The peninsula of southern Thailand, part of geological Sundaland, is a birders’ and naturalists’ paradise. Bounded by the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west, this lush tropical region boasts a maritime climate and a unique combination of terrestrial and marine attractions that rank among the best globally. Our tour is designed to incorporate the most spectacular of the region’s unique karst limestone scenery in searching for the region’s diversity of specials.
There are a number of special avian attractions in southern Thailand from a few spectacular families such as pittas, kingfishers, trogons, malkohas, hornbills, barbets, bee-eaters, and broadbills, including such beauties as Malayan Banded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, (Gurney’s Pitta is now regrettable considered extirpated from Thailand), Great Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill (now considered Critically Endangered per BirdLife International), Bushy-crested Hornbill, Green Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Black-and-red Broadbill, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, Red-throated Barbet, Golden-whiskered Barbet, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Red-billed Malkoha, Banded Kingfisher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Blue-banded Kingfisher, and Red-bearded Bee-eater. One of the region’s star attraction is the Rail-babbler, one of the few birds in the world in a family of its own, though luck will be required to find this tough and elusive deep-forest-dwelling ground bird.
We visit a range of national parks to find the above specials, picking up scores of ornately colored woodpeckers, unique jungle-living babblers and bulbuls, attractive leafbirds, interesting spiderhunters, and others along the way. We may encounter intriguing jungle mammals too, including Dusky Langur, Pig-tailed Macaque, the aptly named Black Giant Squirrel, the beautiful Lar (White-handed) Gibbon, and, with some luck, the nocturnal Greater Slow Loris. We will also visit the stunning reservoir at Khao Sok National Park, surrounded by one of the oldest primary forests in Southeast Asia and some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Thailand.
This tropical birding adventure, set amid extraordinary karst limestone landscapes and rich tropical seas, is one not to be missed!
Arrival in Phuket, where we will meet at our hotel for our group evening welcome meal together.
Morning birding at Khao Phra Thaeo National Park on Phuket Island for an introduction to the birdlife of southern Thailand. First sightings of species like Stripe-throated and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Scarlet-backed and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers, and Crimson Sunbird are a delight, with Coppersmith Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, and Blue-eared Barbet also possible. Other potential species may include the dazzling Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher and wintering Forest Wagtail.
In the late morning we will drive toward Phang Nga, situated on the idyllic Phang Nga Bay, where we will have lunch and check into our hotel for the night. After lunch we will visit the local mangroves to look for specials such as Brown-winged Kingfisher, Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Ruddy Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, and Mangrove Pitta.
Overnight: Phang Nga
We will spend the early morning back in the same mangroves as the previous afternoon or some other nearby mangroves, depending on timing there the previous day. Here we will have an easy morning strolling the road or boardwalks and looking for exotic birds such as malkohas, kingfishers, and broadbills, maybe even Mangrove Whistler.
After lunch we will move to Thai Mueang, where we will search for Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird (in the roller family), Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, and the diminutive Vernal Hanging Parrot. We are also likely to see a range of more common species such as Red-wattled Lapwing and Lesser Whistling Duck. Seasonal wetlands or rice paddies we pass may support herons, bitterns, or egrets as well as Watercock and White-breasted Waterhen, and if we see any suitable habitat we’ll take a look if time permits.
Our third stop along the way to Khao Sok is one of southern Thailand’s shorebird meccas. Terek Sandpiper is the main attraction here, together with Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and Greater Crested and Black-naped Terns. At the end of the day we will move north to the Khura Buri area.
Overnight: Khura Buri
A pre-dawn start will see us enjoying the sunrise over the limestone crags as we head toward Si Phang Nga National Park, where we will spend a full morning. Si Phang Nga is home to the prodigious Helmeted Hornbill as well as flocks of Bushy-crested Hornbill and the immaculate Great Hornbill. The skies above the stream that flows through Si Phang Nga should produce the obscure Whiskered Treeswift and Silver-rumped Spinetail. Chestnut-naped Forktail occurs here, as does the range-restricted Lesser Fish Eagle. This national park is an excellent location for both Malayan Banded Pitta, reputed to be Thailand’s most dazzling, and Banded Broadbill, itself rather dapper, with other impressive birds including Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Orange-headed Thrush, and Chinese Blue Flycatcher.
