I visited Krung Ching for 3.5 days as part of a solo wet season birding tour of southern Thailand. My aim was to have a crack at seeing some of the elusive specialties of the area (Malayan Banded Pitta, Rail-Babbler ….) as well as getting some common southern Thailand forest birds on my Thai list that until now I had only seen in Borneo.
There seems to be little information about birding southern Thailand in the low season, so hopefully this report is of use to those planning to visit the area at this time of year.
Transport: I arrived at Phuket airport on an Air Asia flight from Bangkok. I had reserved a rental car online with Sixt rent-a-car, via the Auto Europe broker website – the low season rate for their cheapest car was less than 600 baht per day with unlimited mileage. Upon arrival, I was upgraded free of charge to a Toyota Fortuner SUV, which turned out to be an excellent vehicle for long drives, and not bad on the gas mileage either.
Driving directions: The jumping-off point to Krung Ching waterfall is the small town of Tha Sala, in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. Tha Sala is about 300km from Phuket airport, on mostly good roads, about a four hour drive via highways 4, 44, and 401.
Entering Tha Sala from the north on highway 401, turn right on road 4140 at a major intersection with a large Tesco Lotus on the left. Continue for 37km (the road becomes the 4186 after 16km), until a small village where a turning on the left is signposted to Krung Ching waterfall. Drive for another 6.3km, then turn left again at a wooden signboard next to a shelter. This is the village of Phitam. There is a very bumpy bridge, follow the road around to the left here, then turn right on a small road opposite a temple. This road winds uphill, passing several a few houses then entering forest, until the park entrance checkpoint after 2km.
Accommodation: Krung Ching is in a remote area and the accommodation situation is limited. The ranger station inside the park has basic bungalows for rent. I didn’t enquire about these as facilities within the park are absolutely minimal and I didn’t feel like staying there. From other trip reports, I understand that the bungalows cost 700 baht per night. You could also camp – the park office has tents available which you may be able to hire if you don’t bring your own.
About 10km from the park is the comfortable Krung Ching Hill Resort, which may be closed in low season (no one was there when I investigated). There are also supposedly some cheap homestays in Phitam village, but there were no signs in English so I couldn’t find them.
On the first night I arrived late, and after a half-hearted trawl around looking for a bed for the night, I parked next to the entrance gate and slept in the car. On subsequent nights, I stayed in Tha Sala at a brand new hotel/coffee shop on the main street called Madison Boutique Hotel. There’s an English sign outside, the owners speak English, and the rooms are stylish and comfortable with hot shower and AC. They offer reasonable value at 690 baht per night.
It takes about 45 minutes in the early morning to drive from Tha Sala to the park, a sacrifice I considered well worthwhile in exchange for nice accommodation, the convenience of 7-11 and Tesco Lotus stores, and a better choice of places to eat in the evenings.
Food: The best bet is to bring all your supplies to Krung Ching. If you are very stuck, there is a small shop at the ranger station, selling the most basic of provisions (and hot water for tea/coffee is available). Opening hours are erratic, depending on whether there are any staff around or not. There is a slightly larger shop in Phitam village, next to the bumpy bridge, which also sells beer. The village also seemed to have a food stall or two but I didn’t check them out.
In Tha Sala, there is a slightly wider – but still limited – range of tourist-friendly food choices. At the far end of the same street as the Madison Boutique Hotel, on the other side of the traffic lights, is a guesthouse/bar/restaurant that has draft beer, a pool table, and a menu in English. Tesco Lotus has a food court which will do at a pinch. There are also some local food stands in the town center outside the main 7-11, and some larger seafood restaurants on the outskirts of town.
Fees: The official entry fee is 200 baht per day, plus 30 baht for a car. However, during my visit the entrance checkpoint was unmanned, so no one checked me as I went in or out. I was approached by a staff member on the second day as I walked past the ranger station, and I had to buy a ticket – but after that I was a familiar face around the place and they didn’t ask me again, so I paid just 230 baht in fees despite visiting on four consecutive days.
Weather: A quick glance at the vegetation is enough to see that it rains a lot here, all year round. Late August is theoretically the dry season in the southern Gulf, so perhaps it rains a little less at this time of the year: stream levels were relatively low, and while leeches were present on the Waterfall Trail, they were manageable with just a handful of bites per day. The days usually started with fog, which quickly burned off to give clear weather for a few hours. Increasing heat brought clouds and threatened showers from lunchtime onwards, but it didn’t usually rain until the late afternoon, and I actually only got rained on once before 4pm during my 3.5 day stay.
