This was our first trip to Thailand. We didn't book anything in advance other than the flights because we wanted to be as flexible as possible. We visited five sites in total, all of which are well known so few details will be given as they can be found in many other trip reports. We have included all the contact details we used as they proved to be indispensable to us.
We flew Bangkok to Krabi; taxied Krabi to Khao Nor Chuchi; and hired a car for Samut Sakhon, Khao Yai and Rangsit.
Flights were booked via Wildwings who were extremely helpful throughout and are highly recommended.
Car hire was arranged through Avis at Bangkok Airport for 1400Baht per day. No reservation was made but we did have to have a slightly more expensive model for Khao Yai because the cheapest was not available.
The drives to Samut Sakhon and Khao Yai are not too bad as long as you have a good map of Bangkok and the surrounds (available from the airport shops).
Mr Dai arranged our taxi to KNC - slightly expensive at 1000Baht but very convenient.
Hotels are difficult to find here and we nearly resorted to sleeping in the car. We finally managed to get a room with the help of a local restaurant owner, the name of which we cannot remember but it's on the left hand side of the road after the hospital and just before the second set of lights where you turn right to go to Mr Tee's. Great, cheap food here too and excellent service. The very basic room cost next to nothing.
We booked our hotel room when we arrived at Krabi Airport. An air-conditioned room at The Greenery cost us 500Baht each. It was very comfortable and reasonably close to the pier. It's extremely easy to book accommodation in Krabi at the airport agency desk.
Khao Nor Chuchi (KNC)
We stayed at the well-known Morakot Resort, which was comfortable and reasonably priced at 225Baht each per day for an air-conditioned room with breakfast included. It does get booked up these days and we were lucky to get such a good room.
There's now another smart resort next door, so spill over would probably not be a problem.
Khao Yai (KY)
Thanks to Andy Pierce who booked a great room for us within the park. These can only be booked through Bangkok apparently, which makes it very difficult to arrange from outside Thailand. There is certainly no shortage of accommodation in the park however.
Mr Tee(alias Mr Suchard Dangpayon, Samut Sakhon): Mr Tee is indispensable for finding Spoon-billed Sandpiper and excellent value for money.
Mob: +66 (0)10 058 974
Address: 21/23 M.9 T.Khok Kham, Amphone Mung Changwat
THE map of the location can be found here.
Mr Dai (Krabi): A good guide, hard-working and he got us all of our target birds in the mangroves for 500Baht per hour. Expensive but he does all the necessary whistling and he does it very well!
Phone: 099 715 888
Yotin Meekaeo (KNC): It really does seem that this was an excellent time to try for Gurney's Pitta. Yotin is an excellent guide, virtually guaranteeing Gurney's Pitta on his trips in 2004 so far. He's good-humoured, a highly skilled birder and works hard to get as many other species as possible, but at 7200Baht per day (inc night birding) is very expensive. He's extremely popular and was fully booked for the next four weeks when we were there. He speaks excellent English so booking by phone (22:00hrs Thai time is best) or email shouldn't be a problem.
Andy Pierce (Khao Yai): Andy's a biologist who's currently working in the research area close to Trail 6 at Khao Yai. He showed us round, which was very helpful but he's not freely available for guiding (unfortunately!).
Checked in at Heathrow at 08:30hrs (Turkish Airlines). We needed to find out if the wintering Spoon-billed Sand was still present near Bangkok so we went to Thai Airlines Check-in and asked a Thai gentleman to phone Mr Tee for us. This was successful - the bird was still there. Thanks to Wildwings, our Bangkok-Krabi flight was moved back a day to allow us a shot at the SBS.
Arrived Bangkok at 12:30hrs, hired a car from Avis and headed north to do a bit of birding before heading for Samut Sakhon and booking Mr Tee for the following morning. An area of wetland just north of Bangkok produced many Openbills, Great, Cattle and Little Egret, Black-shouldered Kite, and Long-tailed Shrike.
