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Tour of Thailand and Cambodia side-trip, May 8th - June 12th 2007
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A birding, cultural, and SCUBA diving trip in Thailand with a side jaunt to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I spent 5 weeks exploring Thailand, my first time in mainland SE Asia after previously having visited Indonesia and Borneo in 2004. I traveled on my own, using public transportation, staying in guest houses most of the time, and only hiring a guide for 1 day in Khao Nor Chu Chi, the nearly essential Yothin. I found Thailand to be super easy to travel with good, cheap accommodation, amazing food, friendly people, and great birds.
9th May - Bangkok: Staying at a cheap place in Khao San area of Bangkok to visit the royal temples was a great start to the trip. Jet lag had me up early in the morning and off to the royal gardens across the street from the Grand Palace. Lots of exercising people but also lots of birds was a nice start. Lifers included Coppersmith Barbet, Asian Koel, and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. Perched on the temple housing the emerald Buddha was Ashy Woodswallow and had a flyover Alexandrine Parakeet (escapee?).
10th May - Khao Yai: Took an early morning bus (3 hours) to Khao Yai National Park where I was excited to get out of the city and start birding. I stayed at the GreenLeaf guesthouse, which was great and cheap, but unfortunately a long way from the park. Spent the afternoon catching up on sleep and exploring the fields around the guesthouse. Highlights included Hoopoe, Linneated Barbet, Zitting Cisticola, and a lingering? Richard’s Pipit. Also, in the garden of the guesthouse, a beautiful green pit viper shown to me by a 10 year old who lives there.
11th May - Khao Yai: Up early for a ride to the park. Hitchhiking took me a half hour to catch a ride to the park where the entrance fee is 400B, to be paid every day, which for a budget traveler is a bit much, and made me realize I should have stayed in the park. But without a vehicle, and it being the weekend, was difficult. It was extremely wet when I was there, and camping would not have been fun. Quickly got a ride to the Headquarters area where a Blue-bearded Bee-eater welcomed me before heading off on the red/B trail (or whatever you want to call it). It was very muddy, and overgrown, and difficult to follow in a few places. Birding was slow, and no sign of pittas was disappointing. Also, hundreds of leeches were a challenge, but much smaller than Borneo and less painful. Screaming gibbons were certainly a treat, and near a large stream crossing a quick look at a leopard cat was very nice. Birds included Red-headed Trogon, Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, Blue-winged Leafbird, Hill Blue-Flycatcher, the first of many Black-headed and Black-crested Bulbuls. I ended at the lookout tower where the only birds were swifts, where I picked out one White-throated Needletail with the Brown-backed Needletails. On the walk to the road through grasslands a few flyby Wreathed and Great Hornbills were certainly nice, and a Plain Prinia with many Golden-headed Cisticolas and Red-wattled Lapwings. I hitched down to the viewpoint as the sky was darkening, quickly picked up Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Great Iora, and Scarlet Minivet, and then it started dumping rain. Started at 1:30 pm and rained all afternoon, too hard for much birding.
12th May - Khao Yai: Up early again for the long hitch into the park, this time to the Pa Gluay Mai campsite (after paying the 400B entrance fee again). Searched around the restaurant for the ground-cuckoo but from pointing at pictures the worker said it hadn’t been around in awhile. Walked the nice trail downstream to the Haew Suwat with the main highlight being a Hooded Pitta that flew across in front of me and then showed well, singing away from a branch 4 meters off the ground. Also, Greater Flameback, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Green-billed Malkoha, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Green Magpie, Slaty-backed Forktail, and at the falls a Blue Whistling-thrush. Back at the campsite some fruiting trees produced close up views of flowerpeckers, including Plain, Fire-breasted, and Scarlet-backed. Once again the sky darkened and it started raining heavily at noon, and I once again fled back to the guesthouse. Luckily the rain stopped about 5 pm, and I walked a short distance down the main road and then on a side road only about 1km from Greenleaf into some scrub and was rewarded with a number of new birds. Spotted Owlet, Black-shouldered Kite, Brown Shrike, Gray-breasted Prinia, Oriental/Paddyfield Pipit, and 2 singing babblers-Chesnut-capped and Yellow-eyed, made for a great ending to the day. Overall 70 species for about a half-day birding!
