Thailand Phase I – The Elephant Encounter

We just wrapped up the first leg of the Thailand portion of our trip – one day in Pak Thale and five days in Kaeng Krachan National Park. We didn’t have WiFi at all and have only showered twice in that span of time. Overall Thailand has been amazing. Accurately describing everything we’ve seen and done is nearly an impossible task. Kaeng Krachan national park is WILD, and I mean wild in every sense of the word. The lack of WiFi has made blogging impossible, but truthfully, I haven’t even missed it because we’ve been so busy exploring!

Here’s my best attempt at summing up the last five days in Thailand and making you feel like you were there exploring with us!

Day 1 — We arrived in Thailand (from Japan of course) around 1800 on January 28 to Bangkok International airport, one of the largest airports I’ve ever seen. We already had our Visa’s in hand so we made our way to luggage claim pretty quickly. After picking up our luggage and exchanging $1,000 USD for $33,000 baht, we headed over to the AVIS rental car stand. Before coming, Ross coordinated with AVIS and was able to get a bulk discount by going with a monthly rate on our car. You see, we are planning to be in some remote areas of Thailand during the span of our time here so having our own vehicle is going to be very helpful to avoid relying on public transportation and wasting time.  Anyway, we picked up our car and next up on the agenda was to drive out of Bangkok. Driving in Thailand is one thing, but driving in Bangkok is a whole separate story. It was insane! People on motorbikes were whizzing by on either side, and occasionally were driving on the wrong side of the road on major highways! The sheer number of cars we saw driving around was nuts. (Apparently Bangkok is one of the craziest cities to drive in, and I believe it. According to Wikipedia, their roads are built to handle roughly 2 million cars, but there are currently over 8 million drivers on the roads.) Not only were there a ton of people to navigate around, it didn’t help that our GPS was having some difficulties navigating the city as well. We got turned around a few times with wrong turns but finally made it out of Bangkok and into the countryside.

I would say we slept in our car that night, but car camping just sounds more sophisticated so I’ll go with that – We car camped after arriving in Pak Thale that evening.

We woke up early the next morning to search for a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the rarest shorebirds in the world. For those who are unaware, the Spoon-billed sandpiper is a little shorebird that has a uniquely shaped bill (like a spoon of course) and is on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and destruction. To find this little guy we drove around salt pans scanning the shorebirds. The morning was a huge success as we found our little Spoon-billed Sandpiper as well as an Asian Dowitcher, another bird Ross really wanted to see.

The salt pans

The salt pans

Crappy photo of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Crappy photo of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper

While scanning the Salt Pans, we ran into a local bird guide who spoke Thai and he was able to coordinate a boat ride out to a small sand spit where some other rare birds can be found.

After driving around the rural areas and photographing some other species of birds, we met at a Thai man’s home to get on his boat and head out to the sand spit to search for Malaysian Plover and White-faced Plover.

I snuck this photo of Mr Daeng driving his boat

I snuck this photo of Mr Daeng driving his boat

The boat ride was a success and even produced several Palla’s Gulls.

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Ross (and ALL OF HIS GEAR) at the sand spit

After the boat ride we headed on our way to Kaeng Krachan, one of Thailand’s national parks. We arrived in the national park just before dusk and spent the evening roaming the road through the forest. This national park is super neat and has tons of wildlife to be on the lookout for. It borders Myanmar and is one of the largest intact forests in the world making seeing mammals an actual possibility. Elephants are known to roam the forests and for those people like my sister who have no idea, Elephants are some of the most dangerous animals to encounter. They can easily feel threatened and be on the defensive. We learned that just last year a 20 year old girl was killed in the park after being trampled by wild elephants. Other big cats such as leopards, panthers and tigers are also known to roam through the park. For safety reasons you aren’t allowed out on the trails at night. After dinner that night a porcupine walked into our campground!

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Our home for the next 5 days was a combination of a tent and a car.

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We spent the first night in our tent but woke up before the sun to get out on the trails as that is the best chance to see some of the aforementioned mammals and/or owls. Sadly we didn’t see any elephants that day but we saw elephant dung all over the roads so we knew they were close last night! Even knowing what elephants are capable of, we still really, really wanted to see some!

