Our big group, swelled even larger by the addition of Alex and Nhut, landed at Hanoi and made their way to a hotel in the old French quarter of the city. How exciting to visit a place that for years seemed completely out of reach!
We were heading out of Hanoi the next morning, but this day and night were ours to explore and enjoy the old quarter.
In the morning we boarded a chartered bus and headed south and east to Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s oldest national park, which is situated on line of forested, karsty hills.
We checked in with park headquarters, and then rode the last leg down the park road for twenty klicks, terminating at a little place called Xoc Bong. In its heyday, Xoc Bong may have been a sparkling resort destination, but these days it’s rather decayed and sad. I dubbed it the ‘bottom of the bong’ and it stuck. It was perfectly ok for herpers, however – it reminded me of my times in the Peruvian Amazon.
There were park trails that wound through the hills, and they were well constructed and in pretty good shape. We hit these trails hard, day and night. An abandoned spring-fed swimming pool served as a rich source of amphibians.
The most common reptile encountered was the brown pricklenape (Acanthosaura lepidogaster). These Crotaphytus-sized lizards could be found sleeping in bushes along the trails at night. Their total biomass must be an interesting number.
The most common amphibian, the Black-spined Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) photographed along the edge of the swimming pool.
We covered some of the park road on foot and with a couple motorcycles, and found some interesting herps, including MacClelland’s coral snake (Sinomicrurus macclellandi macclellandi)
Hampton’s slug snake (Pareas hamptoni), were found at night on the road and also in bushes along the trail.
This north China green snake (Ptyas multicinctus) was an interesting find. Formerly in Cyclophiops, these meter long serpents snack on earthworms, which can be exceedingly large in this part of the world.
The Indo-Chinese elegant skink (Eumeces elegans) looks amazingly similar to the five-lined skinks back home.
This amazing Tonkinese wolf snake (Lycodon meridionalis) was found on the park road one night.
Red-banded Wolf Snake (Lycodon rufozonatus). Until recently this snake was in Dinodon, a genus with a cool name, but now sunk.
Denny’s whipping frog (Zhangixalus dennysi)
A Chinese kukri snake (Oligodon chinensis)
Mack turned up this awesome Indo-Chinese Habu (Protobothrops mucrosquamatus).
One of my favorite finds was this Vietnam striped grass lizard (Takydromus kuehnei vietnamensis). I’m quite fond of these little lacertids; I kept and bred a small colony of Takydromus many years ago.
The rocky karst hillsides meant only one thing – more geckos! A Cuc Phuong bow-fingered gecko (Cyrtodactylus cucphuongensis). Every mountain range or set of rocky hills seems to have their own species of spectacular cyrtodactylid.
There was a spot on one of the steep mountain trails where a small stream trickled across. Coming across it during the day, I thought it might be a productive spot after the sun when down. Sure enough, we found a number of cool frogs there that night, starting with this stunning Vietnamese mossy frog (Theloderma corticale) that Kevin spotted in a small bush.
A second species of Theloderma turned up – an Indo-Chinese bird poop frog (Theloderma asperum)
And a megophryid – the convex-vented horned frog (Megophrys pachyproctus). We saw and heard a handful of these frogs and I managed to record a calling male.
Nick came up with an Orlov’s treefrog (Rhacophorus orlovi).
Originally, we had thought that this cobra Mack encountered was a monocellate (Naja kaouthia), but an elapid expert identified it as a Chinese cobra (Naja atra). At any rate, it was the first cobra for many in our group.
A mountain wolf snake (Lycodon ruhstrati).
Love those moustache frogs! A Leptobrachium chapaense observed on a trail one night.
My last herp at Cuc Phuong was this collared reed snake (Calamaria pavimentata), which seems to mimic Sinomicrurus macclellandi.
Three countries down, two to go – next stop, Hong Kong!