With a total area of roughly 212 square kilometers, Bueng Boraphet is the largest natural freshwater lake in central Thailand and home to an abundant variety of fish, birds and other animals. A large portion of this lake is reserved as a Non-hunting Area under the supervision of the Parks Division. It attracts many locals and tourists who visit the lake to relax, eat Isaan food and swim in the artificial beach created by the local provincial administration office.
In the past the lake was known as “Chom Beung” or the “Northern Lake” which shrank or grew in size depending on the amount of precipitation per year. In 1926, a royal decree was set forth to construct a dam as a means of conserving the water for the dry season and to preserve the area as a natural breeding station for freshwater fish in the central basin. Two years later the Treasury department declared the area a protected zone which in effect turned the lake into one of Thailand’s first national wildlife reserves.
Beung Borapet is one of only a handful of large lakes in the country which still retains large tracts of reeds and other foliage along its shoreline. It is among these dense reedbeds that the mystical White eyed River Martin was discovered in 1968. In past times the reedbeds were thicker and less disturbed, but since then many thousands of acres of wetland scrub have been cut down by local government administrations or locals who enter to trap birds and other animals, or to set nets for fish.
Fishing is permitted outside the protected zones but the trapping of birds is illegal. However, few locals are prosecuted for breaking the law.
Critically endangered Siamese Freshwater Crocodiles once thrived in the lake but have long been extirpated although the locals claim there are still a few rouge individuals in the lake. Today, a crocodile breeding station at the Fisheries Office is all that is left of the once vibrant population.
Main Attractions: Glossy Ibis, Spot billed Pelican, Oriental Darter, Baer’s Pochard, Pied Kingfisher
Other Attractions: Pheasant tailed Jacana, Bronzed winged Jacana, Asian Golden Weaver, Jacobin Cuckoo, Ferruginous Duck, Siberian Rubythroat
Extirpated: White eyed River Martin
Bird life is on the decline due to rapid modernization and construction in the area and in time one can only guess what will become of the lake. However, despite the advances of modern man, birds are still abundant and any visitor to the lake can easily fill an afternoon birding log with at least 40 or 50 species seen around the lake or on the open water.
Nearly a full complement of local waterfowl can be found at this lake, making it perhaps the most important waterfowl site in the central region. In total, over 350 species of birds are known to exist within the confines of the protected area, and new species are added annually. An example of the resident birds seen on the fringes of the lake and on the open water include Pheasant tailed Jacana, Bronze winged Jacana, Chinese Pond Heron, Purple Swamphen, Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Pied Kingfisher, White shouldered Starling, Asian Golden Weaver, Streaked Weaver, Little Grebe, Oriental Pratincole, Indian Shag, Black shouldered Kite and Watercock.
The abundance of lotus beds and other floating vegetation in the lake provides food for many species of waterfowl and is the primary reason why this lake is frequented by many ducks and other wintering migrants each year.
Most visitors to the lake are quick to note the large number of ducks; indeed the lake is brimming with thousands of Lesser Whistling Duck and Cotton Pigmy Goose. In the winter, other migratory ducks such as Northern Pintail and Garganey join the mix, along with small numbers of Ferruginous Duck and Tufted Duck.
Beung Borapet is unique in the sense it plays home to a number species which are very scarce in other parts of the country; Glossy Ibis and Spot billed Pelican are a few examples. The lake is also a breeding site for Oriental Darter and Purple Heron, two species listed as threatened in Thailand.
Bueng Boraphet cemented its name in history as the place where the White Eyed River Martin was discovered back in 1968. With ongoing problems such as the high level of disturbance by the locals, the trapping and hunting of birds, and aggressive cropping of reedbeds, most birders and ornithologists agree that there is little or no chance that this species will ever been seen here again.
The best time to visit is from November to March when wintering migrants and passerines use the lake as a place to feed and rest before continuing their journey. Migrants seen on the lake or around the fringes (that were not mentioned earlier) include Eurasian Coot, Black headed Ibis, Osprey, Purple backed Starling, Chestnut tailed Starling, Black Kite, Red throated Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, Eyebrowed Thrush and various reed warblers.
Special sightings reported from the lake include Black necked Grebe (2007 and 2009), Great Crested Grebe (2007), Greater Scaup (2009) and Baer’s Pochard (2009). Some birders have also claimed to have encountered Greater Adjutant in the past, although this large bird is now scarce and has been hard to find for some years now.
There are two sections of the lake which are accessible to birders: The Visitors’ Center, a large tourist attraction built and managed by the local provincial administration located on the northern side of the lake, and the Bird Sanctuary, managed by the Parks division, located on the southern side.
Bueng Boraphet Tourist Center and Crocodile Breeding Station
Although the Visitors Center and the adjacent Fisheries Station do offer some interesting birds within the vicinity, most birders will agree that the best birding is to be had at the bird sanctuary on the south side as that is where many of the specialties are to be found.
The Visitors Center is a fun place to visit for those who may have family or relatives tagging along and need a place to “drop them off”. Among the attractions are a Crocodile Wrestling Stadium, an Indoor Freshwater Aquarium, a man-made beach complete with sand and beach chairs and boat tours for those who want to see the lake. The plethora of restaurants in the area ensures that no one will ever go hungry on a trip to the lake.
The Crocodile Breeding Station is located at the back of the center and is open to the public. There is even a feeding pen complete with an elevated walkway where visitors can view crocodiles close up. Those who are brave may even try their hand at feeding the beasts!
