by Nick Upton
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Mae Wong National Park

Mae Wong National Park, in Kampaeng Phet and Nakorn Sawan provinces, covers 894 square kilometres and is part of the western forest complex: the largest remaining tract of forest in Thailand.

A road which runs for about 30 kilometres from headquarters to Chong Yen campsite offers birdwatching opportunities at a variety of altitudes and make it possible to see a huge total of bird species if staying for 3-4 days. The facilities in this park are adequate and the staff are quite friendly and easy to deal with, making this a pleasant place to stay.

Much of this area used to be occupied by various hilltribe communities, so there are areas that are deforested, but secondary growth has established itself quickly and there are large areas of beautiful forest with huge, mature trees. Additionally, a number of streams and rivers drain the park and add to the scenic nature of this area as well as the avifauna.

Forest at Mae Wong
(Photo by Douglas Bolt)
Mae Wong National Park is the most accessible part of the western forest complex and gives birders the opportunity to see some species that are really hard to find or absent elsewhere in Thailand. The only set back with this national park are the large number of biting flies that live at the higher altitudes; go armed with insect repellent and mosquito nets.
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 Birding Highlights

Rufous-necked Hornbill
(Photo by Robert Tizard)

A few species have been found at Mae Wong and very seldom anywhere else, but of these, Rufous-necked Hornbill has to be the star. This species is only found in a few locations within the western forests of Thailand, but Mae Wong is the most accessible and is the best chance of finding the species in the Kingdom; October and November seem to be the best times of the year for sightings of this species.

Burmese Yuhina is another speciality of the higher regions of Mae Wong National Park and Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler is another exciting bird which is frequently reported here. Rusty-capped Fulvetta is also confined to this region within Thailand, although most birders will not see it unless making the three day round trip hike to Doi Mokoju. The call of Mountain Scops Owl is a common sound in the hills of Mae Wong, although seeing one is not so easy.

A few birders have been lucky enough to see Crested Kingfisher as it makes its way along a river close to headquarters, but the general abundance of colourful forest bird species, such as Long-tailed Broadbill, Speckled Piculet, Maroon Oriole, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Golden-throated Barbet, amongst many others, is reason enough to make the trip to Mae Wong.

It is also worth mentioning that in and around Klong Lan market there is a sizeable population of House Sparrows for those that would like to add this species to their Thai list.
A checklist of the birds for this location can be found here - Mae Wong
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 Travel Information
Mae Wong National Park  

Mae Wong National Park isn't the easiest place to get to, but is worth the trip. For those driving from Bangkok take highway 1 to Nakhon Sawan. Pass the town and continue along this highway for another 8 km until the turning to Lad Yao; it's well signposted. From Lad Yao take the road to Ban Khao Chon Kam about 40 kilometres away. At the intersection in this village turn right onto the road to Khlong Lan - about another 50 kilometre drive. After reaching Khlong Lan turn left and drive the last 20 km to the National Park; there is a petrol station close to the intersection.

For those coming from Kampaeng Phet, take highway 1 south. After 6km turn right at Ban Khlong Mae Lai and follow the road all the way to the Mae Wong National Park - about 75 kilometres. It's possible to charter a songtaew from Kampaeng Phet all the way to Chong Yen sub-station - a price of around 1000 baht is probably reasonable.

Buses from Bangkok run from the Northern (Mor Chit) terminal to Khlong Lan three times a day and takes about 5.5 hours. From there a motorbike or songtaew can be hired into the park.
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 Finding Birds
Anywhere suitable to stop along the long drive up to Chong Yen is worth investigating and there may be some small side trails that remain uninvestigated. However, a few locations within the park have proved reliable for certain species.
Road Chong Yen Headquarters
Road: Almost 30 kilometres of road through the forest offer plenty of opportunity to watch birds, although few birders stop to make the most of it. Some excellent quality forest houses species such as Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Orange-breasted Trogon.

HQ: At headquarters a number of flowering trees attract Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds and Bulbuls. The river behind the bungalows is also a likely spot for birds in the early morning.

Campground: The campground a short distance along the road from HQ is a very pleaasnt spot and provides an opportunity to see a number of species. Crested Kingfisher is reported to fly along past a swimming spot which I assume is located here, although I may be wrong - in any case, I didn't see it here. Species that can be found are the ubiquitous Grey Wagtail along with Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue Whistling Thrush and Black-capped Kingfisher. On one occasion I flushed out a very unseasonal Black Bittern from the marshy ground alongside the river.