Other potential species here include Little and Thick-billed Spiderhunters and Purple-naped Sunbird.
After lunch we’ll drive to Khao Sok. Along the way we will look at some river crossings, where we may find River Lapwing, Grey-headed Lapwing, and Red-wattled Lapwing.
Overnight: Khao Sok
We will spend a full morning session birding the river section of Khao Sok National Park. Here we search for the elusive Banded, Rufous-collared, and Blue-banded Kingfishers. The dense jungle here is also a good spot to get to grips with a range of babblers, including Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Black-capped Babbler, and Spot-necked Babbler. A range of woodpeckers occur here, including the flashy Maroon and Bamboo Woodpeckers, as well as other forest birds like Gray-breasted Spiderhunter. This is one of the sites where we will search for the gaudy Chestnut-naped Forktail as well as for Black-and-red Broadbill and Raffles’s Malkoha.
We return to our lodge for lunch before we drive to the nearby Ratchaprapha Dam, where we will board a longboat to take us to our floating accommodation. Between the limestone cliffs that tower hundreds of meters above us we will search for White-bellied Sea Eagle, Oriental Hobby, Lesser Fish Eagle, and Grey-headed Fish Eagle. This boat-based excursion provides for excellent vistas into the jungle and gives us one of our best chances of good sightings of Helmeted, Great, Bushy-crested, and White-crowned Hornbills as well as woodpeckers like Greater and Common Flamebacks. In addition jungle mammals like Dusky Langur and Lar (White-handed) Gibbon, which utters a beautifully haunting call from the jungle canopy, are likely. This is possibly the most scenic spot in Thailand.
We will overnight in bamboo huts on a floating raft at the edge of the lake. Here the accommodation is basic, but the experience is unique.
Overnight: Lake Ratchaprapha
At dawn we will head out in the boat again to look for kingfishers, raptors, and hornbills, and perhaps we’ll see some Lar (White-handed) Gibbons. We will be out on the water all morning, returning to the shore in time for lunch.
After lunch we will drive to Tha Sala, our base for birding the nearby, and relatively undiscovered Khao Luang (Krung Ching) National Park on the eastern side of the Peninsula.
Overnight: Tha Sala near Krung Ching
The Rail-babbler is the only species in the family Eupetidae and is suitably unique in appearance – part rail, part babbler! This is not an easy bird to find, and with the help of a local guide, Krung Ching is one location where it is occasionally sighted. The Rail-babbler is the focus of our efforts during our time in the national park, but the rainforests here hold a plethora of other specials that we will be on the lookout for as well. These include White-crowned Forktail, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Orange-breasted Trogon, the strikingly petite Rufous Piculet, the range-restricted Crested Jay, Green, Black-and-yellow, and Dusky Broadbills, Malayan Banded Pitta, Banded Kingfisher, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Helmeted Hornbill, and breeding Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle.
During our two full days here we will spend our time on the trail, looking and listening for the elusive Rail-babbler and other secretive forest birds, such as Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Moustached Babbler, and Black-throated Babbler, and around the headquarters area, looking for forest-edge birds and others visiting the fruiting trees, such as Golden-whiskered Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-naped Monarch, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and Large Woodshrike.
Overnight (two nights): Tha Sala near Krung Ching
During our final morning birding session at Khao Luang we will walk the entrance road, where we might find some different species from those of the previous days, such as Red-billed Malkoha, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Banded Broadbill, Black Baza, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Great Iora, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Greater Green Leafbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter, and Crimson Sunbird.
