Yai National Park was the first to be established in
1962 and has been nominated as a World Heritage site, both
of which give a strong hint as to the quality of this location,
and at 2168 square kilometres this park is also one of the
largest in Thailand.
evergreen forest is the dominant habitat type here but there
are also areas of hill evergreen forest at higher altitudes
and expanses of grassland, particularly near headquarters.
An extensive system of trails means that there is plenty of
opportunity to explore these wonderful forests and view the
wildlife. These trails were originally elephant tracks, and
Khao Yai remains one of the best places in South-East Asia
to see these fantastic animals and with such an extensive
area of quality habitat a huge number of excellent bird species
can be found too. To fully appreciate the birdlife here at
least two or three days should be spent exploring.
Course, Khao Yai National Park
(Photo by Nick Upton)
the down side, this National Park is extremely popular and gets ridiculously
busy at weekends and holidays; camping during these times can be a
fairly unpleasant experience so visits should be timed to avoid these;
in fact the park can be quite busy even during the week. It is also
a sad fact that there nearly always seems to be some development project
threatening the quality of this location, in the past these have included
a perimeter road, dams and, frequently, tourist development.
are so many great birds to see in Khao Yai that each birder
will have his or her own highlights. However, there are some
birds that stand out above others. Few sightings can be as
memorable as that of a Hornbill, and Khao Yai is an excellent
place to see these birds. Great, Oriental Pied and Wreathed
Hornbills are abundant and easily seen, and Brown Hornbills
can be found too.
dwelling birds are well represented at Khao Yai but these
species are not easily found. Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo can
sometimes be seen at stakeouts and both Silver and Siamese
Fireback Pheasants can be found by some lucky birders.
fabulous Blue Pitta is regularly seen at this location, although
it is difficult to view, and Eared Pitta is sometimes sighted;
a bird seldom encountered outside of Khao Yai.
other amazing birds may be seen during any 2-3 day visit to
Khao Yai; Long-tailed Broadbill is straight out of a Disney
movie, Slaty-backed Forktail lurks on some of the streams,
Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons occur in the mid-storey
and Nightjars are frequent at dusk and dawn over open areas.
birding trip to Khao Yai is bound to bring a number of sightings
of mammals too. Sambar deer and Muntjac are often seen and
one can hardly miss the Pig-tailed Macaques on the road. One
of the most enigmatic mammals likely to be seen is the White-handed
or Lar Gibbon which noisily sing in the mornings. Other frequently
seen mammals include Asian Elephant, Dhole, Variable Squirrel
and Malayan Sun Bear. Less frequently seen, but present, are
Gaur, Clouded Leopard and Serow. Unfortunately,Tigers may
already be extinct at Khao Yai.
Trips : Check the suggested itineraries for
ideas on creating a tailor-made birdwatching trip to Thailand:
Khao Yai is quite easy to get to by public transport. The
first step is to get to Pak Chong; any bus from Mor Chit bus
station, in Bangkok, to Nakorn Ratchasima (Khorat) will
stop in this town. Equally, any bus doing the opposite journey
stops here too. Alternatively, Pak Chong can be reached by
train from Bangkok, but this is a very slow and dusty journey.
Chong bus station a short walk to the songthaew to Khao Yai
follows. Walk from the bus station to the main road and turn
right, after c300 metres a 7/11 store can be seen on the opposite
side of the road. This is where the songtaew waits to go to
the National Park entrance, about 30 km away. From here one
must hitch-hike, which is very easily done; sometimes the
staff at the gate will ask passing motorists to take you.
If not, simply walk along the road, but do not use your thumb
to hitch-hike, instead wave your hand in a downward, slow-down
sort of motion and usually the first vehicle with any space
will stop for you.
driving from Bangkok, take the northbound highway and at Saraburi
turn towards Nakorn Ratchasima - please drive with caution as this
stretch of road is considered the most dangerous in Thailand with
frequent accidents, be aware of very slow moving trucks crawling
3 abreast uphill. Shortly before Pak Chong there are signposts for
Khao Yai National Park in English. If driving, the journey will
take about 3 hours from central Bangkok, if taking public transport
then 5 hours is more realistic.
Yai has one of the most well-developed trail systems of any National
Park in Thailand, so birders need not struggle to get into decent
habitat. Even if on foot there are a lot of trails close to park
accommodation, whether you decide to stay in a park bungalow or
campsite. Bird waves seem frequent in the forest here so be prepared
to see a lot of species; of course some species require more expertise
to find than others, but even some of the specialities here can
be seen without any special effort.
of forest and grassland allows birders to see a lot of different
species, with some of the higher elevations good places for raptor
come to Khao Yai to see Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo which turns up
at a number of stakeouts and I have often bumped into it on the
Pheasant is also a highly sought-after species and often appear
on the roads shortly after dawn or before dusk. I have had many
close encounters with this species on trail B where it sometimes
forms parties with Silver Pheasant.
of some of the best birding spots follow. I have abandoned the system
of numbers allotted to trails as they seem to keep changing.
