Vietnam Week 3

Go to Week 2

30th of July

We woke up at 5:45, dressed up and went outside to watch birds. We barely came outside and we were already surrounded by birds. While we were looking at White-shouldered starlings, I saw a beautiful Chestnut-winged cuckoo for a second before it disappeared.

Then, when we decided to walk on, it started to rain and so we went back to bed. After 10 minutes though, it stopped raining and so we went outside again and started walking.

Quickly after that, we saw a gorgeous “Dollarbird” perching in a dead tree and some Racket-tailed treepies flying around. We continued walking until we reached a overgrown grass fields, where we saw 2 Crested mynas sitting on a buffalo! Next to the buffalo, in the grass, a Lesser coucal was perched and this time I was finally able to take a picture. After looking at those birds, it started raining again and we took shelter in somebody’s luxurious house.

The owners (4 men), shared a whole room with 4 big planks on which they slept and nothing else. Their most valuable things they had were their 6 puppies. Those were really cute.

When it stopped raining, we continued walking again. We walked past some planted pieces of forest, but the trees planted did not look as if this was their natural habitat. When we just turned around, we saw a plain prinia and some sparrows. At least, at first sight we thought they were sparrows: when we took a better look, we found out they were Scaly-breasted munias.

Back at the Ecolodge, we rested in hammocks. Well, at least I did. Before papa could relax, he found out he was too heavy for one of the hammocks and he broke it. Just after that, I heard a noise coming from his direction sounding something like a very loud “Oy!!!”

From our hammocks, we had a good view at a pair of Stripe-throated bulbuls eating berries. After we rested for a while, we took the scooter and went for a ride to Cat Ba city.

On the way, we stopped in a small town to fill up our gas tank. Just 1 little problem: we could not open the fuel tank. So we decided to go back to the Ecolodge before we ran out of gas. On the way we took some nice pictures of a Black-eared kite flying barely 5 meters above us.

When we were on a road in between a group of houses (not really a village or anything like it) when our scooter decided to give up. A woman tried to sell us some green stuff in a water bottle, at first we thought she refilled the bottle with water from the river or something, but later we found out she put gas in the bottles! Before we made any attempt to buying it, we asked her and all the other village-(ish)-ers to open the fuel tank, and those weren’t able to open it either.

Papa called the Ecolodge because they rented us the scooter which apparently did not work. We left the scooter there and walked back to the Ecolodge which took us a while. When we were almost there a private bus from the Ecolodge passed us and so the last bit to the Ecolodge we travelled by bus.

Back at the hotel, we took a shower, rested for a while and went for a walk opposite of the direction we had just walked in.

We again saw the beautiful Chestnut-winged cuckoo flying past, but we did not see it sit down. We walked on, on a path trough planted forest heading toward a small hole between the mountains where we would probably have a very nice view. It probably would have been a nice view, but we did not get to see it, because we heard a bear roaring really loudly and so decided to go back to the hotel quickly. You never know…

Back in the hotel, we had another amazing dinner. Before we ordered, we looked at our friendly Australian neighbor’s plates and saw they ordered very nice spring rolls and  “Vietnamese popcorn”, which was actually just fried corn with a nice crust. We decided to copycat them. We also ate a delicious freshly caught “small ” fish fried with butter and lemon. Papa kept on asking: “Is this the SMALL fish?”. A tasty “sweet and sour” chicken and OK beef soup also appeared on our table.

After dinner, we went to bed.

31st of July

We woke up at 5:32 exactly and took a walk toward the zoo. When it comes to birds, it was the most boring walk ever. Virtually, we saw no birds.

Eventually, we decided to turn around and walk on the same path we walked the day before. There, at least we saw 1 new bird species: the Little pied flycatcher.

A local guy, the same one we met the day before while we were hiding from the rain, was trying to show us a cave, but in order to get there, we had to walk through the dense jungle without using a proper path and that guy even had to use a machete knife to cut his way through the jungle. Somewhere along our walkway the forest became so dense that we decided to walk back, back to the path. Mainly because we were wearing sandals.

