Thailand has always been a phenomenal birding destination, with charismatic families of birds like pheasants, hornbills, leafbirds, sunbirds, and babblers. However, the secretive nature of many of these species has historically made them very difficult targets for photography. The good news is that in the last few years things have changed. The emergence of a keen group of Asian nature photographers has meant that many of these previously shy birds are now being fed at selected feeding stations and at deep forest water baths, and not only are they photographable, but they are bold and easily coaxed onto pretty perches for stunning shots. So if the perfect picture of a Siberian Rubythroat or a strutting Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant catches your fancy, this new Thailand Photo Tour could be just the trip for you! In addition to the photography, the pleasant experience of being in Thailand, with comfortable lodges, friendly people, and amazing cuisine, offer a well-rounded travel experience that is hard to beat.
This is a Photo Tour rather than a Photo Journey with very specific targets on most of the days, though some days include some opportunistic photography. This tour is open to photographers of all levels. For those photographers with an extensive photographic arsenal, the following lenses are particularly recommended for this tour: 300mm f2.8-4.0, 400mm, and 500mm, with 300-400mm lenses to be used most often. It is often quite dark in the forest, so a tripod is essential. When not at blinds or waterholes a 500mm lens becomes more useful as the photography will be opportunistic.
Day 1: Bangkok. We arrive in the heady capital of Thailand, and spend the night in a hotel near the airport. The hotel provides a complimentary airport shuttle bus.
Day 2: Bangkok to Thaton. We fly to northern Thailand and in the afternoon indulge in some casual photography near our hotel. We may find the cute Asian Barred Owlet, or some local mynas or kingfishers.
Days 3-5: Doi Lang. We will spend three full days on this mountain in northern Thailand, on the Burmese border. On at least one morning we will set up blinds to attempt to photograph the stunning Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant that often feeds on grain at a specific locality. If we are lucky, we may also see some other birds here such as Mountain Bamboo-Partridge. However most of our time will be spent at a variety of high-altitude hideouts where the birds are used to receiving mealworm hand-outs. There are a great variety of species we might encounter here, but some include the stunning and secretive Siberian Rubythroat, the strangely beautiful Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, the delectable Silver-eared Laughingthrush, and smaller birds like the scarce White-gorgeted, Rufous-gorgeted, and Slaty-blue Flycatcher, niltavas and blue-flycatchers, and more. Some roadside photography for flocks may reveal some other great birds such as Chestnut-vented and Giant Nuthatch, Black-backed Sibia or maybe even the amazing Himalayan Cutia. Our cameras will be very busy here, and on most days we will take a packed lunch to allow us to enjoy both morning and afternoon shooting opportunities. We will stay in nearby Thaton for four nights.
Days 6-7: Doi Ang Khang. Early this morning we transfer to another nearby mountain. There are a couple of excellent deep-forest feeding stations here and we will spend a morning at each one. The first often yields Hill Blue-Flycatcher and the stunning White-tailed Blue-Robin, but can also be good for scarce residents such as Eye-browed and Black-breasted thrushes. The other location attracts a greater variety of birds, with Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, the immaculate Blue Whistling-Thrush, and the cracking White-capped Water Redstart all regular visitors. Rare migrants can include the Gray-sided Thrush and several others. Aside from the feeders, there are often flowering trees at this time of year and the afternoon sessions will be spent trying to photograph opportunistically, or by staking-out some of the better trees. Orange-bellied Leafbird, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Spectacled Barwing, and Mountain Bulbul will be some of our prime targets. But we should also manage shots of Black-backed Sibia, and some of the more common birds. In the late afternoon we return to Chiang Mai to catch a flight to Bangkok the following morning.
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Kaeng Krachan NP. We take an early flight to Bangkok and drive out towards Petchaburi. Depending on the timing we may make a stop at some coastal wetlands for waterbird photography. This place throngs with shorebirds, and offers some good opportunities for shooting these greyish and brown mudpeckers. The light however gets harsh early in the day, and so if conditions are not suitable, we will head straight to our accommodation and prepare for the afternoon. This region has a selection of great waterholes in the forest. These used to be used for hunting, but have been converted into photography blinds, and they are very productive places for photographing a selection of high-quality birds. We begin this afternoon by hitting one of the nearby blinds. There are many things that may come in to bathe and grab a snack, but some of the highlights may include the stunning Kalij Pheasant, Bar-backed and Scaly-breasted Partridges, the garrulous and entertaining White-crested, Greater Necklaced- and Lesser Necklaced- Laughingthrushes, dainty and elegant Black-naped Monarch, Red Junglefowl, Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher, and some more somber-looking birds like Taiga Flycatcher, Pale-legged Leaf-warbler, Stripe-throated Bulbul and many more. A tripod will be essential today, and expect some high ISO shooting, as the forest is dark, but you can also expect some full SD cards coming out of the afternoon’s session.
