Phuketbirdwatching.com

News and Information on Birding Sites Throughout Thailand and the Andaman

Sri Phang Nga National Park is one of five parks established to protect the largest remaining block of pristine rainforest in southwestern Thailand. The forest block (known as the Khao Sok – Klong Saeng Forest Complex) encompasses Khao Sok (Surat Thani), Kaeng Kreung (Surat Thani), Klong Panom (Surat Thani), Sri Phang Nga (Phang Nga) and Ngao Waterfall (Ranong) National Parks as well as Klong Saeng (Surat Thani), Ton Pariwat (Phang Nga) and Klong Naka Wildlife Sanctuaries (Ranong). This vast expanse of jungle feeds the giant Chieo Laan Lake which provides both water and electricity to thousands of households throughout the region.

Little of the park is accessible to the public as much of the western and northern sectors are comprised of steep mountains. The few navigable trails are  located in the central part of the park. This little area however, is extremely productive for birding. To many, (myself included) this national park is the most productive birdwatching site on Thailand’s west coast and yet it continues to fly under the radar as most birders prefer to visit Khao Sok over this remote place.

Like most national parks, the best time for birdwatching is from the early morning till around 10 or 11 AM. I’ve never had too much luck in the afternoons, but that’s only my personal opinion.

If possible, I would recommend that birders pack a spotting scope for the trip. The park is home to many large trees and many species of birds prefer to hang out in the treetops.


View Larger Map

This satellite image shows the park campsite and headquarters on the left of the photo (the brown clearing) and the access road through the forest which ends at the second campsite near the weir. To see more detail, click on the tab beneath the photo and use the zoom tool on the left hand side.

Birding

The biggest attraction this park has to offer is the Malayan Banded Pitta. The Banded Pitta is present in forests all throughout the south of Thailand and is by no means a rare or endangered species; however, Sri Phang Nga is undoubtedly the best place in Thailand to twitch this magnificent species. I once counted 14 individuals spotted along the nature trail in one morning! The bird is best spotted from late January until the start of the rainy season in early May.

Another major attraction for visiting birders are the six species of hornbill which reside in the park. This includes Great, Wreathed, Bushy Crested, White Crowned, Helmeted and Black Hornbills, although the last species is very rarely encountered. Great Hornbill is by far the most commonly encountered of the six species and the sight of such a huge bird coupled with the sound of its powerful wing beats as it flies from ridge to ridge is a spectacle which leaves an impression for eternity.

The park campsite is a good place to start, and in the morning this is a perfect spot to find the Great Hornbill, Rufous bellied Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard and other birds of prey. White handed Gibbons can be heard howling in the trees at around dawn and with some effort and an equal amount of luck, one may be able to spot them.

The road to the campsite follows a river and the scenery is spectacular. Old forest is dominant in the park and birds are practically everywhere. In the bamboo thickets, babblers are usually quite active with Abbott’s, Grey throated and Chestnut winged Babbler most frequently encountered. Grey throated and Black capped Babblers are also present but are very shy and can be difficult to observe.

The access road to the campsite provides easy birding at an uncomfortable price in the form of a sore neck! The trees here are very tall and mature and most of the birds prefer to hang out in the upper canopy. Despite this setback, with patience one can find birds such as Dusky Broadbill, Blue winged Leafbird, Raffles’ Malkoha, Black headed and Black Crested Bulbul, Crow billed Drongo, White rumped Shama, Hooded Pitta and other wonderful birds. In the thickets the call of the rare and elusive Rufous collared Kingfisher is often heard as well.

A spotting scope comes in handy during this portion of the trek and can help make birding easier and less strenuous.

The river which runs adjacent to the access road is excellent for spotting kingfishers. Blue banded Kingfisher is often seen in the area and in the winter one can find Black capped and Common Kingfisher along with Blue eared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher as well. The undergrowth is a secret feeding ground for Chestnut naped Forktail as well.

