Thailand Trip Report - Part 2

Subject: Thailand Trip Report - Part 2
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 08:46:58 +1000

                                 THAILAND TRIP

                                  JANUARY 2000

                                     Part 2

Bung Boraphet

It took us about eight hours to drive from Chiang Rai to Nakhon Sawan in central
Thailand.   The  roads  were  mainly  fine,  but  we  were continually slowed by
roadworks,  a  sure  sign  that  Asia  is  recovering  from  its recent economic
troubles.   Described  in  the  tour  guide as a place with no redeeming tourist
features,  Nakhon  Sawan  was attractive to us as it is the closest town to Bung
Boraphet,  one of the outstanding wetlands in Thailand.  It was the site for the
White-eyed  River-Martin,  a  species  only  discovered in 1968 and now presumed
extinct  as it hasn
?t been seen since 1977.  There are a couple of giant statues
of them to remind us of what we have lost.

We   hired  another  boat  and  spent  the  morning  on  Bung  Boraphet,  trying
unsuccessfully  to  find  Baer?s Pochard, which likes deep, large lakes.  As the
central  plains  were much hotter than the hillier areas we had been in to date,
being  on  the  lake was very pleasant.  We saw lots of waterbirds, although the
species  count was low.  The birds included Northern Shoveller, lots of Garganey
and Common Teal and Bronze-winged Jacana.

We found the lake environs to be more rewarding than the lake itself, especially
a  picnic  ground, of all places.  The better birds in this area included Yellow
and  Cinnamon  Bittern,  Slaty-breasted  Rail, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Blue-tailed
Bee-eater,   Lineated   and  Coppersmith  Barbet,  Fulvous-breasted  Woodpecker,
Oriental Reed-Warbler and White-shouldered and Asian Pied Starling.

All  in  all,  our  day and a half detour in central Thailand was well worth the

Khao Yai

Khao  Yai  was supposed to be another highlight of the trip and it was, sort of.
We  planned  to  spend three and a bit days there.  You have to stay outside the
National  Park  and we stayed at a comfortable lodge about 30 kms down the road.
This  wasn?t  a problem as the Park gates opened about 6 am, before first light,
so  we  could bird as early as we wanted.  You could get out of the Park as late
as you wanted.

The  birding  was  terrific.  We saw some quite special birds, including Greater
Spotted  Eagle, Great Eared-Nightjar, Red-headed Trogon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater,
Oriental  Pied  and  Wreathed  Hornbill, Long-tailed Broadbill and Orange-headed
Thrush.   Khao  Yai  also produced the bird of the trip - Great Hornbill.  While
there  was  lots  of  competition,  this Hornbill was very impressive and we got
excellent views.

In this Park, we decided to hire a guide.  By this time, we were quite competent
at  identification,  but  we  thought someone who knew the Park would be able to
take us to some of the special sites.  Nine (that was the guide?s name as he was
born  in  the  ninth  something-or-other  of  the Thai King?s reign) was quite a
reasonable  birder  for someone who had been only birding for a couple of years,
particularly  on  the larger species.  He helped us find several desirable birds
because  he knew the calls.  He wasn?t very good on the smaller birds and learnt
a  bit  about some of them with us.  Nine was such good company we hired him for
four days.

We  birded  a large range of elevations - the lower foothills on the drive up to
Park  HQ,  the  area around the Headquarters and the top of Khao Khiaw.  At this
latter  site,  Nine  took us to a lookout overlooking a picturesque valley where
you  can  see  eagles and hornbills.  It was quite special seeing three Wreathed
Hornbills  flying down the valley just below us.  Their wings were very noisy as
they  flew  along  so you could hear them coming from some distance and identify
them on this noise.

Other  good  birds were Thick-billed Pigeon, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Red-breasted
Parrot,  Spotted  Owlet,  Green-eared  and Moustached Barbet, Greater Flameback,
Heart-spotted  Woodpecker,  Rosy  and  Ashy  Minivet,  Ruby-cheeked  and Crimson
Sunbird, and Gold-crested and Hill Myna.

You aren?t allowed to spotlight in the Park except with the rangers.  We went on
one  of their spotlighting trips and saw some interesting mammals, such as Samba
and Barking Deer and Indian Civet.  We also saw Pig-tailed Macaque, White-handed
Gibbon,  Variable  and  Indochinese  Ground  Squirrels and Black Giant Squirrel.
While we were out one night looking unsuccessfully for Elephants which are still
present  in  the  Park, we heard a Tiger roar.  We went looking for it (from the
car,  of  course),  but  didn?t  locate  it.   It  had been seen only two nights
previously  quite  close  to  HQ.   The  other  animal of interest was a python,
sunning itself across the road, for the road?s total width.  The snake was about
five metres long.

On  our  last  night,  we  went  to a cave just outside the Park and watched the
Wrinkle-lipped  Bats  fly  out at dusk.  This was also quite impressive as there
were  about  a million of them.  (At least, it seemed like there were this many,
but we didn?t try and count them.)