When we came back to the hotel, we observed a Greater coucal juvenile and had breakfast: I had a delicious pineapple pancake. And Lipton ice tea which was not bottled as you see in the western world. They would pour hot Lipton tea in a glass, add some sugar and, of course, ice and to top it off, they added a slice of lime. Tasted really good!

After breakfast, we went on a tour with a few other people to “Monkey island”.

We sat in a bus with apparently a ridiculously low number of CC, because it could barely go up a tiny little hill! When we came to the harbor, we switched from the bus to what they call a boat here in Vietnam.

The boat was square, there was something plastic to roll out if a roof was needed and to start the engine, the skipper would first have to open the floor of the boat! We saw lots of Black- and Black-eared kites (kite is a bird species) and Pied harriers flying above us while we were on the boat.

We came to some sort of floating restaurant and there we switched from our boat to kayaks and we started kayaking to a beach somewhere. Our skipper, Chris, went kayaking with us to show us the way. It was nice to be kayaking there. We were kayaking in the “Lan Ha bay”, which is part of the South China Sea.

While we were kayaking, we stopped because we were thirsty. The funny thing is that we stopped at a FLOATING shop. The not funny thing is that a loudly barking dog was greeting us. Somehow, we managed to get our drinks anyway.

There were very small, mountain like, uninhibited islands and floating houses just a much as there was water. Unlike everywhere we had been to in Vietnam so far, the water was very clean.

We stopped at some kind of beach with only sharp rocks and it was probably the only spot in the bay where there was dirty water. Chris told us we would go swimming there, but we, the mere passengers, decided ourselves that we would go look for a different beach, and that worked. We found a nice, sandy beach without any rocks or dirty water and swam there for a while.

Together with the other tourists, we had a cozy lunch in the shade. I did not eat much though, because everything was disgusting and it was a packed lunch so we had nothing else to chose from.

After lunch, the boat came to pick us up and we went to Monkey island. On the way, we saw a black kite grabbing fish out of the water right in front of our noses. What was funny is that it started eating the fish already while it was flying. We arrived at Monkey island, which was like all the other islands in the bay (small and very tiny), and went for a swim right away.

After swimming, we sat in the shade and found out from the other tourists that there were really monkeys on Monkey island. But they would only come out at sunset.

After relaxing at Monkey island, we went back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped in Cat Ba city to buy a watermelon. Back in the hotel, we took a shower, ate our watermelon, rested and had dinner.

For dinner, we ate a fried fish with garlic and ginger, a Russian salad or “Russia salas” as the serving lady called it, fried corn and amazing homemade chips with good homemade ketchup. After dinner, we went to bed.

In bed, papa got scared because there was a bat flying through our room. I didn’t mind. When the bat left, papa was able to fall asleep.

1st of August

We woke up at 6:15, threw the remains of our watermelon outside and waited for a scooter to arrive so w could drive to Cat Ba National Park. The park  opens at 7:00 so it made no sense to wake up earlier.

When the scooter finally arrived at 6:35, we found out that it was the same piece of shit we abandoned somewhere 2 days before. We decided to wait for a different scooter, because again we were unable to start that crap on wheels. Finally, at 6:50, a different scooter arrived and we drove to Cat Ba National  Park.

When finally arrived at the park, we paid entrance fee. The person charging us was very particular(-ly annoying): we gave him as slightly damaged banknote and he did not accept it, and he was changing the price all the time.

We arrived in the park too late: all the birds were resting already and the sun was burning on our skin.we decided to come back in the afternoon when it would be not so  hot. We didn’t burn though.  We also decided to walk in the park for just a few minutes to have a glance of what it looked like. All in all, I’d say we walked about 200 meters in total. My first impression was that I liked the path around the Ecolodge a lot better than this park.

We went back to the Ecolodge, ate a delicious pancake with mango, rested and went to the beach. To get there, we used the scooter again. The road to the beach was beautiful. We were driving on quite a big road through the hills and next to the clean South China Sea.

On the beach it was entirely deserted, except for 2 other people. We enjoyed the privacy. We swam in the clean water as the only ones, rested in the shade of an oversized umbrella and looked at the many Black-eared kites flying around us.