The campsite is another extremely good birding spot, and even if one decided not to try the trails, this area in itself has a lot to offer. Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Red eyed, Spectacled, Buff vented, Scaly breasted, Grey bellied and Streak eared Bulbul, Scarlet Minivet, Thick billed Pigeon, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black naped Oriole, Little Cormorant, Crimson and Maroon Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Plaintive, Drongo and Violet Cuckoo, Black backed Kingfisher, Long billed Spiderhunter, Gold Whiskered, Blue eared and Red throated Barbet are some of the many species of beautiful birds found here.

This part of the park offers some of the easiest birding available in southern Thailand and is best enjoyed from 7-10 AM. Just within this small campsite, one can easily pick up at least 30-40 species in a single morning of birding.

Keep an eye on the skies above, as in the early morning hornbills often fly silently overhead.

A huge fig tree, when in season, attracts Great Hornbill and other fruit-loving birds such as Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Scaly breasted Bulbul, Black winged Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike, Thick billed Green Pigeon and Raffles’ Malkoha, making birding ridiculously easy.

In the winter and migratory season, birds which can be encountered around this area include Eyebrowed and Siberian Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Chinese Blue and Green backed Flycatchers, Dark sided, Taiga and Asian Brown Flycatchers.

Lesser Fish Eagle, a rare and highly sought after species, are sometimes seen around the weir near the campsite. A breeding pair was seen in late 2009 with two young, providing hope that this species will claw its way off the endangered list.

In the evenings one should listen for the call of Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood Owl near the park bungalows. Brown Wood Owl tends to show after 9 or 10 PM while the Buffy Fish Owl will often arrive in the early morning, sometimes as late as 2 or 3 AM. Both Blyths and Gould’s Frogmouth are also present in the park but one should have the assistance of a park ranger to locate them as they are usually found down the main trail which is closed to tourists after 6 PM. Nick Upton’s website (see the link posted below) has directions to the frogmouths’ stakeouts.

Trails

There are a number of trails which offer good exercise and attractive birding opportunities. Two trails start off at the campsite: One to heads to Tamnang waterfall (on the left with a bridge) and one to Ton Deng and Ton Ou Waterfall (on the right).

Trail 1: Ton Deng – Ton Ou Waterfall (ca. 5.8 KM) The most commonly trekked trail, heading towards Ton Deng Waterfall, starts out through lush evergreen forest for about 1.5 kilometers before it forks into two trails, with one heading up the mountain (right) and the other towards Ton Deng waterfall (left). The trail is quite birdy, with Ochraceous Bulbul, Grey headed Flycatcher, Orange breasted Thrush, Gold whiskered Barbet, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Emerald Dove, Black backed Kingfisher and Rufous Piculet among the specialties found along this trail.

The stream plays home to the most beautiful of all forktails in the kingdom: the Chestnut naped Forktail. This bird spends its days walking up and down the stream foraging for insects among the rocks. It is worthwhile to spend some time looking up and down the stream while crossing as often the bird is busy feeding and will ignore a passing birder.

After the fourth stream crossing there will be a small clearing to the left of the trail. This is where most birders and photographers sit and wait for the bird to pass by. If you sit quietly behind the log and wait, the bird will usually  pass through once or twice between 8 – 10 AM.

Near where the trail forks is a good place to find Malayan Banded Pitta, a bird so beautiful it has earned the title of “King of the Forest”. From January through April this bird can be found along the forest trail and near the gulleys. -Listen for its soft “pouuu” call!

The trail then heads up a steep incline to a narrow ridge. This part of the trek can be quite exhausting, especially in the hot season. From the top of the ridge, one can get a good look at the upper canopy and perhaps even catch a glimpse of some hornbills in flight. -Keep an eye out for woodpeckers, which are fairly common along the ridgetop. In the early mornings you may also get lucky and see Great Argus crossing the trail or find a pair of Helmeted Hornbill which are known to nest deep in the forest. A few mammals can also be found on this trail, such a Giant Squirrel, Asian Palm Civet and Slow Loris, not to mention the White Handed Gibbon, which is always heard but rarely encountered. After four kilometers the trail meanders down to Tamnang waterfall, where the sight of clean, cool water makes one want to jump in and cool off after an exhausting trek.

