by Nick Upton
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Doi Chiang Dao National Park
Doi Chiang Dao National Park, in Chiang Mai province, is Thailand's third highest mountain at 2220 metres and, viewed from Chiang Dao village, is one of the most spectacular sights in the whole country.

Doi Chiang Dao
(Photo courtesy of Jurgen Beckers)

This limestone massif has a number of peaks and ridges over 2000 metres in a horseshoe shape and has a series of forest types that change with altitude. The variety of forest types and altitude of the mountain combined with its close proximity to Myanmar result in a large number of exciting birds found here as well as some excellent views and a relaxing atmosphere.

The forests of Doi Chiang Dao are very intact, although there is a small hilltribe population in one corner of the park, but most of this area is too steep for it to come under much threat. Periodically the Thai government come up with plans to build a cable car to the summit, but currently this appears to be forgotten - thankfully!

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 Birding Highlights 

Two species are the main target birds for most birders here: Giant Nuthatch and Hume's Pheasant. Both of these occur around the higher areas of the National Park where they are regularly seen. Another highly sought-after bird which seems to be fairly regularly encountered at the higher altitudes is Scaly Thrush. Be careful not to mistake female Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (which is quite common) for this species to which it bears a passing resemblance, especially if not seen well.

Grey-headed Parrotbill, Crested Finchbill, various Thrushes and Black-tailed Crake are other memorable birds that have been seen higher up the mountain.

Scaly (White's) Thrush
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

Rusty-naped Pitta
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)

The lower levels of Doi Chiang Dao offer the opportunity to see a different set of forest birds and some open country species. In the "spring" months Streaked Wren Babbler is easily spotted near the temple, around the limestone outcrops. Don't confuse this with the similar looking calcicola subspecies of Limestone Wren Babbler which is only found in the region of Saraburi province.

In the gullies and damp patches around the base of the Chiang Dao massif, secretive species such as Slaty-bellied Tesia, Scaly-breasted Partridge, White-crowned Forktail, Hooded Pitta and Rusty-naped Pitta can be discovered with patience.

If birders spend time at the top of the mountain, around the bottom and visit some of the farmed areas, then a very high number of species will be seen.

Click here for a checklist of the birds of Doi Chiang Dao
  Bird Tours : Check the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trip to Thailand: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information 

Getting to Doi Chiang Dao is fairly easy if coming from the north or south. Most people arrive in Chiang Mai by bus from Bangkok's Mor Chit terminal, but look out for good deals on flights from Bangkok and I'm told the train is a pleasant if rather slow option. The bus journey takes about 9-10 hours, the train takes about 17 hours and the plane takes about 45 minutes.

From Chiang Mai take a bus from the Chang Puek (Albino elephant) bus station to TaTorn; these leave about once every hour. Tell the conductor that you will get off at Chiang Dao and he will tell you when to get off: the journey takes about 2.5 hours. In Chiang Dao walk northwards along the road to the junction for Chiang Dao cave which is signposted in English and wait for a motorcycle taxi. Sometimes one has to wait for 15-20 minutes for the motorcycle but I do not suggest walking as it is about 5 Kms; not that far, but in the heat it is a long way. When a motorcycle taxi turns up simply tell the driver Malee's or Chiang Dao Nest, whichever you have chosen, and the driver will take you there.

If coming from the north it is a simple affair to catch the same bus from TaTorn to Chiang Mai getting off at Chiang Dao. The bus terminal in TaTorn is on the south side of the river. The journey from TaTorn to Chiang Dao takes about 3 hours.

Whilst staying at Doi Chiang Dao most birders want to take a trip to Den Ya Kat near the summit for the high altitude birds and this can be tricky. First one must get a permit to drive to DYK at park headquarters near Malee's; this is a simple affair. Then drive back to Chiang Dao (where there is a petrol station) and turn south towards Chiang Mai. After precisely 4.9 Kms there is a sign which says "checkpoint 20 Km" which has replaced the former green-roofed bus shelter landmark. A series of roads on the right all go towards the dirt track that heads up the mountain and one must simply twist and turn through the maze of roads until they funnel into one. Once this turns into a dirt track the quality deteriorates rapidly. If there has been wet weather the track is very hazardous and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a must. In the dry season a regular vehicle may be sufficient - maybe not: click here for details of a trip here in 2002.

There is now a Chiang Dao by-pass (as yet to be opened) which makes finding Malee's a little confusing. The above instructions are still the best way to find Malee's and Den Ya Kat. One will cross the highway when travelling to and from Chiang Dao.

