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 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
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
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.