The stunning landscapes of Tram Chim National Park (Vuon Quoc Gia Tram Chim) (Hamlet 4, Tram Chim, tel. 06/7382-7436, 7am-5pm daily) are awash with tall grass, flat, waterlogged land, and over 230 different aquatic birds swooping and wheeling across the park’s 7,000 hectares. Visitors trace the watery avenues and flooded forests of this picturesque Delta scene by boat, spotting everything from an abundance of slender-necked storks to the vibrant yellow Asian golden weaver to towering sarus cranes, whose bright red feathers and jaw-dropping wingspan make them the stars of the park.
Opt for one of the two longer routes in order to make your trip worthwhile, as these will take you deeper into bird-watching territory.At the visitor center just inside the park’s main gate, choose from three boat routes around the perimeter of the park. The shortest route (45 minutes, VND500,000 per boat) is a quick jaunt that affords travelers a brief glimpse of the park. Opt for one of the two longer routes in order to make your trip worthwhile, as these will take you deeper into bird-watching territory. A 15.5-mile loop (two hours, VND800,000 per boat) through the park’s main viewing area to its watchtower is the most popular option. There is also an 18-mile trip (2.5 hours, VND900,000 per boat), adding on a bit more sightseeing time. Each vessel seats 12, so the more passengers you have, the cheaper the cost per person.
Accompanying each group are a driver and a guide who carries binoculars or birding field guides. Some of the drivers and guides speak English. The boats come within a few hundred meters of the various species of birds. Views from the park watchtower are stunning, with sweeping panoramas of the park’s greenery and birds in flight.
Traveling by car or by bus along the main road leading to the park, you’ll see the offices of the park administration first and then a gate for the visitor center.
Tram Chim is best visited in the early mornings and late afternoons, when the most birds are active. While the steady trickle of visitors Tram Chim receives have helped to put it on the map, you’ll mostly have the place to yourself. Though the trip takes time and effort, it is worth it. When done by public bus, the trip can actually be affordable.
Where to Stay
Visitors to Tram Chim have the option of shacking up at the park’s on-site guesthouse (VND150,000-250,000). The guesthouse’s six rooms accommodate up to three people each, and include a television, refrigerator, and fan, with optional add-ons like air-conditioning and hot water. While this allows you to rise early for the birds, it also limits dining options to the few simple noodle-soup eateries located on the main road near the park (5-minute walk). There is an on-site restaurant, but it only caters to groups of six or more and requires advance orders.
For more accommodation and food options, not to mention more English menus, base yourself in Cao Lanh town, roughly 30 miles south of the park.
Getting to Tram Chim requires some organization and prior planning. From Cao Lanh, Dong Thap Tourist (2 Doc Binh Kieu, Cao Lanh, tel. 06/7385-5637, 7am-11:30am and 1:30pm-5pm daily) organizes private trips to the park, often combined with a stop at the Xeo Quyt Relic Area in a two-day, one-night excursion. Similar itineraries are available from Saigon; however, these packaged tours are expensive and not worth the cost for small groups.
In Cao Lanh, groups of three or more can hire a car to the park, roughly 30 miles north (45-minute drive). Car rental rates are often negotiable, depending upon where you book. Dong Thap Tourist in Cao Lanh and Smile Tourist (82 Bui Vien, D1, Saigon, tel. 08/3920-4232, 8am-5pm daily) have private cars for rent. Smile Tourist can arrange all the logistics for those coming from Saigon.
An alternative, provided you’re up for a day of adventure, is to board a public bus to Tram Chim, which takes about 1.5 hours. From the Cao Lanh bus station (71/1 Ly Thuong Kiet, tel. 06/7385-1116, 5am-5pm daily), hop on one of the green buses bound for Hong Ngu (VND14,000). Let the fare collector know that you’d like to go to Tram Chim and the bus will stop at Thanh Binh bus station (Hwy. 30), where you’ll switch to an orange bus bound for Tan Hong (VND13,000). Show the fare collector the park’s name (Vuon Quoc Gia Tram Chim), and the bus will drop you right outside the visitor center.
Buses leave every 30 minutes from Cao Lanh, as early as 6am, and run through to the evening. Plan to leave Cao Lanh as early as possible to make the most of your day. The second leg of the trip—from Thanh Binh to Tram Chim—does not always run on schedule. These vehicles leave when full, but because there aren’t many buses that drive this route, you may have no trouble finding one.
If you get stranded at either the Thanh Binh bus station or the park, it is possible to enlist the services of a xe om to ferry you to the next leg of your trip. It’s about a 20-minute ride between the Thanh Binh bus station and Tram Chim’s visitor center. Hiring a xe om between the main road (about 20 kilometers from the park entrance) and Tram Chim runs about VND50,000-60,000.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vietnam.