Thailand: Mystical Asia

Thailand is one of Asia’s most exciting birding destinations. Located at the crossroads of Southeast Asia, Thailand has exceptionally high bird diversity. It is home to many colorful resident species which share their habitats with healthy numbers of Palearctic and Himalayan migrants. Combined with legendary Thai hospitality, some of the finest cuisine in the Orient, and high-quality accommodation, it is no surprise that this is one of the most popular Asian destinations for birders. Our tour explores the national parks of south, central, and northern Thailand, looking for handsome hornbills, spectacular broadbills, stunning pittas, and a host of other Asian denizens. For those with extra time, a short extension to search for the incomparably beautiful Gurney’s Pitta at Khao Nor Chuchi should ensure a grand finale, and bring a taste of the remarkable birds of the Malay Peninsula.

Day 1: Bangkok. Upon arrival you will be transferred to a Bangkok hotel for the night.

Day 2: Pak Thale. Today we visit Pak Thale on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. This is an extensive area of pools, saltpans, and shrimp ponds. In recent years a handful of critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers have wintered here. In order to look for it, we’ll have to comb through thousands of other shorebirds, including Marsh and Broad-billed Sandpipers, Lesser and Greater Sand-plovers, and Red-necked Stints. Other possibilities include Nordmann’s Greenshank and the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. Later we plan to visit Laem Pak Bia by boat in search of Chinese Egret, Malaysian Plover and the newly described, and as yet unnamed, “White-faced” Plover, before heading to Kaeng Krachan NP for a two-night stay.

Days 3–4: Kaeng Krachan NP. In the far north of the Peninsula, Kaeng Krachan is home to a wonderful array of barbets, hornbills, broadbills, woodpeckers, and pittas. The most sought-after bird is the oddly-shaped Ratchet-tailed Treepie. Mammals are also readily seen. Possibilities include the delightful Dusky Langur, Gaur, Asian Elephant, and even Leopard.

Arguably the finest pheasant in Thailand, the Siamese Fireback is regular in Khao Yai NP
Arguably the finest pheasant in Thailand, the Siamese Fireback is regular in Khao Yai NP (Gerald Cubitt)

Days 5–6: Khao Yai NP. On day four we head to the hill forest of Khao Yai. The lush, evergreen dipterocarp forest supports some highly sought-after birds and mammals, including the entertaining White-handed and Pileated Gibbons. Impressive Silver Pheasants, stunning Siamese Firebacks, and bizarre Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoos walk unobtrusively through the undergrowth. Hornbills frequent the treetops, Blue and Eared Pittas skulk in the leaf litter, and White-crested Laughingthrushes move noisily in understory flocks. The bird list here also includes stunners such as Long-tailed and Silver-breasted broadbills, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, Greater Yellownape, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, and Red-headed Trogon. One night we will linger in the park and enjoy the eerie calls of the harrier-sized Great Eared-Nightjar. We will also search for Sambar Deer, Indian Muntjac, and the retiring Asian Elephant in the more remote parts of the park. Our three nights will be spent in a hotel with spacious, bird-filled grounds just outside this flagship park.

Day 7: Khao Yai NP to Bueng Boraphet. Leaving Khao Yai NP we begin our journey north, with a stop at Bueng Boraphet. Located approximately halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Bueng Boraphet is Thailand’s largest freshwater lake and an area of international conservation importance for migratory waterbirds, which congregate here in the thousands every winter. They include Asian Openbill, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cotton Pygmy-goose, and Lesser Whistling-Duck. Rarities also turn up regularly, such as Baer’s Pochard. The fringes of the marsh can also be good for passerines like the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat. We overnight in a hotel near Bueng Boraphet.

Temples abound in Thailand
Temples abound in Thailand (Cristina Cervantes)

Days 8–10: Doi Inthanon NP. After another morning birding at Bueng Boraphet, we make our way further north to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. The “Roof of Thailand” provides spectacular forest birding at a range of different altitudes. The lower mountain is covered by dry, open, deciduous dipterocarp forest. Here we seek one of the cutest raptors in the world, the diminutive Collared Falconet. Black-headed Woodpecker and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch may also be seen climbing the limbs of these gnarled trees, while Black-backed Forktails haunt the rushing rivulets. Higher up the mountain slopes, dazzling Green and Purple Cochoas are the prized birds in the evergreen forest, where the resident birds are joined by migrant thrushes and warblers at this time of year. On one day we visit the damp sphagnum bog and rhododendron forest at the summit. This is an eerie place in the early morning, but the misty atmosphere is brightened by dazzling Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds and the bold and approachable Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush. White-browed Shortwings and Slaty-bellied Tesias feed quietly on the damp forest floor. We will stay in a hotel just outside the park for three nights.

