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Laem Pak Bia and Hellfire Pass, October 2008
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Back in Bangkok again, this time I was obtaining a visa for Vietnam. For me the city is not too pleasant and I escaped to Had Chao Samran (Laem Pak Bia) in the Gulf of Thailand and then to Kanchanaburi (Hellfire Pass). My travels were, as usual, by public transport and on a moderate budget. I write trip reports for not because I am a super twitcher but because this site is so helpful for independent travellers as myself.

Part 1: Laem Pak Bia
Getting away from Bangkok, I caught a bus from the new southern bus terminal (my Lonely Planet book is out of date and it has moved a few kilometres along the road) to Petchaburi. Here a motorcycle took me a short distance across town to meet a songthaew departing for Had Chao Samran (HCS).

Arriving in HCS on a Saturday afternoon, there were quite a few people at the seaside. You rarely see foreigners here, most visitors are Thai. Along the beach road I could find several nice mini-resorts but no cheap accommodation. After lunch, a local took me on his motorbike to a place called Petch Ploy which is about halfway to the beach. Without charm but tidy enough it was still not great value at 800 baht per night, I believe rates go up on weekends. Well, I did manage to borrow a bicycle for the weekend.

The next morning was productive when I cycled to Laem Pak Bia (LPB) and spent a couple of hours searching the salt pans. It's very pleasant to be out in the early morning when the light is soft and with a cool breeze from the north. A highlight, one of the deeper ponds hosted 29 Painted Storks feeding and 3 loafing Spot-billed Pelicans. Do not overlook the roadside drains where Long-toed Stint, Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper and others regularly feed and allow close approach.

I visited the Environmental Research Project (ERP) a bit late in the morning around 1000h when the day was warm to hot and the sunlight harsh. Despite the conditions, Passerines were fairly active and there were many other birds hanging around the ponds. The gates open at 0800h which is rather late in the morning for birds.

The second morning was spent reviewing some shorebird identifications and I spotted a few birds not seen on previous outings. I left before lunch and caught a songthaew back to Petchaburi. From HCS the songthaews turn around at the Seven-Eleven and approximately 100 m out of town there is a convenient bus shelter/stop.

I left HCS without visiting the sand spit at LPB and Pak Thale further north, I was getting enough birds without having to do the “full Monty”. For bird watchers who want to relax a little and enjoy the environment I recommend spending a couple of days in the area. I was happy enough without a scope but it would have been be useful on the saltpans for observing small Calidrids and on the ponds at the ERP, I would say essential if you're looking for Spoon-billed Sandpipers.

Bird list and some notes from Laem Pak Bia and Had Chao Samran:

Indian Roller
White-throated Kingfisher - Seen once only.
Black-capped Kingfisher - Common
Collared Kingfisher - Most common
Little Green Bee-eater
Asian Koel
Barn Owl - At night by the road in HCS.
Rock Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Red Collared-Dove
Peaceful Dove

Black-tailed Godwit- A flock of 27 counted.
Common Redshank - A few around.
Marsh Sandpiper - Numerous
Green Sandpiper - One seen at ERP.
Wood Sandpiper - Numerous
Common Sandpiper - A few around.
Red-necked Stint - A few small flocks of minute calidrids.
Temminck's Stint - Can be viewed at close range in roadside drains.
Long-toed Stint - A few around.
Broad-billed Sandpiper - Only one seen.
Ruff - Seen once.
Black-winged Stilt - Common and gregarious.
Pacific Golden-Plover - Not in high numbers.
Little Ringed Plover - Common in small flocks.
Kentish Plover - Did not see Malaysian Plover. (Note from Nick Upton: Malaysian Plover is to be found on the sand spit)
Lesser Sand Plover - Uncommon. (Note from Nick Upton: Surprising, Lesser Sand Plover isusually just about the commonest wader here)
Red-wattled Lapwing
Common Tern - At least one.
Whiskered Tern
White-winged Tern - Apparently most terns were this species, non-br visitors. (Note by Nick Upton: Usually Whiskered Terns far outnumber the White-winged, but at this time of year there would be a lot of both species)
Brahminy Kite
Peregrine Falcon - Looking for a meal at dusk, probably this species.
Little Cormorant - Hundreds roost in mangroves at Had Chao Samran creek.
Indian Cormorant - One seen at ERP.
Little Egret
Pacific Reef-Egret - On the rock walls along the beach at dusk.
Great Egret
Javan Pond-Heron - Almost impossible to identify non-br Chinese Pond-Heron. (Note by Nick Upton: Impossible to searate these two in non-breeding plumage contrary to what is indicated in Robson. Both species are common)
Striated Heron
Spot-billed Pelican
- 3 seen.
Painted Stork - Counted 29.
Brown Shrike
Racket-tailed Treepie
Pied Fantail
Black Drongo
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Asian Pied Starling
Common Myna
White-vented Myna
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Streak-eared Bulbul
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Yellow Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit
- Common
Scaly-breasted Munia

The above list follows Sibley and Monroe's taxonomy, my copy of Robson's Birds of South East Asia field guide was falling to pieces and finally discarded after my Vietnam trip, now replaced by the more compact edition.

Part 2: Hellfire Pass
I did consider visiting Kaeng Krachan National Park after Had Chao Samran. It's not far from Petchaburi but public transport seems difficult and accommodation choices limited. So I caught a bus back to Bangkok, a second to Kanchanaburi and arrived late in the afternoon. Kanchanburi is a second-rate tourist town, pleasant enough but not adventurous. It has one tourist strip with restaurants, bars, beer girls and a reggae-themed joint that seems to play only Bob Marley. Accommodation rates on the riverside are somewhat inflated. Amongst the tourist traps I did find a friendly local restaurant that served fresh and simple, good-value meals.

Back to birding, I caught the first bus at about 0600h towards Sangklaburi. Number 8203 is a country bus with a wooden floor and it stops everywhere, accumulating an interesting crowd of ethnic minority people. We passed through a police/military checkpoint but I was not asked to produce identification, all the locals travel with ID. I arrived at Hellfire Pass by 0745h and unlucky for me there was an early tour bus.

There were not many birds about during my visit to Hellfire Pass and I didn't search widely for the Limestone Wren Babbler. Never mind, the history is interesting and it was a good walk to the end of the 4.5 km maintained section. Thankfully, I encountered few mosquitoes. Outside the gate there's a local restaurant or two by the roadside. After lunch, I did not have to wait long for a bus, perhaps half an hour.

Bird list from Hellfire Pass:

Spotted Dove
Bronzed Drongo
Spangled Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Common Iora
White-rumped Shama
Common Myna
Black-headed Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Common Tailorbird
Puff-throated Babbler

Once again the above list follows Sibley and Monroe's taxonomy.

Stephen Totterman

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