Khieo Access Road
: This has been a
favourite spot over the years to find Pheasants in the morning but
appears to be becoming less reliable. I personally have rarely visited
this area of the park having regularly seen both Silver and Siamese
Fireback Pheasants elsewhere but the area towards the top of the
road certainly contains some higher altitude species not found in
other parts of Khao Yai, such as White-browed Shrike Babbler and
Wreathed Hornbill is fairly regular along this road. There are some
good patches of forest with mature trees about 2 kilometres from
the junction with the road to Prachinburi. In this area I have frequently
seen Heart Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Greater Flameback
and Vernal Hanging Parrot.
: This sizeable pond
is quite a good place to sit under a shady tree in the midday heat
and watch birds come down to drink; mammals such as Barking Deer
are often around here also. This spot has been reliable for Needletail
Swifts for a long time now and all three Thai species have been
seen here over the last few years. Brown-backed Needletail is the
most common and likely to be seen, but Silver-backed is fairly regular
with White-throated being the most uncommon. The open country around
this pond is home to Plain-backed Sparrows (a species that no guide
book seems to do justice to) and Australasian Bushlark whilst in
the patches of forest it is easy to get good views of Oriental Pied
Hornbill. At dusk Great Eared Nightjars are regular here and Large-tailed
Nightjar can also be found.
at Pa Gluay Mai campsite and ending at Haew Suwat waterfall
this 4 Km trail goes through some of Khao Yai's most picturesque
forest. Throughout the length of the river along this trail
Slaty-backed Forktail is likely to be encountered as are many
other species. Abbott's Babbler and Radde's Warbler are common
residents of the lower shrub layer, Lesser Necklaced, White-crested
and Black-throated Laughingthrushes are regular in the mid-storey
and this river valley is an excellent place to see all four
species of Hornbill in the canopy. I have come across Coral-billed
Ground Cuckoo along this trail many times. Put
quite simply, the number and variety of species one can see
along this trail makes it worth including on any visit. Additionally,
some excellent views over the forest can be had from the top
of the waterfall about halfway along this trail.
also worth watching out for Gibbons, Water Monitors, Otters
and 2 introduced hybrid crocodiles along the river here.
B : This
trail starts a little uphill and opposite the Park HQ and can be
followed to the wildlife watchtower or to Wang Jumpee car park.
This is one of the most productive birding trails and the one most
frequented by birders searching for ground dwelling birds; there
are a number of damp gullies and rocky ditches along here that harbour
White-crowned Forktail, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Blue Pitta and even
Eared Pitta. Once again there are a huge number of species that
live along this trail, although they can be a little harder to find
than along trail A. Both Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons
are common sights here and this is a good trail to listen out for
Banded Kingfisher. I have seen both Silver and Siamese Fireback
Pheasants along the first few kilometres of this trail in the company
of Scaly-breasted Partridge on many occasions and was lucky enough
to see one male Siamese Fireback performing a wing-beating display
for two females only a few metres away in 2004. Given that the road
to Khao Khieo is not as reliable for these species as it once was,
this is probably the best place to look for them.
this trail can produce some excellent birds, it is difficult to
walk along with steep sections and lots of muddy gully crossings.
Birders walking alone will see the most birds but groups will find
it impossible to be quiet enough to see anything much. In the wet
season leeches are rampant along this trail.
have never walked this trail, but I include it as it follows the
path of a river through the forest and as such probably has the
potential to reveal many species. I know that many years ago Malayan
Night Heron was seen along here so it might be worth taking a look
if you have the time.
Gluay Mai Campsite
: Many birders
simply sit in this campsite and wait for the birds to come
to them and many wonderful species can be seen in this way.
A large fruiting tree in the centre of the campsite can be
particularly productive with Blue-eared, Moustached and Green-eared
Barbets very numerous along with Hill and Golden-crested Mynas.
A well-known stakeout behind one of the toilets is visited
by some of the stars of Khao Yai: Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo,
Orange-headed Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin
and even Blue Pitta, although this stakeout is getting very
overused and seeing these birds is now very hit and miss.
In the evening listen out for the call of Great Eared Nightjar
(Pit Pee-weeoow) which can be seen by walking up and down
the road to get the best vantage point over the forest.
and New Campsite :
These areas are characterised by open grassland and small
stands of forest and is a good place to watch for birds
as they fly between trees, with Woodpeckers (especially Rufous
Woodpecker) and Barbets being particularly in evidence here.
