Tuesday 14 March 2017

A short stay in central Vietnam

Rather than stay in Hong Kong, a city that as a family we have already "done", we went to Vietnam for something different. I say "done", I'm not sure you can ever really do Hong Kong any kind of justice in any kind of reasonable timeframe, but with holiday time very limited it's important to get as much variety as you can. My sister suggested Vietnam as a sufficiently different and interesting destination only a short distance away, although in truth almost all of Asia is just a brief hop away. Within the same range as Europe is from London are a host of incredible places. So Vietnam it was, the central coast a mere 90 minutes flying time away. Cathay Dragon accepts the same airmiles as BA, and no taxes to speak of meant a family of five could travel for about £60 return which is amazing.

So it was that less than 24 hours after arriving at Chek Lap Kok we were back there and heading back west. Da Nang is an up-and-coming (read: getting rapily buried in concrete) city that held no appeal, but only a moderate taxi drive away is Hoi An, a world heritage city that retains a huge amount of original buildings and a great deal of charm. Apparently Vietnam is a Communist state but you could have fooled me. I saw almost no evidence of restraint, and a massive amount of rampant capitalism. Perhaps better to say that a one party system is in operation. Still, when one pound equates to something like 30,000 Dong I can bear a bit of capitalism. The first ATM we encountered offered three choices - 100,000 VND, 500,000 VND, or 1,500,000 VND. I had unfortunately neglected to gen up on the above exchange rate, so cautiously went for the middle one, whereupon the machine spat out a single note. Hmmm. Hailing a taxi, I tentatively asked whether half a million Dong would be sufficient for the ride to Hoi An and was told it would be fine, but it was a very close run thing and I ended up giving the driver the whole lot for the 45 minute trip. Happily the hotel accepted credit cards so we were able to have dinner....

After a slow start the next morning another taxi took us into the town, dodging half a billion crazy mopeds. We stopped for a more sensible amount of cash, making me a local millionaire in the process, and set about exploring. I won't bore you with a minute by minute rundown of our holiday, but suffice to say it was fabulous - we had some work clothes made at a couple of tailors for which the town is famous, we visited the market, we went to a cookery school, walked through paddyfields, visited an ancient temple complex, chilled by the pool, shopped for silk lanterns (more on this in another post, for me it was one of the standout things about the town) and very small but highly satisfying hats, drank cocktails, played ping pong, had massages, saw monkeys.... in other words a highly varied family holiday. 

There was some properly tropical rain!

And of course I snuck a bit of birding in. Genuinely a tiny bit, hardly any. An early morning exploring the paddyfields and fishponds, and a bit of sneaky birding whilst being shown around some temples. In my experience there are only so many templey-type things that you can take in, whereas there appears to be no limit to how many birds I can hear, see, or generally be interested in. My visit to the ancient site of My Son was therefore dominated not by Gods and phallic symbols, but by Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Common IoraScarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Coppersmith Barbet and various Bulbuls. Oh, and Yellow-browed Warblers, well out of place and not an iris bed in sight.

The paddies closer to the town were stuffed full of Egrets - GWE, Cattle Egret and Chinese Pond Herons mostly, but also a few cool things like Yellow Bittern and Cinnamon Bittern. Plenty of Richard's Pipits and for that taste of Europe, Zitting Cisticolas. Distinctly un-european included Plaintive Cuckoo, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Black-shouldered Starling, White-breasted Waterhen and masses of Swiftlets overhead of a species I could never identify 

I had read before travelling that central Vietnam was birdless, so I was really very pleased to see as much as I did, something like 20 lifers and a list of around 50. I think what the various reports I read actually meant to say was that whilst central Vietnam had quite a few birds, the real hotspots are in the north and the south, so on any trip to the country make sure you go there as a first choice. One day I will, and no doubt I will be amazed, but as a bit of casual birding on a chilled-out half term holiday I came away more than satisfied. 

1 comment:

  1. Your comment about Vietnam being birdless reminded me of an early birding experience - on our world trip when we got bitten by the birding bug, we flew into Hanoi and tried to track down a local bird book. We found an English-language book store and asked if they had any bird-watching books. The owner looked at us rather incredulously and said "in Vietnam we don't watch birds, we eat them. I can recommend a couple of bird restaurants if you want." We politely declined but it did strike us that there were less birds around than expected and those we saw were quite skittish. Nice to hear that there are some regions which are better so we have something to go back for.