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Review of Ban Maka, an Inexpensive and Quality Lodge for Birders and Bird Photographers.
By Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido, PhD
 
Note: This article was was kindly submitted by Robert DeCandido in a slightly different format to that presented here.
One of the dilemmas for anyone interested in visiting Kaeng Krachan National Park is finding a place to stay within easy reach of the park. There are several options in the village of Kaeng Krachan that mostly cater to weekend visitors from Bangkok. However, travel to and from the village to the park can take an hour to the entrance gate, and an additional 45 minutes to the lower campground - if you have your own vehicle. You can hire a guide with a vehicle (about 2000 baht per day) but this quickly becomes expensive if you wish to spend several days visiting the park.
In late February 2008 Deborah Allen and I faced such a dilemma. We had our own vehicle (a 4-wheel drive Suzuki Caribean rental, about 700-800 baht per day) but no camping gear. Hence it was necessary to commute to/from the park every day. Fortunately we met up with a couple who own and operate a magnificent resort; Ban Maka (http://www.banmaka.com) about a 30 minute drive from the park entrance gate. More importantly, the lodge is set in scenic grounds and teems with birds; Hair-crested (Spangled) Drongo; Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush; Green-billed Malkoha; Flavescent and Stripe-throated Bulbuls; Verditer and Asian Paradise Flycatchers; Black-naped Monarch; Striped Tit and Puff-throated Babblers; Blue Whistling Thrush; Asian Barred Owlet; Common and Black-capped Kingfishers etc. And, to our delight, the owners had set up two bird blinds (hides) with a water "drip" and fruit to attract an array of birds and small mammals to photograph. Since both of the operators of the resort (Gunn and Beverly) make digital images of birds, we quickly found that the hide is designed with birders, and especially bird photographers, in mind.  
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Ban Maka Entrance
 
Ban Maka Accommodation

Lake at Ban Maka

The Grounds of Ban Maka
We rented a bungalow for two (available with separate beds) and enjoyed the spacious room with air-conditioning, tiled floors and en-suite bathroom with hot water shower. Drinking water is provided daily as well as towels and soap - the latter as needed. The wooden furniture in each of the bedrooms is lovely, and there is ample storage space to unpack clothes and store equipment safely. There is no TV in the rooms and only one outlet to charge camera/flash batteries. There is also no internet service on-site (As of 2013 internet is available in the restaurant area but not in the rooms). However, we found the cozy outdoor restaurant a great place to plug in our laptops and process our digital files.

Bungalow for 2 persons

Bungalow for 4-6 persons
Food is available at the on-site restaurant for about 30-150 baht per meal, and these are available to go. Fried rice with pork will set you back about 30 baht while steamed fish (fillet with no bones) is about 120 baht. The Thai cook is quite friendly and she is happy to adjust the spiciness of the food to your taste, and even make French Fries (chips). We recommend "nid-noy" - just a "little" spicy. Need you laundry done? About 100 baht will get a 15 kilo load washed, pressed and folded in one day. The staff here is friendly and more than willing to fulfill reasonable requests. Have a non-birder wife or significant other? This is also a great place for him/her.

Bungalow for 2 - interior
The owners (Gunn and Beverly) have been operating Ban Maka for 6 years. They are originally from Bangkok and worked as bankers there. Both earned Master's degrees in the United States and speak English fluently. If you wish to stay at their resort it is best to contact Beverly via her cell phone - she is often in Bangkok on business during the week: 081-840-5797 (or e-mail: Narida@scb.co.th). On the other hand, Gunn remains at Ban Maka full time, making several trips each week into Kaeng Krachan Park usually up to the second (900 metre elevation) campsite to photograph birds. We were able to catch a ride with Gunn on a couple of occasions, and he was more than happy to show us foraging Pin-tailed Parrotfinches, nesting Long-tailed Broadbills and the best places to look for flocks of Ratchet-tailed Treepies. Gunn knows the park intimately, and we enjoyed his wit and his ease with people as we rode with him in his 4-wheel drive Toyota to the upper campsite in Kaeng Krachan (about 80 minutes travel time from Ban Maka). Admission to the park was 200 baht per person for foreigners in February 2008, with an additional 30 baht charge per vehicle. Camping was free inside the park, although bathrooms and shower facilities were considerably better at the upper (900 metre) campsite than the lower one. At least in the busy (dry) season, food (including snacks and coffee) is available at both campsites, again with the upper campsite offering a better selection of tastier dishes at about 25-50 baht per meal. It would be possible to have all meals prepared at the upper campsite for as long as one stayed there... but check with Gunn to make sure that the Thai cooks are at the campsite when you intend to visit/stay.

