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Bird Watching in Thailand

Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Illustrations by Yurie Ball

You think that’s overkill? Just wait till you hear your first Great Hornbill with its harsh and almost deafening call, wait till you hear it take off with its “whoosh-whoosh-whoosh” and then accuse me of overkill! Your hair will stand on end!

But let’s start at the beginning. Thailand has more than 960 documented species of birds and of these approximately one third are migrants but it’s not as simple as that. Some species are migrant, resident and breeding visitors in different parts of the country.

There are well over 100 protected areas in the country and they are categorised as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation areas or non-hunting areas. Some of these have breeding programmes which include the breeding of species on the endangered list. The infrastructure is such that most of these places are easily accessible by road, train or plane. Some are closed to the public, which to my mind is good as it means that Thailand is taking it’s conservation of wildlife seriously but even these can be entered with special permission, for research and other such reasons. The main ones, though, are definitely open to the public and very well run with the welfare of the fauna uppermost in the minds of the national parks officials.

Probably the most popular national park is Khao Yai and for the very good reason that it is overflowing with birdlife. Birdlife apart, the park is also noted for its tigers and elephants and if you were to pop into the visitors centre you would see the stuffed remains of a man-eating tiger that attacked two park officials and was shot for its sins. There are said to be about twenty tigers (I very much doubt that) in the park and possibly around two hundred elephants, signs of which can be found in the shape of their huge droppings along-side the road.

Khao Yai national park covers an area of 2168 sq.km. and 318 species of birds have been documented in the area. The highest point in the park is 1351 m. so some montane species can be found. Most birdwatching is done around the head-quarter’s area and you don’t really have to go much farther afield to find most of the different species. There are 11 trails for the more adventurous and all of these were made by elephants which still use them, most of them are marked with different colours of paint applied to the trees.

Some of the more spectacular birds you will see are the hornbills and there are 4 species in the park, the Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis, 122 cm.), the Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus, 100 cm.), the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris, 70 cm.) and the Brown Hornbill (Ptilolaemus tickelli, 74 cm.). 5 different species of Barbets (family Megalaimidae) with their brightly coloured plumage abound in the park, their ringing, repetitive calls will be heard more often than the bird is seen. Flocks of Fairy Bluebirds (Irena puella) will be seen in flowering or fruiting trees, they are very noisy birds with their piercing whistling call. The list is almost endless. Accommodation in the park is difficult to come by and special permission must be obtained in advance but there are plenty of hotels and other accommodation just outside the park. The park itself is a 3 hour drive from Bangkok. 
     
Next you would move up to the north and base yourself in Chiang Mai, a city built around a beautiful old moated town. Parts of the old wall remain to this day and altogether it is a very attractive place, in 1997 Chiang Mai celebrated it’s 700th. anniversary. Here you will certainly want to visit Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain at 2565 m. and although in winter it can be extremely hot in the plains, on the summit of this mountain the temperature can go down to close to 0 degrees centigrade, warm clothing is strongly recommended. This national park is 60 km. south-west of Chiang Mai and can be treated as a day trip but for the serious birdwatcher 3 or 4 days would be more appropriate. 382 species have been documented on Doi Inthanon, as many as the total bird population of some countries.
  

Birdwise everyone comes to see one bird in particular and that is the Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis-angkanensis). This bird is endemic to Thailand and can only be found in the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon and there it is very common. But the other birds are not to be ignored; there is the Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis) which, again, in Thailand can only be found on the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon. This is one of only two Leaf Warblers that are resident here, the rest are migrants, one wonders why. One of the best birdwatching sites is the jeep track at 37.5 km. (ca. 1700m.) and it is here that you might be lucky enough to see the rare Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea), I have seen it there 3 or 4 times, you might also see it’s relative the Green Cochoa (Cochoa viridis). This bird is listed as uncommon and I have only seen it once, so maybe I was lucky with the Purple Cochoa. This jeep track is good at any time of the day as it is well shaded with some very thick primeval looking forest. Here also you will find 2 skulkers, the Pygmy Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) and the Slaty-bellied Tesia (Tesia olivea), these two are more often heard than seen. One of my favourite birds can also be found here and that is the Long-tailed Broadbill (Psarisomus dalhousiae), it is straight out of a Walt Disney cartoon with its finely delineated multi-coloured markings. I have found it to be a very curious bird and sometimes I find myself peering up at it as it peers down at me. Its colours include black, yellow, light green, dark green and blue, working from head to tail.
  