We met Mr Tee at 06:00hrs and headed for the saltpans. He soon located the Spoon-billed Sandpiper which was with a small party of waders. Other highlights from this sight were Red-necked, Long-toed and Temminck's Stints, Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers, both sandplovers, Caspian, Little, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Brown-headed Gull, Intermediate Egret, Little Cormorant and Zitting Cisticola. We had a second look at the Spoon-billed Sandpiper before we drove back to Bangkok and caught our flight to Krabi. We managed to get Collared Kingfisher just before dark, then went to our hotel and asked the receptionist to phone Mr Dai and book him for the following morning.
Many of the waders at Samut Sakhon were in superb summer plumage and the awesome views of the SB Sand were memorable.
We met Mr Dai at 07:00hrs and headed for the Mangroves. It wasn't long before we heard several Mangrove Pittas calling, but it was a couple of hours before we saw one. We were able to scope it for over twenty minutes as the boat was wedged against mangrove roots. Other highlights were Brown-winged, Ruddy and Black-capped Kingfishers, Blue-tailed and Blue-throated Bee-eaters, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-throated Sunbirds, Brahminy Kite and a stunning Black and Red Broadbill. Next Mr Dai took us out to the sandbars, which were all covered by an extremely high tide. We found the waders perched on the fishing traps in the estuary and these included many Terek Sandpiper, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit with a single Nordmann's Greenshank.
We returned to Krabi and took a taxi to KNC. After checking into the Morakot we had time for a short walk along Trail U which produced Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker and Large Wren Babbler. Back at the Morakot we met a couple of German birders, Christian and Volker, who knew Yotin's site for Javan Frogmouth. After dinner, they drove us all up there and we all had good views of the bird perched in a tree along the road by the coffee plantation.
We tried to hire Yotin for the following day but a Belgian group had already booked him for their second day. Lucky for us, he arranged for his assistant to take us for the Gurney's in the morning.
We met Yotin's assistant (actually Nok, his nephew) pre-dawn and headed along Trail U. After c.200m he stopped and said "Gurney's Pitta - male" and as he raised his torch we were faced with a bird roosting on a spiny palm over the trail less than 2 meters away! This was just unbelievable. After watching the bird for 5 minutes we continued along the trail to the stakeout where the hide was set up and we waited. After about an hour a stunning male Gurney's appeared and twenty minutes later it was joined by a female. We watched the pair for a further half an hour then decided to try for Banded Pitta. We were taken to a stakeout on Trail U at approximately U0.38. This site only produced an Emerald Dove so after four hours we returned to the Morakot for a break. The afternoon was spent along Trail C where we saw Black Magpie and Banded Kingfisher. We managed to hire Yotin for the following day as his pre-booked group had not turned up.
Our encounters with 3 different Gurney's Pittas today were unforgettable, not least the site of a roosting male peering over its shoulder at us almost within touching distance.
We met Yotin at 06:00hrs and spent the morning along trails B, C and D. Yotin found us many birds that we're sure we wouldn't have seen without his help and knowledge. Highlights were Diard's Trogon, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Banded Broadbill, Rufous-winged Philentoma, both morphs of Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a pair of Crested Jays several bulbul and seven babbler species.
In the afternoon Yotin took us to a trail (jeep track) on the right hand side of the road past the coffee plantation. Here we found Whiskered Treeswift, Green Broadbill, Grey-bellied and Red-eyed Bulbul and white morph Paradise Flycatcher. Just beyond this trail on the same side of the road is a dead tree with Black-thighed Falconet and Gold-whiskered Barbets nesting, and we also had Dollarbird, Black Eagle and Rufescent Prinia from this site.
On the way to the Gould's Frogmouth site (which is somewhere along Trail P) we had good views of Black and Yellow Broadbill. It didn't take Yotin long to find the Frogmouth and we had good views for ten minutes. On the way back along Trail B we were lucky to see a very vocal Brown Wood Owl.
