This was probably the most unorganized trip we have ever done. We (my wife Ha and I) knew we wanted a holiday, we knew we wanted to go to Thailand (again), but we had absolutely nothing planned. Originally, it was a toss-up between the North or the South, but as the weather was rather miserable in both places, those plans fell flat. With two days to go before departure, our good friend Tu agreed to at least spend 2 days with us in Khao Yai, and we set off. During the trip, Tu's plans changed, and we also spent two additional nights in Kaeng Krachan with him and his girlfriend (wife-to-be??) Jan.
Tu arranged a full package for us: 2 nights near Khao Yai, transportation, food and drinks, guiding, entrance fees, etc. for just under USD 500.00 for both of us. The second 2-night trip to Kaeng Krachan was about the same.
Transportation and accommodation:
In Bangkok, we once again stayed at the Amari Boulevard on Sukhumvit Road, primary for the central location, and the excellent breakfast buffet. We paid 2,200 Baht per night, excluding breakfast and taxes.
In Khao Yai, we stayed at the Juldis Khao Yai Resort and Spa. Accommodation was more than adequate, and the food very good. Their website is www.khaoyai.com, their e-mail [email protected]. At Kaeng Krachan, we stayed at the A&B Resort. Accommodation is basic, but clean, and the food excellent. The lady owner drove 140 kilometers one day to get us fresh seafood!!! Their website is at www.AandBresort.com.
As mentioned above, the weather was quite miserable in most of Thailand. We were lucky, as we had excellent weather. However, a jacket came in handy in the mornings, especially on the drive up Kaeng Krachan on an open Pick-up truck.
Food and Drink:
Geee, what can I say. Thai food is arguably the best in the world, and I enjoyed all of it. A tad spicy at times, but nothing that a cold Singha Beer won't take care of.
Dangers and annoyances:
None really on this trip. It was very dry throughout and we didn't see a single leech. A lot of people were wearing leech socks in Khao Yai, but I learned this was to keep off ticks. Jan got bitten by a couple but, apparently, the ticks in those parts of the world do not carry diseases. Mosquitoes were only a problem at "Birdland", near Khok Kham (haunt of Spoonbilled Sandpiper), there were tons of them.
Ha become very sick during the first part of the trip, and we had to take hear to a hospital. Turned out she had a bad Migraine, but both the staff and facilities at the clinic were excellent.
We used “Bird of Thailand” by Boonsong Legakul and Philip D. Round, as well as “Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia” by Craig Robson.
For the more touristy aspects, we carried the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand.
I used the same equipment I had bought for the Hala Bala trip in May: Swarovski ATS 80 HD scope, with the 20-60 zoom eye-piece. For the digiscoping, I used the Sony DSC-W7, with an adapter crafted by Tu.
Special note of thanks, and disclaimer:
Tu, one of the best birders I have ever met, and his lovely partner Jan, digiscoper par excellence, provided great company and put us on a lot of birds.
Obviously, any mistakes are all mine. For abuse, praise, or corrections, please contact me at hannostam(at)hotmail.com.
Hint: If you hover your pointer over a thumbnail, you will be able to read the caption.
11th of December:
Got into Bangkok around lunch, dumped our gear, and headed out for a cold brew. Enough said.
12th of December:
Tu, Jan, and Mr. Toan, the driver and himself a birder, picked us up at 06:00 for the drive to Khao Yai. On the way, we stopped at a gas station for some tea, and started birding. A vacant lot behind the station attracted a good number of birds, including Pied Fantail, Red-throated Flycatcher, Ashy Woodswallow, as well as Sooty, Yellow-vented, and Streak-eared Bulbuls. Overhead, a single Asian Openbill cruised past, and there were flocks of House and Palm Swifts, as well as Barn and Red-rumped Swallows.
Bigger things lay in wait, and we were soon on the road again to Moosi, not far from Khao Yai. An administrative station here still has a number of huge, partially dead, trees standing around, with the holes in those occupied by Red-breasted Parakeets. What a sight, and lifers for both Ha and me. An Ashy Drongo of the wintering sub-species leucogenis gave excellent views, as did our first Indian Roller of the trip. As this was also an animal watching trip, the Variable Squirrel also seen here was duly noted, as were the Pig-tailed Macaques we encountered soon after getting into the actual park.