Birding: This site fully lived up to its billing as one of the foremost birding locations in southern Thailand. Those birders familiar with difficult sites like Khao Nor Chuchi will find this place to be like a breath of fresh air. The roadside is a hive of avian activity for the first few hours of the day, and while the dark and damp Waterfall Trail is predictably quieter and more difficult, there are still enough birds along here to produce quite a respectable tally over the course of a morning. Afternoons, on the other hand, were typically sultry and near-birdless except for one day when the temperature was a little lower and bird activity correspondingly higher.
Some of the trickier resident birds, for example Broadbills, seemed more vocal and conspicuous than I had been expecting. However, the tougher forest birds weren’t calling – I was lucky to see a male Malayan Banded Pitta, but failed to get a sniff of a Great Argus, didn’t hear any of the rarer kingfishers, and had to be content with a single snatch of song from a distant Malaysian Rail-Babbler. Finally, it was interesting to see a few migrants already appearing in the area, namely Forest Wagtail, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Tiger Shrike.
My final total of bird species seen inside the park was 89, in 3.5 days of birding, or just over 30 hours in the field.
A lack of trails means that birding is restricted to just three main areas:
- The road from the entrance checkpoint down to the helipad. This 300 meter stretch produced so many good birds in the early morning that it was hard to tear myself away. The afternoons were much quieter but hanging out at the helipad still produced the occasional interesting sighting.
- The campsite. A smaller selection of birds than the roadside, but a good place to eat lunch and observe flowerpeckers, leafbirds etc. on fruiting trees.
- The Waterfall Trail. The best site for the most elusive forest species. I followed this trail until a few hundred meters past the shelter, focusing on the level section from about Km 0.8 until Km 2.1. The shelter itself was an excellent place to sit and wait for birds to pass through.
Bird list (all birds seen, heard-only birds not included):
- Oriental Honey Buzzard – pair seen regularly from helipad.
- Crested Serpent Eagle – one seen over campsite, also heard several times along Waterfall Trail.
- Wallace’s Hawk Eagle – pair seen once along roadside.
- Emerald Dove – occasional singles on roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Banded Bay Cuckoo – two singles seen, at helipad and along roadside, several others heard only.
- Plaintive Cuckoo – one seen along roadside, several others heard only.
- Violet Cuckoo – one seen overflying helipad, its undulating flight and “kee-vick” call are distinctive once learned.
- Asian Drongo Cuckoo – one sunning itself in trees beside the helipad.
- Black-bellied Malkoha – singles seen twice near helipad.
- Raffle’s Malkoha – seen several times along roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Red-billed Malkoha – pair seen once along roadside.
- Chestnut-breasted Malkoha – the commonest Malkoha, regularly seen along roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Glossy Swiftlet – two seen overhead near helipad, a distinctively small, dark swiftlet with bat-like flight.
- Germain’s Swiftlet – occasional flocks overhead. Not all swiftlets were positively identified but all those closely scrutinized appeared to be large and pale so most were probably of this species.
- Asian Palm Swift – single bird passing over helipad.
- Orange-breasted Trogon – two singles along Waterfall Trail.
- Great Hornbill – pair seen flying over road.
- Wreathed Hornbill – up to 15 birds regularly seen from the helipad, flying overhead each morning presumably on their way from a roosting site.
- Common Kingfisher – one at the campsite stream.
- Red-bearded Bee-eater – two singles along roadside.
- Sooty Barbet – small flocks quite commonly seen and heard in all areas.
- Blue-eared Barbet – one seen at campsite, others heard.
- Red-throated Barbet – fairly commonly seen and heard.
- Gold-whiskered Barbet – two singles seen.
- Streak-breasted Woodpecker – singles along roadside and at helipad.
- Rufous Woodpecker – one along Waterfall Trail.
- Buff-necked Woodpecker – female along Waterfall Trail, 50 meters past the shelter.
- Maroon Woodpecker – seen and heard daily along Waterfall Trail.
- Grey-and-buff Woodpecker – one near helipad.
