Khao Prataew is the name given to a hilly patch of forest in the heart of Phuket island which, despite its limited area, was granted protection by the Royal Forestry Department about 50 years ago. Khao Prataew is the source of two waterfalls: Ton Sai Waterfall, located on the west side of the ridge, and Bang Pae Waterfall, located on the eastern side. The forest acts as a vital watershed station for the area and is home to an endemic species of palm and pit viper found nowhere else in Thailand.
The nearby non-hunting area is also under the supervision of the Forestry Department and has more level terrain. The secondary forest is quite thick and humid but the prospect of seeing wildlife (wild pigs, Mouse Deer, Slow Loris) is much better there than at Khao Prataew.
Despite its protected status, wildlife in the park have been persecuted to near extinction and the site has suffered tremendously from disturbance and past hunting pressure. There are no large predators in the park, with leopards, tigers and other cats disappearing near the turn of the century. With no carnivores around to control the population of herbivores, creatures such as wild pig roam free throughout the park, wreaking havoc and destroying the undergrowth. Mouse Deer and Slow Loris, though present, are rarely encountered. Lizards, small reptiles and crabs are still abundant, and fish have fared well with the decision to dam the base of the waterfalls. Feral gibbons can sometimes be seen in this park, all released by the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center based in the eastern side of the hill.
Despite the setbacks, birders will find the site still offers a few birdwatching opportunities. Khao Prataew is unique in that it is the only location on Phuket which features untouched rainforest habitat and many of the avian species found here do not exist anywhere else on the island.
Main Attraction: Bay Owl
Other Attractions: Malayan Night Heron, Blue eared Kingfisher, Red throated Barbet, Eyebrowed Thrush
Extirpated: Little Green Pigeon, Cinnamon headed Green Pigeon, Great Hornbill, Blue banded Kingfisher, Green Broadbill
The bird life in the park has suffered tremendously. Most of the larger species of bird such as hornbill and eagle were extirpated a number of decades ago, but on occasion one will come across a lone individual, most likely originating from the outlying islands around Phuket and Phang Nga. Oriental Pied Hornbill is perhaps the only hornbill encountered and can sometimes be heard calling on the jungle trail. Other extirpated species include White bellied Munia, Green Broadbill, Blue Banded Kingfisher, Little Green and Cinnamon headed Pigeon. All were resident species which have been recorded in this park in the past but have not been seen for many years and are believed to have been completely extirpated from Phuket.
Eyebrowed Thrush, once a common feature near the start of the nature trail in times past, has also disappeared from this park. This bird has been recorded on other parts of the island and perhaps in the future it may be found at a fruiting tree or along the undisturbed,upper elevations of the nature trail.
Despite what this park has lost, there are still some good birds to be seen here. Red throated and Blue Eared Barbet are quite easy to find and are often seen nesting among the dead trees in the parking lot. Orange breasted Flowerpecker, Scarlet backed Flowerpecker, Brown throated Sunbird and Crimson Sunbird are fairly common and breathtakingly beautiful to observe. All these birds are usually found near the car park or clearings near the lower elevations.
The station’s regulation to keep the parking lot and walking zones cleared of overhanging branches and vines have proven detrimental to birders, restricting the arboreal and upper canopy feeders such as leafbirds and barbets to the tops of the trees, making them harder to spot, not to mention putting a lot of strain on the birder’s neck!
Malayan Night Heron, a shy, nocturnal heron rarely seen outside of forest habitats, has been photographed around Ton Sai Waterfall in the past as well.
Relatively unknown by the birding community are the night birds which are present in the park. Khao Prataew is one of a few sites in the south where Oriental Bay Owl can be seen on a regular basis. The birds are usually seen along the nature trail or on the former 4WD track but have also been recorded in rubber plantation outside the park. The owl is very responsive to playback and can be ridiculously easy to find at certain times of the year. The only obstacle is how to come up with a good enough excuse to convince the staff to allow you access to the trail after 6 PM.
Other night birds include Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl and Brown Boobok.
