Located North of Cao Lanh in Dong Thap province, Tram Chim National Park is one of the last areas left of the Plain of Reeds ecosystem –once a vast wetland area which previously covered around 700,000 hectares of the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam (spanning the provinces of Dong Thap, Tien Giang and Lang Sen).
Supporting over 20,000 water birds in the dry season and home to nine bird species and five fish species that are globally threatened, Tram Chim (7,313 hectares), is one of Vietnam’s four Ramsar sites and was the first site to be designated in the Mekong Delta. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, designated under the Convention of Wetlands (the Ramsar Convention) with the aim to ensure “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”..
The wetland is most famous for its population of Sarus Cranes which occur at Tram Chim annually between January and May. Listed as Endangered on the IUCN red list, these birds were in decline at Tram Chim due to previous management strategies that stored water in the park in order to suppress fire. This management strategy however interfered with the natural cycle of the ecosystem which should see a six month dry season and a six month flood season and species began declining. WWF began working with the local authorities in 2008 to restore this natural cycle and the park now works with local communities, providing legal access to resources in the park to encourage the long term sustainable management of the wetlands. The site is of large importance for the surrounding local communities, wild rice is harvested and the wetlands provide an important source of fish. It is also of huge importance for people living downstream with the capacity to mitigate the damage from floods and droughts.
According to the guide books, Tram Chim is difficult to get to and very expensive, so unless you are a committed birder, this place is not for you. Now, whilst we may be biased and perhaps enjoy a national park slightly more than the average tourist, we have to completely disagree with the above statement. You can stay in the nearby town of Tam Nom very easily and for just £6 each we had a beautiful trip through the national park, stopping for an hours bird watching with fantastic panoramic views from the watch tower some 30ms high up above the surrounding canopy of trees. As we motored through the wetland (we did have to tell our boat driver to slow down on multiple occasions!) passing cajeput trees, water lilies and lotus flowers, we were treated to sightings of a white rumped pygmy falcon, oriental darters, Indian rollers, pied king fishers, black capped king fishers, blue tailed bee eaters, herons, little egrets, bitterns, owls, cormorants and many jacana type waders (sorry – lack of a bird book prevents us from a more specific review). We would definitely recommend a visit.