Travel Diary: The Monkeys of Son Tra Mountain

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Sometimes spontaneous plans are the best plans. During our time in Da Nang, David was chatting with a friend back home who mentioned that he’d love to go to Vietnam to see a Red Shanked Douc — a monkey that many people consider the world’s most beautiful primate. This endangered monkey lives across a narrow band of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, but the highest number of them (~200!) live on a mountain peninsula in Da Nang – Son Tra Mountain. A mere 20 minutes from our hotel! We decided that it’d be a mistake to miss the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures.

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Our guide, Luc, has been a conservationist for more than twenty years cataloging the movements of Vietnam’s migratory bird species and working to protect the families of Red-Shanked Douc that live on Son Tra Mountain. Luc picked us up at Fusion Maia, and we took a short drive to the mountain. As we entered the national park, we diverted off the main road, and snaked through several smaller roads slowly climbing the mountain through a thick blanket of fog. 20 minutes in, Luc asked the driver to slow to a crawl while he scanned the jungle for signs of life. After a few minutes, he pointed, and in a hushed voice asked the driver to stop for a moment. About 30 yards away in the trees, Luc pointed out a few Macaques. Our first monkey sightings in Vietnam! Luc explained how easily spooked Macaques are, and as if on cue, the two monkeys jumped off into the deep jungle. Red-Shanked Doucs, Luc explained, are less common, but more social and tend to look with curiosity at human visitors.

We continued driving, and parked the car a short while later. Luc got out and motioned for us to follow. We hopped over a guard rail and took a short bush whack toward the ocean. Stepping up on a boulder, we peered out at the ocean and sloping jungle. Luc, binoculars in hand, was scanning the distant forest canopy. There! He pointed to a tree, some 400 meters away. Two Red-Shanked Doucs were sitting on extended tree branches! We pulled out Luc’s telephoto lenses to get a better look and some pictures.

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Aren’t they beautiful!? With Burgundy and hot pink fur on their legs, dark blue behinds, white tails and grey bodies, Red-Shanked Doucs are considered the most colorful primates in the world. We caught one mid-blink and discovered they also have blue eyelids. Remarkable! They kept an eye on our little party while enjoying their afternoon snack, and it made for some fantastic pictures.

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After taking a half hour to watch and wonder at these marvelous creatures, we headed back to the car to find another family of Doucs. A few minutes later, David was the first to spot something in the trees, not too far from our car. Stop! We got out of the car and indeed he had found the second family of Doucs on our trip. We were joined by another passerby who also was curious as to what was in the tree. These doucs let us take a few photos, but then in spectacular fashion, jumped off into a lower tree and headed into the jungle.

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By this point the afternoon light was begining to fade, and we climbed to an outlook to watch the sun set where the mountain touches the South China Sea. Lingering clouds from an earlier rain painted the sky in shades of pink and orange. It was time for us to head to Hoi An, and the Doucs to get some rest. But, we were so glad that for a few hours they shared their home with us on Son Tra Mountain!

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Seeing the Red-Shanked Doucs of Son Tra Mountain was a highlight of our time in Vietnam, all thanks to our incredible guide, Luc. You can find him via his website here.

xx, SF

All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for Stacieflinner.com

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