We played a game, whoever reached the water last was the winner. It’s more difficult than it sounds, because the sand was hot like hell so you have the desire to jump in the water all the time.

There were an amazingly many  Black-eared kites flying around us. We found out that there was a nest of them located right on the side of the beach, but we only knew that because the birds kept on flying there, we couldn’t see the nest.

I was also able to take some pictures of one grabbing fish out go the water.

We had lunch on the beach, because papa went to the market quickly to buy 2 tomatoes, an egg, rice, bread, vegetables and chopsticks in an all-in-one and warm food package. That wasn’t too bad. We were too comfortable and lazy and decided NOT to go back to the park and chill at the beach some more.

After some more swimming, passing gas and urinating in the “clean water”, the country all of a sudden woke up and came to OUR beach in swarms! There was less water than there were people. Why did all those bloodsucking mosquitos called “humans” have to come to OUR beach?

Just before we left, we counted 35 Black-eared kites flying above us, we figured they were gathering to roost. Kites roost in big groups sometimes.

On the way back to the Ecolodge, papa let me drive for a few kilometers, which was a lot of fun. Papa was apparently very nervous, but that didn’t seem to matter. We stopped at the village just a few kilometers before the Ecolodge to look for kingfishers.

As I had expected, we saw a kingfisher and a took some nice pictures of it. I think  it’s strange that the kingfisher was in the village, fishing in the ditch, instead of fishing somewhere with less humanoids. But I don’t mind, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to see it.

Back in the Ecolodge, we took a shower, rested and had dinner. After dinner, we went to bed.

2nd of August

We woke up at 5:32 and scootered around. We saw a Hoopoe, Common kingfishers, a Yellow wagtail and some Black kites while we were scootering.

Eventually, we came to the national park and took a (less then) 5 minute walk.

When we were walking back to the scooter, a woman was sort of ordering us to sit down in her cafe, she kept on saying: “Hello si dauw!!!” (probably the only English she knew) and that was supposed to be “Hello, sit down”.

On the way back to the Ecolodge, we stopped twice: first because we saw a Pacific reef-egret (black morph) and the second time because we wanted to look at kingfishers in the village again.

We saw a few kingfishers. Some of them were diving which was really cute to see and once we saw one gobbling down sort of tiny crab. That was really cute to see. The crab was just as big as its head (its head  wasn’t very big though)! Imagine, eating something as you own head?

Back at the hotel, we ate a delicious mango pancake once more and once more with Lipton ice tea. After breakfast, we rested and went to the beach for a quick dip before we had to leave to catch the ferry.

At the beach, we could not lay in the shade, because the oversized umbrellas were put aside. Probably because everybody was expecting a typhoon that evening and they didn’t want the umbrellas to be ripped.

After a quick dip, it was already time to go back to catch the bus leaving from the Ecolodge. On the way there, we decided to take a shortcut, but instead, we wasted our time waiting for road repairs to finish and ended up turning around.

When we were finally back, we immediately got a call from the reception to get in the bus, so we had about 2 minutes to take a shower, pack the last few things and get in the bus. I have never taken a shower that quick.

The bus was full with other foreigners going back to the harbor too and we had a discussion with a “Catalonian” guy who spoke “Catalonian” instead of Spanish about if Catalonia should split from Spain or not. Papa also enjoyed himself a lot listening to Dutch people talking behind us. Oh man, he was happy! That’s probably why he started muttering things I couldn’t understand.

On the ferry, (this time no man urinating form a boat next to us) we were once again packed as sardines. It was like “Deja vu” all over again.

Finally, we stumbled off the boat, had a sandwich with chicken liver as lunch and let somebody drive us back to Hanoi.

When we were back at Paul’s house, we paid the driver and had dinner at “Victoria’s”. I ate a good risotto with a delicious mango milkshake. After dinner, we drove through the rich neighborhood. That really was RICH. Nothing like the rest of Hanoi: the buildings looked beautiful, they were big, good cars and protected by gates.

On the way back to Paul’s house, we passed the official entrance of Hanoi. It was ridiculous! In the middle of the road there stood a pillar to support an arch above the road reading: THE INTERNATIONAL CITY OF HANOI. If you didn’t understand what ridiculous means, you’ll understand now.