Days 11–12: Doi Chiang Dao. Heading north from Chiang Mai, we arrive at the looming limestone massif of Doi Chiang Dao. We bird around an attractive Buddhist temple searching for Pin-tailed Pigeon, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Black Bulbul. A night walk may also reveal Mountain or Collared Scops-owls. We will also explore the mountain’s upper slopes for the aptly named Giant Nuthatch. If we are extremely lucky we may also track down the elegant Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant. Two nights will be spent close to the mountain.

Red-faced Liocichla is one of the major targets in the highlands
Red-faced Liocichla is one of the major targets in the highlands (Scott Watson)

Days 13–14: Doi Ang Khang. We will head to the flanks of Doi Ang Khang, near the Myanmar border. The local specialties include Limestone Wren-Babbler, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Silver-eared Mesia, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, and Spectacled Barwing. Two nights will be spent in this fascinating highland town.

Day 15: Doi Lang. This awesome new birding site has some of the most exciting birding in Thailand: Whiskered Yuhina, Crested Finchbill, and Jerdon’s Bushchat are found there, one of the few sites in the country for these birds. The friendly border soldiers put out fruit for the birds, and the normally skulking (and recently split) Scarlet-faced Liocichla is often bold here. We overnight in nearby Ban Thaton.

Day 16: Chiang Saen to Bangkok. We spend our last morning birding the Chiang Saen area looking for River Lapwing, Small Pratincole, Pied Harrier, and a myriad of waterbirds before flying back to Bangkok, where we overnight.

Day 17: Departure. We head to the airport in the morning for departure, or to start the extension.

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OPTIONAL EXTENSIONS

PLEASE NOTE: The Extension is NOT running in 2017.

Peninsula Extension (6 days)

This extension will take in Khao Nor Chuchi (KNC), Krung Ching, and Krabi. Southern Thailand holds an almost completely different avifauna from the rest of the country, including highlights such as Banded Pitta, Banded Kingfisher and Diard’s Trogon. At Krung Ching, we look for Malaysian Rail-Babbler and Great Argus. Returning to Krabi, we cruise the coastal mangroves seeking out Brown-winged Kingfisher and the crab-smashing Mangrove Pitta for a fitting finale to this first rate Southeast Asian destination.

Day 1: Fly from Bangkok to Krabi After our arrival in the southern tourist town of Krabi, we will make our way to the local mangrove hotspots to look for such gems as Brown-winged Kingfisher, Black-and red Broadbill, or the incredible Mangrove Pitta.

Day 2-3: Krabi to Khao Nor Chuchi This morning we explore the mangroves further by taking a boat into the Krabi estuary for a closer look at Mangrove Pitta habitat, while White-bellied Sea Eagles and Brahminy Kites circle overhead. Next we head to Khao Nor Chuchi in search of dozens of new lowland specialties, the technicolored Malayan Banded-Pitta, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Diard’s Trogon, and Black Magpie to name a few. KNC is also renowned as a great night birding spot, with chances for multiple species of Frogmouths and Owls. We spend our nights at a nice lodge right in the heart of KNC.

Day 4 – 5: KNC to Krung Ching After a final morning at KNC we head across the peninsula to Krung Ching waterfall. The hilly terrain here provides a different species dynamic, where such elusive beasts as Malaysian Rail-Babbler and Great Argus are possible, but is also great for diverse Babbler flocks, while fruiting trees near the headquarters are great areas for dozens of Bulbuls including Scaly-breasted, 5 species of Barbets, Leafbirds, and even White-crowned Hornbills. We spend our nights here at a beautiful beach resort in Tha Sala.

Day 6: Tha Sala to Bangkok This morning we may visit Krung Ching again, do some local birding along the coast, or simply go snorkeling directly from your bungalow. Whatever relaxes you before our afternoon flight back to Bangkok.

Gould's Frogmouth can seen in night walks at KNC
Gould's Frogmouth can seen in night walks at KNC (Scott Watson)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Warm and humid in the lowlands, cool to cold in the mountains.

DIFFICULTY: Easy, some walking on good trails is required.

ACCOMMODATION: Good hotels throughout.