie (Vietnam, Laos & China)
- Indochinese Green Magpie (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand & China)
- Ratchet-tailed Treepie (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar & China)
- Indochinese Cuckooshrike (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand & Myanmar)
- Yellow-billed Nuthatch (Vietnam, Laos & China)
- Grey-crowned Tit (Vietnam & Cambodia)
- Masked Laughingthrush (Vietnam & China)
- Grey Laughingthrush (Vietnam & China)
- Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrush (Vietnam, Laos & China)
- White-cheeked Laughingthrush (Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos)
- Red-winged Laughingthrush (Vietnam & China)
- Black-hooded Laughingthrush (Vietnam & Laos)
- Indochinese Wren Babbler (Vietnam & Laos)
- Sooty Babbler (Vietnam & Laos)
- Grey-faced Tit Babbler (Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos)
- Black-crowned Barwing (Vietnam & Laos)
- Indochinese Fulvetta (Vietnam & Laos)
- Black-crowned Parrotbill (Vietnam & Cambodia)
Possible future endemics In addition to the twelve true Vietnamese endemics there are several very distinct races of some bird species found in the Dalat Plateau Endemic Bird Area that may prove to be full species at some time in the future. Among these potential new species are Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-backed Sibia, Black-throated Sunbird, Red Crossbill, Brown Bullfinch