Saen is a small town, in Chiang Rai province, next to the Mekong
river close to the famous "Golden Triangle" border
area with Myanmar and Laos. The Mekong river is excellent for
birding itself, but in addition there is a non-hunting area
close by; a lake known as Nong Bong Kai which is a good place
for wildfowl in the winter, although the size of the lake makes
a telescope essential. Both of these areas are readily accessible
by car (4-wheel drive can be useful but not essential at the
lake) so that birding can be done at a sedate pace and makes
it a very suitable place for disabled birders to visit.
(Photo by Alister
birders spend a significant amount of time here but there is a lot
of potential to find many species and, given the northerly location,
a real possibility of adding to the Thai list. Given this and the
relaxing atmosphere of the region Chiang Saen is a really good place
to spend some time recovering from a hectic birding schedule and
at the same time continuing to find more exciting species.
like many places in Thailand, there seems to be a problem with both
in this area.
(Photo by Suppalak
wildfowl is the main attraction for many birders to take the
trip to Chiang Saen, where these birds often congregate in
flocks of thousands, mainly on the lake. Ruddy Shelduck are
sometimes found on both the lake and the Mekong river and
Spot-billed Duck is often easily seen on the river from Chiang
Saen town itself. Many Eurasian species of duck can be found
here with Ferruginous Duck, Baer's Pochard, Baikal Teal and
Falcated Duck being among the most interesting.
is not the only attraction though, with birds such as Plain
Martin, Long-billed Plover, Small Pratincole and River Lapwing
occurring here and over the years many birders have searched
for Jerdon's Bushchat in long grass in this region with varying
of the most exciting aspects of birding in the Chiang Saen region
is the possibility of finding a "first" for Thailand; over
the years Bar-headed Goose, Greylag Goose, Common Crane and, most
recently, Grass Owl have been added to the national list from this
location. With so many highlights this region probably deserves three
or four days to exploit its full potential, a length of time which
few birders allocate.
here for a checklist of the birds of Chiang
Saen: The Mekong River
Click here for
a checklist of the birds of Chiang
Saen: Nong Bong Kai (Chiang Saen Lake)
Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for
ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trips to
to Chiang Saen is a simple affair being right on the tourist trail.
Buses leave Chiang Rai bus station quite regularly and the journey
takes an hour or so. There is also transport to and from the nearby
towns of Chiang Kong and Mae Sai where visas can be renewed with a
brief trip over the border to Myanmar.
to Chiang Rai is easy too with all the nearby provincial capitals
having direct bus services. If coming from Bangkok, the Mor
Chit bus station in the north of the city is the one required
to get here; this journey will take about 12 hours!
alternative and rather interesting method of getting to Chiang
Rai is by boat from TaTorn, taking about 2.5 hours.
Boats leave from TaTorn (it's easy to see them) once or twice
a day and tickets can be purchased at the small pier. The
boats are quite small and uncomfortable; sitting squashed
up in them for almost 3 hours is not that pleasant and if
you are not the most supple person around a trip by bus may
be a better idea, however the scenery is nicer by boat. It
is necessary to take a ride into Chiang Rai from where the
boat stops, but there are songtaew drivers there ready to
take you so this is easy to do.
better, of course, is to drive a private vehicle which will allow
birders to explore the Chiang Saen lake, Mekong river and surroundings
at their leisure. The lake is accessed by driving along highway
1016 back towards Chiang Rai for about 5 kilometres. turn left at
Km 27 and continue along a small road for a further 2 Km until reaching
the lake. A smaller lake, Nong Klab, can be reached by turning left
off highway 1016 after only about 2.5 Km and continuing for 1.5
Km along a smaller road.
is made of the Mekong River and Chiang Saen Lake but these are
both part of a large area of wetlands, most of which is under some
form of agriculture but still home to a good selection of birds. Birders
will always concentrate on the two large waterbodies, however, and
these always produce some excellent species.
River : A
couple of sandbars can be observed in the "winter" months
from Chiang Saen town itself and I have seen Spot-billed Duck and
Pallas's Gull whilst eating dinner here. There are good places to
observe the river further north, particularly at the "Rim Khong"
restaurant where Plain Martin and River Lapwing are often seen - just
park at the restaurant and walk to the back where great views over
the river are available; the staff are used to birdwatchers, so just
smile and make your way towards the river. South of Chiang Saen too,
towards Chiang Kong, there are places to overlook the Mekong and along
here Small Pratincole, River Lapwing, Greenshank and Ruddy Shelduck
are often seen. Spending time along the river in January and February
could turn up almost anything.
