While everybody knows about its war-torn history not everybody, birders included, understand Vietnam's wonderful natural heritage. True, it’s still recovering from a long and turbulent history but these days travelling and birding in Vietnam is an absolute delight with warm, welcoming people and a delicious cuisine, not to mention some superb nature reserves and fascinating wildlife. Vietnam is home to over 850 species of birds, among them more endemics than any other country in mainland Southeast Asia.
A cursory glance at a map of the region will show that Vietnam is an unusual country – roughly shaped like an hour glass, it is long and thin; balanced on the edge of the Southeast Asian continent the country lies on a north-south axis and covers a huge latitudinal range. In the north one’s eye is drawn to the Red River Delta, while in the south the huge Mekong Delta dominates the map. Both of these very important topographic features figure prominently in the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. In Vietnam’s far north-west lies the Hoang Lien Son Range, the south-easternmost extension of the Himalayas; the very thin central part of the country is traced by the Truong Son Range; while further south the Da Lat Plateau divides south and central Vietnam. This topography and Vietnam’s location on the edge of the mainland contributes to a complex climatic system. This all goes toward explaining Vietnam’s extraordinary biological diversity.
Vietnam is in the top 25 countries of species richness and that diversity peaks for groups whose richness peaks in Southeast Asia. It has seven species of primates (and seven more range-restricted species) and five species of babblers (seven more restricted range), which equates to two thirds of mainland Asia’s babblers. The flora is also diverse, with thirteen species of endemic Cycad and many more orchids, palms and pines. One of the fascinating things about Vietnam is how disparate the northern, central and southern regions are; visits to all three zones are highly recommended. Credit: Susan Myers/Asia birding expert.