Thailand Phase II – The South

Ross and I have been so busy the last few weeks that I’ve been unable to blog anything at all. The lack of internet is one thing, but we’ve been so many places lately that I’m not sure how to even put it all to the proverbial paper that is the blogosphere, but I’ll try.

We left Kaeng Krachan National Park on February 3rd and we headed to southern Thailand. Ross being the crazy birder that he is, decided to drive all night long so that we would be in the south by morning. Personally I think it’s crazy to drive 9 hours overnight and not sleep just to be somewhere for dawn, but I couldn’t talk him out of it and in the end it was worth it because we made it to Sri Phang Nga National Park before sunrise. We had a productive walk in the forest that morning, stumbling upon Chestnut-naped Forktail and Malaysian Banded Pitta within minutes of each other.

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Sri Phang Nga National Park is absolutely beautiful with several hiking trails that cross over streams making for a very peaceful atmosphere. We spent two mornings here but also took some time to tick a Crab Plover that is wintering in the area.

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I swear every time we go to leave a place I always want to stay longer but then the next place is just as awesome as the last. So far, moving around as much as we have has been worth it. We left Sri Phang Nga and headed to Krung Ching Waterfall, an area with a campground and hiking trail leading to quite possibly the most amazing waterfall I’ve seen in a very long time.  We arrived in Krung Ching late at night (a recurring theme of ours) and we set up our tent in the dark. Because Ross thinks it’s hilarious, I’ll add that while walking from the car to the tent in the dark, I got nailed in the face by a rather large cicada. AWESOME. I just love when bugs touch me…

camp krung ching

The next morning we hiked the waterfall trail not sure what to expect. Our goal was to find a Rail Babbler, but unfortunately we only heard it call. The trail was definitely longer than we anticipated, but before long we stared to hear the sounds of flowing water and we figured we were close to the end.

Ahh, but speaking of bugs touching me; the trail was great and all was going well until I looked down at my legs and realized I was covered with 30+ leeches. Anyone who has never had the pleasure of experiencing this, let me just tell you it is as disgusting as one would picture blood-sucking parasites to be. I had them crawling all over my pant legs and socks. Even with my pants being tucked into my socks, they were still able to bite me and they certainly liked me much better than Ross because he didn’t have nearly as many.

leeches

Sadly I didn’t get to see the waterfall up close due to a lengthy amount of stairs leading down to the bottom and a certain someone saying “that’s too far” or “there are no birds there” or “I’m not walking down all that way just to have to come back up again.” Oh well. What I did get to see of the falls was pretty impressive.

kc waterfall

We spent two nights in the Krung Ching campground hiking and walking around the main trail. Aside from constantly checking for leeches, the park was great. We left early Saturday morning (February 7th for those keeping track) to drive about 2 hours to try to see another bird, the Turquoise-throated Barbet.

And this is where the story gets good so let me start from the beginning.

The Turquoise-throated Barbet was recently discovered to be its own species. It used to be thought that this bird was just a subspecies of a similar bird called the Blue-throated Barbet, however, they were found to be genetically different and therefore split from each other making this Thailand’s only endemic bird and a huge target bird for Ross.

No one has really written any information about how to find it as world birders don’t often go out of their way to find a subspecies. The interwebs were only so helpful as to provide information about a hiking tour group that does a 3-day tour to the summit and a blog post from a couple from way back when attempting to find a waterfall in the area.

The issues with us being able to find this particular bird included the fact that there is little to no information online, the bird is isolated in a small, remote area in Thailand, and that it is only found above 800m elevation. Knowing all of this we decided to go for it anyway. Ross did a pretty intense amount of research and discovered there is a campground that the summit tour people stop at on the first day of their hike which happens to be at 800m elevation. We probably would have done the hiking tour just for that reason except that it costs $800 USD per person and we weren’t about to spend $1,600 for the two of us to go on a 3-day hike. Nonetheless, we at least had a destination. Directions were next to nil though; the only guidelines being “the trail to the summit starts after a walk through a fruit plantation along a river, and before leaving the plantation we took a rest at a little shack before it got really steep” thanks to a blog entry Ross found online from a man who did the summit tour. We decided we would go search for the proverbial “needle in a haystack” but first we had to find the right haystack. We found the village mentioned in the blog and after asking several people nearby (few of whom spoke any English) we found an entrance to a fruit plantation that runs along the river. So far so good right?

