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Kaeng Krachan National Park, 19th-21st June 2006
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1) Introduction
I made a three day visit to the Kaeng Krachan national park from my temporary base in Hua Hin. This was part of a recent series of short visits to birding areas whilst in Thailand on a generally non-birding holiday (see my previous trip reports for Doi Inthanon, Doi Chiang Dao and Doi Angkhang).

As usual I researched the trip on the Internet. Kaeng Krachan (KK) seems to be somewhat less visited by birders than other sites in the north or south of Thailand, and accordingly there were fewer trip reports available on the web.

2) Getting there, Transport and Accommodation

a) Hua Hin to Kaeng Krachan park HQ : I rented a 125cc motorcycle in Hua Hin for 130 baht per day. From Hua Hin to the park headquarters is a relatively straightforward journey of about 70km, although a road map was useful especially nearer Kaeng Krachan where the road signs are mostly in Thai only. From Hua Hin, take route 3218 inland, signposted to the Pala-u waterfall, as far as the village of Nong Phlap where there is a crossroads. Turn right (north) along route 3301. After 20km or so this road meets route 3410 at a T junction. Turn right and then almost immediately left onto another road, signposted to Kaeng Krachan national park. Again this road ends at a junction. The national park is signposted to the left, but you will need to go to the park HQ first to organise permits for visiting the park, so turn right here. This road arrives at a T junction where all the signs are in Thai. Turn left here, and continue through the village of Kaeng Krachan. At the end of the village the Kaeng Krachan dam can be seen ahead of you. Turn left just before the checkpoint gate and follow the road around the south shore of the lake, and after 5km or so you will reach the park HQ. Permits are arranged in the visitor centre on the right hand side of the road.

b) Kaeng Krachan park headquarters and visitor centre : This is set in a peaceful spot on the shores of the lake. Mr Thanai at the visitor centre speaks good English and was very happy to help. Anyone visiting or intending to visit can call him on 01 984 5031 (from within Thailand). Mr Thanai had some bad news for me - MOTORCYCLES ARE NOT PERMITTED IN THE KAENG KRACHAN NATIONAL PARK. This was a bit of a blow as I was relying on my bike to get me to various birding hotspots along the 40km long jeep track within the park. So my plan of staying in a guesthouse outside the park and biking in each day had to be abandoned. My only option was therefore to camp within the park, which had the advantage that I only had to pay the 200 baht park entrance fee once. The fee for camping at the Ban Krang campsite within the park is 30 baht per person per night. Tents are available to rent from the visitor centre (passport required as deposit), for 120 baht per night for a 2-man tent. Bedding is also available for a small extra charge.

Other accommodation options include bungalows near the park HQ, which are quite expensive, or several guesthouses between the park HQ and Kaeng Krachan village charging (according to Mr Thanai) around 500 baht per night. Remember when staying outside the park gates, you will have to purchase a 200 baht permit for every day you intend to enter the park.

c) Getting to the park gates from the park headquarters : On the first night I pitched my tent in the grounds of the park HQ on the shores of the lake, as there was insufficient time to get into the park that day. The next morning I set off at 5am for the park gates on my motorbike. The entrance to the park is not especially easy to find so I provide detailed directions below. All distances quoted are approximate. From the visitor centre, turn right and continue to follow the shore of the lake (heading away from the dam). After 3km, in a small village, take a left turn. Follow this road for 5km, where it ends at a T junction in another village. Opposite the end of the road is a school with a sign in English. Turn right at this junction. After a few km another road joins from the left, but continue straight ahead. Shortly after this intersection the road becomes a rough track for 400 metres or so. When you meet the surfaced road again, continue straight ahead ignoring the turning to the right. After another 3km or so, you arrive at the park gates.

