VIETNAM 2014 Ancient Land of Natural Splendor

This trip is being conducted for students of the Biology Department at Appalachian State University. This trip is exclusively for Appalachian State and not open to the public, but if you are interested in this trip, or in Vietnam as a destination, please contact us.


Ancient Land of Natural Splendor

21-Days – May 13 – 21, 2013

EcoQuest Travel, Inc. is proud to partner with Appalachian State University to offer an exciting trip to the ancient land of Vietnam. Vietnam offers a unique blend of rich cultural history and exquisite natural beauty. It is a land that overloads the senses with ancient temples and pagodas, emerald waters, a seemingly endless patchwork of rice paddies, busy cities, incredible forests and cuisines full of pungent smells and dynamic tastes. This trip will focus on Vietnam’s unique ecology, and conservation issues, by exploring some of the country’s most important National Parks. Join us as we journey to Cat Ba, Cuc Phuong, Bach Ma and Cat Tien National Parks and search for Vietnam’s elusive wildlife. The haunting calls of gibbons, the whoosh of air through a hornbill’s wings and the metallic sheen of a silver pheasant in dappled light are some of what awaits us in Cuc Phuong. While in Cuc Phuong we will also visit important conservation programs at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center and the Turtle Conservation Center. Bach Ma is a beautiful park full of waterfalls and excellent wildlife. The mountains of Bach Ma still contain tiger, Asiatic black bear, several species of primates and prolific birdlife with over 330 species inhabiting the park. Cat Tien National Park is perhaps Vietnam’s greatest park and contains an incredible number of rare species including blank-shanked douc langur, pygmy loris, leopard cat, sambar deer, woolly-necked stork and green peafowl. In 2011 we were really lucky and observed a herd of ten gaur near the Dong Nai River. We invite you to join us as we discover the natural wonders, cultural sites and magic of Vietnam.


Day 1 – Tuesday, May 13: Charlotte to Our Gateway City and on to either Tokyo or Seoul

We will depart from Charlotte International Airport early this morning for our flight to our US gateway city – likely Atlanta, Chicago or Minneapolis. Please make sure that you arrive at the airport no later than two hours prior to our scheduled departure time. Once we arrive at our gateway city we will change planes for our flight to either Tokyo’s Narita International Airport or Seoul’s Inchon International Airport. We will arrive in Asia in the early afternoon on May 16th and transfer to our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Day 2 – Wednesday, May 14: Tokyo or Seoul to Hanoi, Vietnam

We will depart Tokyo or Seoul in the early evening and arrive in Hanoi around 10:00 PM. After clearing customs and immigration we will transfer to our hotel for a night of much needed rest. Our hotel while we are in Hanoi is the Thang Long Opera Hotel, a charming hotel located in heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and close to Dong Xuan Market and Hoan Kiem Lake.

Day 3 – Thursday, May 15: Hanoi

Today will be a fairly easy day to aid in our recuperation from the long journey. After breakfast we will begin a series of meetings that are meant to introduce us to the conservation issues facing Vietnam. We will likely meet with personnel from the Institute for Ecology and Biological Research in order to gain some important background before our exploration of Vietnam’s National Parks begins. We will have lunch between meetings and after dinner we will return to the Thang Long Opera Hotel for a night of rest as we continue to try and reset our biological clocks. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Friday, May 16: Hanoi to Halong Bay

Today we will depart early for the Vietnamese coast crossing over the Red River Delta along the way. We should arrive in Halong City, the gateway to the magnificent World Heritage Site of Halong Bay, by noon where we will transfer to our private sailing junk. Halong translates to ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ – an apt description for the thousands of jagged islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. We will sail through this spectacular seascape full of tiny beaches, grottos and forested slopes echoing with bird song. We will be served a lunch of fresh seafood while we pass through beautiful areas of the Bay such as Seadog Rock, Fighting Cock Islet and Surprising Cave. After lunch we will stop at Ba Trai Dao (Three Peaches Beach) to enjoy some swimming and kayaking. Back onboard we will enjoy a fantastic sunset and dinner. We will overnight aboard the boat in a harbor near Cat Ba Island. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Saturday, May 17: Halong Bay, Cat Ba National Park and back to Hanoi