Around the Khao Yai Camp, we saw a Blue Rock-Thrush with a deformed bill. It nevertheless seems to be doing well, as it is apparently the second year it winters here. Driving around the park turned up the ever-present Red-wattled Lapwings, Pied Bushchat, a female Stonechat, and excellent views of a Burmese Shrike. Our first larger, sort of, Mammal was a sole Barking Deer.
On the way up to Khao Kreow, we came across a fairly large Python which took considerable persuasion to move on to somewhere safer. On top of the hill, we had brief views of a Rufous-bellied Eagle, a truly excellent bird. The Black-throated Sunbird was none to shabby either, the same goes for the johnsoni sub-species of Black-crested Bulbul, with its distinctive red throat. As usual, the views of Vernal Hanging-parrot were brief, and announced by its high-pitched call.
On the way down to the Nong Pak Chi tower, we had great views of a Common Kestrel and Asian Brown Flycatcher. We also added another Mammal to our list when we saw two Sambar Deer.
Walking on foot to the watchtower, we almost immediately saw both Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, both times in pairs. From the actual tower, there wasn't much to see apart from some Spangled Drongos and a Water Monitor. It was dark by now, and we headed back to the Juldis Resort for some nosh and cold beers.
Some really good birds in the race for Bird of the Day. Ha took the Red-breasted Parakeet, Jan and Tu the Kestrel for the excellent views it gave, and I settled for the Rufous-bellied Eagle.
13th of December:
Woke up in the middle of the night, as usual, and to strong winds. Ha felt decidedly under the weather and decided to stay at the Resort. She certainly missed out as, right after entering the Park, there was an Asian Bull Elephant walking along the road. Whilst not as big as their African counterparts, it was still a very impressive sight!
Tu knew about a fruiting Fig tree off the road, and we spent some time there. This proved well worthwhile; with a large number of birds on or near it. Both Stripe-throated and Grey-eyed Bulbuls were present, as were Green-eared Barbet, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, and Blue-winged Leafbird. However, the prize for me here was the single Heart-spotted Woodpecker, small but smart. Further on, we had the chance to compare the features of Common and Great Iora sitting in the same tree. A Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike was not shabby, and the first Minivets made an appearance, with both Ashy and Scarlet Minivets. A Green-billed Malkoha was its usual skulking self, whilst the Crested Serpent-Eagle was much more obliging. Another addition to the Mammal list was Grey-bellied Squirrel.
Tu set up a camouflaged hide behind the restrooms at the Pha Kluai Mai campground to look for the resident Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. A large and noisy flock of Pig-tailed Macaques dashed all our hopes, but at least we managed to tick a pair of Siberian Blue Robins before heading back for lunch, and to pick up Ha. At the camp site, a pair of Sambar Deer were very tame, feeding in between the tents.
Well fed, we headed for the "Crocodile River", seeing a single Dollarbird at the old Golf course. The Crocodiles failed miserably to show a single scale, but a Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher almost made up for it. We headed back up to Khao Kreow to look for the Asian Black Bear that hangs out around there, but it was uncharacteristically early that day and had been and gone. At least we saw a Large-tailed Nightjar on the road home, or rather to the hospital to get Ha checked up at a Hospital in Pak Chong.
This bird was also Ha's Bird of the Day, whilst Jan, Tu, and myself all went for the Heart-spotted Woodpecker.
14th of December:
As it was the last morning in Khao Yai, we started at 05:30 to get some more birding in. Ha had to stay behind again, but at least she was beginning to feel better.
No Elephants on the road today, but at least three Blue Whistling Thrushes (with the yellow bill eugenei??). Tu found another fruiting Fig tree, and it was teeming with life. At least three Oriental Pied Hornbills had a feast, as did the Green-eared and Moustached Barbets. Two juvenile male Red Junglefowls were looking for leftovers under the tree, but the stars in the tree were the White-headed Gibbons and the lone Binturong, the largest of the Thai Civet cats. Finally, there was a single Fire-breasted Flowerpecker of the subspecies cambodianum without the red breast-patch.
