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Doi Ang Kang
 Introduction 

Scenery at Doi Ang Kang
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 

Doi Ang Kang, in Chiang Mai province, is an area on the border with Myanmar consisting of a number of peaks and ridges that, although largely deforested, contain a lot of scrubby vegetation and forest patches which provide enough habitat to house a good number of bird species, many of which are found in few other parts of the country. 

One of the joys of Doi Ang Kang is that the scenery is quite beautiful and there is a variety of accommodation to choose from, together with some tasty fresh food. This region is a very relaxing place to stay with plenty of opportunities for walking and birding in the surrounding countryside. A number of small hilltribe villages are dotted around the region as are a few Thai military outposts which occasionally get involved in cross-border disagreements with nearby Burmese military installations, giving the region an atmosphere of adventure.

Birding in this region can be slow at times, but at the right time of year (November to April) it can be very rewarding with many migrant species that are found at few other places in Thailand and there are some local specialities which are present all year round with some that are easier to find in the wet season.
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 Birding Highlights 

A number of bird species that are seen at few other sites are specialities of Doi Ang Kang. Crested Finchbill is seen by most visitors, but at certain times of the year it can be surprisingly difficult to find. Red-faced Liocichla is another commonly found treat but again it can be quite tricky to see as it skulks in scrubby undergrowth, but once it shows its striking red face this species can be spotted at quite a distance. Another bird lurking in the undergrowth is Spot-throated Babbler which is seen by only a few, but listen out for its surprisingly rich song and it can be tracked down.

Lots of other northern specialities occur here and in some "winters" plenty of Thrushes and Buntings are seen, however, other years there are few. White-browed Laughingthrush is a fairly reliable resident species which can be found in any scrubby growth. A good number of flycatchers frequent this site and White-gorgetted Flycatcher appears particularly numerous here as does Slaty-backed Flycatcher.

 
Crested Finchbill
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

Daurian Redstart
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

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A couple of really scarce species continue to be reported from here, quite surprisingly Hume's Pheasant and Giant Nuthatch, both should be searched for in forest remnants. Parrotbills are quite an elusive group of birds but a good proportion of birders manage to find at least one species; Spot-breasted Parrotbill is the most often seen but Lesser Rufous-headed and Grey-headed parrotbills can also be found. This being one of the most northerly outposts in Thailand there is quite a range of Phylloscopus warblers to be seen, but not necessarily identified! Buff-throated Warbler is one of the more readily identified of these and is quite an attractive character. Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler and Hume's Warbler all commonly occur here, but many of these leaf warblers are being split further so only real experts are likely to identify many of these confidently. Red-tailed and Spot-bellied Laughingthrush are seen by a patient and lucky few, but what is certain here is that there are enough exciting species to entice many birders back time and time again.

Click for a checklist of the birds of Doi Ang Kang
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 Travel Information 
Doi Ang Kang  

Finding Doi Ang Kang is reasonably easy, although transport can be a bit of a problem.

The best option is to hire a vehicle in Chiang Mai and drive, that way one can explore the surrounding roads and ridges thoroughly. If coming from Chiang Mai drive north on the road to TaTorn and 10 to 15 minutes after passing through Chiang Dao there is a fairly large and newish looking junction; turn left here. After this simply follow the road with infrequent signs to Doi Ang Kang resort. This journey will take a few hours, but the road goes through some nice scenery and there are a number of excellent birding stops once the road has climbed up to higher altitude. Eventually the road comes to a dead end in the village of Ban Khoom.

If coming from the north take a right hand south of the town of Fang at Km 137. The road climbs quite steeply before eventually reaching an army checkpoint, continue to the village of Ban Khoom. Although this is a remote area it is quite easy to find as there are signposts for the Amari Ang Kang Nature Resort and there is a King's project at Ban Khoom which is quite well-known.

For those without their own transport it is still possible to get to Doi Ang Kang. Take the Chiang Mai - TaTorn bus from Chiang Peuk bus station in Chiang Mai or the bus station in TaTorn and get of at Km 137 where there is a large sign for the Ang Kang Nature Resort: wait for a songtaew to Ban Khoom here. I have never tried this myself but I believe the songtaews are reasonably frequent, but it would be a good idea not to rely on this songtaew late in the afternoon. If one does get stranded here there are a few small guesthouses in Fang. Once in Ban Khoom a lot of walking will be required for the best birding, although it is probably possible to arrange transport to the trails with the locals.
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 Finding Birds 
Finding birds at Doi Ang Kang can be difficult if not on the right trails, although there are undoubtedly places as yet unexplored by visiting birdwatchers. The King's project area is generally quite poor for birds and it is better to get on the well used birding trails.
Farmland Trail Car Park Viewpoint Mae Per Forest Trail Ban Luang Resort Km 21 Km 19 Firebreak Trail Road Junction Pea Farm & Chinese Cemetary King's To Ban Nor Lae To Ban Arunothai

Farmland Trail: Although not one of the best trails this one can be used when it is cloudy and raining slightly higher up. There are still patches of forest along here and in the past I have seen a number of good birds. White-browed Laughingthrush is numerous and regularly found along here and Common Rosefinch and Chestnut Bunting can be common. In shady glades White-gorgetted Flycatcher often occurs and raptors can often be observed flying along the valley; Common and Oriental Honey Buzzards are frequently seen. A number of trees with small flowers attract flowerpeckers and sunbirds with Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker and Mrs Gould's Sunbird notable highlights. White-browed and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers are reliable on this trail and it is one of the best places on Doi Ang Kang to find Russet Bush Warbler which has a very distinctive song. This trail seems to ramble on for miles for those who like to explore.