Trail 2: Tamnang Waterfall (ca. 0.8 KM) The other trail, starting from the left of the campsite, heads towards Tamnang waterfall. This trail is paved and easy on the feet. The start of the trail was once the best place to encounter the beautiful King of the Forest, the Banded Pitta (provided you show up during the breeding season!). Large Woodshrike, Striped Tit-Babbler, Chestnut winged Babbler, Black naped Monarch, Ochraceous Bulbul, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill,  Blue Winged Leafbird, Lesser Green Leafbird and Black crested Bulbul are often found along this trail. This trail is short but is quite rich in birdlife, although the sound of the river and nearby falls can sometimes drown out the faint calls of certain birds.

Trail 3: Ton Teuy Waterfall (ca. 2.4 KM) Another trail starts off near HQ heading towards Ton Teuy waterfall. Few people have ventured on this trail but it will soon be paved (according to one park official) so that will make easy access for birders and picnickers alike. This trail passes through a number of dry streambeds and shallow streams, providing the perfect habitat for finding pittas and kingfishers. The downside is that this area is also the most leech-infested area in the entire park. Birds seen here include the Banded Pitta, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Rufous collared Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Blue banded Kingfisher, Blue eared Kingfisher, Chestnut naped Forktail, Rufous winged Philentoma and Black bellied Malkoha.

This trail ends at a labyrinth of rocky riverbeds and is a great place to watch birds come down to drink in the heat of the day. Since the trail is rather unused and overgrown it is best to ask a ranger for assistance when embarking on the trek. The trail should never be attempted during the rainy season as the area gets flooded quite deep and can be very treacherous.

Other trails: On the road to the campsite at one of the bends is a small trail which forks off to the right (a small sign is posted on the road). This is a known stakeout for Gould’s Frogmouth, but finding it will require much patience and the right playback call.

As of 2011, the main access road which leads to the campsite is off-limits after 6 PM, making the search for this prized bird quite impossible without the aid of a park ranger or the express permission of the park director.

A full-day trek through the forest will take you to the highest peak (Khao Nom Sao) in the northern sector of the park. This trek has never been attempted by any birder (as far as I know) but the trek should offer a chance to encounter some rare or unusual species. If one is interested, they should contact the park beforehand, as the person must be accompanied by a park ranger. Most likely it will require an overnight stay at the summit as well.

The rangers also mentioned that there is a trail which cuts through the forest and ends at Khao Sok National Park. To walk the entire length of the trail takes three full days and guarantees sightings of large mammals and plenty of quality birds. The trail is used by patrolling units of the DNP but not yet open to the general public and there is no timetable for when it will be made available.

Accommodations and Fees

Overnight stays must be arranged in advance by phone or email or by booking online through the national park website. Open-air bungalows with fans are available for rent at 700 baht a night. The rooms are spartan and modest but clean with fresh bedding and clean towels. The mattresses are quite hard (more like judo mats) and will draw complaints from many birders. Some of the bathrooms are equipped with hot water heaters but due to lack of maintenance they can’t always be relied on to work properly.

So why would any birder choose to stay here? Simply put, staying in the park is the only choice for birders who wish to twitch the nocturnal birds such as Buffy Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Blyths Frogmouth and Gould’s Frogmouth.

Tents are also available for rent and cost a mere 400 THB.

HQ provides clean bathroom facilities and a restaurant for those who need a bite to eat. The food is cheap and delicious and can be tailored for those who prefer to stick to a non-spicy routine. The restaurant opens at 8 AM and closes at 4.30 PM. For those staying late, packed dinners can be arranged with the kitchen and the night staff can turn on the lights for those who plan to eat late.

[To reserve a DNP bungalow at Sri Phang Nga National Park, click here]

For those who need more modern conveniences, the Kuraburi Greenview Resort is located about 10 kilometers north on the road to Kuraburi. This hotel offers clean rooms with comfortable mattresses and hot running water and even has a pool for those who would like to take a swim after a long day of birdwatching. Since it is the only hotel in the area, the average rate per night stands at roughly 3000 THB a room, making it the most expensive hotel in the district.