- Black-thighed Falconet – pair regularly seen in bare treetops on the ridge to the right as you walk down the road towards the helipad.
- Vernal Hanging Parrot – one in treetops at the helipad, and another overflying the area.
- Green Broadbill – three singles, two on the Waterfall Trail and one at the helipad.
- Banded Broadbill – just one, along the roadside.
- Black-and-yellow Broadbill – commonly heard singing, seen a few times around the entrance checkpoint and helipad.
- Dusky Broadbill – surprisingly common, up to 6 seen every morning along roadside or near helipad.
- Malayan Banded Pitta – prolonged views of a male on the Waterfall Trail about 400 meters before the shelter.
- Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike – two along roadside.
- Green Iora – one along Waterfall Trail.
- Great Iora – distinctive black-backed form seen several times along roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Fiery Minivet – small groups seen daily flying between treetops along the roadside.
- Lesser Cuckooshrike – three singles along roadside.
- Tiger Shrike – two juveniles along roadside near checkpoint, which although quite skulking were easily located by their loud welcoming committee of seemingly every flowerpecker, sunbird and spiderhunter in the area.
- Dark-throated Oriole – fairly commonly seen and heard along roadside.
- Bronzed Drongo – occasional singles along roadside.
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo – seen daily along roadside.
- Black-naped Monarch – a few seen and heard along both roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Barn Swallow – one flew through the area, seen from the campsite.
- Striated Swallow – three passing over the campsite were of this species and not the perhaps more likely Rufous-bellied Swallow.
- Velvet-fronted Nuthatch – one along Waterfall Trail.
- Black-crested Bulbul – one along Waterfall Trail.
- Grey-bellied Bulbul – one along roadside.
- Stripe-throated Bulbul – commonly seen around campsite and helipad.
- Red-eyed Bulbul – very common.
- Hairy-backed Bulbul – fairly common along Waterfall Trail, especially near the shelter.
- Ochraceous Bulbul – small groups seen at the edge of the campsite and the helipad.
- Yellow-bellied Bulbul – pair along Waterfall Trail.
- Yellow-bellied Warbler – several in bamboo along Waterfall Trail.
- Common Tailorbird – common at campsite, roadside and helipad.
- Dark-necked Tailorbird – common at campsite, roadside and helipad.
- Rufous-tailed Tailorbird – one along roadside.
- Pin-striped Tit-babbler – common along roadside.
- Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler – a pair and a single seen along the Waterfall Trail.
- Chestnut-winged Babbler – one of the more numerous babblers, regularly seen along Waterfall Trail.
- Moustached Babbler – two along Waterfall Trail.
- Scaly-crowned Babbler – two along Waterfall Trail.
- Black-capped Babbler – one seen along first 50 meters of Waterfall Trail.
- Short-tailed Babbler – several along Waterfall Trail, and one pair along roadside.
- Asian Fairy Bluebird – seen several times around campsite.
- White-rumped Shama – singles along roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- White-crowned Forktail – three seen in damp stream beds along Waterfall Trail, and a further single along the roadside.
- Yellow-rumped Flycatcher – male at campsite.
- Greater Green Leafbird – one seen daily in fruiting tree at campsite.
- Lesser Green Leafbird – common.
- Blue-winged Leafbird – common.
- Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker – occasional individuals seen, especially along roadside near checkpoint.
- Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker – male near the shelter along Waterfall Trail.
- Yellow-vented Flowerpecker – one in a fruiting tree at the campsite.
- Orange-bellied Flowerpecker – regularly seen at campsite.
- Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker – one male at campsite.
- Ruby-cheeked Sunbird – seen several times along roadside and Waterfall Trail.
- Plain Sunbird – one along roadside.
- Red-throated Sunbird – one male at helipad.
- Crimson Sunbird – fairly common along roadside, also seen Waterfall Trail.
- Long-billed Spiderhunter – one at campsite; other large spiderhunters seen in flight may also have been this species.
- Little Spiderhunter – very common.
- Yellow-eared Spiderhunter – pair at clearing along the Waterfall Trail about halfway to the shelter.
- Grey-breasted Spiderhunter – singles along Waterfall Trail and roadside.
- Grey Wagtail – one at the campsite stream.
- Forest Wagtail – single migrant on the road.