Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Luang Prabang

After the shock of getting what we actually paid for on the journey from Nong Khiaw and being dropped at the door of our hotel it was back to business as usual again with a truly shit room. Barely divided from a corridor, really noisy, dirty, plastic on the mattress (which we removed!) and a terrible toilet and shower room. The staff were absolutely lovely but we still opted to move the next day.

After the bitterly cold conditions of Nong Khiaw it was good to be back in more typical tropical heat and Luang Prabang is a lovely UNESCO World Heritage town with a fabulous setting on the Mekong River.

Mainly common birds seen while wandering around the town but while walking around Phousi Hill (a small island of forest among the buildings) came across 2 Black-throated Laughingthrush and 4 White-crested Laughingthrush. They were feeding together in dense cover but very close to civilisation and I suspect they may be of captive origin, although there are reports from others years.

Black-throated Laughingthrush Garrulax chinensis

White-crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolophus

The only pond heron I saw here was starting to moult into breeding plumage; the deep maroon colour indicating Chinese Pond Heron; the default species according to distribution maps. See here for a brief discussion of winter pond heron plumage.

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus

Otherwise the butterfly life was superb here. Painted Jezebel, Dark Blue Tiger, Glass Tiger, Chocolate Tiger, Great Eggfly, Common Castor, Common Jester, Common Fivering.

Baron sp. Euthalia

Chocolate Tiger Parantica melaneus

Common Castor Ariadne merione

Common Fivering Ypthima baldus

Dark Blue Tiger Tirumala septentrionis

Glassy Tiger Parantica aglea

Great Eggfly Hypolimnas bolina

Painted Jezebel Delias hyparete

Oriental Garden Lizards were also quite common.

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

Really enjoyed our time in LP. Highlights were the extremely cool Utopia bar, set overlooking the Nam Khan river (and inspiring a song that would go on to appear on my album "Fear The Flames") and the young lads at Viengchalern Guesthouse who invited us (who could have been their grandparents) to join them celebrating one of them finishing college; an amazing evening.

Vang Vieng

The seven and a half hour journey to Vang Vieng was one of the better ones in Laos. A half decent bus, frequent breaks including a stop for reasonable food included in the price, spectacular mountain scenery in the main and the now familiar juxtaposition of extreme poverty and expensive Chinese infrastructure projects. A Crested Serpent Eagle was about the only notable bird seen though.

Annam Limestone Babbler Gypsophila annamensis
More opportunity for birding from the town here and I mainly explored the base of the karst outcrop west of the Nam Song river around the Tham Chang cave. Best here were 3 Annam Limestone Babblers (at the time still called Limestone Wren-babbler prior to the three way split to Annam, Rufous and Variable Limestone Babbler) feeding around the ticket booth near the base of the steps up to the cave, possibly on food provided for them. I also saw what may have been a Pale Blue Flycatcher but views were not sufficient to be sure of excluding Verditer Flycatcher. Crimson Sunbird, Indochinese Yuhina, Pin-striped Tit-babbler and Common Iora were among the other species present.

We also took a walk around the northern and western edge of the outcrop along a tributary where Blue Whistling Thrush and a Dark-sided Thrush were along the stream. Taiga Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch and, high on the cliffs, a Blue Rock Thrush also seen.

More good insects here with Common Birdwing, The Clipper, Red Lacewing, Restricted Demon, Grey Pansy, Red-base Jezebel and Stream Glory (demoiselle), plus a spectacular Giant Golden Orb Weaver.

Grey Pansy Junonia atlites

Red-base Jezebel Delias pasithoe

Red Lacewing Cethosia biblis

Restricted Demon Notocrypta curvifascia

Stream Glory Neurobasis chinensis

Giant Golden Orb Weaver Nephila pilipes

We only spent two nights here before moving on to Vientiane via one of the most dangerous minivan journeys we've ever experienced. A long sorry tale but we made it to the capital ok in the end.

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