After an early breakfast on the boat we will disembark to explore Cat Ba National Park. Cat Ba NP is home to more than 70 species of birds and 32 species of mammals. As we trek into the Park we hope to see butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and a host of birds. Mammals are present in the park, but are rarely seen. We will return to the boat in the afternoon to cruise back to the Halong City Wharf and transfer back to Hanoi. This evening we will witness an art form unique to northern Vietnam as we enjoy a water puppetry show. After the show we will head to a local restaurant for dinner and overnight at the Thang Long Opera Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Sunday, May 18: Hanoi to Cuc Phuong National Park

After an early breakfast we will depart for Cuc Phuong National Park. Our drive will take us past a mosaic of rice paddies, rural hamlets, limestone cliffs and green mountains. Located south of Hanoi, the forested limestone slopes of Cuc Phuong protect an impressive variety of animals and plants. It is home to some spectacular primates including gibbons, macaques and rare and endemic Delacour’s leaf monkey. The Park is also home to some fantastic birds including bar-bellied pitta, red-collared woodpeckers, limestone wren-babblers, fork-tailed sunbirds and many others. During April and May, just before the onset of the rains, the Park is filled with literally millions of butterflies. We will arrive at Cuc Phuong in the early afternoon and will visit the Park’s Turtle Conservation Center. This sanctuary was established to protect and breed many species of Asian turtles and tortoises all of which are endangered from over-harvest for the food markets of China and Taiwan. In the late afternoon we will have our first chance to look for wildlife along the Park’s main road before we settle into our rustic, but comfortable, accommodations at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouse. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouse. (B,L,D)

Days 7 & 8 – Monday and Tuesday, May 19 & 20: Cuc Phuong NP

Dedicated in 1962, Cuc Phuong was Vietnam’s first national park and is one of the few remaining areas of lowland and limestone forest left in the north. We will have two full days to explore the forests and trails within the Park’s karst ecosystem. We will begin each day at dawn when animal activity is at its peak, take a break during the heat of the day and continue exploring in the late afternoon and early evening. We will also take a few night game drives in hopes of glimpsing some of the nocturnal mammals that inhabit the park. Mammals are difficult to see in the Park, but birds are common and we should observe some reptiles as well. We will have our meals and overnight at the Cuc Phuong Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Wednesday, May 21: Cuc Phuong NP and Van Long Nature Reserve

This morning we will visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center located near Park Headquarters. The Center is home to around 14 species of primates, mostly gibbons and langurs that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. The Center not only rescues the animals, but is breeding them for eventual reintroduction back into the wild. Vietnam is home to a fantastic array of primates most of which are endemic or near-endemic. They are almost all endangered as well so the Center is doing really important conservation and education work. Our visit will also likely be our only chance to see some of these animals. The exception to this may be the rare Delacour’s langur which is endemic to the region in and around Cuc Phuong. After lunch we will travel to Van Long Nature Reserve to hopefully observe these fantastic black and white primates as they scamper up and down the limestone pinnacles and cliff faces. When we arrive at Van Long we will board traditional reed boats that will take us to the edge of the towering cliffs that rise up out of the water. The langurs are most active in the late afternoon and early evening and it will truly be a privilege to observe them in the wild. The boats are operated by the local community providing a sustainable income that also promotes wildlife protection. As the sun slips behind the mountains we will boat back to our bus and return to Cuc Phuong for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Day 10 – Thursday, May 22: Cuc Phuong NP to Hanoi and Fly to Hue

We will depart Cuc Phuong very early this morning and drive back to Hanoi and the airport to catch our late morning flight to Hue. We will arrive in Hue in the early afternoon and after lunch we will visit some of Hue’s most impressive cultural sites. Hue has a long and dramatic history. It has been a city of political intrigue and cultural innovation as well as a religious center and the former capitol of the Nguyen Empire. Today its monuments have been declared a national treasure and a World Heritage site. We will begin our tour with the remains of the Citadel which was built in 1687. This ancient city was home to the Nguyen dynasty which ruled Vietnam until 1945. It was also the site of two bloody battles – one with the French and one with American forces during the Tet Offensive. From the Citadel we will visit the Thien Mu Pagoda which is built on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. This pagoda is an icon of Vietnam and both the structures and the location are beautiful. From the pagoda we will continue to the splendid tombs of the Nguyen emperors. Located just outside Hue, the royal tombs are extravagant and we will visit perhaps the most majestic – that of Emperor Minh Mang. After we finish our visit we will return to Hue for dinner and overnight at the Festival Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 11 – Friday, May 23: Hue to Bach Ma NP