Here I had to leave my motorbike, and wait at the gates in the hope that I could hitch a ride up to the Ban Krang campsite on a passing pick-up. However because it was a Monday morning I was out of luck, and in two hours waiting no vehicles came by. Fully aware that I was eating into valuable early-morning birding time, I eventually persuaded one of the guards to drive me the 15km to Ban Krang in his pick-up for 400 baht (he wasn't bothered about doing it for anything less even though all the guards seem to do all day is sit around doing absolutely nothing). Of course by far the best way of getting up the mountain and getting around within the park is by hired car - although why cars are allowed and motorbikes are not allowed seems strange to me. Another option would be to charter a taxi from the park HQ. Mr Thanai will gladly arrange this but it was very expensive, with prices starting at 1200 baht for a return trip to the top of Panoenthung mountain at Km30. Only if travelling in a group would this be cost-effective.

d) Inside the park : The road from the park gates to Ban Krang is surfaced for the first 10km, then becomes an unmade track. Ban Krang is at Km15 and would be easily reachable in an ordinary saloon car. Beyond here, between Km16 and 18, there are three streams to cross which may be a little deep, in the wet season at least, for an ordinary car. After Km18 the track starts to climb, steeply in places - again in the wet season you would probably need a 4WD for this section. I didn't go further than the viewpoint at Panoenthung substation at Km31, so cannot comment on the road beyond here.

Beyond Ban Krang the road is single track and cars can only ascend or descend the mountain at certain times, with a one hour "buffer zone" between up and down times. This might mean a wait of an hour or two at Ban Krang or Panoenthung. When I was there you could ascend from Ban Krang to Panoenthung between 5 and 8am, but could not come back down from Panoenthung towards Ban Krang until 9am. The park HQ can provide the latest information as these times may change.

3) Trails : Once within the park, birding is very straightforward as the main areas are all along the jeep track up the mountain. Key landmarks between the park gates and the Panoenthung viewpoint are as follows –
Km 0 - Park Gates
Km10 - Surfaced road becomes rough track and birding improves markedly.
Km12 to 15 - Good area for birding.
Km15 - Ban Krang substation and campsite.
Km15 to18 - Good birding area. From Km16 to 18 the track passes through mature primary forest and crosses three small rivers.
Km18 to 24 - The track climbs through mainly secondary forest and scrub.
Km24 to 27 - Another good birding area, the start of which is indicated by a sign depicting a monkey.
Km27 - A small parking area next to a sign depicting a bird. A track leads downhill from here and is a good place to look for Ratchet-tailed Treepie.
Km27 to 30 - Good birding and well worth covering on foot.
Km30 - Panoenthung Substation and campsite (campsite was closed on my visit).
Km31 - Viewpoint, good birding here also.

4) Birding at Kaeng Krachan : Kaeng Krachan is far wilder and more unspoilt than any of the other national parks I have visited so far in Thailand. Due to its geographical location in southern central Thailand, its avifauna comprises both northern and southern Thai birds, meaning a high species total in the park of over 400 species.

I was unlucky with the weather during my short visit - more or less the whole first day was a washout, which meant that I only had one full day and one early morning to enjoy the park's birds. Unfortunately I did not manage to connect with the park's main speciality, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, and overall I suspect that birding was much tougher at this time of year than it is in winter, but nonetheless I did manage to see some interesting species.

A trip list of 101 included some lowland and farmland species seen en route from the park HQ to the park gates. This compares to totals of 109 species at Doi Chiang Dao, 100 at Doi Inthanon and 81 at Doi Angkhang, but I had much more time at each of those places. The overall feeling was that KK was incredibly rich in birdlife, and I was only scratching the surface in my short visit.

Perhaps most notable of all was the large number of mammals seen and heard. Among these were good views of 3 different species of primates, as well as briefly seeing a wild Asian Elephant, plus many smaller mammals. Other birders have reported seeing Leopard and Panther here. Walking alone in the park, I felt very alone in the wilderness and felt for the first time in Thailand the power of nature ... I was more than a little nervous at times that I may encounter a tiger or rampaging elephant! Kaeng Krachan feels very remote and wild at times and this is why it was overall a more rewarding experience for me than the northern Thai sites.

Most birders seem to concentrate their efforts between Km15 to 18 and Km 26 to 31. On the first day I walked Km15 to 18 several times, but didn't see a great deal due to the rain. On the second morning I was lucky enough to be able to hitch a lift to the Km31 viewpoint at dawn with some Thai campers, and from there I walked back to the campsite at Km15. In the afternoon I birded Km15 to 18 again. The final morning I packed up my tent at first light and walked from Km15 as far as Km6 before a pick-up came by and I was able to hitch a lift the rest of the way back to the park gates.

My personal birding highlights were Bamboo Woodpecker, many Great Hornbills, Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, a flock of Great Eared and Large-tailed Nightjars at dusk at Ban Krang campsite, perched Mountain Hawk Eagle, Black-thighed and Collared Falconets, a superb Blue-winged Pitta showing daily on the lawn at Ban Krang campsite, Silver-breasted, Banded and Black-and-Red Broadbills, Crested Jay, Sultan Tit, Lesser Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes, White-hooded Babbler and a flock of Pin-tailed Parrotfinches.

