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Krung Ching Waterfall is a substation of Khao Luang National Park, southern Thailand’s most prestigious national park. Khao Luang is home to the highest mountain in peninsular Thailand at 1,835 meters and earned the title “The Roof of Southern Thailand”.

Krung Ching Waterfall is known throughout Thailand as being one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the south. As a testament to its legend, the waterfall was starred on the 1992 edition of the 1000 baht bill.

IMG_7930Until the last few decades, few foreign birders knew the site even existed, and understandably so; Krung Ching Waterfall is located in the northernmost sector of Khao Luang National Park and well off the beaten track in a rather remote area. The area is so remote that when the region was devastated by the Great Flood of 2011, it took three weeks for relief supplies to reach the township of Pitam. Much of the consignment had to be flown in by helicopter due to the extent of the flooding. Some of the outlying communities were cut off from the outside world for nearly three months.

As it is a part of a much larger national park, Krung Ching is blessed with an abundance of vegetation, comprising entirely of mature broadleaf evergreen forest. This veritable jungle is an abundant source of freshwater which fuels rivers and canals which water the provinces of Songklah and Phattalung, just south of the park.

The forest supports dozens of endangered mammals and reptiles, such as Indochinese Tiger, Malayan Tapir, Serow, Sambar, Gaur and Binturong, to name a few.

Smaller mammals such as Colugo, Slow Loris and an assorted variety of reptiles can often encountered along the access road and campsite late at night and when encountered, provide a thrilling experience for visitors and nature lovers alike.

Like other prestigious national parks in Thailand, the park is regularly patrolled by armed forest rangers. The patrols help to reduce the amount of poaching in the jungle and are vital to the survival of many of the mammal species in the park.

The 70’s and early 80’s were a turbulent time for the region, and the mountain was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Thailand. The main trails at Krung Ching and Khao Luang were built by the Thai Army and used as a staging ground for incursions into the rebel-held highlands. There are still remains of bunkers and communist hideouts at various intervals along the trail, although most of the relics of this era have been long lost, reclaimed by the jungle.

Birding

The abundance of untouched primary forest make Krung Ching one of the richest birdwatching sites in all of southern Thailand. The years of political turmoil and inhospitable, rugged terrain helped to keep most of the loggers at bay until the Logging Ban of 1989 came into effect.

The official bird list for Krung stands at over 350 species, fewer in comparison to other prime birdwatching sites in Thailand. However, a quick browse through the list will reveal that what the site lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.

The park is home to nine of Thailand’s 12 species of hornbill, including the rare Black Hornbill and Wrinkled Hornbill. Most commonly encountered are White crowned and Bushy Crested Hornbills, while the Great Hornbill, common throughout most of the south, is among the rarest on hornbills in the park.

Krung Ching has earned a nickname as the Trogon Capital of Thailand. It’s easy to see why. Of the six species which can be found in Thailand, all but two are present in the park. Most commonly encountered are Scarlet rumped Trogons; their brilliant plumage is always a favorite among birders. The park is also home to Orange breasted Trogon and the rare Cinnamon rumped Trogon and Diard’s Trogon.

Kingfishers are also well represented in this park, with 10 of Thailand’s 15 species present. The star attraction is the Rufous collared Kingfisher, a bird which is rare throughout most of the south, yet fairly easy to find in Krung Ching. Banded Kingfisher is another favorite which can be found with relative ease during the breeding months. Ruddy Kingfisher, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Blue eared Kingfisher and Black capped Kingfisher can also be found in the park.

Raptor lovers will enjoy the selection Krung Ching has to offer as well. Both Wallace’s and Blyth’s Hawk Eagle are present and easy to find, and birders will also encounter Crested Serpent Eagle and Black thighed Falconet on a regular basis. Sadly, the former celebrity of the park, the resident Lesser Fish Eagle, has not be seen since 2011 and is assumed to have passed away of old age.

Krung Ching was the first site in Thailand where rangers successfully set up a hide to photograph the highly-elusive Great Argus. This massive cousin of the pheasant is a resident of the park with up to 12 known leks scattered throughout the forest along the trail to the waterfall. Its extremely reclusive behavior makes it impossible to locate in the thick forest, making in one of the most sought-after birds in Thailand.

Another jewel of the jungle, the mystical Malaysian Rail Babbler, frequents the forest along the main trail and is an attraction which has drawn hundreds of birders to this site. Once widespread throughout the south, the rail babbler has disappeared from its former haunts due to deforestation and remains one of the most prized twitches among foreign and local birders alike.

At night the forest comes alive with calls of nocturnal birds, some of which can be lured out with little difficulty. Both Javan and Gould’s Frogmouth are present, although the latter seems to be quite difficult to locate. A number of owls are resident in the park as well, ranging from the diminutive Collared Scops Owl and Brown Hawk Owl to giants such as the Barred Eagle Owl, Brown Wood Owl and Buffy Fish Owl.