Likewise, there are a number of smaller establishments along the Takuapah – Kuraburi road which offer clean accommodations at reasonable prices, starting from as low as 350 baht a night. Baan Lung Da, located seven kilometers north of the park entrance on the left hand side of the road, is such a place. It offers air conditioning, hot showers and clean, comfortable and simple accommodations for 450 THB a night. Those interested in booking a room can contact the owner at 089-895-8951.

Park entrance fees for foreigners currently stands at 100 baht per head, and those who choose to stay in the park accommodations are exempt from paying any additional daily entrance fees. Birders are however, required to sign their name into a log book. This helps keeps a record of how many birdwatchers visit the park, perhaps with the intention of gearing this park towards birders and their needs in the future.

Directions to Sri Phang Nga National Park


View Larger Map

From Phuket (or Khao Lak) drive along Highway 4 bound for Takuapah. After passing through the municipality, take a left at the first T-junction after the bus station. Follow Highway 4 heading north to Ranong. (Going straight will take you to Khao Sok and Surat Thani on Highway 401.) Look for signs posted on your left. The national park will be on your right about 25 kilometers before Kuraburi town.


View Larger Map

This map shows the exact location of the park (the long road winding eastwards). There will be a large sign posted by the side of the road which marks the entrance to this park.


View Larger Map

Zoom into this map and you will see directions to Tung Chalee substation, once the headquarters of Sri Phang Nga National Park. Tung Chalee was once a popular feeding ground for large mammals but after years of hunting and deforestation, the wildlife no longer frequent the area in large numbers. Birding at this station is still quite good and it is worth it to pay a visit to this site if you plan to spend a few days in the area. The station is blessed with an abundance of fruiting trees and when they are in season birding here becomes ridiculously easy.


View Larger Map

The northernmost substation for the park, Suan Mai Waterfall, is a site seldom frequented by birders or tourists. As far as I know there are not too many birding opportunities at this station but it does offer a chance to see bulbuls, broadbills and barbets when the trees are fruiting. The staff planted a flowering bush from the north which attracts Grey breasted, Little and Spectacled Spiderhunter as well as Crimson Sunbird. There are no good trails into the forest from the station and unless there is a fruiting tree in season, birding here will be quite boring.

Personal Opinion

Pros: Rich habitat with excellent birds; helpful park staff who are knowledgeable about birds and where to find wanted species; regular stakeout for Banded Pitta, Brown Wood Owl, Chestnut naped Forktail and other specials; high probability of finding other rare birds in the park; most trails are well maintained with only a few leeches present; potential of encountering mammals on the trails.
Cons: Access road and trails off-limits after dark; park location rather remote; few dining and lodging options nearby.
Rating:  – Very Good –

This park has a lot to offer and a birder can easily bag anywhere from 40-70 species in a single morning. Its extreme richness, paired with the ease of birding makes this one of my favorite national parks in the south. Overall, this park is definitely one of the top birding destinations in Phang Nga, or on the west coast of Thailand for that matter!

Its attraction is also not just limited to birdwatching; the park is also a great place to spend a weekend with kids and family or friends.

If there is any doubt in your mind regarding the richness of this site, I’d recommend you take a look at the reports listed in the tab above. Once you’ve read the reports, I’m sure you’ll agree that this site deserves a place in your itinerary on your next trip to the south!

This page was last updated in January, 2017.

Photo Gallery

Birds of Sri Phang Nga National Park

To view the gallery in slideshow mode, click on the first photo of the set. Click anywhere outside the photo to end the slideshow.

Useful Links

Nick Upton’s review of Sri Phang Nga National Park
Department of National Parks: Sri Phang Nga information and datasheet

Return to Birdwatching Sites in Phang Nga page
Return to Homepage

  • Noteworthy

    Special Thanks to Peter Ericsson, Ian Dugdale, Weine Drotz and Hermann Drotz for contributing their photos to this website. All photos displayed in this website are used with permission from the owner.
  • Contact

    Phone: (66)081-535-5014 Email: phuketbirder@gmail.com