Birding Trip by Car in Thailand and Malaysia, February - April 2005

Published by Robert Griggs Higbie (higbierg AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Robert Higbie, Katharine Higbie

Comments

This report is for the use of anyone interested in birding on their own in Thailand and Malaysia using a rented car. My wife and I traveled in Thailand from early Feb until mid April, with a short detour to Malaysia in March. We didn’t see as many birds, no doubt, as we would have seen on a guided trip, but we did see a good selection of those we were looking for. We did worst on Pittas and Thrushes. Pittas are evidently especially hard during the dry season, and this was an especially dry year. I offer this report more for the driving information than the birding information; it is intended to supplement what you can learn from Nigel Wheatley’s Where to Watch Birds in Asia as well as the info on the Internet, so I only include things you probably cannot find out from those sources.

We rented a 2WD pickup truck with a camper top from Quality Rentacar in Bangkok for a good price. We were able to sleep in the back of the pickup on Thermarests, which enabled us to stay near birding places. Driving in Thailand was fairly straightforward, though on major roads they don’t allow right turns onto side roads and make you take U-turns, which are a pain . Signs were in English often enough so we could manage.

Food was cheap and I was able to get non-spicy dishes. Larger towns had cheap hotels which didn’t require reservations and were OK, though the bathrooms weren’t too wonderful.

Outside Bangkok don’t count on Thais speaking English, even those who think they do. We used the Lonely Planet phrasebook, which was OK. To get non=spicy food I said “My! Ped” and it worked.

Our pickup was brought to us at Bangkok airport, which saved driving in the city (don’t drive there if possible). From there we made a circuit of central and northern Thailand. I list the sites in the order we visited them.

KAENG KRACHAN: The roads in are confusing. We drove straight thru KK village, turned left at the reservoir and went along it, keeping it on our right. This brought us to the HQ where you have to pay (all parand most reserves cost over 400 baht for 2 people with car). Once inside the park we didn’t need to pay again. Birding is mainly from the road and we didn’t see as much as others have. There’s a track to the left just before the campground that we liked.

KHAO SAM ROI YOT: There’s a northern entrance that’s long and a bad road. The only good wetland we saw was east off Rt 4 north of the entrance road in Wheatley, I think at Sam Roi Yot village; after the tracks, turn left.

We couldn’t find anything in the coastal areas around Phetchaburi and Samut Sakhon; you probably need a guide.

WAT TAMPRAPROTISAT: You can only turn onto the road here from Rt 2 if you’re heading west; eastbound traffic must U-turn east of K 129. You take the side road south about 2 K then turn left; the temple’s at the road end. The only good thing we saw here was Eared Pitta, which we found by keeping as much to the right as we could walking in from the parking area, staying next to the hillside on the right. When you reach the end of the cleared area there’s a small path into the dry woods ahead of you, and the pittas were in this woods. The path goes on up over the hill. Dogs were pests here.

KHAO YAI: We spent lots of time here, staying at one of the campgrounds on the road to Pha Gluay Mai Falls. We never did get a pitta or ground cuckoo (nor did most of those we met) but among the birds seen were Silver Pheasant (Trail 6) and Siamese Fireback (road to the radar tower and in woods by the trail at K 33), also 4 hornbills (one good place was the observation tower west off the road near K30 late in the day, tho a scope might be needed here).

KHAO ANG RU NAI is open. Drive south from Khao Yai through Prachinburi, jog east then southwest on Rt 304, then south and east thru SanaChai Khet and Tha Takiap on 3259. Turn right into Nong Khok and follow its main street west till it stops at a military base; turn left (south) and follow this road, staying as straight as you can. It eventually becomes dirt and goes thru forest, ending at reserve HQ, where a trail goes offto the left. Some decent birds, and few people.

PHANOM RUNG ruins were not only scenic but had birds early in the morning. Easiest place to see White-crested Laughing-thrush.

About 1 K north from the west end of PRAKHON CHAI there’s a wetland reserve on the east side of the road, its entrance marked; and the first road east off the highway as you go south from the entrance runs by wetland. This was the only place we saw pygmy goose and Lesser Whistling duck.

NAM NAO: the entrance road is north off Rt 12. Mostly bleak, but the area just past HQ along a stream had some good birds, including our only partridge (Bar-backed).

PHU KHIEO: Continue east from Nam Nao on Rt 12 to Khon San, turn south then immediately west toward Chulaphorn dam. You can stay in the dam area; the campground on the south shore was hard to find but had our only Ashy Wood-swallow. Before you reach the entrance gate for the dam area there’s a road south into Phu Khieo reserve. Fairly good birding, all from the road, including our only Red-billed Blue magpies.