View of the broad-leaved evergreen forest from the second (900 metre) campsite at Kaeng Krachan.
Ordinarily we do not enter into the realm of lodge recommendations or other product endorsements. We are working scientists and photographers, and prefer to remain neutral observers (and we received no direct or indirect benefits from writing this piece). However, we feel that Gunn and Beverly not only offer superb accommodation at a reasonable price (cheaper than anything else we looked at in Kaeng Krachan village), but they are also working to increase habitat for birds and other wildlife at Ban Maka. Education is the primary reason Ban Maka exists - to allow Thai and international guests to enjoy and learn about the birds, other animals and plants in this part of Thailand. Gunn and Beverly have recently come under strong pressure from local politicians to cut the forest on their property, especially the biggest trees that Oriental Pied Hornbills need to nest in. As a result they are hoping to attract more foreign birders and their friends in order to show the economic value of natural areas outside the national park to the locals opposed to their forest resort. Want to help them? There is no better way than to visit, take some photos and go home to spread the good word. Bird tour groups of 10-25 people would be especially welcome and feel comfortable here, making use of Ban Maka as a base to head into the park daily.

Bird Blind (Hide) at Ban Maka

View from inside a Bird Blind
For independent travelers who do not have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, Ban Maka offers a superb opportunity to see Kaeng Krachan and to reach the high (900 metre) camp. By staying at the resort it should be possible to catch a ride to the top, remain there for several days and then catch aride down again. This you would need to arrange with Gunn and Beverly. For others interested in bird photography or a guide for the park itself, Gunn knows the park intimately well and when/where to look for the park's speciality birds including nesting Broadbills, Pittas, Woodpeckers, Bee-eaters and, of course, Ratchet-tailed Treepies.

Getting to Ban Maka is relatively easy for those driving their own vehicle (and note well: you can only get a 4-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance past the first campsite up to the second campsite at 900 metres elevation). To find Ban Maka, just make your way to the information centre of the park, about a 10-minute drive from Kaeng Krachan village, on the only road that goes in that direction. Conyinue on that same road for about another 15 minutes or so, until you come to the last left turn (end of the public road) that can be made before the gated entrance to the military training camp. Take that left hand turn and then continue for another 10 minutes (3 kilometres) until you come to the first major intersection (look here on the left for a yellow Ban Maka sign in Thai script). Make a left hand turn at this first major intersection onto a wide dirt road. Drive aboy 1-2 minutes (1 kilometre) and look on the right for the yellow Ban Maka sign again. For more detailed instructions (and the yellow Ban Maka sign in Thai), see their website: http://www.banmaka.com or call Beverly: 081-840-5797 (or e-mail: Narida@scb.th.co).
Robert De Candido, PhD rdcny@earthlink.net
  Bird Watching Trips in Thailand:
Ban Maka is a good base for exploring nearby Kaeng Krachan national park and surrounding areas and is a great location to add to long or short birding trips to Thailand.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you: nickupton@thaibirding.com
For further information about staying and birding at Ban Maka please view the thaibirding.com page for this location - Ban Maka.

A checklist of birds recorded at Ban Maka is also available - Ban Maka bird checklist.

Other Related Pages
  • Bird Watching Trips in Thailand
  • Kaeng Krachan National Park
  • Western Thailand Birding Sites
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