In the end, I was disappointed with Khao Yai.  After an excellent first day, the
birding tapered off significantly.  We had particularly hoped for some pheasants
here,  as  Khao  Yai  is one of the better spots for them.  But, there was not a
sign  of  them.   We  only saw one of the trogons and one of the broadbills.  We
missed several woodpeckers and raptors.  While it may be an unfair conclusion, I
thought Khao Yai might have been much more productive.

In the Vicinity of Bangkok

On  out  last  birding day (the 22nd), we travelled back to Bangkok.  We visited
Wat  Tampraprotisat  for  the resident Limestone Wren-Babblers and Wat Phai Lom,
which  has  a colony of breeding Asian Openbills.  These were the only storks we
saw  in  Thailand.  Waterbirds on the whole are very scarce as most wetlands are
gone  and  those  that  remain  are  significantly  degraded and being reclaimed
progressively for agriculture and fish traps.

During  the  day,  we  also  saw  Painted Snipe, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Rufous
Woodpecker,  Dusky  Crag-Martin,  Puff-throated Babbler and Siberian Blue Robin.
We  saw  our  only  introduced  bird  on  the outskirts of Bangkok, the rare (in
Thailand) House Sparrow.

Finally,  at  sunset,  we  headed into Bangkok to find our accommodation for the
last  night, which we knew was near the airport.  In our only traffic problem of
the trip, we struggled badly trying to get to the airport.  We could see it - we
drove  past  it  on  the  elevated  tollway.   But,  we couldn?t find the way to
actually  get  there.   Finally, after a couple of hours futilely trying to make
our  own  way  there,  we hired a taxi, told the driver to go to the airport and
followed  him  there in our hire-car.  We got to our hotel at 8.30 pm for a late

Next  day,  we  got  up early for our 8.15 flight to Melbourne.  We only saw one
species on our last day in Thailand, a Barn Swallow.


We  went to Thailand in the dry season for the area we visited.  (I believe that
peninsular  Thailand  has  a  different  seasonal  pattern  more in keeping with
Malaysia.)   The  result  for  us  was  very  pleasant with cool weather (mostly
because  we  were  at  higher  elevations),  little  rain  and  few  leeches and
mosquitoes.   The lack of the latter was good as there is drug-resistant malaria
in many of the border areas we visited.

Because  it  was the northern winter, there were many northern migrants present.
John  and  Diana,  particularly,  spent  much  time  trying to identify the many
warblers  we  saw,  resulting in a very presentable total of twelve Phylloscopus
warblers and many others of different genera added to our list.

The  birders  saw 346 species in total.  (My personal list was 335.)  My special
highlights  were  Great  Hornbill, Blue and Green Magpies, Long-tailed Broadbill
and Red-headed Trogon.  Boating on the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle where
the  3  countries  join  and looking at waders on an island in the middle of the
Mekong  with Burma on one side and Laos on the other was a major highlight.  (If
we had known, we could have travelled another 40 or 50 km upstream and birded in
China.)   Drinking  Ross?  whisky into the evening was also convivial as was his
company, of course.

Some  things  were  disappointing - lots of habitat destruction, lots of burning
and  smoke,  not  many  waterbirds  or wetlands, not many pigeons, Doi Ang Khang
being  nearly totally destroyed as far as a birding destination is concerned.  I
concluded  that  the  bird population in Thailand is in serious trouble, both in
terms of some/many endangered species and in terms of overall bird numbers based
on  habitat clearance, trapping and hunting and, perhaps, pesticide use.  It can
really only get worse.

The  travel arrangements went very well.  Thailand is a pretty easy introduction
to  Asia.   The  infrastructure (roads, accommodation, etc) is pretty good, many
Thais  speak  English,  the  food  is excellent.  All the Thais we met were very
friendly  and  tried to be helpful, even when they couldn't speak English.  Some
of  our best experiences were trying to order things (like food) or find our way
around  when the locals couldn't speak our language.  (Our expectations are very
unfair, aren't they?  We knew about two words of Thai and we expected them to be
able to converse with us in English in their country!!)

We  stayed  in a range of "hotels" from international standard (at Doi Ang Khang
and  Chiang  Rai) to the concrete floor of the local Christian minister's nearly
completed house in the hilltribe village at Doi Inthanon.  We usually ate at the
street stalls that are liberally available everywhere.  Very cheap and excellent
food.  We had no health problems that are worth mentioning.

Our  travel  agent,  Jetset Bentleigh, again demonstrated the benefits of having
someone  with  a  good  knowledge  of  the  travel  industry  helping  make  the
arrangements.   Hazel  found  out a lot about ?outback? Thailand in the process,
but  the  trip  would  not  have  been  anywhere  near as successful without her
invaluable assistance with advance bookings from Australia.

Ro  did a few different things to the birders.  She rode an elephant and visited
a  hill-tribe  near Chiang Rai, had a guided tour of a Wat at Chiang Mai, read a
good  number  of  books,  swam in the hotel pools, etc.  However, she also did a
fair bit of birding.  Her list was 186 at the end of the trip and she had birded
part or all of 10 days out of her possible 15.  Maybe there is some advance here
on her (to date) very low key interest in birding.
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