Other birds which can be seen in the sanctuary include Little and Thick billed Spiderhunter, Besra, Osprey, Black Baza, White bellied Sea Eagle, Thick billed and Orange Breasted Pigeon, Common, White throated, Blue eared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Red eyed, Spectacled, Ochraceous, Streak eared, Buff vented and Grey eyed Bulbul, Blue winged Leafbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Forest Wagtail and Common Flameback.
On the east side of the park at Bang Pae waterfall, birding can be frustrating due to the site’s popularity to locals who love to visit the falls, either for a midday getaway or for a simple picnic lunch. However, if one manages to evade it all, birding here can be interesting. Eastern race of Black Crested Bulbul can be found here and is assumed to have originated from a feral population which was introduced via the birdcage trade. During the wet season, Blue Winged Pittas are often seen nesting in the forests and Hooded Pitta can be spotted in the trees near the weir. Both birds are commonly encountered from April – June but are sometimes present until as late as November.
Bang Pae waterfall is also home to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, a nonprofit and local initiative which, despite being located in the sanctuary, is not funded or supported by the Parks Division. The center is located within the premises of the wildlife sanctuary and tourists wishing to visit the charity must first pay the park entry fee at the front gate.
There are two main trails which can be accessed for those interested in making the rounds. The first is a 3.8 kilometer loop trail which begins at the weir adjacent to the car park and winds through the forest. It reaches the highest peak in the park (ca. 92 meters above sea level) before merging with the former 4WD jeep track on its way back down.
The second trail is the former 4WD jeep track which begins on the left side of the ranger’s accommodations and cuts through the heart of the forest. It ends at Bang Pae Waterfall on the east side of the park. This trail is getting more and more narrow with each passing year as the forest slowly reclaims lost territory. As of now it is still quite easy to navigate, even in the dark, and many birders find it to be a good place for owling.
Accommodations and Fees
Ton Sai has bungalows available for rent, but I would assume that most visitors would rather book a room at one of the hundreds of hotels available in Phuket. The park is easily accessible from all parts of the island and the trip can easily be made in the early morning if one has access to a vehicle.
Both Ton Sai and Bang Pae both charge 200 baht entry for foreigners as well as a parking fee for those bringing their own vehicles.
Directions to Khao Prataow Wildlife Sanctuary
To get a better idea of the surrounding area, please zoom out by pressing Ctrl on your keyboard and scrolling with your mouse.
Take Highway 402 north heading towards the airport and Sarasin bridge. Turn right at Thalang intersection down the Namtok Ton Sai Road. Drive straight down the road all the way to the end. There is plenty of room for parking at the site.
This map shows the location of the waterfall on the eastern side of the hill, Bang Pae Waterfall. To get there, drive north on Highway 402 until you reach the Heroines Monument. Take a right down Highway 4027 to Pak Kohk. The waterfall is on the right left hand side and marked with a large sign. If you end up at a sign pointing to Bang Rong pier on your right, you’ve gone too far and should retrace your steps.
Pros: Only site left in Phuket for finding forest species; best place to find a variety of night birds, including Bay Owl; chances of finding special species increases during the migration/winter season.
Cons: Very quiet on main trail with no quality sightings; all large birds and mammals have been extirpated; 200 baht entry fee for site is completely unreasonable; too much disturbance during the day from tourists and locals alike.
Khao Prataew is a shell of its former self. Decades of human disturbance and forest encroachment has caused the forest fauna to dwindle drastically. With every passing year the numbers decrease and we can only hope and pray that the added revenue from the tourism industry will give the staff an incentive to better care for this last remaining patch of rainforest on the island.
Khao Prataew is the last place in Phuket where one can experience what it is like to be in a tropical rainforest. Birders can still find species here that are almost impossible to see elsewhere on the island. For a birder who has no time to make a trip to Phang Nga and wants to see some forest birds, this park is practically the only option available. A good morning will net you about 15 – 30 species. However, if one has the time, the forests of Phang Nga have a whole lot more to offer. Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary is only two hours by car from Phuket town and Sri Phang Nga National Park is only three hours north by private vehicle.
This page was last updated in June, 2018.
Contact Information for Khao Prataow Wildlife Sanctuary
– Telephone number: 076-311-998