When we came back to Paul’s house, we went straight to bed.

3rd of August

Papa woke up a little earlier than me to pack, and woke me up at 7:10.

At 7:30, we said goodbye to Paul (Gyldys was sleeping) and we took a taxi to the airport to fly to Da Lat, which is somewhere in the middle of Vietnam.

We were queued up for the check-in counter at the airport, waiting for the people in front of us to finish. It took them a while, because their bags were to heavy by half a kilo and so they had to move and remove things from their bags. When it was our turn, we found out that our bag was almost 4 kilos to heavy, but for some reason we didn’t have to remove anything! Oh well.

We did not realize Vietnam was so big until we found out that our domestic flight took 1:40 hours! There was a lot of turbulence: we could see the wings of the airplane shaking! That was scary.

After an 1:40 hour flight, we arrived at Da Lat airport and we were immediately asked to step in a taxi to Da Lat city (32 kilometers away from the airport) for only 250.000 Dong. We said we would ask different taxi drivers first, but he said they all charged the same.

We stepped in a taxi that drove us to Ana Mandara Resort&Spa, somewhere in Da Lat, and when we stepped out of the taxi, he asked 400.000 instead of 250.000, but papa just gave him the original amount and the taxi driver  didn’t even flinch, he just drove away with 250.000! That “Anushole”, to put it nicely, tried to rip us off. Well, when he tries that again, papa will probably “rip off” his head.

We put our big bag on the side of the reception desk and we had a look at the very nice room with a tub in it. It was in a huge villa with 5 rooms, but we would be the only ones.

When we came back to the reception, booked a room and then I all of a sudden found out our bag was gone! Papa and somebody from the hotel quickly stepped in the car, following a bus that had just left. The guy from the hotel suspected the bus driver might have taken it. Apparently, (I did not come with them) they were following the wrong bus but they passed a certain bus statin and papa just saw it laying on the bus station. Lucky us! We got our bag back.

We checked in at the hotel, unpacked and went to Mount Lang Biang by a scooter we rented to watch birds. Quickly after that, we found out we did not want to be there, since it was overpopulated by tourists. We drove onto some dirt track with lots of holes in it. That’s what I call a “holy” road.

We parked the scooter somewhere and walked around to look for birds. For some reason, we only saw Mountain-imperial pigeons, but at least it’s something. When we came back to the scooter, papa found out that his reading glasses had been stolen. He had left them in the scooter.

We dropped off the binoculars and the camera at the hotel and had dinner in the center of the city. It was good dinner: I ate a delicious French onion soup and a “prime New Zealand” beef steak which was at least as good as the soup. Papa had pumpkin soup and beef with “lemongrass” and chili. It was too spicy for me, but that means nothing. Papa liked it. Together, we drank 3 delicious pineapple juices.

After dinner, the owner of the restaurant helped us get papa new reading glasses. That was nice of him. We would be able to pick them up the next day. After that, we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

4th of August

We woke up at 5:30, rented a scooter and drove to “Ta Nung”, a valley close to Da Lat. We never arrived there , though. On the way there we kept on seeing birds next to the road. That was cool too.

The first time we stopped, we saw a cute and tiny Grey-capped pygmy woodpecker and a Pale blue flycatcher. We had a lot of trouble with trying to identify that flycatcher. Then a whole group of birds flew past, all entirely brown with a black and white head. At first, we did not know what it was, but later on we found out they were endemic White-cheeked laughingthrushes.

The second time we stopped, we saw some beautiful red Scarlet minivets and also some females which were yellow. Also beautiful. Then, papa spotted a tiny bird behind us which appeared to be some kind of sunbird. Then a bird flew by, the same size but a lot more colorful and it had a longer tail. It was blue-black at the head, it had a scarlet red chest and a yellow “vent” with a long, glimmering black tail sticking out. It was the beautiful male Mrs. Gould’s sunbird. We figured the other one must have been the female.

When we almost left, we saw a whole bunch of Black-headed sibias very close, a pair of White-throated fantails and some Rufescent prinias and we watched those for a while. Then, again, when we wanted to leave, three Eurasian jays were showing themselves in the trees. They were very funny though. They had an almost white face.

