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Phu Suan Sai National Park
(Updated 25/08/15)
 Introduction
Phu Suan Sai National Park covers an area of 117 square kilometres in Loei province; formerly this location was known as Na Haew National Park after a nearby village, the name change occurring around the turn of the century.

This national park has an altitudinal range from around 600 to 1350 metres above sea level at the peak of Phu Khum Khao, consisting of mixed evergreen forest and large areas of bamboo scrub; the national park also contains two villages with areas of farmland around them for a variety of habitats.

Phu Suan Sai is off the beaten track and not part of the typical Thailand birding circuit, meaning that it is underwatched and quite peaceful with low visitor numbers at most times. Although it is not easy to quickly see a lot of birds at this site, with around 20 kilometres of road to go birding along and a well-kept birding trail some effort can reveal quite a high tally of species as well as a few exciting species that are seldom seen in Thailand.
 
White-throated Fantail
(Photo by Nick Upton)
For birders who like to try something different this national park offers the opportunity to go birding in one of the extremities of the country meaning that the potential to add to the park list is high and possibly find something new; this is the site that Blue-naped Pitta was discovered in less than 10 years ago.
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 Birding Highlights

Rufous-throated Fulvetta
(Photo by Nick Upton)
  Phu Suan Sai National Park is home to a few species of birds which are extremely range-restricted within Thailand, indeed, Blue-naped Pitta is currently only known from this site within the Kingdom. Short-tailed Parrotbill and Rufous-throated Fulvetta are the other specialities here and while the Fulvetta is not too difficult to find, both Short-tailed Parrotbill and Blue-naped Pitta are hard for bird watchers to see.

Indochinese Yuhina also occurs here and is split from Striated Yuhina by many authorities (but not on the official Thai list yet), although it is scarce and in my opinion field guides over-emphasize the differences between these two taxons and they certainly have pretty much the same calls.

Speckled Piculet and Bamboo Woodpecker both seem to be commoner here than at most sites and due to the large amount of bamboo habitat birders have a good chance of seeing these species.
Apart from the few speciality species found here one of the real highlights is to go bird watching in a seldom-visited part of the country with the chance to make some interesting observations.

A checklist of the birds this location can be found here - Phu Suan Sai National Park
  Birdwatching Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information
Use the interactive map below to plan your route to Phu Suan Sai National Park. The blue line show the route from the town of Dan Sai (Red Pin) to Phu Suan Sai (Blue Pin).
Although Phu Suan Sai National Park is a bit out of the way, it is not actually very complicated to find if driving your own vehicle. From Bangkok head north out of the city and take Highway 21 towards Petchabun. Continue on the highway to Lomsak and from there continue north on the same road until seeing signs for Dan Sai, following Route 2014 to the town. At Dan Sai there are signposts in English to Na Heaw following Route 2113. Upon reaching the village of Na Heaw there will be signposts for Phu Suan Sai National Park, following Route 1268 until seeing the sign for the park entrance which has a large picture of a Short-tailed Parrotbill on it.

If heading to Phu Suan Sai from Northern provinces the cross-country route from Highway 11 is perfectly good with decent roads from the highway to the village of Chat Trakan (signposted in English from the highway) from where Phu Suan Sai National Park is signposted; easy.

Getting to this site using public transport would be very tough indeed. However, there are regular buses to Lomsak from Bangkok's Morchit bus station and amazingly car rental with Budget can be arranged in advance to collect in this town from where the fairly simple drive to the national park can be made. Otherwise there would be regular buses from Lomsak to Dan Sai where you may be able to charter some sort of transport to the national park; good luck!
 Finding Birds
Most birding can be done along the long loop road which goes through the national park. Stopping and walking at a number of locations along the road will eventually lead to a large number of species seen and a number of the key species. Exploring along the bird watching trail will get birders right into the forest and give them a chance of spotting some more skulking species.
Heaquarters Area : The region around headquarters consists of open-country, accommodation blocks and gardens surrounded by moist forest and large areas of bamboo and many of the key species can be seen in and around this area.

Grey-eyed Bulbul
 
Oriental White-eye

Golden Babbler
 
Hill Blue Flycatcher (female)
(Photos by Nick Upton)
  Spotting birds in the open areas around HQ is easy, although most of the birds likely to be encountered are fairly common species. Sooty-headed Bulbul is abundant in the low trees and during the dry season White Wagtail and Olive-backed Pipit are found on the ground below. Due to the open nature this is a good spot for viewing raptors such as Crested Goshawk, Shikra and Crested Serpent Eagle and it is also a good place to spot noisy Grey Treepies perched on trees in nearby forest. In the dry season birders should also be able to find both Brown and Grey-backed Shrikes too.