Oriental Pied Hornbills are very easily seen in this area;
they can be heard from some distance and approached for good
views. At dawn and dusk Nightjars hunt in these areas; I have
seen Large-tailed and Grey Nightjars on many occasions here
Watchtower : There
is a car park at the head of the trail to this watchtower and it
can get very busy so it is advisable to get here early. Open-country
birds are easily found here with Bright-capped Cisticola one of
the nicest; listen out for its strange call which sounds a bit like
an exaggerated kiss. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater can usually be seen
along here as can Siberian Stonechat, Rufescent and Grey-breasted
Prinias and Bright-headed Cisticola whilst Brown-backed Needletails
often hawk for insects over the pond. On a couple of occasions I
have seen Stork-billed Kingfisher in the reeds here and even a Little
Grebe which was a bit strange in this location. In the forest behind
the pond Great and Wreathed Hornbills can often be seen flying from
tree to tree with the Great Hornbills deep "Gok Gok" call
an atmospheric sound.
main attraction to this pond and salt lick is to see large mammals
and indeed once, at about 7.30 am, David Lewis and I watched a group
of seven Dholes chase a large male Sambar into the water. Others
have seen Asian Elephant and even tiger (very rare!) here whilst
Water Monitors are a common sight.
Sing To Reservoir
: Red-wattled Lapwing
and Red Junglefowl can often be seen feeding on the far side of this
small reservoir and the occasional migrating wader finds itself here;
I've found Pintail Snipe on a couple of occasions. Plenty of open
country birds can be seen around here and in the evening hornbills
can be seen in the distance from here as they come to roost. The trail
that runs uphill as a continuation of the track across the small dam
is a well-known hotspot for Eared Pitta, but please be as unobtrusive
as possible here as the area is frequently used as an ornithological
study area. Plain-backed Sparrows seem to nest in the checkpoint barrier
close to Mo Sing To.
33 : A
layby allows birders to stop here and birding along the road a kilometre
or so either side can be rewarding. Great, Wreathed and Oriental
Pied Hornbills are often seen in this area and a number of fig trees
attract good numbers of birds when in fruit. White-crested Laughingthrush,
Banded Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Dusky Broadbill, Green
Magpie, Laced Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Thick-billed Pigeon
and Black-and-buff Woodpecker are all frequently seen in this part
of the forest.
trail begins at Km 33 and needs some care to follow without getting
lost. For the first half a kilometre it is easy enough to follow,
even though there are a number of branches to it, but after that
the habitat changes and the trail is difficult to follow - I always
turn around at this point. This trail is good for Scaly-breasted
Partridge, Red-headed Trogon and a variety of woodpeckers and sometimes
Siamese Fireback, Blue Pitta and even Eared Pitta can be found along
here. Even in the rainy season leeches are not too bad along here.
Yai is a well-visited National Park and the amount and range of
accommodation reflects this. A number of backpackers stay in a hostel
in Pak Chong which arranges trips into Khao Yai, but this is not
a good way to see many birds. Many people with their own transport
prefer to stay in one of the numerous resorts which line the road
from Pak Chong to Khao Yai National Park. These are more expensive
than accommodation inside the park, but are certainly more comfortable,
although staying here means driving into the National Park every
morning. The Juldis
Khao Yai Resort seems to be fairly popular with birders
and has the added bonus of being the home to a flock of Red-breasted
Parakeets and other common forest birds. The Duangporn Resort is
also a pleasant place to stay at very reasonable prices - unfortunately
their sign is only in Thai.
are quite a number of bungalows for rent in the national park,
most of which cater for huge parties, but there are a few
for 2 people at 800 baht per night. I won't list them all
here as there are too many and few birders choose to stay
in them anyway. In the past it was possible to stay in some
dormitories, but the last time I visited these were closed
to most visitors. The situation here changes frequently, so
it is worth asking if this option is available.
watchers (including myself) usually stay at Pa Gluay Mai campsite
which is an excellent location to see birds as well as being
at the head of one of the best birding trails. Here, tents
and bedding can be hired or erect your own tent for a small
fee. Laem Ta Kong Campsite has the same facilities and is
bigger than Pa Gluay Mai; it is also easy to walk to the old
HQ area from here (3-4 Kms).
have restaurants which are open to about 8 o'clock and serve
food, although the staff at Pa Gluai Mai seem to find cooking
anything much a real inconvenience. In addition, Pa Gluay
Mai campsite has a shop which sells snacks and drinks.
are decent food stalls at both Haew Narok and Haew Suwat waterfalls,
but the former doesn't cook food on days when there are few
visitors (midweek, rainy season).
old HQ area there is a large restaurant which overlooks the
stream and is open to at least 8 pm, possibly later when busy.
Here food must be ordered from stalls at the rear and it is
self service. Drinks must be purchased from another shop which
is also self-service. This new restaurant is big and flashy
but I don't like it as much as the old one which is now redundant.
The food here is mediocre at best and the staff generally
unhelpful, although the girl in the drinks shop is an exception
and can speak some English if you get into a confusion.
old HQ there is also an exhibition centre and a small and seldom-used
library which can be used to look up any sightings you may have
for sale in the National Park, but can be brought in, a situation
which seems to constantly change.
Outside of the
park any of the resorts can be visited for food, and a number of
restaurants and small stores exist. There are a few places along
the Khao Yai-Pak Chong Road which serve steaks and other Western
food for those that have tired of rice and noodles.
fee for foreigners has been reduced to 200
baht, since mid 2009 - the fee must be paid on every
day of entry.
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