The day started well with a female Gurney's along Trail B at dawn and at least two Banded Pittas heard calling. The entire day was spent at Yotins various Banded Pitta stakeouts along Trail B. Very little was seen however with the only other notable bird being Black-backed Kingfisher. Our only Gurney's Pitta call of the trip was heard this afternoon.
Today started with a newly arrived Blue-winged Pitta calling opposite the Morakot. We again spent the morning at Banded Pitta stakeouts along trails B and U however. The only notable birds were Green Iora, Blue-winged Leafbird and Red-billed Malkoha.
Back at the Morakot we were told where a couple had seen a male Banded Pitta that morning with Yotin along Trail D (see http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/thailand/thailand32/S-thai-ap-04.htm for more details from Richard). It was close to the Blue Pool, so after lunch we walked in that direction. Not far from where they'd seen the pitta we found a decent vantage point (by nature study area 14) and waited. We then had one or two frustrating glimpses of a distant male Banded Pitta just before dark so we looked around for an even better stakeout in the area and decided to return in the morning.
That evening we saw Collared Scops Owl in the Morakot garden with the help of Uthai Treesucon who was visiting with an American group.
We left the Morakot at 05:00hrs and headed for Trail D in the dark. We reached the stakeout just before dawn and setup AM's mosquito net as a screen. As it started to come light two Banded Pittas began calling. By 09:00hrs we'd both had excellent views of a stunning male Banded Pitta however. We went back to the Morakot, took a taxi back to Krabi and caught our flight back to Bangkok. Andy Pierce met us at the airport, and we headed for Khao Yai in a second Avis hire car. We stopped at an area of scrub en route just before dusk, which produced Plaintive Cuckoo, Oriental Pratincole, Brown Shrike, Yellow-eyed Babbler and Green-billed Malkoha.
Andy picked us up at 06:00hrs. We started birding along Khao Khio Road, which produced good views of Red Junglefowl, Pied and Great Hornbills, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Bright-headed Cisticola and Plain-backed Sparrow. We also heard Silver-breasted Broadbill. We went back to the main restaurant for breakfast where we saw our first Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Crested Goshawk and Crested Serpent Eagle.
The rest of the morning was spent along Andy's research trails where many birds were seen including, Blue Pitta (watched for 10 mins singing from a tree c.10metres above the ground); Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo (seen very briefly); Great Iora, six species of bulbul and White-browed Scimitar Babbler; plus three White-handed Gibbons.
The last couple of hours were spent by the lake (excellent views of Brown-backed Needletail) and around the old golf course. The best birds were Laced Woodpecker, Hill Myna, Thick-billed Warbler, and Great-eared and Large-tailed Nightjars. Brown Hawk Owl was heard but not seen.
Andy had to work today so we started along Khao Khio Road at 05:30hrs. A Blue Pitta was heard within 150 meters, a male Siamese Fireback, a pair of Heart-spotted Woodpeckers and Black-throated Laughingthrush showed very well, and several mixed flocks included Scarlet Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Radde's and Yellow-browed Warblers, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker. We also had several Brown-backed and two White-throated Needletails.
After breakfast we walked Trail 6. After c.100m we found a broadleaved tree which was very popular with flycatchers and bulbuls including some nice male Mugimaki's. Further along the trail we had White-crowned and Slaty-backed Forktails and a Silver Pheasant amongst other commoner species. The last few hours of daylight were spent watching the area behind the fire station. Best birds were several Green Magpies (including one blue morph) a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and good views of Great Hornbill.
The White-crowned Forktail was stunning and one of the best birds of the trip.
AP joined us again and took us to a site where he'd heard an Eared Pitta calling the previous evening. Although there was no sign of any pittas this morning, a pair of Scaly-breasted Partridge gave good views, as did Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes. A Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo was again seen briefly but gave better views than on the 9th. Other notable birds included a female Banded Kingfisher, several Black-throated Sunbirds and a Drongo Cuckoo.