Other places in the north of Thailand worth a visit are Doi Angkhang and Tha Ton, both on the Burmese border. I mention these because they are the southernmost overspill area of the north Asian birds and some of the birds can’t be found anywhere else in Thailand. Tha Ton is noted for the rare Jerdon’s Bushchat (Saxicola jerdoni), the Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola), the Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) and the Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala). The Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), abounds on the sandbars of the Maekok river where it breeds. I really could go on and on but the best thing is to come and see for yourself. If you do decide to come and ‘discover’ Thailand and its birds please feel free to contact me in Chiang Mai, after 16 years of living in Thailand I can put you on to the best areas for the different birds.

By Tony Ball: Email | Tel. + 66 53 223128

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and Answers

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersQ: Kemal writes: If i come to thailand…how can i go from airport for to khaosanroad,airport-khaosan if there bus which number? And nearist which railway station to khaosan road…

A: Taxi, bus, airport pickup – nearest railway station is Hualumpong.

Q: Andreas writes: “Hi, I need the cheapest way from Bankok Airport to Khao San Road?”

A: By airport bus – 150 Baht per person – 05.30 to 24.00 hours daily. It takes from there around 1 and half hour, getting off at the last bus stop near Khaosan Road.

Q: Mike writes: “Hello, what are the options for getting to Hua Lamphong Train station from Suvarnabhumi airport, please.”

A: AE4 Suvarnabhumi-Hua Lamphong (by expressway) – taxi to Morchit MRT and MRT to Hua Lamphong.

Q: Gwyn Jones writes: “Dear Sir, travelling from UK to Phuket on 2nd Jan 07. Best case scenario is that luggage will be checked through to hkt from Manchester. On arrival in the new airport will I be able to remain in ‘transit’/collect boarding pass from Thai Airways desk and eventually clear immigration in Phuket, or will I have to clear immigration on arrival and check in again at domestic? Any advice you have will be appreciated. Thank you in advance.”

A: We presume you can go directly to domestic and your luggae will be transfered to your on flight. Again, we are looking to hear from people who can confirm this…

Q: Cheryl writes: “I’ll be flying from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok on Oct 13 using Air Asia. Will it be at the same terminal as all international flights. I’ll be staying at Mandarin Hotel. What is the taxi fare from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Mandarin Hotel. My departure time is very early in the morning around 7am. Will your taxi stop at the proper arrival area or to a certain place whereby I need to use your shuttle bus. Is it easy to get a cab early in the morning let’s say 4am.”

A: Sorry – again we don’t know… has anyone been to Mandarin Hotel from the new airport? If so please let Cheryl know…

Q: Bbaker writes: “I am trying to find hotels/guesthouses near the NEW airport and am having trouble as all tour books and sites still list places near the old airport. Please advise.” We have had a number of people asking this question…

A: We don’t know much about about discount accommodation and if anyone has details let us know. However, there’s Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Royal Princess Srinakarin, Grand Inn Come Hotel, and Novotel Bangna amongst others.

Q: Larry writes: “I used to take the airport bus from the old airport all the way to Tower Inn. Will I be able to take the same bus from the new airport?”

A: We don’t know for sure, but it’s pretty unlikely – the old aiport and the new airport are opposite ends of Bangkok!

Q: Ocean writes: “Where is the taxi stand for taxis into the city at the new airport?”

A: Public taxis taxi stands are located on level four of the departures concourse.

Q: Han s. Chen writes: “Hi; I will be in BKK on Oct.3 at 11;45 PM , this is a scaring time to arrive of a new airport, I don\’t know the latest airport bus to Khaosan Rd is what time and is Rte 551 bus directly going to Khaosan Rd also if not which bus is?! Would you please tell me this urgent and confusion questions.Thanks in advance for your helps of this anxious awaiting questions. Best Regards Han Chen”

A: We don’t know about the 551 – can anyone help? The AE2 goes directly to Khaosan Road and costs 150 Baht. the journey takes an hour and gets to KSR by expressway.

Q: Wim writes: “Do the bus services from Khao Sarn Road to the new airport (556 and AE2) have 24 hour service?”