After birding, we had an amazing buffet for breakfast and we made some sandwiches for lunch there too. After stuffing ourselves with pretty much anything you can think of, we relaxed in the heated swimming pool, played pool, slept and then we went to visit the silk factory called “Cuong Hoan”, 30 kilometers from Da Lat.

While we were driving there, we stopped to pick up papa’s new reading glasses. I sat on the scooter while papa was receiving his reading glasses. Bad idea: the scooter fell with me right on top of it. That ripped off a bit of skin on my leg. Luckily it was just skin that was ripped off so it wasn’t a deep wound at all

By the time we were there, nobody in the factory was working and the only interesting things we saw were the silkworms. That was very interesting to see, except for the fact that there was nothing to see. The main reason we came there was to buy souvenirs, but everything they were selling was extremely unbelievable. Boring.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to look at a Black-crested-bulbul, but once we wanted to start driving again, we were unable to! Papa called the hotel, because that’s where we rented the scooter and first they wanted us to pay for somebody to come and pick us up and I heard papa shout: “WHAT!!! No, I am not paying, this is your fault!”

Eventually, they sent somebody to look at the scooter. While we were waiting for him, we saw some night birds flying around. We found out they were Large-tailed Nightjars. They made no sound while they were flying.

When the scooter guy arrived, he found out we couldn’t start it because the kickstand was not folded in entirely. How were we supposed to know?

Back in Da Lat, we had a tasteless dinner, went back to the hotel and went to bed.  When the soups arrived we both tried it and decided it was tasteless. Papa called the waitress and told her the soup is tasteless and she said “Thank you”.  Papa had to explain that we did NOT like the soup.

After dinner, went to bed.

5th of August

We woke up at 5:15 and drove to “Tuyen Lam Lake” by scooter. It’s a man-made lake surrounded by pine forest. We drove around and every time we would see something, we would stop to look. We had trouble with identifying almost every single bird, but in the end we identified all of them except two.

The first time we stopped, we saw a Blue whistling-thrush, Black-browed fulvettas and a pair of beautiful Mrs. Gould’s sunbirds. The second time, we saw 2 beautiful Rufous-backed sibias, more Black-browed fulvettas and something we couldn’t identify. And a Two-barred warbler which was extremely hard to identify: there were 22 other birds which looked a lot like it!

While we were driving somewhere else, we saw a Grey bushchat and some Grey-crowned tits. At our third spot, we hit the jackpot: we saw a

Black-naped oriole, a Common iora, Plain prinias, more Black-browed fulvettas, lots of Tiger shrikes, Chestnut-vented nuthatches crawling on the tree trunks, a Moustached barbet and another bird we couldn’t identify.

When we looked at all the birds there, we walked down a small path to check out what was all the way down the path. The path was made on a hill, so one side was higher than the path and the other side lower, which made it difficult to walk off the path.

While we were walking, we saw another Black-naped oriole and 2 beautiful Burmese shrikes. Then I heard papa say: “O MY GOD!!! Simcha walk this way, off the path!”. I thought he saw a bird or something, but then I looked in the direction papa was looking and I saw an elephant walking on the path! Somehow, we climbed up 5 meters in about a second. First we thought it was a wild elephant, but when we saw a man walking behind it and a sign saying: “Elephant Riding”, we knew it was domestic.

We never found out what the buildings all the way down the path were used for.

Back at the hotel, we rested, read, played pool and swam IN the pool.

When we rested for a while, papa and I went to check out a shop which sold jackets from good brands such The North Face because it was cheap. (Those brands were produced here in Vietnam). We didn’t buy anything though.

We looked for souvenirs too, shoes for Nuriye which weren’t in her size (too bad for her) and other things. Things such as tea cups we saw too, but we didn’t buy them because we found out it was “Made In China”. And they tried to convince us that everything they produce in China is very good.

When we were back in the hotel, we did the same things we did before we went to the shop. Except this time we also ate lunch which consisted out of waffles we stole from the breakfast buffet. And papa went to the sauna.