After lunch we headed up to the watch point where we saw Wreathed Hornbill, Red-rumped Swallow and Oriental White-eye. A short walk around the old golf course produced White-breasted Waterhen, Black-shouldered Kite, Plain Prinia and Stork-billed Kingfisher.
After dark we heard at least two Oriental Bay Owls along Khao Khio Road and managed to see one briefly.
Our day started just before dawn along Khao Khio road hoping to get a better view of a Bay Owl but they weren't even calling. We did manage to see another male Siamese Fireback, Large Scimitar Babbler, Pale-legged Warbler and a female Blue and White Flycatcher. Again we found several mixed flocks, which included Great Iora and Black-throated Sunbird.
After breakfast we walked along Trail 6. The same tree was still proving popular with the flycatchers, which included a stunning male Yellow-rumped. Just before the big tree AM had an annoyingly brief White's Thrush and a drinking pool was popular with bulbuls, Black-naped Monarchs, Emerald Dove and White-crowned Forktail.
After meeting Andy P for lunch we went to his research plot again to stake out an area where Eared Pittas had been seen recently. On the way we saw Brown Hornbills and a Long-tailed Broadbill. There was no sign of any pittas after several hours so we left the park and went to a great restaurant just before the park gates for AP's birthday meal.
Later that night we tried for Bay Owl again along Khao Khio Road. At least two were calling but this time none could be seen.
Our last day and a last effort to see Eared Pitta meant us trying Trail 6 at dawn - but to no avail. Because we wanted to visit Rangsit before going to the airport we left Khao Yai at around 10:00 seeing nothing new other than a nice group of Olive-backed Pipits behind the lake.
We arrived at Rangsit at around 13:30. We found this site to be completely unwatchable and a waste of time so we decided to drive around the area to find some paddy fields or other suitable habitat for a final bit of birding. We saw a lot more Openbills and Cattle Egrets and a few Intermediate Egrets but very little else so we decided to go to the airport - annoying as we could have spent the whole day at KY.
A car is very useful at both Samut Sakhon and Khao Yai.
We couldn't find the birder's café at Krabi so Mr Dai's phone number was essential. A cheaper boat trip could easily be booked but Mr Dai is particularly good for the mangroves. Time permitting, one mangrove trip with him and a cheaper one for the estuary (need a high tide) would be a good plan.
Maps of the KNC reserve trail network are available at the Morakot. We recommend hiring Yotin despite the price. One or two days would mean you get to see most of the birds and can move on to somewhere that mere mortals can bird successfully! Well worth booking both Yotin and accommodation in advance (and two days mean you have a fall-back if your plane gets badly delayed, doesn't it, John!?).
If we'd seen Eared Pitta at KY, we'd have scored 100% of our top targets. We were told that there is no good technique for seeing them though. They call very little and don't respond to playback. You just have to walk and hope you stumble upon them. Note that you can't get beer in the park!
Rangsit was hopeless. The marsh grass is about 2m tall and we could find very little open water to watch. Being there at midday didn't help, no doubt.
Thailand was very hot and dry when we were there. We hardly saw any leeches and just a few mosquitoes.
By the skin of our teeth
This was certainly a skin-of-your-teeth tour but with less than two weeks birding time, perhaps it was always going to be:
We confirmed at Heathrow that Spoon-billed Sandpiper was still present at Samut Sakhon; our flights were changed successfully only because of Wildwings' nowse; we booked Mr Tee at 20:30hrs the night before a dawn trip; we'd actually given up on finding accommodation at Samut Sakhon before the famous Thai helpfulness kicked in; we booked Mr Dai at 22:00hrs the night before a dawn trip; we booked Nok at 21:30hrs the night before a dawn trip; and we booked Yotin at 20:00hrs the night before too.
Khao Yai was much more straightforward but Rangsit let us down badly.
We owe a great deal of thanks to lots of birders for info and inspiration, particularly the Southampton crew +, Andy Pierce and Phil Round.
Please feel free to contact either of us for more info.