A: Sadly – we can’t find the answer… anyone?.

Q: Tony writes: “Hi. I’m flying into Bangkok from Samui on Monday and on to Bahrain on Tuesday. Is the old airport totally gone or is it still being used for domestic fligts? “

A: Our understanding is that the new airport will deal with both domestic flights and international flights… the old airport will be used for charter flights and some domestic routes, althoughn not key routes.

Q: L.Mogan Muniandy writes: “What is the taxi (meter) fare from Airport (New) to Grande Ville Hotel?”

A: Sorry, no idea… anyone?

Q: Mike writes: “There is an airport bus advertised from Suvarnabhumi airport to the On Nut BTS Station – does this come off the Expressway down Sukhumvit Road from Nana ie past the Landmark Hotel or does it come to On Nut for passengers to get the BTS up towards Nana. It is very difficult to find this out. Thanks,”

A: We don’t know the answer to this one…. Anyone?

To contact the person asking the question click on his/her name. Please CC your answers and comments to us here: info@khaosanroad.com. Contact us with more information.

Suvarnabhumi Airport – Insights

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersRyan writes: “John, something for travelers who want to take a less expensive way to go to the airport. From Khaosan to the airport by taxi is about 400 baht. I did it for 340 baht last night. Brought my parents to the airport. On the meter… no ‘special deals’. 65 for the toll ways – (40 for the first one, 25 for the second) and 50 for the airport surcharge. We left at 23.00u and 35 min. later we were at the airport. Fast and not to expensive. Back was different. As my friend came with me, we decided to split up. He takes a taxi and i took the bus, number 556. He took a taxi at the departures level, were the taxi’s drop off people. It is not allowed to pick up people there but at 00.30 there are no security guards…

So he made it back, 35 min. back to Khaosan – 240 on the meter and 65 for the toll ways. No 50 baht !!! I went with the bus, had to wait 1 hour for it. So at 01.30u I left from the airport and 35 min. later I was at Khaosan. For 35 baht, this was ok. If your not in a rush or carrying to much luggage, the bus is a fine alternative. If you are in a rush and don\’t mind the money, take a taxi. Note: the busses don’t drive on a schedule.

It might be possible that you have to wait a while to get a bus. However, the information counter at the public transport terminal is very useful and gives you all kinds of alternative routes to the city. You can take the 552 bus to and get out on Sukhumvit. From there bus 511 to Khaosan… And so on. Just ask them, they speak good English and were very helpful at 01.00 in the morning! Regards Ryan”

Shai Pinto has been to the new airport twice already so he should have a few insights… here’s what he has to say…

The bottom line for the new airport is – it’s big, it’s easy if you know your way around airports,and it isn’t such a big change as expected. As I have managed to go through the new airport twice in it’s first 3 days of operation here is the lowdown for you to update everyone.

Basically, once you get out of the baggage claim you are still on the arrivals floor 2, and you have a few options:

1- Go down 1 level and get an airport authority taxi – it will cost you a flat rate and it is expensive

2- Walk out the doors of the terminal – there are 3 curbs or sidewaks ahead off you. The first one has a big stop for the shuttle bus – this bus will take you to the transport centre, a seperate building 10 min drive away. From there you can take regular taxis, buit they add at least 50 baht rack rate surcharge. You will also have to wait for the bus a bit. BGy the way – make sure you get the express one, or you will end up stopping at all kinds of buildings along the way (usefull if you have a special fettish for new airport buildings, hangars or storage rooms..)

3 – As you exit the doors – just flag down the first taxi you see. They will all stop even though they are not supposed to, and they all seem just as lost as you do, so they will hurry up to take you before the funny man with the whistle and the uniform chases them away. It also helps with bargaining..

4 – As in the old airport – go up to departures and grab a taxi that just dropped off passengers. it still works…

By the way – only go meter!!! it is exactly 220 baht to KSR (3 journeys, same price), and if you pay the tollway fees add another 65 Baht.

In summary – new airport or not, just walk out the door, hail the first taxi to drive by, say meter, pay for tollway, and in exactly 45 min you will be at KSR.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary is a little misleading, as rather than a wide open space where animals are permitted to roam freely, this is little more than a large zoo. All of the animals at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary are cages, and as is often the way in Asia, the cages seem to be rather cramped.