The Visitor Center offers great views of the western side of the lake. Most of the birds found here are open-country species and common waterfowl such as Lesser Whistling Duck, Great and Little Egret, Asian Openbill, Common Myna, Sooty headed Bulbul, Spotted Dove, Yellow bellied Prinia and Purple Swamphen. Some people have had luck spotting the Pied Kingfisher around here as well, but finding this bird is not as easy as one thinks.
Down by the crocodile feeding pens in the fisheries sector the birding gets much better. Birds around here include Black crowned Night Heron, Painted Stork, Asian Golden Weaver, Streaked Weaver, Grey capped Woodpecker, Black Drongo, Coppersmith Barbet and Fulvious breasted Woodpecker. In the winter months the number of birds can nearly double with birds such as starlings and various reed warblers inhabiting the area.
Hiring a boat from the visitor side will guarantee you sightings of Oriental Darter, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Little Cormorant and Indian Shag; however, I would recommend serious birders take the boat from the Bird Sanctuary instead; you’ll get a lot more species and waste less money on the boat rental. The boat operators on the visitor side are less knowledgeable when it comes to birds (I was told that the Lesser Whistling Duck was a wintering migrant) and are more content to show visitors the natural beauty of the lake rather than stalk out a special bird.
Bueng Boraphet Bird Sanctuary
The Bird Sanctuary on the south side is very rich in bird life and even if one opts to not take a boat trip to see the birds on the lake, birding around the fringes of the lake and along the can be very rewarding. Many good birds can be seen from the nature trails and the two lookout towers. Birds here range from small, open country birds such as Blue breasted Quail, White tailed Robin, Siberian Rubythroat and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, to larger or more conspicuous birds such as the Black headed Ibis, Spot billed Pelican and Pied Kingfisher. Truth be told, I’ve found this area to be so productive, I would almost consider it to be one of the “birdiest” locations in the country.
If one is not planning on spending money to rent a boat, just spending a few hours walking along the nature trail can prove to be just as exciting, with plenty of good birds to be seen at all times along the way. The nature trail meanders through woodland, marshland and open fields; the variety in habitat heightens the possibility of seeing many species in a single outing.
Those with a fear of reptiles should be warned: I’ve personally encountered very large Water Monitors (the size of alligators) and 10 foot long reticulated pythons near the water’s edge. These creatures usually pose no threat and are more scared of you than you are of them, but when in doubt, don’t challenge them!
A good map of the trails can be found on Nick Upton’s site.
Those interested in seeing the birds on the lake should contact Khun Panom, a wildlife officer who works in the bird sanctuary on the southern side of the lake. Khun Panom has a keen knowledge of the birds on the lake and is the most reliable choice for those who are interested in making the most of their time at the site. Tours will take about two hours minimum and must be arranged in advance. The boat trip is 400 baht an hour and those who enjoyed his hospitality and admire his effort spent tracking down wanted species should tip him generously . Khun Panom can be contacted at 081-786-4330.
Accommodations and Fees
There are no accommodations available at either the Bird Sanctuary or the Bueng Boraphet Tourist Center. However, there are numerous hotels and resorts in and along the road to Nakhon Sawan. Finding a place to stay for the night should not be a problem at all.
I usually stay at the Asia Hotel which offers clean rooms with air conditioning and hot showers and overnight parking security service for a reasonable 650 THB a night. Add an additional 100 THB and you can get yourself a “buffet” breakfast of rice porridge and sausages. (I usually skip that part – after all, there are hundreds of other places just around the corner which offer fantastic one-plate meals at half the price!)
Entrance to the Bird Sanctuary, Tourist Center or crocodile breeding center are all free of charge.
Directions to Bueng Boraphet
To get a better idea of the surrounding area, please zoom out by pressing Ctrl on your keyboard and scrolling with your mouse.
Birders visiting the Bueng Boraphet Bird Sanctuary on the south side of the lake should find their way onto Highway 3004 which forks out to the right of Highway 1 (if coming from Bangkok). The road will take you past the airport and train station. About eight kilometers past the train station (or 12 kilometers from the intersection with Highway 1) you will see a statue of two White Eyed River Martins on the left side of the road. Drive in another three kilometers to reach the wildlife station.
The Visitor Center on the north side of the lake is easier to find. There are signs along the road pointing the way to Bueng Boraphet lake and these will lead you to the Visitor Center.
Drive north on Highway 1 and take a left onto Highway Highway 225. There will be signs pointing to Chaiyaphum province which lead to this road. Once on this road you will pass Makro Supercenter before the road narrows into a two-lane road. The aquarium is about seven kilometers from the intersection with Highway 1.
Pros: One of Thailand’s most productive birding site for waterbirds; very easy to find birds; chances of finding a rare migrant or new species for the local list very good; attractive option for bird photographers; easily accessible by public transportation; no entry fee; reasonable boat rental fees.
Cons: Continued clearing of reed beds for agriculture and farming pose a threat to the birds; other than Khun Panom, there are few other knowledgeable boatmen available to take birders onto the lake; hunting of large birds continues, posing a threat to Spot billed Pelican and other specialties.
Bueng Boraphet is a unique site which supports and huge diversity of bird and other wildlife. Its importance to local bird populations and wintering migrants cannot be underestimated. This is one of the few breeding sites for the Oriental Darter and is one of the few places in the kingdom which has a thriving population of Glossy Ibis. -Add the rare wintering migrants which show up annually, and that should be enough of an argument as to why this place should be afforded the utmost protection from the National Parks Department.
Birders should also make an effort to visit this site in the winter as with its enormous size and abundance of birdlife, there is always a chance that something new will be discovered here.
This page was last updated in April, 2018.