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Stijn De Win


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Tam Dao

Birds ‘in the mist’


A former French Hill Station now mainly visited by Hanoi residents as a summer weekend retreat.  Tam Dao NP covers

much of the area and extensive area’s of intact montane broad-leafed forest still exist, though illegal hunting remains a

problem.  The area is notorious for its unpredictable weather, with especially fog often hampering birding, it shouldn’t

keep you from visiting however as the rewards can be high.


Key species


Tam Dao sits north of the Red River Plain giving it a Chinese element.  Hence the main target birds here are Grey

Laughingthrush and Chestnut Bulbul, both restricted to East Tonkin and South China.  Other specialities include

Short-tailed & Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Blue-naped Pitta, White-hooded Babbler, Streak-breasted and

Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Black-chinned Yuhina, Green Cochoa and Spot-necked Babbler.




Birding at Tam Dao can be slow and is often hindered by low cloud and mist but for those that persist, rewards are high

and will include a number of species not otherwise found at any other known birdwatching site in Vietnam.

1 The flight of steps up to the radio transmitter tower runs through good forest and a number of specialities have been

   seen here inclusive Blue-naped Pitta at the start of the steps just past the shops. Other birds likely encountered

   here are Grey Laughingthrush, Black-chinned Yuhina, Chestnut Bulbul and Silver-eared Mesia.  However, note that the

   forest at both sides of the steps is thick and views limited.  Those with limited time or unable to do any strenuous

   walking should consider to go for the Contour track where the walking is easy and flat and where all the above species

   also occur.  Additionally, do avoid this place in weekends when it gets crowded with students and other visitors.

   I haven’t been bored enough to start counting the steps but it’s exactly a 285 altimeter climb.

2 The only place in town where the forest stretches to the roadsides lies just past the transmitter steps within easy walking

   distance from the Green World Hotel. It’s a nice spot for a stroll when fog at the Contour track becomes to thick and a

   range of nice species inclusive Chestnut Bulbul have been recorded here.  Although anything could possibly turn up

   here, the birding isn’t as good as on the Contour track, don’t concentrate your efforts on this place.

3 A steep series of steps starts right besides the Mela hotel and goes down 80 altimeter to a waterfall where White-

   capped Water Redstart has been recorded.  You have to go early for this, as noisy tourists will chase of them

   later on, just leaving the question if it’s worth spending the best time of day for it instead of concentrating on the

   Tam Dao specialities.  While it’s not impossible to see some other nice birds here, the forest around isn’t pristine and

   unlikely to deliver more than a handful species on a single visit.

4 The Contour Track is the single best birding area in Tam Dao.  It still is, check out “Additional info” below for an update

   on the area if you’ve read something else in trip reports.




5 It’s 1,8 km to reach the Forest Protection Station from the Green World Hotel.  Park here if self-driving because 100 m

   further on the pavement stops and you’ve to cross the landslide on foot.  Anywhere from here till the end of the track

   about 2,5 km or a 45 min stroll can be good for birds with no real spots being better or worse.  Just keep walking up and

   down till you get your target species is possibly the best thing to do.

6 At the end of the Contour track (marked by large piles of stones waiting to become a paved trail up Tam Dao peak 1

   somewhere in the distant future), 2 trailheads can be found.  The trail to the right goes up Tam Dao peak 1 and the one

   which goes left keeps going level for a few km through thick bamboo, eventually reaching evergreen forest but also

   becoming indistinct and hard to follow.  The area at the end of the track and start of the trails is where Blue-naped Pitta

   has been seen on several occasions.

7 This trail will bring you up on Tam Dao peak 1 in approx. 1 hour, a steep climb with 370 altimeters to ascent.  There’re

   magnificent views on the top on clear days but otherwise probably not worth the effort really.  While there’re no birds

   here that can’t be seen on the Contour track, Needletails do come whooshing by very close when standing on the

   summit which is always an impressive sight, with both Silver-backed and White-throated easy to identify this way.

   Another steep and slippery trail goes down peak 1 and then up peak 2 and will take at least 1,5 hours one way, do this

   for the sport and adventure if you wish, it’s nothing good for birding.

8 Thick bamboo stands along this trail make it dark in the undergrowth here and this monotonous habitat is very poor for

    birds and birding.  Nevertheless, it’s worth a look if you are still missing some of the bamboo specialists like Parrotbills,

    the Scimitar Babblers, White-hooded Babbler or Blue-naped Pitta.


Getting there & around


-If not on a tour with transport included, the best way to reach Tam Dao from Hanoi is to rent a taxi through your hotel

reception, NOT on the street!  Alternatively, get one directly from the airport and you’ll be birding within 2 hours of arrival.

Expect to pay 50-60 USD one way from Hanoi, a little less from the airport.  Arrange to get picked up again by the same


-Definitely not recommended is to try get to Tam Dao on public transport from Hanoi.  Not impossible though.  Firstly, get

a taxi to the right bus station (contradictory in trip reports and Lonely Planet) for about 20000VND if taking a scooter.