However, those who are travelling with children may want to take the kids here as a break from visiting the area’s temples and other historical sites. All of the animals that can be found at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have been recued from the clutches of traffickers and the traps of poachers, however, and the sanctuary does give visitors the chance to view a number of rare species.

Those who want the chance to get up close and personal with the animals of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have the chance to be a bear keeper for a day, which involves feeding and taking care of one of the cute infant Malaysian sun bears, an offer almost too good to be true.

Many of the animals are also trained to perform tricks to capture the attention and admiration of visitors, an it is possible to take in the unusual sight of elephants playing football or creating works of art, while nearby colourful birds walk on tightropes and solve maths problems.

It is possible to visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary on a daytrip from the capital city of Phnom Penh, as it is located just 40kms from the city centre. Most of the local drivers know the way here, and also offer to chauffer visitors around the sanctuary itself, which is ideal for those who are suffering from the heat and humidity.

Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia

Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.

Poipet, Cambodia

Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia

The dusty border town of Poipet is largely ignored by the people who pass through it on their way from Thailand to Cambodia. For many this is simply a place to get their passport stamped and perhaps wait for the bus to whisk them away to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.

Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.

There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.

The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.

Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.

Lundu, Malaysia

Lundu, Malaysia
lundu_2

Most people visit this tranquil town on their way to visit Gunung Gading National Park. Although few people give the town more than a fleeting look, this is actually a good place to relax for a day or too and explore the area’s natural beauty.
Most of the town’s life is located along the pretty riverfront. Here you will find a fish market and a number of foods stalls, while there are traditional painted houses along the country lanes. A great way to explore is by hiring a bicycle, or you can simply wander around at your leisure.

There are two beaches located just outside Lundu. There are regular buses to the golden sands of Pandan beach, while Siar is also a pretty place to soak up the sun. There are a good number of seafood restaurants located near the palm fringed shore of both beaches as well as bars offering modest entertainment.

Lundu is famous for the Rafflesia flower, which grows up to a meter across and is extremely rare. This plant is very unusual as it has no roots and gives off a scent similar to rooting meat. A monument has been set up in the centre of town in tribute to this rare flower and makes for interesting photographs.

It is possible to visit the large and lovely Gunung Gading National Park on a day trip from Lundu. Wander through forest trails for a chance to glimpse the area’s flora and fauna before returning to Lundu in the evening to eat beside the river and soak up the town’s lay back atmosphere.

Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.

Bintulu, Malaysia

Bintulu, MalaysiaThe pretty coastal town of Bintulu is a good place to visit to witness the traditional Malay way of life. Although the town is only beginning to market itself as a tourist destination, it has plenty to offer tourists such as colourful Chinese temples, fishing villages and lively bars.

Most people simply pass through Bintulu’s bus station on the way to surrounding attractions such as Niah National Park and Miri. However, those who do decide to stop for a day or two will discover a warm and welcoming atmosphere and homely touches that make any visit to Bintulu memorable.

Bintulu originated as a fishing village with few old Chinese shop houses.  Head to the fishing village known as Jepak, which is situated on the banks of the Kemena River near Bintulu town centre. There are a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Malay dishes.

A great way to explore Bintulu is by taking the express boat to surrounding areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. Walking is also a good way to get around and see the sights. Visit the local markets of Pasar Utama and Pasar Tamu Bintulu to sample local delicacies such as shrimp paste known as belachan and cincaluk.

Pasar Malam is a good place to eat, and this daily market serves everything from burgers to fried bread and savoury pork buns. This is also a good place to pick up a bargain or two and particularly popular are handbags, jeans and alcohol.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore, such as the Muslim Masjid Assyakirin and Chinese Kuan Ying Yong Temple, which features an interesting rock garden and waterfall. Christianity is represented by the St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, which are all located near the Kuan Ying Yong Temple.

Head to Tanjung Batu beach to soak up the sun, while the Taman Tumbina zoo is a great place for jungle trekking. Climb to the top of the hill inside the zoo compound for spectacular views of the South China Sea.

The Similajau National Park features a pretty stretch of golden sand, and a great way to end the day is by taking a stroll along the Bintulu Prominade as the sun sets.