CHIANG SAEN lake: south off Rt 1016 west of Chiang Saen town (in the far north). A few birds along the road following the shore.

No luck in the rice paddies near Tha Ton or north of Chiang Mai, nor at the supposed peacock place (a zoo) northeast of Chiang Mai. Perhaps better directions needed for the paddies.

DOI ANG KHANG: the best birding was at the highest point on the road. After you pass a sign for a trail on the right, in a few kilometers you come to another track off to the right, and just before that a pullout on the left (south) which also has a trail. Both these trails had some birds, notably Liocichla on the track north, soon after you fork right off it and enter a bush area.

DOI CHIANG DAO: Malee’s was OK to stay at and from there you can walk on up the road, passing a nature trail to the left (decent woods, tho we saw little) and then at road’s end reaching a staircase up to the temple. Halfway up the stairs among boulders there’s Streaked Wren babbler. Just below the temple you can turn right onto a path down into the streambed and follow the bed up into woods; a few birds here. South of Chian Dao town you turn east off the highway . This road up the mountain was mostly clear; just follow the main road. In the village at the start we had to detour a block north to get around bridge construction. After a long drive up you pass a checkpoint barrier, and soon after that turn right. We were able in the dry season to drive almost all the way to the top, but the last part was too steep and loosely rocky for 2WD and we had to sleep in the truck there and walk the last kilometer. A few good birds here. Others saw pheasants displaying; we missed them, but got a glimpse of Giant Nuthatch.

CHIANG MAI: the road west from the northwest corner of the town wall goes up to the top of DOI PUI, which had some decent birds.

DOI INTHANON: Saw little on the jeep track just past the checkpoint, and others we met didn’t see Cochoas either. Probably too early in the year (end of Feb) to hear them. The bog at the top was good, and so were 2 trails north off the road lower down in the bare dry area (each trail had a parking area; one began with a footbridge and the other led to a cave). The place didn’t look good, but wesaw our only Collared Falconet, etc. We also saw the Black-tailed Crake that crosses between 2 ponds at 5:30 PM; turn north at the village halfway up and just past the village walk up through the camping resort on the right, following the stream to a flat area. The ponds are on the left.

MAE PING Nat’l Park: South of Doi Inthanon, west off the highway. Continue straight past HQ a kilometer or so till you reach a dirt road to the left: thre area around here didn’t look good but had good birds, including White-bellied Woodpecker and Rufous Treepie (seen only here).

BUNG BORAPHET: A short way south of Nakhon Sawan turn east on Rt 3004. Eventually there’s a sign and a road right to the lake. A few interesting birds here, seen from the dikes you can walk on.

We also saw some waterbirds along Rt 329 east of Suphanburi (north of Bangkok), including in May an Oriental Pratincole.

We then returned our pickup and March 5 took a bus south to the border (too far to drive, and trains require booking ahead)—an uncomfortable overnight ride. From the border at Padang Besar we took train and bus to Kuala Lumpur, taxi (too late for busses) to Jerantut, another taxi the next morning to Tembeling, then a boat to TAMAN NEGARA (meaning Nat’l Park), where we spent a week. We tented here (much cheaper) till monkeys ripped our tent. We mainly saw birds along the trail north by the river, which started at the campground. We also saw a few birds on the trail east along the other river; it started at the far end of the bungalow area. The best place on this trail was after about half a kilometer where there was an open faucet on the pipe that ran on the right side of the path; birds came to the water. We also overnighted at Kumbang Hide, but it wasn’t worth the price (specially since we took a boat most of the way there, which wasn’t cheap). Black Magpie was the main thing we saw here. Birds seen along the river trail north from the campground included Crested Fireback , Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Crested Jay and Green Broadbill.

After returning to KL (as the capital is called) we rented a car (from a company called Mayflower; no problems).

KUALA SELANGOR: Ignore Wheatley's map. Just south of the bridge 2 roads go west off the highway into the town shopping area. Take the southern one of these to its end. Here the middle fork goes up onto a hill (a park). The left fork goes to the reserve. We saw birds here mainly in the scrub woods along the trail along the far side of the canal you cross after you come out of the woods thru which you enter. A better area was reached by turning right where the town street forks and going around the other side of the hill park, keeping it on your left. Follow this road to its end at a sportsground where you can turn right on a dirt road that goes to some good mangroves. Here we saw Triller, Gerygone, and Mangrove Blue flycatcher.