13th May: I decided that due to the amount of rain, distance of travel each day, and entrance fee, I would leave and head elsewhere. I will return here and stay in the park someday, as there are many species that I missed, and great opportunities for mammals here too.
So, a big travel day. Bus to Cambodia border, then hassle of getting a visa, bribing officials, and lots of mud. A very big difference from Thai side to Cambodia side. Hassling, mud, horrible road, all abundant on Cambodia side. 150km to Siem Reap, nearly 4 hours in a shared taxi, with some of the largest potholes and deepest mud I have ever seen. $6 room with cable TV and hot water shower. Not bad!
14th May: Mostly relaxing and exploring around Siem Reap, but a half hour birding in the royal gardens produced Asian Barred Owlet, Common Tailorbird, and Coppersmith Barbet. Tried to set up a trip to Prek Toal, but the water levels are too low to get to the good birds (even though the streets of Siem Reap are flooded!). This was a major disappointment, but means I will have to return. If you are headed this way, definitely try and check ahead to see water levels!
15th & 16th May: Hired a motorcycle and driver for $10 US (everything here was US dollars) to explore Angkor Wat and Thom, then on to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, all amazing places, well worth the visit. Rained most of the first day, and spent about 1 hour sitting on the highest area of Angkor Wat looking out over the forest. A few good birds with highlights being raptors-Black Baza, Shikra, Besra. Also, Cotton Pygmy-goose and Lesser Whistling-Duck in the canals, and around the ruins Large Wood-Shrike and Red-Breasted Parakeet.
19th May: After returning to Bangkok and visiting friends in there for a few days, I took the all day train to Chiang Mai. Second class express train was very comfortable and passed through excellent rice paddies and a few nice forest areas. Birds were abundant and pretty good views were had of many new birds. Pied Kingfishers were common along with Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. In the marshes were White-breasted Waterhen and a few Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas. Asian Openbills were abundant along with Little Cormorant, Little, Great, and Cattle Egrets, Javan Pond Herons and flushed a few Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns. On the wire and in the scrub were Black Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Racket-tailed Treepie (in the North), and Asian Pied Starlings.
20th May: Spent exploring the town of Chiang Mai, visiting temples (“Peace is the highest bliss”), eating yummy food, and an excellent Sunday night market.
21st May: Bus to Chom Thong and then Taxi up to Mr. Daengs in Doi Inthanon. Pay the 400B at the entrance, but once in the park, don’t have to pay again as long as you don’t leave. Mr. Daengs is free to birders, but very basic. Cinder block room, mattress, dangling light bulb, and frigid shower. But, it is right near headquarters and the food is excellent and cheap, and the family very friendly and helpful. Highly recommended if you can handle basic accommodations. Spent the afternoon birding around the headquarters and up to Siriphum falls, which is gorgeous and had a nice flock there. Bird highlights included Speckled Piculet, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Grey Treepie, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Mountain and Black Bulbul, Hill Prinia, Striated Yuhina, and Streaked Spiderhunter.
22nd May - Doi Inthanon: It rained most of the night but stopped before dawn. However it was really foggy from KM 35 to the top all day. I hitched to the checkpoint at 37.5 and it was really thick with fog, but crawling with birds. I stood at the entrance to the jeep track for nearly 1 hour and saw about 9 lifers in the same spot, all nearly at eye level. From here walked up to about KM 40, (with a possible Green Cochoa at 39) and then caught a ride to the summit. The wind was howling and any trees were catching the fog as it flew by, so conditions weren’t great, but many birds were feeding low or even on the ground. Walked around the parking lot, had some nice coffee, and of course the excellent bog trail. Many birds were feeding young, but unfortunately no sign of Dark-sided Thrush. Hitched back down to the checkpoint and then spent the afternoon walking down the road back to Mr. Daengs’s. The fog made for a challenge, but it made birding possible all day, and birds were active all day. Fantastic stuff for sure. Highlights are so many, with about 60 species seen, and 25 or so lifers. Rufous-throated Partridge, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Large and Small Niltava, White-browed Shortwing, Chesnut-vented Nuthatch, Yellow-browed Tit, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Golden Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia- (stunning!), Blue-winged and Chesnut-tailed Minla, Spectacled Barwing, Rufous-backed Sibia, Green-tailed and Black-throated Sunbirds, and on the walk down, around KM 32-3 a Musciapa flycatcher that was not vocalizing but looked a lot like Brown-breasted Flycatcher.