  Headquarters Area Den Ya Kat Area
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 Finding Birds 

There rarely seems to be a shortage of birds at Doi Chiang Dao and with two roads to high altitude there are plenty of opportunities to find them. The higher altitudes are where winter specialities such as Thrushes occur as well as resident Giant Nuthatch and Hume's Pheasant.

The lower altitudes play host to large numbers of common forest birds and the gulleys play host to exciting birds such as Rusty-naped Pitta, Hooded Pitta and Tesias. In April and May Streaked Wren Babbler is particularly common at Wat Tam Pa Plong.

A number of trails are well-known for certain species:

Temple Gulley Wat Tam Pa Plong Malee's & Chiang Dao Nest Checkpoint Gulley Road to Muang Kong Nature Trail Firebreak Trail

Malee's and Chiang Dao Nest : There are many open-country birds to be found in the farmland around these two resorts. Crested Treeswift is a common sight, soaring overhead and a number of different Barbets can be found calling from the many large trees here. It is worth scanning through the grassy areas for Yellow-eyed Babbler, Asian Stubtail and Yellow-streaked Warbler, all of which are rather infrequently recorded in Thailand but regularly sighted here.

Nature Trail : This trail goes through a lot of bamboo forest and commences at Chiang Dao cave. Although not one of the best trails at Chiang Dao it does provide an opportunity to get within a territory regularly held by Oriental Hobby. 

Siberian Blue Robin
(Photo by Suppalak Klabdee)
  Temple Gulley : This is one of the most anticipated trails at Chiang Dao. In reality it is very narrow with thick vegetation and it is difficult to get good views of birds here. There are, however, a few places where views become unobstructed so the best policy is to wait at these until birds come along. There are undoubtedly a number of great birds that are often seen along here; Hooded and Rusty-naped Pittas occur but are tricky to see. Slaty-bellied Tesia is sometimes found here, but White-crowned Forktail, Siberian Blue Robin, White-throated Fantail and Streaked Wren Babbler are far easier to find. One has to clamber along the creek bed to negotiate this trail so it is well worth having a decent pair of boots to ensure against slipping on wet rocks. The trail supposedly continues beyond the water tanks which seem to be the trail's end, but I would not suggest this to any but the most athletic birders!

Firebreak Trail : This firebreak around the temple grounds provides an opportunity to get into the forest but is not the easiest to negotiate. I would not recommend it at all after rain as it would be very slippery. Rusty-naped Pitta is apparently a regular along here and Hodgson's Frogmouth has been heard.

Wat Tam Pa Plong : The easily accessed car park and steps to the temple are a great place to get to grips with all of the more common birds to be found here. There are some fruiting trees at the furthest point into the temple where lots of Drongos, Orioles, Bluebirds and Green Pigeons feed. The limestone around the monk's quarters are often a good place to see Streaked Wren Babbler and Speckled Piculet can often be located from its noisy drumming. Spending time in the temple grounds is a good way to see a high number of bird species in a short space of time.

Checkpoint Gulley : This gulley is accessible by a trail which begins a short distance beyond the checkpoint on the Muang Kong road. The vegetation is more open than at temple gulley so that birds are more easily seen. The species occurring here are similar to those at the temple gulley and it is here that most sightings of Tesias occur, including Grey-bellied as well as Slaty-bellied Tesia.

Road to Muang Kong : This road is an excellent location for birding and rises to a considerable altitude giving an opportunity to see some of the birds that do not occur lower down the mountain. Birds such as Long-tailed Minivet, Orange-bellied Leafbird and White-browed Shrike Babbler are commonplace higher up and other treats that I have seen along this road are Oriental Hobby, Pin-tailed Pigeon and Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo. There is a summit trail from one of the highest points along this road and although the top is still a long way from the start this trail should offer some good birding opportunities.

Firebreak Trail (DYK) : About 1 kilometre before arriving at Den Ya Kat substation there is a sharp turn to the right and here there is a nice trail up a ridge along a firebreak. This trail is straight ahead as one drives towards the sharp right hand turn. There are many pine trees up here and there have been numerous sightings of Hume's Pheasant early in the morning as it crosses the firebreak. Other birds along this trail are Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Grey Treepie, Eurasian Jay and Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher which seems unusually common here.

Summit Trail : This trail starts to the left of the substation, going through some grassland and then along some ridges. Quite a number of good birds can be seen along here, including Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Hume's Pheasant and, of course, Giant Nuthatch which is reliably seen at the point marked, but naturally should be looked for all along this trail. In the grass quite a number of Bush Warblers skulk, but I've never seen any long enough to identify them; perhaps with the aid of a tape they could be lured out into the open. A small pond at the substation is reputed to be the home of Black-tailed Crake but it would be vital to spend the night here in order to see it, but plenty of other birds including Thrushes and Parrotbills can be seen on a day trip.