1016 : As
one travels towards the lakes the road passes through some
reasonable wetland areas where plenty of birds are available.
Pied Bushchat and Siberian Stonechat are common in the grassy
areas and Garganey fly overhead in ones and twos. Striated
Grassbird is an interesting species and can be found calling
quite noisily from songposts before beginning its short song-flight.
Another exciting species to look out for here is Pied Harrier
and if you are lucky enough to see an adult male it will be
a bird that is not forgotten quickly.
This does not seem to be any place to see waterbirds any more
as the sides have been steepened. However, the surrounding
paddies can hold a few interesting species.
(Photo by Alister
Saen Lake (Nong Bong Kai) : This
large lake is often the hiding place of large numbers of waterfowl.
Most of these are Lesser Whistling-duck but there are also usually
Garganey and Pintail with Ferruginous Pochard, Baer's Pochard, Shoveler,
Tufted Duck and sometimes Gadwall showing
up in small numbers. Lots of other wildfowl are seen here including
Common Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, Baikal Teal and
Falcated Duck, but never in large numbers
and in some years very few are seen.
This is also
a good place to see species associated with the water's edge and
a few marshy inlets always seem to hold Grey-headed Lapwing and
plenty of Snipe, both Common and Pintail. It would be interesting
to study the Snipe here to see if Swinhoe's Snipe could be detected
- it should occur according to many authors, but is almost never
recorded in Thailand.
and woodland around the lake can also be productive with Fulvous-breasted
Woodpecker occurring here (contrary to the distribution map in Robson's
Birds of Thailand), numerous Acrocephalus
Warblers and Siberian Rubythroat all present. This also seems to
be a very good place to find Eurasian Wryneck - at least I always
seem to see a few when I'm at Chiang Saen. Purple Swamphen is numerous
here and this is a regular place for a wintering Great Crested Grebe
and a couple of Water Rails, both of which are very rarely seen
Wetlands : This area of wetlands also has patches
of grassland and woodland making it an excellent place to find a
large number of species. Grass Owl nests in this area and Thailand's
largest harrier roost, with over 200 birds (Eastern Marsh Harrier
& Pied Harrier), is located here. This is also the site of the
Wetlands Project, an excellent community conservation
initiative founded by Mick Davies and Dowroong Danlammajak: support
this project by visiting and paying for Mick and Dowroong's guiding
Saen Lake there are 2 nice-looking resorts to stay at, on
the northern bank of the lake, close to headquarters: Chiang
Saen Lake Hills resort and Viang
Yonok Hotel. Ian Smith, the owner of Viang Yonok has mentioned
to me that he is able to give birdwatchers a discount and
he is a supporter of the Yonok
Wetlands Project so it is worth getting in contact
with him. It is probably also possible to organise a boat
trip on to the lake with one of the park rangers, although
I have not done this and know of no-one that has done, but
presumably they have a boat so it might be worth a try.
Saen itself has a growing number of small hotels; the Pak
Ping Rim Kong Bed & Breakfast is very pleasant.
Along the Mekong river there are some resorts which look quite
nice and have views over the river, but it is worth having
dinner in Chiang Saen at the river front where there are food
stalls serving great barbecued food: fish, chicken, pork,
steak and som tam with sticky rice for stupidly low prices.
It's a nice place to sit in the evening eating and drinking.
There are a number of other decent eating places in Chiang
Saen and it is possible to buy the Bangkok Post Newspaper
here which is in English.
(Photo by Ian
small town of Chiang Kong is on the backpacker trail so presumably
there is some accommodation there, although I am unable to say from
personal experience as I have never been there. However, as some
of the best birdwatching on the Mekong is along the Chiang Saen
- Chiang Kong road this could also be a good place to stay.
Chiang Rai is
close enough to be a realistic option for accommodation and then
drive to the lake and then along the Mekong: Chiang
Rai Hotel Reservations.
Lake is not a National Park and there is no fee to go birdwatching
you found this page useful, please consider making a donation.
Northern Thailand Birding Locations
Monks & Visiting Experts at Yonok Wetlands
in the Hand
and binocular presentation at Yonok Wetlands
Shorebirds in the Inner Gulf of Thailand
required at Yonok Wetlands
Wetlands Project near Chiang Saen
Chiang Saen Lake Shrinking?
Pollution in Chiang Mai
for sightings of wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls
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