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Kaeng Krachan National Park breaks the typical Thai stereotype. The name Thailand evokes images of beaches, full moon parties, temples and relaxation. Right?
How on earth did Emily, my daughter, and I end up at Kaeng Krachan National Park for a weekend? It was the birds. The possibility of sightings. Those darned birds have got us into some pretty unusual situations!
After our bird adventures in Central America, Em and I couldn’t resist pursuing the opportunity to spy some South East Asian birds. There were so many species to discover. Words and birds that were completely foreign to us.
We headed from Bangkok southwest to Petchaburi. From there we hopped on a local bus. Final destination? Kaeng Krachan National Park and more specifically – Samarn Bird Camp.
What on earth is bird camp, you ask? We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into! Long hours. Thirteen and a half hours of bird watching the first day. Intense bird talk (oh…so clear we are total beginners). Camera equipment (a much bigger zoom would be an asset). Binoculars and scopes. Trekking. Silence. Gorgeous birds. And 42 degrees. Sweltering and sweating. Sound like fun?
Day #1 Birdwatching in Kaeng Krachan National Park
The day started at 5:30 am when Samarn greeted me with a curious look. “You go shopping?” he asked. I think it was the polka dot socks. Maybe he didn’t think I was cut out for this birdwatching endurance day.
Samarn and his nephew Vindhu were our outstanding guides and led us up the mountain and into the river valley.
As the sun streamed through the forest, the 4X4 ground up the mountain through gullies and ruts. The 4X4 vehicle recommended in the guidebooks is a must.
Dusky langurs hung about in the trees.
As we jostled along in the jeep towards the summit, we saw our first exotic bird!
A sea of fog greeted us at the viewpoints and Myanmar beckoned in the distance. Both viewpoints were filled with locals who were camping for the weekend.
After the viewpoints, the serious business of birdwatching began. Samarn used recordings of birdsong to attract birds. We waited and waited. We wandered down forest pathways and along the rutted road.
Hornbills circled overhead sounding like helicopters. The eerie call of gibbons from a distance reminded us that Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand’s largest, is home to a very diverse animal population.
January and February are the best months for birding in Kaeng Krachan. Even with the experts, it proved difficult to encounter a lot of birds on the mountain this April morning.
The bonus came when we tiptoed down the mountain road and found a Long-tailed broadbill busily building his nest.
In the afternoon, we searched the river bed. Again, not with much success.
However, we were having a great time with our guides and I was being fondly referred to as “Mama!”
Dusk until early evening found us at the pond observing three owls. They were incredible, swooping and landing, as Samarn directed Emily’s photo shoot by whispering, ” SHOOT… SHOOOOOT!”
We fell into bed that night with smiles on our faces. The day had been a bit of a sweltering marathon but the authentic Thai company, delicious Thai meals, broken conversations, majestic beauty of the park, the birds and the prayer song wafting over the speakers made it an unforgettable one.
Day #2 The Bird Blind
Our second full day at bird camp we spent in the bird blind. It was a screened-in makeshift hut from which we hoped to observe amazing birds. I aptly nicknamed it the sauna. The heat was intense.
I kept falling asleep or was it passing out from the heat? Luckily, in between my cat naps, there was plenty of bird activity.
The bird blind is on private property just outside Kaeng Krachan National Park. The owners of the bird blind charge a small fee (200 THB/ $7.50 Cdn) for using their property. Naturalists celebrate this as a step forward as the owners used to hunt animals and birds on their land to survive. Now they receive an income from the use of their land.
We waited patiently and saw a myriad of extraordinary birds.
The reward of human silence was a forest brimming with birdsong.
The birds chattered, pipped and chirped. They called to each other back and forth and danced along branches side by side.
The Red junglefowl marched about warning the others of the arrival of the Shikra.
The birds gave the Shikra his space as he bathed and drank from the pond.
But eventually, they moved in to claim their pond.
Bird watching lures you deep into nature. It is both gratifying and humbling. Emily and I were keen bird watchers before Samarn Bird Camp. After it? We were committed. We knew we would be looking for more species in our Southeast Asian travels.
Off the beaten path in Thailand equals Kaeng Krachan National Park for me. It blew the typical stereotypes out of the water.
Where else is it possible to challenge that Thailand stereotype? Please leave a comment if you have visited an unconventional place in Thailand.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
When You Go…
Kaeng Krachan National Park:
- Kaeng Krachan National Park is the largest national park in Thailand, covering an area of 2,915 square kilometres. It is located in the southwest of Thailand, near the border with Myanmar.
- The park is known for its diverse wildlife, including over 400 species of birds, as well as tigers, elephants, leopards, and clouded leopards. It is also home to the critically endangered Siamese crocodile.
- There are several waterfalls within the park, including the popular Pala-U waterfall, which has 16 tiers and is a popular spot for swimming and picnicking.
- The park also contains several hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to more strenuous treks. The most popular trail is the 2.7-kilometre nature trail around the Khaowang Reservoir, which offers scenic views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
- Kaeng Krachan National Park is home to several indigenous communities, including the Karen and the Hmong people. Visitors can learn about their traditional way of life and purchase handicrafts and souvenirs at local markets within the park.
Getting To Kaeng Krachan National Park
In order to enjoy this fantastic park, you need to book a bird camp, take an organized day trip or have your own vehicle.
- The bus from Petchaburi drops you off about 4 km from the park gates. We were picked up by Samarn.
- Stay in Kaeng Krachan town, just outside the park entrance. Look for accommodation here.
- Stay in Petchaburi (about a 40-minute drive) and do day trips to Kaeng Krachan
The experience at Samarn Bird Camp is an unforgettable one. Samarn and his team are experienced, warm and fun. Vindhu even gave us a ride back to Petchaburi and made sure we got on the correct bus to our next destination.
Contact info for Samarn Bird Camp: email@example.com
Accommodation: There is a choice of accommodation available at Samarn Bird Camp from tents and camping to chalets. Our room was basic but served its purpose. The garden is lovely and the food was excellent.
Bird Touring with a Guide:
A day with an experienced guide starts at about 2000 THB ($85 Cdn) a day per person. Email to clarify details: firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you enjoy exploring Kaeng Krachan National Park as much as I did.
Until next time,