After all of that, we had dinner. Our dinner consisted of a French onion soup for me and a pumkin soup for papa. That was because the “chicken with Chinese mushrooms” we were going to split didn’t show up in time.

After dinner, we went to bed.

6th of August

We woke up at 5:20 and drove to “Tuyen Lam Lake” where we saw a few birds. We saw a bunch of beautiful White-crested laughingthrushes which were brown with a white crest, obviously. We saw a hard-to-identify Australian bushlark. The only way we were able to identify it was because we took some good pictures. At the spot where we saw the elephant the day before, we saw a Grey bushchat male which was actually black and some more White-cheeked laughingthrushes.

Back in the hotel, we stuffed ourselves at the breakfast buffet and sneaked some things with us as lunch. We played pool and swam in the pool for a little bite and then we went to Cat Tien National Park by taxi.

“Of course”, as papa would put it, I slept for 3 out of 6 hours we were in the car. I woke up when we stopped to buy a watermelon.

At Cat Tien National Park, we found out we first had to cross a river. Before we crossed the river to the park, we first had fill in a form somewhere so they knew who was entering the park.

We asked the taxi driver for a signature so he would show up to pick us up on the way back to Hanoi. That was because Cat Tien is still pretty far away from Da Lat.

We crossed the river and got picked up by a buggy from the hotel we were going to, the Forest Floor Lodge. We chose a room and went to the headquarters of the park to arrange a bird guide. We wanted the buggy to bring us there because it was only 1.5 kilometers from the hotel. But they wanted money for that!

Not just a little bit, but they wanted 10 U$$ to bring us there and back! That’s

just as much as it costs to go from Da Lat airport to Da Lat city! And that’s 32 kilometers instead of 3! It’s just they’re taking advantage of us having no choice but to go by buggy or to walk in the dark. Papa was angry at them and quickly they halved the price.

On the way to the headquarters by buggy, we met 2 Swiss girls walking in the dark with a torch because they too did not want to pay that much for the buggy. But, nice as we are, we offered them a lift.

We quickly arranged a bird guide for the coming days starting each morning at 6:00. The receptionist wrote down the price for the bird guide on a piece of paper. When we walked back to the buggy, I saw there was a name written on the same piece of paper. It read: “Phil Hefford” and I got confused because our bird guide was Vietnamese and that’s not a Vietnamese name! I figured out, after I made fun of it, that it was not the name of our bird guide but that the receptionist just recycled the paper and wrote somebody else’s name on it.

Back in our 100 U$$ hotel room, papa found out how bad it actually was for that price: dirty sheets, holes in the mosquito net, lamps full of bugs, dirt on the floor and a bad smell. Papa told the people form the hotel to clean everything and they changed a few things, but not everything. They kept on saying: “OK sir,tomorrow we will change and make better.”.

That meant that the first day we had to sleep on old, smelly sheets and so papa told somebody we were not paying 100 U$$ for the first night and that person went to talk to the manager.

While that person was gone, we decided to go back to the headquarters to check out the guesthouses around there. It could hardly get worse.

We sneaked away from the hotel, each took a bicycle without anybody noticing because to use those you had to pay of course. We rode through the jungle just 1.5 kilometers but it was enough for me to say that I found it even scarier than by scooter.

We passed a restaurant and a few guesthouses, but they were all closed and so we went back. Then, we found out we could stay the night for free instead of paying 100 U$$! It’s still a shithole, but it sounds a lot better now it’s free.

They also told us that the next morning, at 6:00, they would pick us and our luggage up to drive to a “more suitable” place to stay for us. And the buggy that would bring us there would be free!

After these good news, we went to our uncomfortable bed and fell asleep.

7th of August

We woke up at 5:44, packed and checked out of our horrible hotel. We were brought to the headquarters by buggy. We dropped off our luggage at the reception and met our 63 year-old bird guide “Dzjen”.

Before we left, we bought some leech-socks, obviously to protect,ourselves from leeches. We were wearing long jeans, but still.

We walked away from the headquarters and almost immediately saw a Lineated barbet perching on the top of a tree far away. sitting on the wire, we saw some Dark-necked tailorbirds.

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