It is worth noting that at night, if the lights of the toilet are left on, that an amazing variety of moths can be found on the walls of the toilet block!

  HQ Campground Watrefall Trail
Waterfall Trail: This short trail leads to a waterfall and provides another opportunity to get into the forest.
Hill Behind Ranger Station Campsite Steep Trail Umphang Trail Gulley 1 Gulley 2  

Hill Behind Ranger Station: This small, partially deforested hill is easily watched from the campsite and is frequented by Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers.

Campsite: There are fine views from the campsite along a valley to the west. This is a good point to watch raptors and also hornbills as they fly across the valley. For the most fortunate, it is possible to watch Rufous-necked Hornbills calling from large trees down the valley from the campsite.

Lots of other birds can be viewed in the foliage around the campsite and Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler is sometimes seen here is are birds such as Great Barbet and Orange-bellied Leafbird..

Steep Trail: This trail proceeds west from the ranger accommodation and heads quite steeply downhill. Several species of Laughingthrush have been found along here and it is a good location for finding species that prefer to occupy the understorey; species including White-throated Fantail and Rufous-throated Partridge. Where exactly this trail goes, I'm not sure, but it continues for some distance for those who wish to explore.

Umphang Trail: This trail is actually the old road to Umphang, although after a few hundred metres it is very difficult to recognise this fact. The trail is easy enough to follow even if it is a little overgrown and quite a number of good species can be found along here. Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush is fairly common, although not as easy to see as it is on Doi Inthanon. The first few hundred metres of the trail are very birdy and Hill Prinia, White-browed Piculet and Maroon Oriole are common. Other interesting species that can be found along this trail are Yellow-bellied Fantail, Short-billed Minivet, Mountain Tailorbird and Burmese Yuhina.

For those searching for a real adventure it is possible to hike all the way to Umphang; it would be a good idea to consult the rangers about this. Being within the forest for this distance would no doubt reveal a large number of birds to the vigilant.

Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

Gulley 1: A couple of hundred metres along the Umphang Trail a damp gulley can be seen on the left. The gulley is quite wide and quickly climbs quite steeply. However, it is possible to go into the forest here and find a few interesting species. Small Niltava and White-throated Fantail often occupy this area and Rusty-naped Pitta has been seen.

Gulley 2: A kilometre or so back down the road there is a gulley to the right which can be clambered along for a distance. Don't try and follow it on the other side of the road as it heads very steeply downhill. In the forest along the gulley Rufous-throated Partridges can be found and I once found a group of Rufous-necked Hornbills in a fruiting tree - definitely worth a look along here!

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Chong Yen Campsite
(Photo by Douglas Bolt)

The facilities at Mae Wong are sufficient for their purpose. In fact, I have been told that the national park bungalows at headquarters are rather nice - they certainly have an attractive setting, looking out onto a rocky river. A little along the road from HQ is a small campsite next to the river - a very nice location - with clean toilets.

HQ itself has a visitor centre and a small restaurant where tasty, cheap food can be purchased and this is where a permit to travel to Chong Yen must be organised and accommodation paid for.

Most birders want to head straight for Chong Yen, and this must have one of the nicest settings for a campsite anywhere in Thailand. However, it is extremely small and gets uncomfortably crowded at weekends and the toilets/showers can get very busy and dirty.

There are some small rooms that can be hired from HQ, but it is better to bring ones own tent and camp. There is no food available here, so it is necessary to bring ones own equipment and food, although if you run out I'm sure the rangers would take pity upon you and sort something out.

One must pass through the small town of Klong Lan before getting to Mae Wong and supplies of most types can be bought here. There is also a petrol station here to fill up before heading up the hill.

Alternatively, there are supermarkets in the towns of Kampaeng Phet and Nakorn Sawan where shopping of every type can be done. One will probably pass through one of these towns on the way to Mae Wong, although they are both some distance away.


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 Other Related Pages

Birdwatching Tours

Other Western Thailand Birding Locations

Top Ten Birds of Thailand: Number 5 - Rufous-necked Hornbill

Video clip of Speckled Piculet taken at Chong Yen, Mae Wong, by Gerald Moore.

 Trip Reports

Mae Wong National Park, 5th May 2000

Mae Wong, Various Trips 2004-06


by Peter Ericsson

by Charles Davies

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