In November 2019 I was sent to the cat tien NP by my work to work in the nearby primate rescue centre. I had a few days off over the month to explore cat tien and also 5 days off at the end where I went to da nang to check out son tra.
I won’t bore you with my travels to Vietnam or my work at the centre but I will share some knowledge about the general upkeep of the park. The park did have a huge poaching problem but it has gone down dramatically in recent years. Patrols used to find over 20 snares a day and now find one week. Poaching is still a major threat to the wildlife there though. The gibbon population has actually gone up, the monkey and loris populations are healthy and there are 10 elephants in the park.
There is a gibbon trek you can do at the park which I did one 2 occasions. It is quite easy to find the gibbons and then you “trek” underneath them for maybe 30 minutes to one hour. Apparently the treks have gone downhill in the last few years, previously you could trek for 2-4 hours and follow them deep into the forest. Now you only watch them until they decide to travel at any length. The tours were for a maximum of 4 people but now apparently can be more, although both mine were less. As well a this I talked to a few people during my stay that said the guides smoked and ate on the tour, not best practise. My guides for both tours were professional.
In general it was quite difficult to find mammals in cat tien. The macaque species were present but very skittish. Crocodile lake (otherwise known as bau sau) is still a good place to see the Annamese silvered langur if you’re lucky, which I was not, and apparently black shanked doucs are also seen there. A better place to see them is in an area known as Dakar (sometimes spelt dakor). I went there twice and the first time found a very skittish family of black shanked doucs that dissapeared immediately, the second time I found a lone male that bounced through the trees, possibly displaying, for several minutes affording me quite good glimpses.
It is easy to travel round the park by hiring a bicycle at the park hq and explorinv that way. Early mornings are best to see black shanked doucs as they are less active in the afternoon.
To see the pygmy loris you can stay at the expensive forest floor lodge or the cheaper accomodation by the park hq and then walk the main oath at night. The main oath connects the park hq, forest floor lodge and beyond so wherever you stay they are quite easy to find compared to any other species of primate in the park.
Over the river from cat tien is the small town of nam cat tien, a small collection of farms and tourist lodges/homestays. Wherever you spend most of your time I highly recommend you book all your travels from ho chi Minh and into the national park with green bamboo lodge in nam cat tien. Highly professional, very reasonably priced and they have a good relationship with all the true conservationists in the area.
After I left cat tien I flew from ho chi Minh to da nang in hope of finding the red shanked doucs. In cat tien I organised everything in person where as in da nang it is much easier online. I stayed at the Tien sa lodge (also known as the navy hotel danang, apparently everything in Vietnam has 2 names). I stayed for 5 nights in the off season and as such I was the only guest for 4 nights. The restaurant was closed but the best way to get food and get around is to use the grab app.
As for son tra itself, most people seemed to have hired a guide but I always like to explore myself so hired a scooter and drove the roads around the mountain. I hired a scooter via my hotel. One thing to remember is that automatic scooters are not allowed in son tra so I had to hire a second Manuel one after failing to get in with my automatic. The hotel staff new this but let me hire an automatic anyway, slightly annoyed I wasted my first morning, but I had more time than most in son tra so it wasn’t a disaster. One thing I did learn is that trying to bribe the military guards that guard the entrances to son tra is a very bad idea. I think I was lucky to get away with a warning which was a change of pace having spent more time in Africa.
I spent 4 & 1/2 days on my scooter travelling around son tra, unlike the black shanked doucs in cat tien, the red shanked doucs seem to be active all day. Many have been habituated by long term studies and the majority of those groups are on the most western road of the peninsula. I did spend a few hours exploring the whole peninsula, riding a scooter on those winding roads is in itself quite fun, but after 2 longer drives to the eastern and southern sides I concluded the west was much better for observing doucs and spent the majority of my time there. I averaged around 2 groups of doucs per morning or afternoon with probably 1 out of 4 being unhabituated and skittish. The others would get to within a few metres and show no interest in me. Great for photography and every afternoon a group of older Vietnamese men would be in roughly the same area bird and douc watching. It was nice to see rich locals (judging by the cameras they owned) taking an interest in viewing the local wildlife, rather than eating it, which is apparently still quite prominent.
As for other mammals in son tra, the macaques were obviously used to people driving near them but as soon as I stopped to observe/photgraph them they disappeared and alarm called. There were 2 different species of mongoose in the park that I observed, I think they were Javan and crab eating mongoose but I didn’t have a good enough view to confirm. Unfortunately the reserve closes at 5 so I couldn’t spotlight very annoyingly.
- All in all in son tra I think I saw at least 10 different groups of doucs in a very enjoyable few days. Hope this helps anyone going to either cat tien or son tra.