We wanted to try the "Crocodile River" once more and headed across the old Golf course, nailing a Dollarbird in passing. Back down the very steep hill to the river, where a pair of Tickell's Blue Flycatchers showed off. After a lengthy search, Tu found one of the two resident Crocs, trying to shake off the morning chill. A couple of Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters were very interested in my photo technique.
As Ha did not go birding today, she was out of the race for Bird of the Day. Jan liked the Greater Flamebacks best, Tu the Tickell's Flycatchers, and I went for the Red Junglefowl as I have never had such great sights of them.
15th of December:
We set off at 05:30 to go to Khok Kham to look for the Spoonbilled Sandpipers reportedly there. First critters seen were of the Mammal kind though; a troop of Long-tailed Macaques doing very naughty things by the side of the road.
Just before getting to the site, where a Swedish group of birders was already looking for the Sandpiper, we saw a Collared Kingfisher. The salt-pans were teeming with birds, with Black-winged Stilt, Curlew Sandpiper, Lesser Sandplover, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Greenshank, Rufous-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Sanderling, Greater Sandplover, Little Ringed Plover, and Temink's Stint quickly added to the list. Alas, no Spoonbilled. As a matter of fact, nobody would apparently connect with them (there were two) for the remainder of our stay in Thailand. Ah well, good excuse to come back and drink more Singha, ehh look for Sandpipers. Other birds seen here were a smart Intermediate Egret, Black-naped Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Black-, and Brown-headed Gulls, and a very obliging Brown-throated Sunbird. We drove on to the nearby "Birdland" to look for Nordman's Greenshank, which we also missed. At least we saw Pacific Golden Plover and Grey Plover before the ferocious Mozzies drove us back.
On the way to Kaeng Krachan we stopped at Wat Sutthi Wata Wararam (try saying that quickly three times) to take a look at the Germain's Swiftlets there.
We also stopped in some rice fields just before Petchaburi to look for Raptors and were rewarded with numerous Black Kites. The star was however a sole Greater Spotted Eagle. A Black-naped Oriole gave brief views, as did four Asian Pied Starlings.
Ha chose the Brown-throated Sunbird as her Bird of the Day. Jan, Tu and I were once again unanimous in our decision: Great Spotted Eagle.
16th of December:
Off to one of my favorite National Parks. As a matter of fact, I had never made it to the top of the hill, Phanoen Thung, as my previous visit was during the rainy season; the road was closed because of the very real danger of landslides.
The pick-up we had rented for this part, 4WD is advisable even during the dry season, picked us up at 05:30. It was fairly cool, at least if like me, you have been living the past few years in the tropics. Even the Red-wattled Lapwings we encountered first seemed to feel cold.
Coming to yet another fruiting Fig tree, we saw a nice Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, as well as Common Flameback and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Great Hornbills performed a fly-by, but most impressive were Tickell's Brown Hornbills. Nice birds in anyone's book, it was their numbers that were astonishing. Just as I was saying that there must be at least 4 or 5 of them, the flock took off and we counted at least 13! Thus warmed up, we continued further up the road, where we either saw 5 different birds of the same species, or it was always the same Emerald Dove that flew ahead of the car. And then the thriller of the trip: a Leopard that crossed the road right in front of us!!! We never saw it slink off, but it did disappear, much to the relieve of the Dusky Langurs in a nearby tree.
A Little Cuckoo Dove posed just long enough for me to take a couple of (bad) shots, as did the two Dusky Broadbills. With that, Jan had seen all of the Thai Broadbills:-( As we still had some time to make it to the top (cars alternate their ascent and descent), we walked a little bit. Whilst the rest of the group were admiring a Crimson-winged Woodpecker, I was intrigued by some scraping noises from the forest floor. Pitta, perhaps? After spending ages I saw, more by chance than anything else, a single Scaly-breasted Partridge looking straight at me. Not to be outdone, a couple of Wreathed Hornbills chose the moment to make an appearance. The Ocracheous Bulbuls rather paled in comparison. Not far from here, I also managed to connect with a real bogey bird of mine, a Great Barbet giving views that made up for all the times I missed it. Turned out this would not be the only one we would see that day. I don't know if it is only me, but I spend ages trying to get to grips with a bird, once I have seen it for the first time, it will pop up at every occasion.