At mid-morning we will commence our journey to the Thale Noi area, stopping along the way for lunch. As we near our luxurious accommodation we will check out some rice paddies, where we might find the gorgeous Bronze-winged or Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. The late afternoon will be spent relaxing at the resort, where you may enjoy watching Common Kingfisher, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Common Tailorbird, Scaly-breasted Munia, and White-breasted Waterhen from your balcony.
Overnight: Thale Noi
After breakfast we will spend the morning cruising around the lake in a small boat, hoping to get close views and good photo opportunities of species such as Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas as well as many other wetland species like Cotton Pygmy Goose, Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black-headed Ibis, Grey-headed Swamphen, Slaty-breasted Rail, White-browed Crake, Whiskered Tern, and with luck some interesting shorebirds such as Oriental Pratincole, Long-toed Stint, Wood Sandpiper, and Grey-headed Lapwing. Sometimes Buffy Fish Owl can be found roosting along the lake, and if we are lucky enough to find one it is sure to be a highlight.
We will sit out the heat of the middle of the day, maybe enjoying the resort’s spa or pool, and then in the late afternoon we will take a drive around the local rice paddies seeing what we can add to our lists, maybe finding Baya Weaver, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, or the rare (at least in this part of Thailand) Painted Stork.
Overnight: Thale Noi
We will reluctantly leave our accommodation early in order to visit the Peninsular Botanic Garden near Trang, which is home to a small peat swamp. Here we can potentially see Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, and Large Hawk-Cuckoo, as well as plenty of other interesting species, maybe even Red-crowned Barbet. After lunch we will continue towards Khao Nor Chu Chi, our base for the next two nights. Birding around the lodge grounds may give us good views of Brown-throated Sunbird, White-throated Kingfisher, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Asian Koel, or Banded Woodpecker.
Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi
Sadly, Gurney’s Pitta is no longer seen at Khao Nor Chu Chi (also known as Khao Pra-Bang Khram Wildlife Sanctuary), but the area is still definitely well worth visiting, as it is the only remaining lowland forest in southern Thailand and home to a profusion of exciting birds. During our stay here we will search for flamboyance in the form of Orange-breasted and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Red-crowned Barbet, Red-throated Barbet, Chestnut-bellied and Raffles’s Malkohas, Crested Jay, Malayan Banded Pitta (and possibly an early retuning migrant Hooded or Blue-winged Pitta), and Rufous-collared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers. Less gaudy but as impressive are many species of cryptically marked babblers including Rufous-crowned, Puff-throated, Black-capped, Scaly-crowned, and Spot-necked Babblers. Buff-rumped Woodpecker is exquisite in the subtlety of its markings. Globally there are only two species of philentomas – Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas – and both occur here at KNCC. Black-naped Monarch is common, as is the aureate white form of Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher. KNCC is also one of the very few places where the enigmatically elusive Giant Pitta has been sighted, but we will need extreme luck to find one of those!
Our after-dinner outing at KNCC will be in search of Great Eared and Large-tailed Nightjars as well as Oriental Bay Owl, and we may also find other nocturnal species such as Brown Wood Owl, Sunda Scops Owl, or Barred Eagle-Owl, maybe even an interesting reptile or mammal such as Greater Slow Loris.
Overnight: Khao Nor Chu Chi
We will have another morning birding around KNCC, looking for the aforementioned species along with others such as Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Cream-vented Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Puff-backed Bulbul, and Thick-billed Flowerpecker, all lowland specials. After lunch we will check out of our accommodation and commence our drive back to Phuket, where we will have a final meal together and tackle the difficult task of selecting a “Bird of the Trip”.
The tour concludes with departure from Phuket International Airport.
Overnight: Not included.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
We just returned from our trip to Thailand. It was wonderful. Thank you very much for arranging our tour with Andy Walker. He was the best guide we ever had. He is knowledgeable, easy going, hard working, and has all the qualities that people expect from a guide. We really enjoyed birding with him. We would be happy to go birding with him any time and would highly recommend him as a guide to any of our friends.
Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to have him as our guide.
Our Best Regards,
Ahmad and Sue – Canada
This is a sample trip report. Please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more trip reports from this destination.