23rd May - Doi Inthanon: Went downhill to go for a bit of diversity, and also search some waterfalls for White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts, unfortunately I had no signs of either of these species. First I went to Vatcharitan Waterfall area, which is pretty spectacular, and had White-browed Piculet, Blue-throated Flycatcher, Striated Swallow, Dusky Crag-Martin, Maroon and Black-hooded Oriole. I then dropped down to KM 13 and thought I would give it a shot, but it was scorching hot and I wandered a bit in the bamboo along the stream trail, but didn’t really see too much. No luck with the falcon or falconet and I retreated back to the nice temperatures near the headquarters. Towards sunset I returned to Sirphum waterfall hoping for redstarts but missed them again, but did have fantastic views of a Long-tailed Broadbill.
24th May - Doi Inthanon: Spent from 6 am till about 2pm all in the 37.5 area, on the jeep trail and also walking on the main road. Sunny skies and no wind made for a very nice day. On the jeep trail highlights include a “dancing” Slaty-bellied Tesia, Lesser Shortwing, White-tailed Robin, Brown-throated Treecreeper, more Long-tailed Broadbills, Green Magpie, and on the road a flyover group of 4 Ashy Woodpigeon and some Striated Bulbuls.
25th May - Doi Inthanon and back to Chiang Mai: Thai birding expert Mr. Uthai was at Mr. Daeng’s taking pictures of flowers, and we went at sunrise to look for the Black-tailed Crake at the campground but no luck as the water was really high. Flyover Orange-bellied Leafbirds were nice, and a small group of Long-tailed Minivets was new. I quickly hitched up to the road at 34.5 and within the first 100m had a single Black-throated Parrotbill. Further along the road a White-crowned Forktail was feeding in the road, and Uthai heard a Green Cochoa but I couldn’t find it in the thick vegetation. I hitched down the hill and caught a bus back to Chiang Mai.
26th May - Bus to Chiang Dao and on to Malee’s Nature Lovers resort: A very nice place, with cheap clean rooms (and Bungalows more expensive). Afternoon walk to the Chiang Dao forest temple and an hour or so on the frustrating gulley trail made for a quiet afternoon, except for the few hundred school children doing some kind of loud, obnoxious retreat at the temple. Not what I was expecting. Crested Treeswift soaring overhead, Shikra, Hill-blue Flycatcher, and one that really looked like Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (non-vocalizing), Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush in the gulley, and Gray-cheeked Fulvetta on the stairs. There was so much traffic on the stairs, I did not see any Wren-Babblers, and no sign of Pittas in the gulley.
27th May - Chiang Dao: Sunrise to temple and unfortunately the kids slept over. Did get the Steaked Wren-Babblers on the stairs and in the gulley Greater and Lesser Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes. Golden-fronted and Blue-winged Leafbirds overhead, Bay Woodpecker, Green-billed Malkoha and many drongos. Also went on the nature and firebreak trail for a while, but didn’t have too much luck. It was hot and humid, and the birds were really quiet. In the afternoon I walked down the “paved” road, and probably should have stayed at Malee’s as it was scorching and quiet.