FRASER’S HILL: the only entrance was still the old road, which is one way up alternate hours and on which you’re not supposed to stop. When you reach the top there’s a circle. A right turn here leads to the Telekom Loop, where we found the birding best (fiery-tufted Barbet, Mesia, Black and Crimson Oriole, etc). Just left of the circle is a parking area with a small and barely adequate hotel and shops. Mr Durai is usually at the tourism office here and is helpful. If you continue west from here you come to a T; turn right and you come to a fork. If you fork right you go down towards thefalls; this road goes through some good woods (Blue Nuthatch seen only here). If you fork left you go down to a little bridge (?) and ahead of you up above is a resort lodge to which birds come at dawn.

Northeast of Fraser's Hill between Raub and Jerantut at the high point on the road there was a trail north just east of the cutting; some birds here, including White-bellied Woodpecker.

KUALA LOMPAT: On the highway south from Jerantut, on the south side of Krau, turn west and then as soon as you cross the tracks turn right. After about 10 K there’s an unmarked little road werst (left) which ends at a reserve. The offices were closed, but we followed around to the right of the fence and found a path that went far into good forest. As always, we found forest birding extremely difficult. Near the HQ by the river were Black and Red Broadbills.

KEPONG: Take the motorway north out of Kuala Lumpur toward Ipoh and exit west toward Kepong. You eventually come to a highway overpass where you turn sharp right, following signs to the FRIM (Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia). After a bit turn left, pay at the gate then take the first left (soon) and in a short distance there’s a pond across the grass on your right. Here we saw a female finfoot (she came out at 5 PM; no telling how long she’ll stay there), Black and Red Broadbills nesting on an island and Stork-billed Kingfisher probably also nesting on an island.

After taking bus and train back to Thailand (March 22) we rented a car in Hat Yai, at an office 2 or 3 blocks east of the train station (mentioned in Lonely Planet). From here we made one more circuit, of southern Thailand, ending April 10.

KHAO LUANG National Park: North from Nakhon si Thammarat, west atTha Sala. A few birds, including Wallace’s Hawk Eagle by HQ.

CHUMPHON sports grounds, on the northeast corner of the town. This is apparently good for birds in January, but we saw a few, including our only White-shouldered Starling.

SI PHANG NGA National Park, east off Rt 4 south of Ranong. After you pass HQ there’s a dirt road on a ways, and a nature trail to the right offthius had 2 Banded Pittas. Some good forest.

KHAO SOK National Park: Too touristy, but fruiting trees near HQ had lots of flowerpeckers. East from Takuapa on Rt 401, then turn north.

KRABI: The only birds we found (since we didn’t take a boat) were by driving north from downtown on the road by the waterfront. After several blocks there’s a big fancy resort hotel on the right. Drive back in to the parking area and walk on ahead to the mangroves, which you can follow to your left. Kate glimpsed Mangrove Pitta here, and we saw Ruddy Kingfisher back in the mangroves.

KHAO NOR CHUCHI: that doesn’t seem to be what it’s called. East off Rt 4 by Khlong Thom then at once turn right. After about 10 K turn right again. After you pass through the village (where you can stay) there’s a road left to the parking area for Crystal Pool, and you can also continue straight. If you go straight you come to woods and there are several (unmarked) trails off to the right, including U. If you park and walk in the track north, not turning right for Crystal Pool, you soon come to Trail B off to the right. It soon comes to a stream, and we glimpsed Gurney’s Pitta here. B goes on into good forest, and Trail C makes a loop off it into more good woods. Not doing well alone, we paid big bucks for a day with Myothin (to be found at the Pool parking area). He used his hide to give us very good looks at Gurney’s and later showed us other birds, including (on Trail B) Rufous-collared and Banded Kingfishers.

Hala Bala: Despite separatist unrest and numerous army roadblocks we were able to drive to the southeast cornerof Thailand . We took Rt 4056 south from Narathiwat to Sungai Padi, 4193 to Waeng, 4057 to Ban Buketa, where we turned right and after about 5 K passed a small village (with an eatery) and then entered HB Reserve. A few kilometers past the entrance gate there was a driveway on the left down to the research center, where we were allowed to lodge. At the start of this driveway there’s a small tree where Javan Frogmouth was nesting. Below the center the drive goes downhill steeply. A short way down it a Bat Hawk nest is visible far off to the left. The hawks flew over in the morning. At the bottom if you fork left and then keep to the right near the river you come to a log on which you can cross the river; there’s a trail through good woods there, though we saw little—except lots of leeches. The best birding was from the road throughthe reserve, eg at K 12 where a fruiting fig had hornbills, including Rhinocerous and Helmeted. A good place to go birding.