Other impressive species which round out the list include Maroon breasted Philentoma, Grey and Buff Woodpecker, Banded Woodpecker, Yellow Crowned Barbet, and Red bearded Bee Eater  .

A few very rare birds have been seen in Krung Ching in past times. These include Chestnut capped Thrush, Bat Hawk, Jambu Fruit Dove and Red Crowned Barbet.

One aspect which makes Krung Ching so special is the fact that it keeps adding more species to its already impressive portfolio. In recent years, birders have encountered rarities such as Wrinked Hornbill and Malaysian Honeyguide in the park, and there is speculation that Crested Wood Partridge, Malayan Peacock Pheasant, Crested Fireback and Giant Frogmouth may also be discovered in forests of Krung Ching sometime in the future.

Birdwatching Locations

Birds are present all throughout the park; even when they are not seen their voices can be heard in the trees and behind the dense shrubs and vines which cloak the forest. However, to make things easier, we’ve broken down the park into sections to allow birders to decide which part of the park they should focus their attention on, based on what birds they are looking for.

Access Road

Most people tend to use the access road merely as a thoroughfare for getting in and out of the park. However, birders would be unwise to dismiss it as boring or lifeless, as these roadsides harbor a number of secrets which few birders would be foolish enough to dismiss at the blink of an eye.

Simply put, birding along the access road is on par to that of birding along the main waterfall trail. It also has an advantage over the trail in that it is a more open environment, making it easier to spot birds. And since it is sealed with blacktop, the road is far less dangerous in the wet season, when unlimited amounts of rain and mud often turn the waterfall trail into a ranging torrent of mud and debris – in short, a trekker’s nightmare.

The access road begins at Wat Bor Nam Ron and passes a collection of houses before winding uphill through the forest. This area is rarely frequented by birders and harbors a number of treats such as Banded Broadbill, Banded Kingfisher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Hill Myna and other interesting species. At night the Javan Frogmouth can be heard calling from near the side of the road and high in the trees one can find the Brown Hawk Owl and the diminutive Oriental Scops Owl.

After driving 2.3 kilometers there will be a checkpoint. I often choose to park the vehicle here and bird along the road from the checkpoint to the helicopter landing pad a few hundred meters down the road. Birding this stretch of the road has its treats as well –Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Crested Jay, Fiery Minivet, Raffle’s Malkoha, Sultan Tit, Southern White Crowned Forktail, Maroon Woodpecker and Buff rumped Woodpecker are just a few that come to mind. The elusive Malaysian Honeyguide was also spotted along this road in January of 2013.

At night the giant Barred Eagle Owl makes its rounds and is sometimes spotted perching in the trees high up on the ridge.

The helicopter landing pad, which used to be known as the bus parking lot, offers a panoramic view of the forest canopy. It was once a good place to observe raptors and hornbills in flight, although few large birds seem to frequent the area nowadays. However, at times once can still spot Wreathed Hornbill, Crested Serpent Eagle and Wallace’s Hawk Eagle in flight over the viewpoint.

Other birds which are sometimes found in the area include Brown Barbet, White thighed Falconet, Banded Broadbill, Blue winged Pitta and Blue winged Leafbird.

Campsite and HQ

Birding around the campsite can be slow at times, especially in the aftermath of a holiday, weekend or youth scout camp. However, it will at times offer a number of surprises to those who are patient.

A number of fruiting trees are present in the campsite and anytime there is a fruiting tree, the birds will flock in to feed in droves. I remember once in 2012 I parked myself under a fig tree and observed over 300 birds engaged in a feeding frenzy, including species such as Violet Cuckoo, Stripe throated Bulbul, Scaly breasted Bulbul, Grey breasted Bulbul, Yellow bellied Bulbul, Gold whiskered Barbet, Green eared Barbet, Red throated Barbet, Thick billed Pigeon, Black naped Oriole, Red billed Malkoha, Vernal Hanging Parrot and Asian Fairy Bluebird.

On a far corner of the campsite lies Sao Noi Waterfall. Some birders have gotten lucky and spotted Chestnut naped Forktail here, although it seems to be quiet most of the time. A decade ago, during a particularly hot and dry year, a single Chestnut capped Thrush was photographed coming in to drink at the waterfall. The photograph hangs on the wall of the main office and is the only record from the park to date.

The once faithful Lesser Fish Eagle which graced the waterfall behind the station office has been absent for a number of years and is assumed to have died of old age.

At night a number of owls are found around the campsite and bungalows. Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood Owl are most commonly encountered, but Bay Owl and Barred Eagle Owl have also been heard in times past.

The campsite is located 1 kilometer past the checkpoint and 3.3 kilometers from Wat Bor Nam Ron.