28th May - Den Ya Kat, Chiang Dao: Up at 5 am with the truck for 1500 Baht to Den Ya Kat. Road was pretty good with only a couple of soggy spots. Driver didn’t speak English, but as we neared the top (Nuthatch Ridge), he stopped and started yelling “nuthat” and I saw Giant Nuthatch quickly fly away. We parked at the station and I walked back to the dead trees where the nuthatch was. On the way, birds were abundant, and lifebirds were everywhere. Lesser Yellownape, Great Barbet, Burmese Shrike, Rufescent Prinia, a group of noisy Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler and Grey-headed Parrotbill were all excellent, and then 20 minute views of Giant Nuthatch made it worth the money for sure. I saw 3-4 Giant Nuthatches in total. The grass was long and I didn’t have high hopes for Hume’s Pheasant but thought I would head onto the firebreak trail anyways. I didn’t see any pheasant but did see two Scaly Thrush. Very nice. Late afternoon I caught the bus back to Chiang Mai.
29th May: Rented a small 100 cc motorcycle for 80 baht (under $3!) to head out to Huai Hong Khrai Royal Project and the wild? Green Peafowls. Around the cages filled with pheasants and others there were numerous Green Peafowl, and the ones outside were pretty skittish. I found the place pretty depressing overall, and don’t think I would return, but it was nice to see the peafowls and all the pheasants. The mammals depressed me, especially one gibbon that really was not happy in its tiny cage. A random field stop on the way back yielded a nice colony of weavers building nests and I picked out Baya and Asian Golden. Boarded the excellent overnight train to Bangkok, with second-class sleeper being very comfortable and reasonably priced.
30th May: Arrived Bangkok around 7 am and had 45 min. to switch to the express train to the south. Yes, I was trying to go directly from Chiang Mai to Krabi. A long travel time but comfortable on the train with some good birds to see, spicy food, and much cheaper than flights. Train ends in Surat Thani and then a 3-hour bus ride to Krabi-no problem!
31th May - Krabi: Just after sunrise walked down to Krabi docks and found a boat to take me out for about 3.5 hours. Man didn’t speak English, but I pointed to pictures of birds and he got excited. Saw Brown-winged Kingfisher within 5 minutes and after about 1 hour heard 4 Mangrove Pitta at once and a few plays of the tape and one flew in close. The tide was really high, so didn’t get too much else in the mangroves, but a few highlights were Common Flameback, and Germain’s Swiftlet (and there were some that looked like Black-nest, but wow that is tough). I pointed to shorebirds and he got excited again. We passed a few Great and Striated Egrets and then roosting in the mangroves on a little island where a nice group of shorebirds. Unfortunately, they flushed before I could study them well, but there were at least 20 Whimbrel and 5 Common Redshank. Towards sunset I wandered towards the Maritime Hotel, but on the way found a “new” Mangrove boardwalk. It was at least 500m long, about half way between downtown and the Maritime, and I thought excellent. I didn’t see too many birds, but did hear Mangrove Pitta and I think Brown-winged Kingfisher would be possible too.
1st June: Early morning bus to Khlong Thom, and then moto to Morakot and KNC. Just after lunch heard and saw the first of many sightings of a pair of Blue-winged Pittas that love the back of Room #5. Made my first quest for the Gurney’s, on probably one of my least favorite birding spots in the whole world, the U trail. Thick, hot, and quiet, with lots of confusing side trails. Did find a few nice things (no sign of Gurneys) including Orange-breasted Trogon, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Great Iora, Puff-throated and Chesnut-rumped Babblers, and calling during dinner a Collared Scops Owl (that was at Morakot every night!).
2nd June: Out at sunrise and down the road to U trail, where a taxi pulls up and a Swedish birder living in Bangkok emerges. We both head down U trail, but unfortunately no Gurneys. We do however see at least 2 Hooded Pittas, and hear 2 more. Then walk up the road and down H for a bit where we flush both Blue-eared Kingfisher and Rufous-backed Kingfisher. Blue-winged Pitta called at Morakot at first light and is later seen above the stream behind the restaurant. Also a pair at the road split to head to the emerald pool. Other birds of note are Rufous Piculet, Puff-backed Bulbul, Black-capped Babbler, probably Short-tailed Babbler, and a few White-bellied Munia along the road.