Birding Road : Once past the checkpoint the access road becomes a birding location in itself. Giant Nuthatch is often seen along here and Hume's Pheasant is sometimes seen running across the road - try not to run it over! There are plenty of places to stop the car and lots of good habitat where anything could turn up.

  Firebreak Trail (DYK) Summit Trail Birding Road

Rice paddies : I've been receiving some good records of open-country species from rice paddies a little south of Chiang Dao town. Information is located here: Chiang Dao rice paddies.

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For a long time now birders have stayed at Malee's Nature Lovers Bungalows a few kilometres beyond Chiang Dao cave. Malee's set-up is very quaint, with some excellent views of the mountains; indeed, many people have been content to spend a day birding in the garden, with some excellent species having been recorded.

There are now 9 bungalows here to rent here, set in a very attractive garden, at rates from 500-1100 baht per night, all with private, hot showers; Malee usually gives a slightly better rate to returning guests. The old dormitory room has been converted into 4 small rooms at 250 baht per night, with a shared hot shower and toilet. All rooms are equipped with fans, although at times it can be chilly at night.

Malee's rooftop restaurant
(Photo by Malee Keratitaweesuk)

Malee now has a rooftop restaurant, which is really nice, making full use of the great views here. Dinner is served around 7 pm but this is flexible , so that birders wishing to stay out late to look for Owls and Frogmouths are able to do so. Packed breakfasts and lunch are also available for those wishing to get out early and stay out all day, particularly if travelling to Den Ya Kat. Malee can arrange for a four-wheel drive vehicle and driver up to Den Ya Kat for 1500 baht, something I would recommend if the weather has been wet as the road up Doi Chiang Dao can be a treacherous mudslide. She can be contacted by e-mail to book accommodation which might be necessary during the dry season and at weekends, otherwise just turn up. For those without their own transport Malee can arrange for pickup from Chiang Mai and the airport; a very convenient alternative to public transport! Doug Judell started a bird log at Malee's some years ago and it continues to be a good source of information. Malee has high speed internet available, so please send me your notable observations.

For a few years now there has been another bungalow resort right next to Malee's, called Chiang Dao Nest, and an increasing number of birders stay there. A number of bamboo huts are for rent here and food is served to order, as late as 9 pm, for those who want to stay out and spotlight birds; a very extensive and unusual selection of Thai and Western food is available. I understand that breakfast is available at very early times and packed lunches can be arranged. This is an extremely relaxing place, with lovely views and the management is friendly. If arriving by public transport a trip to Den Ya Kat can also be arranged at this resort. See their website for details about this excursion and to contact Chiang Dao Nest. There is a birding logbook here too. Chiang Dao Nest also has a second location, Chiang Dao Nest 2 which is a few hundred metres from back towards the cave from Chiang Dao Nest 1. Free internet and free wireless internet is available.  
Chiang Dao Nest 1
(Photo courtesy of Chiang Dao Nest

At Chiang Dao cave there are a number of restaurants that sell good food for low prices and touristy things like film for cameras, postcards and souvenirs.

For those that wish to camp at Den Ya Kat there are very few facilities, just a lawn for your tent and toilets, so take everything you need with you, although for those who smile and look desperate enough the guards will probably sort out some alternative accommodation and food.

For the really adventurous it is possible to arrange porters to carry all your equipment to the top of Doi Chiang Dao for a camping trip - everything must be taken in and out as there are no facilities at all there, although there must be some good birds.

The entrance fee here is 200 baht and must only be paid if driving to Den Ya Kat substation and is valid for a few days. All other areas can be accessed without paying, although some people have been asked for their ticket when driving the Muang Kong road - keep your ticket from your trip to Den Ya Kat and show it - it will be sufficient.


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 Other Related Pages

Birdwatching Tours/Guiding

Other Northern Thailand Birding Locations

Chiang Dao Paddies

Rice Paddies Near Chiang Dao

Current Entry Fees for National Parks

Air Pollution in Chiang Mai

 Photo Galleries

Misty Forest

Rocky Crag

Limestone Scenery

Doi Chiang Dao Summit

Wat Tam Pa Plong

Doi Chiang Dao

Doi Chiang Dao Summit

 Trip Reports

Doi Chiang Dao, 23-26th October 2002        

Northern Thailand, 6-13th October 2004

Thailand, 31st March - 13th April 2007

Doi Chiang Dao, 31st December 2005-3rd January 2006

Doi Chiang Dao, 2-4th May 2006

Thailand Tour, 11-29 January 2007

North & Northeastern Thailand, 28th June-21st July 2007


by Nick Upton 

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