Waterfall Trail

Most birders focus their attention on this 4.7 kilometer trail as the majority of the birds “in demand” are found along this stretch of forest.

I find the best birding to be had between the first arbor (KM 0.8) and the second arbor (KM 2) as this section seems to represent the majority of what the trail has to offer. The list of birds seen in this area is very impressive; to name a few, we have Rufous collared Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Green Broadbill, Orange breasted Trogon, Cinnamon rumped Trogon, Scarlet rumped Trogon, Black throated Babbler, Feruginous Babbler, Grey headed Babbler, Black capped Babbler, Fluffy backed Tit Babbler, Banded Pitta, Black Hornbill, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black naped Monarch, Rufous Piculet, Buff rumped Woodpecker, Maroon Woodpecker, Red bearded Bee Eater and more.

Take a look at the diagram below to get an idea of what birds can be found in these areas:

About 200 meters past the second arbor birders should have a good chance of finding the rare Diard’s Trogon. Keep an eye out among the bamboo thickets on the side of the trail as well, as there is a chance some pheasants or partridges may be heard lurking in the shadows. I’ve encountered a few pheasants running across the trail in the past, and although I wasn’t able to identify any of them, I suspect they may have been Crested Fireback.

Great Argus is heard frequently along this stretch of the trail and sometimes the calls seem to be very close. However, I would strong recommend against going into the forest in pursuit of the birds on your own as it is every easy to get lost. Some birders and trekkers have had to be rescued from the forest after wandering off the trail and it creates a problem for the park staff who end up having to spearhead the search and rescue.

Knowing the calls of the various species which reside in the park is of utmost importance for birders visiting Krung Ching; it really will make a difference between a good or fantastic day of birding. Birders who plan to visit should make an effort to familiarize themselves with the bird calls, in particular the birds they are after.

Note: The trail begins with a steady climb uphill for the first 700 meters before getting very steep for about 100 meters. After this the trail is pretty much level for the most part, all the way to KM 3 where it gently winds uphill once more. The trail is cemented for the first 2.4 kilometers before giving way to a dirt track.

Despite being cemented, the trail still harbors a number of biting insects and leeches, especially in the wet season. Protection in the form of leech socks and DEET based repellents are highly recommended.

Photography

Like other sites in the south, Krung Ching offers a number of stakeouts for bird photography, but most of them are restricted to a particular bird; there are no “feeding stations” where multiple species of birds can be photographed. Photographers must take an “opportunistic” approach to bird photography, carrying their equipment about and waiting for a good opportunity to capture a frame or two of an inquisitive or passing bird.

Tong and Raymond photograph in the wet.With that being said, Krung Ching offers a pretty good list of birds for photography. Favorites which have been photographed in the park include Rufous collared Kingfisher, Javan Frogmouth, Banded Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Great Argus, Southern White crowned Forktail and Malaysian Rail Babbler.

Remember that opportunistic bird photography is very unpredictable: some days will be feast while others will be worse than famine. If you aren’t willing to spend a few hours waiting for the birds to show, don’t make the effort to visit the site. There are other good photographic birding spots in the central and northern regions. –And of course, there is always a local zoo where you can satisfy your itchy trigger finger!

Interested photographers wishing to visit should contact a birding tour company or phone Krung Ching to arrange a tour in advance –some species such as the Great Argus take a few days of preparation to get the hide set up.

Local Guides

Birders who decide to visit Krung Ching and are interested in hiring a guide should contact Bahng Daeng, a local ranger based at the park substation. Khun Daeng has worked at the park for well over a decade and is very knowledgeable about the birds and wildlife in the park. He cannot communicate too well in English but does know most of the names of the target birds in English.

As a forest ranger, Khun Daeng does not charge a set fee for a day of birding but rather leaves it up to the client to offer a donation for his assistance. Those who have spent a day with him in the field and are happy with the results should tip him generously.

Those who are interested in spending a day out with Khun Daeng should try to book him in advance; most of his days are spent working at Krung Ching Waterfall substation as a park ranger and he is only able to guide on his days off.

Khun Daeng can be contacted at 0801418174. –Remember, his English is not too good so you may need to ask someone to act as a translator for you if you are calling his phone!

Accommodations and Fees

The biggest issue for birdwatchers visiting Krung Ching is the limited accommodation options. Most of the options tend to revolve around homestay lodges and small guesthouses, some of which are overpriced and often Spartan.

Birders looking for cheap and simple accommodations could consider the national park bunglows, which offer clean and simple accommodations for four at the modest price of 700 baht per night. However, the price does somewhat reflect the quality of living one has to endure: the bathrooms have no water heaters and the rooms are only equipped with fans. The latter should not be an issue as the weather gets quite cool at night, but the fact there is no hot water for showers will not bode well for some people, especially since the water is pumped fresh from the waterfall and comes out of the tap at a chilling 7-18 degrees Centigrade.