Dominic Le Croissette
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 Birds seen at Kaeng Krachan
Barred Buttonquail
Red Junglefowl

Little Grebe - on lake just inside park gates
Bamboo Woodpecker - adult with fledged young at the start of the Km27 track
Greater Yellownape - common
Common Flameback - 1 at Km16, 2 at Km14
Greater Flameback - common and showed well
Blue-throated Barbet - 1 at Km29 but many heard
Moustached Barbet - 1 at Km31 viewpoint showed well
Great Hornbill - groups seen in various places between Km28 and Km11
Oriental Pied Hornbill - common. Disappointingly only 2 Hornbill species seen.
Indian Roller
Dollarbird - 2 family groups at Km16 and Km14
Orange-breasted Trogon - pair at Km17
Red-headed Trogon - one at Km25
White-throated Kingfisher
Green-billed Malkoha
- disappointingly the only Malkoha species seen.
Greater Coucal
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
- omnipresent around large bee nests at Km16 and several seen elsewhere
Vernal Hanging Parrot - fairly common
Grey-rumped Treeswift - 3+ at Km16
Brown-backed Needletail - 1 at Km16
Palm Swift
House Swift
Great Eared Nightjar
- 5+ at Ban Krang campsite at dusk
Large-tailed Nightjar - 5+ in flock with above
Mountain Imperial Pigeon - 2 at Km31
Spotted Dove
Emerald Dove
- common
White-breasted Waterhen - 1 on pool at Km13
Red-wattled Lapwing
Crested Serpent Eagle
- several
Mountain Hawk Eagle - 1 perched at close range at Km28
Collared Falconet - singles at Km14 and Km12
Black-thighed Falconet - pair pointed out by the rangers at Km16
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Blue-winged Pitta
- one showed superbly every day on the lawn of Ban Krang campsite
Silver-breasted Broadbill - 3 pairs between Km15 and Km18
Black-and-Red Broadbill - 1 at Ban Krang campsite and 1 at Km29
Banded Broadbill - near nest at Km16
Blue-winged Leafbird
Common Iora
Great Iora
Asian Fairy Bluebird
- 2 at Km13
Crested Jay - 1 at Km14
Common Green Magpie - 1 at Km25
Racket-tailed Treepie - several around park gates

Large-billed Crow
Scarlet Minivet
Bronzed Drongo
Spangled Drongo
- common around Km15
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo - common everywhere including a tame hand-reared bird around Ban Krang
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Pied Fantail
- lower levels
White-throated Fantail
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Black-naped Monarch
Oriental Magpie Robin
White-rumped Shama
Common Myna
White-vented Myna
Hill Myna
- flock of 6 at Km10
Vinous-breasted Starling - 1 by roadside near park HQ
Black-collared Starling - 1 on lakeshore at park HQ
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Sultan Tit
- pair at Km16
Oriental White-eye
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Flavescent Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Ashy Bulbul
- several seen between Km31 and Km24
Ochraceous Bulbul - common
Grey-eyed Bulbul - 1 at Km24
Plain Prinia
Rufescent Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Yellow-bellied Warbler
- 1 at Km27
Lesser necklaced Laughingthrush - single at Km10
Black-throated Laughingthrush - single at Km29
Buff-breasted Babbler - several
Puff-throated Babbler - common
White-browed Scimitar-babbler - 2 at Km28
Rufous-fronted Babbler - several
Grey-throated Babbler - 2 at Km28
Striped Tit-babbler - common
White-hooded Babbler - 1 at Km30
Indochinese Bushlark
Olive-backed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
- eclipse male at Km9
Black-throated Sunbird
Streaked Spiderhunter
Grey-breasted Spiderhunter
- 1 at Km24
Paddyfield Pipit
Tree Sparrow
Scaly-breasted Munia
White-rumped Munia
Pin-tailed Parrotfinch
- flock of 3+ including 1 male at Km30
Also of note, 2 Slaty-backed Forktails and 5+ White-crested Laughingthrushes on a non-birding visit to Pala-u waterfall, in the south of Kaeng Krachan national park, a few days prior to this trip.
Dominic Le Croissette can be contacted at
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