Elephant poo on the roads we would often walk

Elephant poo on the roads we would often walk

Overall the day was a huge success and mainly consisted of walking up and down the road near the streams observing the wildlife. Here are some pictures from the day:

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After hours of hiking, we left that evening because Ross had booked a night at a lodge not far from the national park. We finally got to sleep in a real bed and use a real toilet. In case you were wondering, the toilets in the national parks (and most of Thailand) are the squat kinds with no flushing mechanism other than simply dumping water into the hole.

The next morning, Saturday January 1, we headed to a bird hide, a place where those who want to watch and photograph birds can be close but hidden so as to not scare the birds that come to the watering hole.

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We liked the lodge we stayed in, but we liked being in the national park more so even though we had booked 2 nights there, we skipped out on the second night and headed back to the tent life and never left the park again for the next 3 days.

The next few days were a blur. We saw tons of neat creatures while looking for birds. While walking up the trails we would frequently hear monkeys calling and see them swinging from the treetops above.

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At night we would stay out on the trails late looking for owls (breaking the rules, so what?!) and would hear all of those “things that go bump in the night” around us. It was equal parts exciting and nerve wracking, but overall worth it. Ross was able to get some awesome photos of an adorable Oriental Scops Bay Owl.

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Kaeng Krachan has a lower campground and an upper campground as a part of the park with a nasty dirt road to the top to connect the two. We had stayed in the lower campground the first two nights, but were hoping to make it to the top at least once to see a different variety of birds. The road to get to the top is a single lane road and we’d heard it was terrible to drive. Being that we only had rented a small rental car, we decided to hitch a ride to the top. Before we went to the top however, we walked out of our camp in the dark and hiked roughly 4 kilometers to “stake out” a pitta, a little bird that is rarely seen. Unfortunately we never saw the bird that day and didn’t want to waste a whole morning for him to show up so we left, hopped in the back of a Thai man’s truck and rode up to the top. We bumped into a Belgium couple and birded with them that afternoon. They then gave us a ride back down.

That night we slept in our tent. Around 2:30AM Ross woke up to an elephant making a trumpeting noise. He woke me up and we peaked outside of our tent. I kid you not, there was an elephant standing no more than 40 yards away!! Seeing a wild elephant is both exciting and terrifying when you think what an animal that size is capable of. Sadly we didn’t get more than an iphone picture because our camera gear was in the car. If you turn your head sideways and squint really hard, you might be able to make out the elephant in this photo:

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The elephant was amongst these trees… and that’s our tent in the back.

I’m pretty sure we never slept in past 4:45AM any of the nights we were in the park. Again the next morning we woke up early because Ross decided that the road to the top campground wasn’t so bad (even though it kind of was) and planned to drive back up. If rental car companies only knew what Ross had in store for their car, they probably wouldn’t rent to him.  But we made it to the top the next morning and spent some time looking for birds (surprise, surprise.) We did drive back down later that day but then heard a leopard was spotted at the top (something that doesn’t really happen that often) so for the second time that day, we took our little two-wheel drive, low-riding, rental car to the top of a steep, dusty, rocky road. We didn’t see the leopard, but going and missing it is better than always wondering what if right?

We took tons of pictures of some really cool birds. Regardless of whether you think we are crazy bird people or not, hopefully you can appreciate how unique and beautiful birds are. We took plenty of pictures from Kaeng Krachan, here are some of our favorites:

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We easily could have spent several more days in the park but we left and headed 9 hours south for the next leg of our adventure!

3 thoughts on “Thailand Phase I – The Elephant Encounter

  1. Nature pictures are amazing, but I couldn’t help noticing how organized that car trunk is! I have never seen Ross so neat…..good job Melissa

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  2. Glad you got the spoon-billed! Too bad you didn’t have time to get to PNG. I think it would be tougher to scope and bird not being completely familiar with many of the species. I’d like to hear how you are handling that — what is the process. And I imagine plenty of digiscoping.

    Tom

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