Car Park Viewpoint : This is a good place for raptor watching due to the altitude, there are also good views over the whole region from here. A number of birds turn up too with Little Bunting, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler and White-browed Laughingthrush amongst the highlights.

Mae Per Forest Trail : This trail starts with a sealed road towards some lodges where school parties seem to stay. At the back of these lodges a good birding tail begins with some of the most intact forest on the mountain - it is worth walking along here a number of times in order to find some of the best species. Species such as Spot-throated Babbler, the fantastic Silver-eared Mesia, Striated Bulbul, Scaly Thrush and Small Niltava can be found along here. Birds can be frustratingly difficult to see on this trail as some of the vegetation is rather thick but it is worth persevering as a good number of species inhabit this forest. Most of the more common northern birds will be seen along this trail and a few have found Rusty-naped Pitta too. There are many small side trails to investigate here where Pygmy Wren Babbler and Slaty-bellied Tesia call but the trail seems to abruptly stop branching off into two very steep firebreaks which can be climbed for great views over the forest. This trail is best in the morning when bird activity is at its highest, and it is always worth checking out the rubbish heap in the gulley behind the first building one comes to on the left for winter thrushes. Other excellent birds I have encountered along this trail are Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Red-faced Liocichla and Red-tailed Laughingthrush.

Ban Luang Resort: These lodges have a small waterfall to the rear which is the home of White-capped Water Redstart (River Chat) which is easily seen displaying on the roofs of the bungalows in the dry season (apparently it is not be seen in the wet season )and many other excellent species occasionally put in an appearance - this is also an excellent place to stay.

Km 21 : This trail along with the offshoot towards Km 19 is a very popular spot with birders although it has become rather overgrown recently. This is a reliable place for Crested Finchbill, Red-faced Liocichla, Spot-breasted Parrotbill and a whole host of Leaf Warblers, although getting a good view these days may be challenging. This trail follows peaks and ridges for many miles with open scrub and some good forest patches in which to search for birds. Red-tailed Laughingthrush is occasionally seen at Doi Ang Kang and this has to be one of the most likely spots to find it. Thrushes and Buntings turn up in some winters making this potentially one of the prime birding locations on Doi Ang Kang although it is certainly not easy birding.

Km 19 Army Camp: The old orchard here has gone now and the long grass is now kept short meaning that many of the species that formerly were specialities here are now gone. However, a number of other species are now regular here and Red-faced Liocichla seems to have become particularly easy to see with up to 4 birds feeding on the mown grass in the dry season. Buff-throated Warbler frequents what little long grass remains and a whole host of species feed on food scraps at the back of the army buildings. In the pines to the right as one enters, a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush seems to hold a winter territory.
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Common Rosefinch
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

Firebreak Trail : A fairly wide, but steep, firebreak offers a chance to see birds out in the open as they feed and cross the firebreak. Species such as Mountain Bamboo Partridge, White-browed Laughingthrush, Gould's Sunbird and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush can be found along here and the views from the top of the ridge are excellent.

Road Junction : The shops on the bend here do not open until quite late and the patch of forest behind them is a good place for birds in the early morning with Silver-eared Mesia, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. This also reportedly a good spot to wait quietly in anticipation of Red-tailed Laughingthrush making an appearance.

Chinese Cemetery & Pea Farm : A few Chinese tombs can be seen set a little way back from the road, on the left as one drives towards Ban Arunothai. In the morning this is a good location for a few species including Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Brown-breasted Bulbul and White-browed Laughingthrush. In the small pea farm opposite it is worth checking for Buntings and Pipits as well as Black-headed Greenfinches which congregate in a tree on the far side of the field around 5pm (in the dry season) before leaving to roost elsewhere.

King's Project : A few species of birds can be found in the King's Project area in the mornings. In some winters Daurian Redstart can be found and so can buntings. Most years Black-breasted Thrushes can be found in a rock amphitheatre behind the restaurant, but only early in the morning. This restaurant is a very good place to eat also. Other birds here are mainly common species such as white-eyes, minivets and bulbuls but it can be a good place to see raptors.

