I made a 48-hour birding visit to Khao
Sok NP, as part of a mainly non-birding three-week holiday in
I arrived at
about 3pm on Saturday 5th July, leaving at lunchtime on Monday 7th
July, which gave me two early mornings and two late afternoons birding
in the national park.
I did all of
my birding from the main trail which heads west from the park HQ,
following the river for about 7km or so.
there, Transport and Accommodation
Access by public transport is mostly well covered in Nick Upton’s
section on www.thaibirding.com
. I took a tourist minibus from Krabi
town, which leaves daily for Khao Sok at about 11.30am. You can
book this minibus at any travel agent in town, and it will come
and collect you from your accommodation. The cost of the minibus
journey was 350 baht. This has recently increased from 300 baht
due to the rising cost of fuel.
lingered at its headquarters in Krabi for a while (staff there will
try to make you pre-book accommodation in Khao Sok but it isn’t
necessary to do so), and when we were finally underway the journey
itself took about 2 hours, arriving at Khao Sok at around 2.30pm.
The minibus will take you directly to your accommodation in Khao
Sok village. I had not pre-booked a place to stay, but some other
passengers on the bus were headed to “Jungle Hut”. I
had a look at the accommodation when the bus arrived there, and,
finding it cheap and quite satisfactory, decided to stay there.
At this quiet
time of year, accommodation options in Khao Sok are abundant, and
prices kept low by the surplus of accommodation. 200 baht seems
to be the going rate for a basic bungalow with ensuite bathroom
(mine included hot water for this price).
Hut” it was about a 15 minute walk up the road to the national
park entrance gate. Other accommodation options are slightly closer,
but everywhere in the village is within walking distance of the
national park entrance.
of the park was also easy: I booked a minibus through my guesthouse,
which collected me from my accommodation and took me directly to
Surat Thani train station (which is actually in Phun Phin, about
14km away from Surat). Surat-bound minibuses leave Khao Sok hourly,
and booking via my guesthouse was painless. My ticket cost 200 baht.
Some money can no doubt be saved if you walk to the main road at
Km109 and flag down a passing bus, but I didn’t feel like
making the 1.5km walk to the main road carrying my pack, especially
after just having done an awful lot of walking in the forest!
From Surat Thani
there are frequent trains to Bangkok – but be warned that
there are very few trains during the day, they mostly depart in
the late afternoon and evening and reach Bangkok early the next
morning. A ticket for a second-class sleeper carriage (with fan)
is 458 baht, this standard of accommodation is perfectly comfortable
and there is little need for air conditioning or first-class.
National Park entry
The good news is that the entry fee for foreigners is now back to
200 baht (until recently it was
an extortionate 400 baht). The sign on the ticket booth advises
that a 50% discount is available for students, so if you show a
valid student ID you should be able to get in for 100 baht.
valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase, so the ticket I bought
on arrival at 3pm was valid until the same time the following day.
Therefore I only had to buy two entry tickets despite entering the
park on three different calendar days. There is a guesthouse, a
campground and a hostel within the park gates, so if you stay at
one of these places you should only have to pay the entrance fee
once, as my ticket was never checked once I was past the entrance
gate. However, staying inside the park will seriously limit your
evening meal options.
Inside the park
You can’t take motorcycles along the trails, so once inside
the park all transportation is on foot. The main trail heads west
from the visitor centre. Cross the river bridge, pass the building
and the unattended checkpoint booth, and the trail proper begins.
It is a wide forest track for 2.8km, as far as the ranger substation,
then becomes a narrow path through jungle, with some slippery sections
and exposed tree roots to watch out for. There are elephant trails
around too, so taking the wrong path is a possibility if you are
not careful. There are signs but these were in a bad state of repair
and some were missing or lying broken on the ground.
At the 2.8km
substation, a sign warns that from June to November (ie. the rainy
season) it is forbidden to proceed any further. I imagine there
is a possibility of flash flooding in some areas. This rule does
not seem to be enforced and I ignored the sign, as did others I
met on the trail beyond the substation (including a ranger leading
a guided group on one occasion). Probably best use common sense
here and do not proceed along the trail or linger in stream gullies
after heavy rain.
On one occasion
I tried the other trail which heads north from the park HQ, but
saw and heard almost nothing along here, so resolved to concentrate
on the main trail for the rest of my visit.
Birding at Khao Sok
I was lucky with the weather – it was mostly sunny, with occasional
cloudy periods, on both the Saturday and the Sunday. It was cloudy
on Monday and rain set in late morning, but only once I was out
of the park and back at my accommodation preparing to leave.
The trails were
a little muddy from time to time, and the narrow trail was a little
slippery in places, but overall the walking conditions were good.
favourable conditions, birding here was very slow and often frustrating.
Even in the early morning, the trail was often very quiet –
the birds weren’t calling much, nor did they readily show
themselves. Probably the time of year (July) was the major factor
in this. Both the number of species and the number of individual
birds were very low. Usually conspicuous species like Drongos were
notable by their complete absence, and I didn’t see a single
raptor during my visit. Even common forest birds like Bulbuls were
few and far between, in fact the majority of the interesting Bulbuls
I saw were from a single fruiting tree shortly after the 2.8km substation,
and even then there were only a few individual birds of each species.
I saw only 32
species in total, but many of the observations were good quality
and led me to believe that certain species I was seeing are a lot
easier to connect with at this time of year. For example, I was
virtually tripping over Chestnut-naped Forktails all along the trail,
river and creeks from the 2.8km substation onwards – a conservative
estimate of 4 different pairs were seen - yet it sounds like not
all visitors manage to see one of these at all when at the park
at other times of year.
birds seen, that are either not on Nick Upton’s site
checklist (Note: I have added them to
the list - Nick) or infrequently seen according to other
trip reports, included Maroon Woodpecker, Rufous Woodpecker, Temminck’s
Sunbird, Purple-naped Sunbird, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Yellow-bellied
Bulbul and Black-throated Babbler.
I heard Gibbons in the trees all the time but didn’t manage
to see any. As well as Macaques (around my accommodation at Jungle
Hut as well as in the forest!), I saw several groups of Dusky Langurs,
and best of all an Asian Palm Civet showed very well close to the
trail near the 2.8km substation. Various squirrels etc. were very
common – I probably saw more squirrels than birds!
There were also
a lot of bats around, and some of the bats in the forest were still
on the wing several hours into the day.
Once deep into
the forest along the trail, the park felt very wild … in the
early morning I often felt that there was more than a slim chance
that I might encounter a dangerous animal in the forest! Especially
in the wet season, the larger mammals apparently roam more widely
in the park and don’t stay so close to the lake. There were
regular piles of Elephant dung on the trail, and Tigers, Leopards
and Bears all still occur.