This morning after breakfast we will depart for Bach Ma National Park which is located about 60 kilometers southeast of Hue. Bach Ma is famous for its mountainous terrain and its cool wet climate. The Park protects a unique hill forest ecosystem that is a haven for wildlife. Bach Ma is famous for its birdlife, but the wet conditions also make it ideal for reptiles and amphibians. Upon arrival we will check into our accommodations at the National Park Guesthouses, eat lunch and have an afternoon hike through the forest to Ngu Ho and Do Quyen waterfalls. The Ngu Ho, or Five-Lake Waterfall is particularly beautiful with a series of small falls that cascade into pristine pools of clear water tucked beneath a canopy of foliage. We could have a chance to swim in the very cold water before we work our way back to our accommodations for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Days 12 & 13 – Saturday and Sunday, May 24 & 25: Bach Ma NP

We will have two full days to explore Bach Ma and seek out its wildlife. Mammals are present, but they are very difficult to observe. Reptiles and amphibians are plentiful and we will spend time both during the day and at night searching for them. There are a fantastic number of birds in the park including such rare and spectacular species as the crested argus pheasant, Annam partridge, red-headed trogon and sultan tit. Groups of laughing thrushes and babblers are also present in large numbers. We will overnight each night at the National Park Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Days 12 & 13 – Saturday and Sunday, May 24 & 25: Bach Ma NP

We will have two full days to explore Bach Ma and seek out its wildlife. Mammals are present, but they are very difficult to observe. Reptiles and amphibians are plentiful and we will spend time both during the day and at night searching for them. There are a fantastic number of birds in the park including such rare and spectacular species as the crested argus pheasant, Annam partridge, red-headed trogon and sultan tit. Groups of laughing thrushes and babblers are also present in large numbers. We will overnight each night at the National Park Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 14 – Monday, May 26: Bach Ma to Hue/Danang and Fly to Ho Chi Minh City

We will have one last early morning to explore Bach Ma. After breakfast we drive to either Hue or Danang for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Once we arrive in Saigon we will check into our rooms at the Sapphire Hotel before departing for a short city tour to visit some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most important cultural sites including the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame Church, the Central Post Office and the Ben Thanh Market. After we finish our tour we will return to the Sapphire Hotel to prepare for dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 15 – Tuesday, May 27: Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien National Park

We will depart early for the 170 km trek to Cat Tien National Park. Along the way we pass through some beautiful countryside including a number of rubber plantations. Upon arrival at Park Headquarters we will check-in at the Guesthouse and begin our exploration of this incredible park. Cat Tien protects 77 species of mammals, 326 species of birds, 457 species of butterflies and numerous reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. Among those species are some of the rarest animals in the world: leopard, Asian elephant, gaur (the largest species of wild ox), and clouded leopard are just a few of the mammal highlights. These large mammals are rarely seen, but we do have a good chance of seeing sambar deer, treeshrews and primates. Cat Tien is home to some endangered primates and we could see gibbon, douc langur and long-tailed macaques. Cat Tien is blessed with fantastic birds including green peafowl, orange-necked partridge, Siamese fireback pheasant, and numerous hornbills, broadbills, and babblers. The Park is also one of the last strongholds for the Siamese crocodile. We will overnight at the rustic, but comfortable Cat Tien Guesthouse. After dinner we will have a night game drive in the park to look for sambar and barking deer, civets, owls, ferret-badgers and other nocturnal creatures. (B,L,D)

Day 16 – Wednesday, May 28: Cat Tien National Park – Crocodile Lake

This morning we will have an early breakfast before we begin our hike to Crocodile Lake. The hike winds through an incredible rainforest and we will walk slowly and quietly in order to maximize our chances of viewing wildlife. We could see primates and fantastic birds such as Germain’s peacock-pheasant, bar-bellied pitta, orange-breasted trogon and red-and-black broadbill. We should also see gliding lizards along this trail as they cling to tree trunks and extend their dewlaps in territorial displays. Once we arrive at Crocodile Lake we will eat lunch and have some time to set up our tents for the night. In the late afternoon we will explore the area around the lake and after dinner we will spot light the lake and lake shore looking for Siamese crocodiles, wild boar, civets and sambar deer. We will overnight tonight in tents provided by the Park. (B,L,D)