Other birds seen on the way up were Blue-eared Barbet, Sultan Tit, Mountain Bulbul, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, a male Hill Blue Flycatcher, and a Speckled Piculet, the latter seen only by Ha.
As the downward traffic was to commence soon, we headed to the summit, where we installed ourselves under a flowering tree for lunch. However, all thoughts of food were soon forgotten as the tree was humming with birds. The most obvious, but impossible to photograph, were a flock of 20 or so Vernal Hanging Parrots. The same tree also held the delicate nest of a White-browed Shrike Babbler, with a bird sitting on the nest and calling away for all it was worth. A Streaked Spiderhunter was also checking out the flowers, whilst the Flavescent and Grey-eyed Bulbuls only passed fleetingly.
After a very leisurely lunch, we started walking down, with the car to pick us up once it was allowed to go down. A good idea it was, too. Soon after we set off, we came across a female Black-and-Buff Woodpecker, a lifer for all four of us (no mean feat, as Tu has seen most birds of Thailand). A Mountain Imperial Pigeon showed itself very well, we added Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, White-browed Piculet, and Black-throated Laughingthrush. The star, however, was a Orange-breasted Trogon sitting in a nest-hole right next to the road. Now, before anyone gives me grief: yes, we took photos, something I usually oppose. However, the nest was inches from the road and, this being a weekend, traffic was heavy. This did not disturb the bird at all, and I should add that we were a good distance off.
Just as it was getting too dark, and we were ready to head home, a flock of five Bar-backed Partridges crossed the road right next to where we were concealed. A crowning end to an excellent day.
A lot of contenders for Bird of the Day today, but Ha settled for Tickell's Brown Hornbill, Jan the Orange-breasted Trogon, Tu his sole lifer of the trip, Black-and-Buff Woodpecker, and I chose the Scaly-breasted Partridge.
17th of December:
The last day of birding dawned (actually, it was well before dawn when we set off).
We did not want to head up the hill today, but rather walked extensively in an area about half-way between the entrance and the camp site. Lots of birds, but not a lot of new stuff. One of the first was an Oriental Honey-buzzard passing overhead. Here, we also saw the only Green Magpie, Black-naped Monarch, and White-browed Scimitar Babbler of the trip. Amazingly enough, here was also the only time we saw Common Tailorbird, after having seen Dark-necked everywhere else. We also added the last Mammal of the trip, a Northern Treeshrew. I should not forget the Racket-tailed Treepie that took ages to pin down. Somewhat unexpected was a White-breasted Waterhen crossing the road in front of us, as was the Chinese Pond-heron.
We headed up a bit further, but traffic was rather dense by now. Warblers made a good show, with Yellow-bellied, Sulphur-breasted, Two-barred, and Arctic Warblers seen. A female Orange-breasted Trogon bade as "au revoir" as we took of for Bangkok.
I forgot to ask about Bird of the Day, and I will assign them arbitrary: Ha gets the Green Magpie, Jan the Oriental Honey-buzzard, Tu the Common Tailorbird:-), and I will settle for Sulphur-breasted Warbler.
And that was the end of yet another great trip. We just had enough time for some serious shopping, before heading back to Vietnam. Talking about Vietnam, we had excellent Vietnamese food in Bangkok, at the "Le Dalat" on 14 Sukhumvit 23. Even Ha, a Vietnamese from Ha Noi, had to admit that it was some of the best Vietnamese food she ever had.
With a total of 169 species, and 21 lifers for me (50+ for Ha), I am well pleased. Ha, Jan and Tu also saw Golden Warbler, which I missed.
Feel free to contact me for any additional information at: hannostamm(at)hotmail.com.
List of Birds seen:
(* = lifer)
List of Mammals:
And Siamese Crocodile, Python, and Water Monitor.