Ban Nor Lae : The no-man's-land behind Ban Nor Lae has turned up some rarities in the past including Chaffinch and Brambling but Grey Bushchat, Fork-tailed Swift along with Buff-throated Warbler are regulars at the back of the army camp which tourists are welcome to visit - although birds seen here aren't strictly in Thailand. The road continues beyond the village and actually forms the border - you are usually able to stop on the road and take a few steps over the border and begin adding species to your Myanmar/Burma list!

Ban Arunothai Road : The road heading towards Ban Arunothai passes through lots of good habitat and birding spots. Km 34 is where a few pairs of Mrs Hume's Pheasant are supposed to occur although seeing them is tricky; Km 31 has a few mature pines remaining which makes finding Giant Nuthatch fairly easy; Km 25 is an excellent place to stop in the early morning for White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Crested Finchbill, Grey Treepie, White-browed Shrike Babbler, Striated Bulbul and much more.

 
Crested Bunting
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
 Facilities
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An increasing number of visitors make their way to Doi Ang Kang and every time I visit there seems to be a new guesthouse, however, one of the nicest places to stay, in my opinion, is Khun Tawatchai's Ban Luang Resort, located in the village of Ban Luang. This guesthouse consists of 7 or 8 simple but clean bungalows, set in an attractive garden and Khun Tawatchai is a very friendly and knowledgeable guy who can arrange breakfast at a suitable time for birdwatchers, although his English is limited. The picturesque setting and friendly host, along with an easy River Chat, make this my first choice for accommodation at Doi Ang Kang, although the temperature in the morning is always 2-3 degrees C lower than the surroundings so bring some warm clothing. The bungalows at Ban Luang are 1200 baht per night including breakfast.
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Ban Luang Resort
(Photo by Nick Upton)

Despite being a tiny village Ban Khoom is used to catering for visitors. The luxurious Ang Kang Nature Resort operated by Amari hotels is a good place to stay offering very comfortable accommodation but, inevitably, it is expensive - in fact, perhaps a little overpriced considering that some of the rooms are beginning to look slightly less shiny than in the past and the breakfast buffet is severely lacking in respect to the price of a room. During the low season there are discounted rates and I got a small discount when paying by American Express. If you are tired of staying in cheap and sometimes shabby accommodation then this resort is perhaps an opportunity to upgrade. The resort provides sketch maps of the area which can prove useful for birding and I believe that they can arrange transport up the road to the main birding trails.

For those on a smaller budget there are other options in the village. There are A frame huts behind the village, some in decent condition and some in very poor condition. I wouldn't recommend staying there, when I asked about the prices I was quite aggressively told a price of 800 baht per night. A number of other small places in the village have rooms for rent at slightly better prices, but there is a decent option in a fairly new-looking but simple bright blue building on the street behind the restaurants one sees when entering the village. Clean rooms with hot showers here are 400 baht per night and the people in charge are quite accommodating.

Ban Khoom
(Photo by Nick Upton)
 

In the village some decent Thai food can be found. The Chinese restaurant which is prominent in the village sells good food and loads of weird snacks. The restaurant next door is run by Muslims and seem to be one of the first to open; they sell good food and try their best to communicate with foreigners. The restaurant behind the large Chinese cafeteria maintains a birdwatching logbook and is run by a very pleasant, if somewhat overworked, man. He usually serves a good variety of fresh vegetables although I would only recommend the beef if you need to repair your shoes!

In the very early morning a lady sells coffee from a brazier, next to the Chinese restaurant. She is there from about 4.30 am and her coffee can be very welcome as it gets pretty cold here at times. She is also a very pleasant lady so give her a visit.

The small shops in the village sell just about everything including excellent one-size-fits-all gloves and emergency raincoats if the rain sets in unexpectedly as it sometimes does here. A small daily market sells fresh produce and a speciality of this village is dried fruit grown in the King's project, which is sold in virtually every shop - it is very sweet and delicious. Local fruit wine is sold in most shops for 100 baht per bottle; if you choose to try it, it will certainly be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip!
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Butterflies (and a bee) at Doi Ang Kang


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 Trip Reports

Doi Angkhang, 2nd March 2002

Doi Angkhang and Doi Inthanon, 3-5th November 2002

Mae Fang, Doi Ang Kang & Golden Triangle, 14-22nd March 2004

Northern Thailand, 6-13th October 2004

Doi Ang Kang, 30th May-1st June 2006

Thailand Tour, 10-24th January 2007

Northern Thailand, 14-19th February 2007

Wet Season Tour of Thailand, 17-25th July 2008

In Search of 4 Target Species in the North, 28-29th July 2008

Rainy Season Birding Tour of Thailand, 1st-14th July 2009

 

by Peter Ericsson

by Peter Ericsson

by Peter Ericsson

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by Dominic Le Croissette

by K. David Bishop

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by Nick Upton

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by Nick Upton

 Related Blog Entries

Silver-eared Mesia - posted 11/01/09

A Rainy Season Birding Trip - posted 09/08/08

Some Butterflies of Thailand - posted 03/08/08

Tour of Thailand, 17 January to 6 February 2008 - posted 05/03/08

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