Only a short walk down the road from HQ takes birders into some secondary forest where parties of small birds are common including Orange-bellied Leafbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and lots of Brown-cheeked Fulvettas with their musical call. Although I haven't personally seen them at this spot, I have been told by others that Short-tailed Parrotbill occurs on this downhill section of road from the HQ.

Just a little up the road, however, just past the accommodation blocks, I have seen Short-tailed Parrotbill nest-building and a number of other birders have made observations of this species here too; this is a good area to look for owls at night due to its open aspect.
The forest in this few hundred metres uphill of the HQ can be productive birding with Rufous-throated Fulvetta being fairly easy to find during the breeding season, giving itself away with its song. Other birds likely to be seen in this area are Golden Babbler, White-throated Fantail, Oriental White-eye and Speckled Piculet.

Walking further along the road from HQ takes birders through some good forest for the next few kilometres and most of the key species can be found along here. It is quite likely that Blue-naped Pitta could be heard calling along here but it is only a very few extremely fortunate birders that have ever seen this species in Thailand. White-browed Scimitar Babbler, White-browed Piculet and Bamboo Woodpecker are all relatively abundant along this stretch of road and it is here that the most productive and comfortable birding is obtained; some lucky birders have even seen Green Cochoa in this area.
 

Birdwatching Trips To Phu Suan Sai National Park:
Phu Suan Sai is not on the regular birding circuit and it provides an opportunity to see some species that are very range restricted in the Kingdom of Thailand.

This is a good site to add to your birding trip if you have previously been to all of the more regularly visited locations and combines well with visits to Phu Hin Rong Kla and Nam Nao. If you wish to look for Short-tailed Parrotbill in Thailand this is a must visit location.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you: nickupton@thaibirding.com

  Bird Watching Trail: This well-maintained trail runs for a few kilometres from the accommodation area and emerges on the road at its end. Many have seen some of the most sought-after species along here including sightings of Short-tailed Parrotbill and it is probably this trail which gives the best chance of finding a Blue-naped Pitta, although dense vegetation makes this tricky. However, on my visits to this location the leeches have been extremely bad and even when I have kept moving I have been covered in leeches very quickly. Still, Red-headed Trogon is readily found here and it is probably a good place to see shy forest interior species including White-crested and Black-throated Laughingthrushes & Rufous-throated Fulvetta while Buff-breasted Babbler is common. It is also worth looking out for small parties of Collared Babbler with which Red-billed Scimitar Babbler associates.
Farmland & Villages: Doing some birding in these areas will certainly increase your bird list but is unlikely to add much that can't be seen easily elsewhere. In late morning these open areas would be the best places to look out for soaring raptors, particularly during migratory periods.

Common open country species such as Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Sooty-headed Bulbul and Ashy Woodswallow can be frequently seen in this habitat but it is also worth scanning these areas for Grey-backed Shrike in the dry season and I have seen Cinnamon Bittern in the small streams.
 Facilities
Facilities are fairly limited in this area with just a few small villages within a sensible driving distance; these villages have small shops which sell basic groceries such as noodles, rice, canned fish, snacks and drinks but not a whole lot else. At Na Haew village there are a couple of places that serve food but they cannot be relied upon to be open in the evenings, so it is best to take food and camping cooking equipment with you for your stay. At park HQ there is a restaurant which is open from 8am to 4pm, but you can order something to be cooked up just before they close and they will provide it in a box so that you can eat it later. There is also a small snack shop where they sell cold drinks with the same opening hours.

There are a few accommodation options available. At park headquarters there are a variety of cabins available ranging from very basic to more-or-less ok. The better cabins have hot water showers but most of them do not - a bit chilly in the cool season. There is also a campsite where you can pitch a tent or hire one. Near the village of Na Haew there are a couple of basic
 
Restaurant at Park HQ
(Photo by Nick Upton)
guesthouses with cabins for rent; Falkland Resort and Na Haew
Resort. Neither of them has air-conditioning and only Na Haew Resort has hot water showers - no food is available at either of these locations. A few small fuel stations can be found in the village of Na Haew for those that need to refuel.

Phu Suan Sai is a national park and, on my last visit I was charged 100 baht entry.
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HQ Area

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National Park Sign
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Budget Accommodation
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Nearby Village Temple
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Forest Road
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Forest Road
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Accommodation Details
  Birdwatching Trips:
For those birders who like to get a little off the beaten track, Phu Suan Sai is a good option. A few days of birding at this location should provide views of some of the speciality species, which makes it a good site to add to any birding itinerary that visits the northeast region.

Look at some suggested itineraries, Thailand bird tours, or contact me for more information: nickupton@thaibirding.com.
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