Then get onto the right bus on the direct service to Vinh Yen and make sure to get off in the right place.  Tell the driver you

want to go to Tam Dao.  Then rent a motorcycle taxi up to the hill station for an excessive price.  On arrival, expect

for the driver to demand even more money than the price arranged on departure!  When you want to leave again,

prepare for some fun trying to find transport for which you gone pay several times the real local price…

**Both options described above will leave you with no transport at Tam Dao, which means you’ll have to walk an extra

   3 km return every day to the Forest Station (start of good birding), if staying in the Green World Hotel.**

-For single birders not able to share costs for a taxi, the best way to reach Tam Dao is to rent a motorbike in Hanoi for

 6 – 10 USD a day.  It will come in handy after arrival as well to reach the birding areas.  You’d better have some

experience driving bikes however as getting out of Hanoi is a bit of a challenge, and secondly to find the route to Tam

Dao isn’t easy at all. 

You shouldn’t get lost when following this directions ; Use a city map to get out of Hanoi and across the huge bridge over

the Red River which is on the Highway to the airport.  Exactly 6 km after the bridge, you’ll get to the first set of traffic lights

with Phuc Yen signposted to the left.  Turn left here and do follow this narrow, potholed road through farmland and

villages for about 15 km until you hit a major highway again in the village of Phuc Yen.  Turn left on this HW and follow for

approx. 17 km to Vinh Yen.  Inside Vinh Yen city, it can get a bit confusing but just keep going straight more or less

(several roundabouts) until you see signs for Tam Dao, a right hand turn after about having driven 5 km inside the town.

It’s another 25 km to Tam Dao town.  Keep right at the only confusing intersection.  Do fill up fuel at one of two small gas

stations on this route if necessary, the last one is still more than 10 km from Tam Dao.




Accommodation & food


There’s a large number of hotels in the town (10 – 50+ USD) but the Green World Hotel has been a favourite with birders

and is very good indeed with rooms for 20 $.  For something more upmarket, try the Mela hotel.  It seems very unlikely to

end up finding no accommodation here without having a reservation, certainly not during March-May when most birders

visit.  It’s more likely you’d be the only guest in your hotel!  The place is deserted during winter. 

To find good food is a bit of a problem in Tam Dao.  Don’t expect to find anything tasty in the string of restaurants in the

town, not much of an English language menu either.  It’s better to eat in your hotel.  While not having anything that looks

like a restaurant, I’ve managed to order reasonably good food at the Green World Hotel where it’s served in the lobby, or

better get them to bring it to your room.  Have your Lonely Planet food glossary ready however to be able to order



Notes & info


- Best time to visit is March – May, with better chances for good weather later on.

- Thick fog and low cloud is a feature at Tam Dao and it’s more likely than not you’ll lose some time due to visibility

  getting too low for birding.  You’ll need a jacket here unless you hit sunny weather throughout which is rare enough.

- It’s feasible to see most of the target birds here in a couple of days, at least if you’re lucky with the weather.

  Never expect a high list total however as birding is generally rather slow.

- Despite being a national park now, proper conservation is non-existent. This is Vietnam!

- Walking effort and access are easy, certainly if you stay away from any ‘steps’ or summit trail, which aren’t necessary to

  walk to get the special birds here.

- No entrance fees at Tam Dao.  You might want to buy a drink (not wildlife!) however from the shops along both the

  waterfall and transmitter trails which would support the local poor a bit.

- Just a few leeches might be encountered on the trails at the end of the Contour track, otherwise there’s nothing around

  here to annoy the visitor.

- There’s no fuel in town, if self-driving, do not arrive here with an empty tank.


Bird list


130 species, 02 near-endemics, 01 threatened species


Other wildlife


Tam Dao NP certainly makes it into the top 5 of the most empty parks in Asia when it comes to wildlife, all due to serious

hunting pressure.  It might well be that the very last of those ‘tasty’ squirrels got shot and barbecued.  Don’t expect to

encounter anything else than the odd leech, despite an official list of 58 mammal species!   Luckily, birds seem to be

harder to shoot…


Trip reports & articles


An interesting article about Tam Dao NP, with info on habitats etc.:


Additional info


Lots of misleading info does exist in trip reports on the “Contour track” (Contour trail/water tank trail) inclusive that the

area is destroyed by road works, that it’s 8! km long and has no birds….

Now…there’s been road works here and the former trail now has become a track for about 2 km, after which it splits into

2 trails.  There’s extensive forest cover in the national park that the track runs through, which will never be destroyed

by the construction of a single road through it.  Additionally, all road works have been abandoned without any signs they

will resume anywhere in the near future.  A big landslide just past the forest station blocks all motorised traffic, making

it a quiet birding track.  A wooden walkway is constructed across to get you access on foot.  While the forest on the

sides of the track has certainly been damaged a bit, it doesn’t do much to the quality of the birding here.  Better views on

the canopy and inside the forest are a feature now at least.


This information page has been published on 30th August 2008 by Stijn De Win ©

-Updated 04 June 2011

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