3rd June: Out with Yothin at 6 am. He is a fantastic guide and to me, well worth the 6,000 Baht he charges. Pay the money if you want to see species, enough said. We drove through some palm plantations to what I think was N trail, where he had a hide set up in a territory. I waited about 45 min. with no luck while Yothin and his assistant searched all around. Quiet! We walked down N trail towards H, passing what he said was 3+ Gurney’s territories, and we didn’t hear any sign of them. We did pick up a number of good species including a Large Wren-Babbler that he heard from about 500m away, Moustached and Black-throated Babblers, Chesnut-breasted Malkoha, Green Broadbill, Crested Goshawk in flight display, Brown-streaked Flycatcher, Buff-vented Bulbul, and Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker. We set off in the afternoon and I was doubting him as it was scorching, but we pulled into some primary forest near some water and instantly heard Banded Kingfisher and Maroon Woodpecker. Excellent scope views were had of the kingfisher and we spent about 1 hour in the same spot with continuous birds including Buff-rumped and Grey&Buff Woodpeckers, Brown Barbet, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Whiskered Treeswift, Greater and Lesser Green Leafbirds, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Plain Sunbird, and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter. We then walked 100 m to the stream where the afternoon bulbul bath was happening. 9 species came in to the one spot, including Olive-winged, Spectacled, and Buff-vented, and a 10 min. walk to another pool yielded Grey-bellied and Streaked Bulbuls, and Red-legged Crake and Scaly-crowned Babbler. For pre-sunset we went to the coffee plantation which is now palms, where we didn’t see too much except for Vernal Hanging-Parrot and Silver-rumped Needletail. On to night birding, his Spotted Wood-Owl was absent, but we did find Oriental Bay Owl near the warm springs along with Great eared Nightjar. A big miss was the White-fronted Scops-Owl, which was gone from its spot. A fantastic day but no Gurney’s!
4th June: Yothin hinted that there was one male Gurney’s still calling, a bird banded (Red band) last year, and he was hanging out somewhere near ABC trails. So, I was at the A/B junction at 6 am, and by 6:15 or so heard a Gurney’s calling just down the trail. As I rounded a corner about 50m onto B there he was in the middle of the trail. He hopped down and out of site, but returned 15 minutes later for cracking views. What a stunner and what a relief to see. Everything else was gravy, but I really enjoyed the walk from A-B-C-D to the emerald pools. A nice fruiting fig on C held 10+ Thick-billed Green Pigeons and 4+ Red-bearded Bee-eaters. Other notes include Red-billed Malkoha, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, Green Broadbills, Moustached Babbler, Hooded Pitta. When I reached the main emerald pool the skies opened up and it rained monsoon style for 4 hours. Another great day in a difficult birding spot.
5th June: Happy with the previous 2 days, I had a mellow morning walking down the main road but did pick up Red-crowned and Gold-Whiskered Barbets, and a circling Changeable Hawk-Eagle, and as I returned to Morakot at 10am, a pair of Red & Black Broadbills and the Blue-winged Pitta sitting in the open on the doorstep of room 5! What an ending. Took a motorcycle to Chong Thom, bus to Krabi, bus to Surat Thani, and then ferry to Ko Tao.
6th -11th June - Ko Tao Island: Most of the time was spent diving and laying by the pool, but one morning walk to the top of the island yielded almost nothing. Common Mynas and distant circling Accipiters (Crested Goshawk?) and the sounds of Plaintive Cuckoo but I never saw them. Sea birding on the way to and from the island, and one day on the dive boat showed Black-naped and Bridled Terns, and Pacific Reef-Heron on the beach.
Overall a fantastic trip, but certainly will return someday in the winter months for a little better weather and different species, and of course more Thai food. The weather was hot and sticky, but only really wet in Khao Yai.
Mike Greenfelder
Mike Greenfelder can be contacted at
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