Who knew there could ever be so many trails within a fruit plantation? We certainly didn’t, but we soon learned the place was a maze of steep, skinny little roads veering in every which direction. We would often be passed by people on motorbikes zipping by carrying all kinds of fruit plantation produce. We did our best to take trails that would help us gain in elevation unfortunately we had a day and a night’s worth of gear on our backs. In short, we just kept hiking up and up and up and up never knowing if we were in the right place to begin with. At least the fruit plantation roads were beautiful as we followed along a river and had many scenic views along the way.

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We did ask several people who passed us where “Lan Sai”, the name (we think) of the campground we were searching for was, but really no one knew what we were talking about. Perhaps one man did however as he pointed off into the distance and told us to “go home,” which was probably code for “you are in the wrong spot.” We started to listen to him, as we wondered whether or not we were crazy to begin with to hike so far for just one bird. We hiked down a few meters before we decided to just continue onward as we had come so far already.

Canon’s new camera, the 7D Mark II, has GPS capability which we used (when our handheld GPS failed us) to find our elevation. After hiking close to 5-6 miles, we only made it as high as 500m elevation when the trail we were on suddenly ended. At this point it’s 1545, and the sun would be setting in approximately 2 ½ hours. Realizing our trail was incorrect, we turned around to try to find a new one with the little daylight we had left. We hiked about a mile downhill when we ran into a man on a motorbike who had stopped and was staring at the trees above him. We decided to ask him if he knew where “Lan Sai” was. He must’ve known exactly what we were talking about and again pointed off in the distance. He tried to give us directions, attempting to draw a map on his hand, but I guess since he knew we were so far off track, he offered to give us a ride on his motorbike instead. It was a kind gesture and we really didn’t know what to say so we agreed and found ourselves riding 3-deep downhill on the steep, windy little roads bordering the river that we had spent the last several hours climbing up.

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I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was afraid for my life at times, but at the same time it was a much faster mode of transportation and quite frankly, a lot more fun. I found myself smiling the entire way. Ross on the other hand did not find it nearly as fun as I did, but that was perhaps because he was 3rd in the row of people and would have been the first one falling off. Thankfully we ended up making it to the correct side of the mountain and again, started hiking up hill.

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Us with the motorbike guy!

 

The good news, the trails on this side were steep allowing us to gain in elevation very quickly. The bad news, the trails on this side were very steep and we didn’t have much water left. We hiked for what seemed like forever before finally crossing a stream where we could collect more water.

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Looking back on the whole ordeal, I have no idea how we hiked so much that day. I’m not kidding though, we just hiked and hiked and hiked, even after the sun had set. By nightfall we checked our GPS coordinates and had made it to 659m elevation, which is high, but not high enough. We continued hiking in the dark but decided to stop and camp for the night and just finish the rest in the morning. Unfortunately at this point we had already lost flat ground so we had to camp lopsided on very rooted and rocky terrain. On top of all of that, as we were setting up our camp for the night we discovered that I only packed one sleeping bag. Whoops. Anyone looking for ways to test a marriage?!?! If it sounds like the ingredients for a miserable night to you, sleeping was every bit as miserable as it sounds, especially knowing we weren’t at “Lan Sai” at all.

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We knew we had missed a turn somewhere with so many forks in the road and never knowing where the turn to the campground actually was. The next morning we woke up and hoped to gain a bit more in elevation. We hiked upwards a bit more but the trail finally ended at 750m elevation, just shy of our 800m elevation goal. We did hear a barbet singing high up in a tree while we were at the top, but we never got eyes on it. I like to think the tree was 50m tall and the bird could have been what we were looking for but that is a stretch. Sadly we had some so far just to turn around empty handed. With no new trails to follow to higher elevation, we admitted defeat and started our long descent back to our car.

To be fair, it was surely an adventure and we simply had to try to find this bird so we could at least provide information to others on how to find it. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can provide much information, or even describe what trails not to take as there were simply too many turns along the way. Oh well, we tried!

So that’s the story of the motorbike, a terrible night camping, and the Turquoise-throated Barbet dip. Ross affectionately named this particular adventure “a giant piss in the wind.”

An hour-long foot and leg massage was exactly what the doctor ordered after that ordeal so that’s exactly what we did after we arrived in Krabi that afternoon. We also splurged on a well-deserved hotel room for the night in Krabi (Fun Fact: we went with a room without a window because it was cheaper.) I got another massage the next day while Ross went birding in the mangroves (Mangrove Pitta) and then we drove back to Sri Phang Nga national park for one last night so we could find the Gould’s Frogmouth roost that we failed to locate while we were there earlier in the week. Unfortunately, we had no success other than hearing the bird call at night.

Despite a few misses, we’ve also had many successes so don’t let me fool you! It’s been fun!

Mangrove Pitta

Mangrove Pitta

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