Day 17 – Thursday, May 29: Cat Tien NP

The real magic of Cat Tien can best be witnessed early in the morning at Crocodile Lake. Mammals can sometimes be seen coming to the water to drink, but the birdlife is fantastic. Flocks of lesser whistling ducks dabble in the shallows while stork-billed kingfishers, grey-headed fish-eagles and purple herons hunt for fish. Bronze-winged jacanas, greater painted snipes and purple swamp hens work the shoreline and both yellow and cinnamon bitterns haunt the reeds. Great hornbills hop through the treetops and male green peafowl sometimes fan their incredible feathered tail as they dance near the lake. Crocodile Lake in the morning is a glimpse of what much of Asia used to look like and will hopefully provide some awe-inspiring highlights. After our morning on the lake we will hike back along the trail watching for wildlife as we go. Once we reach the trailhead we will transfer back to our rooms at the Cat Tien Guesthouse and wait for the heat of the day to subside. In the late afternoon we will use a vehicle to explore other areas of this great park. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cat Tien Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 18 – Friday, May 30: Cat Tien NP and the Dong Nai River

This morning we will have an early boat trip along the river to view wildlife along the riverbanks. This is a great way to see wildlife including some that may be difficult to see otherwise like wooly-necked stork, blue-bearded bee-eater and maybe even elephants if we are really lucky. We will stop at a local village and have a chance to see how the people of the village are benefiting from the ecotourism the park generates. We also will have the opportunity to purchase some of the local handicrafts produced by the villagers. After our visit we will board the boats for the journey back to park headquarters. In the late afternoon we will once again have an opportunity to explore more of Cat Tien. We will have dinner and overnight at the Cat Tien Guesthouses. (B,L,D)

Day 19 – Saturday, May 31: Cat Tien NP, the Crocodile Farm and on to Ho Chi Minh City

We will have another early morning to bird and observe wildlife in Cat Tien before breakfast. After breakfast we will depart Cat Tien by crossing the Dong Nai River. Once across the river our bus will be waiting for us and we will drive back to Ho Chi Minh City. We will visit and have lunch at a large crocodile farm outside the city. This farm raises mostly Siamese crocodiles which are endangered in the wild. Breeding them in captivity lessens the pressure on the wild population and has contributed to the overall conservation of the species. We should arrive at the Sapphire Hotel in time to freshen up before dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 20 – Sunday, June 1: Cu Chi Tunnels, the WAR Rescue Center and our Departure

This morning we will travel just northwest of the Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were a vast network of tunnels (250 kilometers in Cu Chi District alone) built during the Vietnam War in order to facilitate Viet Cong control over large rural areas close to Saigon. They were also used for protection from American bombings and as way to mount surprise attacks against American forces. Today the tunnels have been enlarged slightly to accommodate visitors. After our visit to the tunnels we will travel to the WAR Rescue Center to see the animals they have rescued from local markets and the illegal wildlife trade. After our visit we will travel back to Ho Chi Minh City and transfer to the Sapphire Hotel to prepare for our long journey home. Depending on our flight schedule we will either have a chance to pack and eat dinner before transferring to the airport for our overnight flight to Tokyo or Seoul, or we will overnight at the Sapphire Hotel if our flights depart on June 1st. (B,L,D)

Day 21 – Monday, June 2: Tokyo or Seoul to the US and Home

We will either start or continue our journey home today as we arrive in Tokyo or Seoul and will transfer to our flight back to our US gateway city. We will arrive in our gateway city in the afternoon on the same day we departed, in fact earlier than we left, due to the magic of crossing the International Dateline. From there we will transfer to our final flight home arriving in Charlotte in the early evening.

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel, Inc. will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.


$3,376.00/person all-inclusive tour package

$1,900.00/person estimated international airfare*

$5,276.00/person all-inclusive*

*Note: It is our philosophy to provide an all-inclusive price, but due to the volatile nature of the airline industry, EcoQuest Travel is only able to provide an estimated airfare at this time. The actual date of ticketing will determine the price. In 2009 we paid $1745.00/person for airfare; in 2011 we paid $1900.00/person for our airfare; and in 2012 we paid $1722.00 for our airfare. For 2014 we are hoping that prices remain reasonable and we have purposely estimated high, but prices may increase. If the price goes higher than $2200.00 then we will contact the group to see if the trip is feasible. We hope that the price will be lower than the above estimate and if it is lower then the difference will be passed on to all participants.