Another compounding issue is that there is no restaurant at the park (the park plans to construct one and have it running by the end of 2014) so food and drink must be purchased at the town of Pitam outside the park.

Krung Ching Garden Homestay is another option which birders may consider. The place offers four bedrooms, one of which is air-conditioned. The bathrooms are equipped with hot water heaters as well. However, the accommodations may be too Spartan for some people, as the establishment is quite old and in need of renovation. Rooms range from 500 – 800 baht a night (negotiable) and meals can be arranged for those interested.

Most tourists and birders who are not on a shoestring budget choose to stay at the upscale Krung Ching Hill and Camping Resort which offers luxurious bedrooms with comfortable beds and hot water heaters for showers. The only setback for some is the fact that all rooms are all equipped with fans (the temperature drops at night so there is no need for air-conditioning). The price ranges from 1700 for a double bed and 2000 for a twin bedroom per night; the price includes a continental or Thai breakfast as well.

Visitors must pay 200 baht per day to enter the park. The price is only paid once by those choosing to stay at the park accommodations, although some people will prefer to choose paying the daily fee over sleepless nights in a DNP bungalow. The entry fee can become an issue for those wishing to stay for a week; thankfully, the issue can be negotiated with the park staff and they will sometimes waive the fee for those visiting multiple days at a time.

Directions to Krung Ching Waterfall

Although it is possible to take public transportation to Krung Ching, I would highly advise birders rent their own vehicle and drive to the park. Public transportation is slow, tedious and inefficient; it also requires the traveler to transfer between various forms of local transportation a number of times, and the language barrier can prove to be a major hurdle; even I have found it to be a major headache to deal with!

If driving from Bangkok, take Highway 41 south past the Chumporn and continue until you reach Surat Thani Airport. From there follow the signs to Surat Thani and Nakorn Sri Tammarat (located on your left).


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After passing Punpin, Surat Thani, Kanchanadit and Donsak (where the ferries depart to Koh Samui), you will enter the province of Nakorn Sri Tammarat. From here drive along Highway 401 past Sichon municipality until you reach the town of Tha Sala. Make a right turn at this intersection. There will be a large Tesco Lotus on the left hand side of the intersection. From here, follow Route 4140 past the town of Na Raeng to Baan Rong Lek where you take the right turn at the T-junction. From here, Krung Ching Waterfall is still another 43 kilometers away.


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From here drive on along Route 4186 until you hit the town of Huay Paan. Once in the municipality there will be a T-junction with a large wooden sign for Krung Ching Waterfall and Pitam village. From here the park is still another seven kilometers away.


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The entrance to the waterfall is marked by a wooden sign which sits adjacent to a small arbor. The road will lead to Wat Bor Nam Ron, and the way to the waterfall is directly opposite from the gate of the temple.

I would highly recommend birders tank up on fuel before turning off Highway 401; while there are a number of local fuel stations in the area, prices are higher and the quality is questionable at best. Those renting vehicles would not want to risk any chances of damaging the vehicle due to issues with poor quality fuel.

Despite the town being located in a rather desolate and remote corner of the province, there is one point worth mentioning which should make birders happy: the town of Pitam has a small convenience store which sells a number of amenities as well as yogurt, sodas, snacks and best of all, cold beers! The store opens early and stays on until 7 PM.

No internet is available in the area and phone connections are restricted to AIS carriers only; even this can be spotty at times. There are plans to introduce 3G to the area in the near future.

Personal Opinion

Pros: Long bird list, stuffed with plenty of excellent species; good for bird photography; home to a number of specialties which are absent in most other sites throughout southern Thailand; park has a resident bird guide who is knowledgeable about the birds in the area and can assist foreign birders; is one of few sites which continues to add new species to its locality list.
Cons: Long drive as park is located in a remote area; limited options for lodging and eating; no access to internet in the area and phone signals can be doggy at best; heavy rains in the wet season often result in flooding and restrict birders from visiting the park or accessing the main trail; weather can often be unpredictable; leeches are a problem.

Rating:  – Excellent  –

Krung Ching is arguably the best option for birdwatching in the south outside of Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary. However, if it were up to me, I would recommend birders try both sites as they both compliment each other very well. Between Hala Bala and Krung Ching, practically every forest bird recorded in the south is present at these two sites.

Birders who are wary of the situation in the far south will be pleased with what the Krung Ching has to offer. No other park in the south offers the same quality if birds as this site has to offer.

The fact that new species are being added to the list every year is a testament to its greatness. With continued protection, this site will keep birders satisfied for years to come.

This page was last updated in July, 2014.

Photo Gallery

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

South Thailand Birdwatching: An overview of Krung Ching Waterfall
Department of National Parks: Khao Luang information and datasheet 

– Return to Birdwatching Sites in Southern Thailand page
– Return to Homepage 

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    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.
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