Day 9: Kaeng Krachan NP. This national park is huge and wild, and we will enjoy a full morning in its upper reaches. We will attempt to find a set of fruiting trees where we can target barbets, bulbuls, pigeons, and other species. This is also an excellent park for mammals, boasting species including elephants, gaur (an Asian forest buffalo), dhole (a coyote-like dog) and many others in addition to the incredible birds on offer. After lunch we will return out lodge and prepare for another ‘blind’ session in the afternoon.
Day 10: Kaeng Krachan to Lam Pak Bia. This morning we will enjoy our final session at one of the ‘blinds’ near Kaeng Krachan before we head to the nearby beach at Lam Pak Bia. This afternoon we will enjoy some casual shooting of shorebirds around the saltpans in this area. This area supports several rare and endangered species, and is also a great place for general waterbird photography. These open coastal habitats will provide some relief after days of shooting in the forest, and give us the chance to use longer lenses, and use some extra depth of field!
Day 11: Lam Pak Bia to Bangkok. This morning we enjoy a last boat trip along the mangroves and have an opportunity to see and shoot a variety of shorebirds, kingfishers, egrets and herons. Once the light gets too harsh we return to the shore, where we enjoy a last lunch before heading towards Bangkok airport for our last night.
Day 12: Departure. We transfer to the airport for your international flights home.
PACE: Moderate. This tour covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Start times vary, but on a couple of mornings can be as early as 5:00 AM, while on others may be as late as 6:30 AM. For those days where we spend the whole day in the field, a packed breakfast and packed lunch will be provided. On other days we typically have breakfast at the hotel before we depart. Lunches are either eaten en-route between photography spots (we typically pick something that will be reasonably quick), or at a good restaurant near our hotel. All dinners are at good restaurants near the hotel. On those days where we are not moving between locations, we’ll have some downtime in the middle of the day, when the light for photography is poor. The other days will involve several hours of driving, but there are usually some stops along the way.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. Most photography is from blinds that are alongside the road or a short walk from the road. Some other photography, like the shorebirds at Lam Pak Bia is from a vehicle or from a boat. All other photography is from flat roads or near feeders. Most of the tour is spent above 3300 ft (1000 m), with some of it spent above 6600 ft (2000 m).
CLIMATE: Potentially extremely variable. A wide range of temperatures are possible at this time of year in Thailand. Some years the overnight lows (and thus the temperature when we arrive in the mountains in the early morning) can be at 43°F (8°C) or even lower. Daytime highs on such days often don’t exceed 71°F (22°C). However, other years the daytime lows dip below 32°F (0°C), and daytime highs can reach into the 70s°F (above 21°C). In the more tropical south we can expect daytime highs of up to 86°F (30°C). Occasionally you can get both scenarios on the same trip, so it is important to be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Rain is rare on this tour.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This tour is centered around photographing birds at feeding stations and water baths, sometimes from blinds. This means that we will spend up to several hours every morning stationary, very close to the birds. Most days will also involve some other photography along roads, typically near the vehicle. Thailand is full of other good shooting options, which include the colorful culture, attractive scenery, and various mammal species that we may encounter.
GEAR: Photography from the blinds is typically in dark forested environments. So a long telephoto lens (500 or 600mm) can be overkill, especially on a crop-frame camera. So a 300 or 400mm lens with a low f-stop is recommended (f 2.8 is best first thing in the morning). In addition, a tripod is strongly recommended for adding stability when shooting at low shutter speeds. At other times the light conditions are quite good, and you may not need a tripod, though it can be helpful to hold your heavy gear. Sometimes smaller birds are a bit further away from the blinds, and an extender gives you some flexibility if you find you want more reach. For other birds on the tour, or when we are in brighter more open environments, a longer telephoto can be useful, while for scenery a wide-angle lens is recommended.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: Citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries do not need a visa for a stay of less than 30-days. For other countries not mentioned, please check your requirements prior to travel. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 11; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 12; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water; photo tour leader with camera and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 11; a return domestic flight ticket from Bangkok to Chang Mai (or Chang Rai); ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 11; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 12; routine tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; the use of photo blinds during the tour; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.