What’s Included:

  • Round-trip airfare from US gateway city to Hanoi, Vietnam (see conditions above)
  • Land, air and boat transportation within Vietnam (see conditions above regarding domestic air)
  • All accommodations – based upon double occupancy (single supplement is available for an additional $359.00)
  • All tours within the scheduled itinerary
  • Most meals are included (please see the trip itinerary to see what is included)
  • Permits, entrance fees and guides
  • The leadership services of EcoQuest Travel professionals

What’s Not Included:

  • Gratuities (for our Vietnamese drivers and guides)
  • Passport and Visa fees
  • Travel insurance (please see the Travel Insurance Section below)
  • Costs associated with pre-trip medical planning (such as vaccines)
  • Gifts and personal items or expenses

Travel Documents:

A passport valid for at least 6 months after our arrival is required for travel in Vietnam. In addition Vietnam requires an entry visa available from their embassy in Washington DC. The fee for a tourist visa to visit Vietnam is $70.00, but this can and does change so we will update you before you apply. Complete instructions for obtaining a visa and visa application forms are found on the Vietnamese Embassy’s website:

Group Size:

The trip cost is based on a minimum number of participants – 12 people. Although 12 people are required in order to make this trip a reality; we are able to accommodate up to a maximum of 16 people. If we have more than twelve participants it will likely lower the per person cost and the difference will be passed along to each person signed up for the trip.

Health Requirements:

The Vietnamese Government does not require vaccination against yellow fever for entry into the country unless coming from a country where yellow fever is endemic. While this is not a required vaccine it certainly is recommended for travel in Asia. There are also several other immunizations that would be prudent to consider prior to traveling in Asia. These include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Meningococcal Meningitis, and Japanese Encephalitis. One should also check to make sure that vaccines against Tetanus/Diphtheria and Polio are up to date. Malaria is present in Vietnam and anti-malarial medications should be considered mandatory for this trip. Information on travel related diseases and vaccines to prevent them can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website at:

We highly recommend discussing all medical issues related to travel with your doctor well in advance of the proposed travel date (at least 6 months prior to departure).

Payments and Reservations:

A deposit of $1,000.00 per person is required along with your reservation form in order to reserve space on the trip. This ensures airline seating space and necessary early deposits. We encourage you to send the deposit well in advance of the date the first payment is due, as paying the deposit is the only way to secure your spot. All payments will go directly to the Overseas Education Program at Appalachian State University. If you have any questions regarding payment please contact either Dr. Van Devender in the Biology Department or “” Meg Marck-Kennedy, Director, Appalachian Overseas Education Programs: Email,(828) 262-6692. 
After the initial deposit the following is the payment schedule:

  • A payment of at least $2,138.00 is required no later than January 17, 2014
  • The remainder of the trip expense ($2,138.00) will be due on or before March 31, 2014


The initial deposit, as well as subsequent payments, will be used to purchase airline tickets and pay deposits for accommodations, travel arrangements, etc. in Vietnam. Therefore, if you must withdraw from the trip, irrespective of reason, a refund will not be possible. We strongly suggest that you protect yourself with the purchase of trip cancellation insurance. We will try to retain a wait list for this trip and it is possible that if you end up not being able to participate we will attempt to find a replacement for you; however, it is your responsibility to find a replacement or to have insurance.
Please note that in the event EcoQuest Travel, Inc. cancels this trip, due to circumstances beyond our control or low trip participant numbers, a refund of the initial deposit and any payments made will be issued.

Travel Insurance:

Travel Insurance will be handled by Appalachian State University as a part of your fees.

General Information:

Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form you will be sent an information packet containing flight information, baggage requirements, hints on what to bring and other useful information. The climate will be hot and humid. More information on trip conditions will be provided in the final packet. You will want to bring a camera, film and binoculars. Again, a more exhaustive list will be provided after you are registered for the trip.

Trip Leaders:

Dave Davenport: Zoologist and President of EcoQuest Travel, Inc.
Dr. Wayne Van Devender: Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University