I am writing this in response to a review someone wrote of Virachey National Park (VNP)outside of Ban Lung in Ratanakiri. Highlighting the overall negative tone of the description of the park were references to leeches (in a tropical rain forest during the rainy season??? No!!!) and a lack of animal sightings (they saw a bamboo rat and 2 birds). Ok, first off, I dare the author to name one single national park in Southeast Asia (SEA, not Africa) where visitors are likely to see any animals besides some habituated macaques. And no, the orangutan feeding stations at Bukit Lawang and Sepilok do not count.
Actually, I spent a week back in January trekking to the Veal Thom Grasslands of VNP, and during that trek we saw: a pair of gibbons, 2 pairs of Great hornbills, 2 Sambar deer on a night safari up in the remote grasslands, and a very quick glimpse of the critically endangered Douc Langur monkey. We also photographed 2 piles of fresh clouded leopard dung (and I say 'fresh' because the guide, Soukhon, used a stick to prove how new it was). Photos of the gibbon and the leopard dung can be found here on my blog, which also contains information about visiting the park.
As amazing as the wildlife are the jaw-dropping views of the unexplored mountains border regions with Laos and Cambodia that are to be had from up on Veal Thom (pics in the blog linked above and there is also a link to a 360 panoramic video I shot from up there). It is hard to believe that there is still such an immense wilderness remaining in Mainland Southeast Asia, and when you consider that VNP is bordered by contiguous forested areas on the Laos and Vietnamese sides, then we are talking about a profound tropical jungle.
So, I can say that, from firsthand experience, I totally disagree with the review of VNP published here on this web site. It is unfair because the reviewers obviously didn't know what they were getting themselves into as far as trekking in a jungle during the rainy season and also by having unrealistic expectations about wildlife sightings. I guess some trekkers expect tigers and elephants to pop out onto the path at any moment, and then continue quietly on their way after pausing for a photo op. Unfortunately, that's not how it is. There is wildlife in the park -and amazing wildlife at that- but you need a combination of luck, patience, and time to spend in there. This is no different than parks in Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, wherever.
Adding insult to injury, VNP is given just a 3-star review, while the so-so crater lake is given 4.5. Nonsense. If anyone is considering trekking in VNP, you can start by checking out the VNP web site here. This is indeed the web site (the official site was funded by the World Bank but they no longer fund the park and the web site they made is now dead; this one is administered by Soukhon Thon, Warden for Ecotourism and Ranger for VNP.
Hope you go there.
Even though I haven't read the review you mentioned, I found your review very helpful and will definitely consider visiting the park.
Park visits (and their success) should only be about sightings of big animals. Eco-systems, scenery and so on tend to be completely forgotten. I spent considerable time in Africa and the parks and the expectations of tourists seem often strange. Even when they really get spoiled there. Especially when compard to jungle parks here.
Thanks for the info
Thanks for the post - apols for the late reply as I've been down with dengue.
I'm assuming you're talking about the write-up on the Ban Lung sights page here. Fair point re the writer's points on lack of wildlife and leeches, but some degree of responsibility should fall with the organisers who, at least in the case of our researcher, "talked up" the trip considerably -- especially concerning the chances of seeing wildlife. Overall I don't think it paints that negative a picture of the trek, but I'll add a link into the writeup across to your post for a second opinion.
If the trip makes for a good walk in the woods -- which certainly appears to be the case from your excellent blog post (great pics too), the park would better serve itself to market it as such.
Cheers & thanks for the feedback!
Admin, Virachey (VNP) certainly needs to market itself more, that's for sure, but they need funding from the government, and the gov. doesn't seem interested in spending much money on the park -for ranger patrols, equipment, advertising, nothing -leading some to believe that sinister plans are silently in the works, such as the road or licensing to mining rights, etc. As of now we really don't know anything about these things for sure, but I am working on trying to promote the park with the rangers and we have also applied for (and are applying for) some conservation grants from abroad to secure the amazing wildlife that exists in the park. In fact, the photo I took of the gibbon (in my blog) may very well be new to science. One of the guides said that he thought it was a new species, and I was a little skeptical of that claim, until I saw this. Furthermore, an article in today'sPhnom Penh Post stipulates that this gibbon lives in VNP.
CunningMcFar, I agree that Thailand has some good NPs, and I have also seen some wildlife there, though none on the scale that you have. I have read that wildlife is semi-abundant in the areas around the tourist facilities in Thailand's NPs because poachers don't want to fire off guns near tourists. In remote areas, however, they are said to have a field day (literally). You can read more detail about this in Thom Henley's excellent "Waterfalls and Gibbon Calls" book about the wildlife of Khao Sok, an NP I have visited 3 times and will certainly go back to. I also like Kaeng Krachan NP in Thailand and I have a little trip report written up on it here. To sum up, I too like Thailand's NPs and one does stand a chance of seeing some critters, though I doubt any of us will see an elephant or a tiger, leopard, etc, which is what some people think they will see (and, as Admin as mentioned, they might have been led to believe they will encounter, and they should not be misled).