Laem Pakarang

Phang Nga 262

Laem Pakarang (also known as Coral Cape) is a unique beach composed entirely of dead coral and remains of other marine life.

The main attraction for birders are the terns, waders and other seabirds which gather at high tide to roost on the sand spit. Large boulders washed up from the seabed during the 2004 tsunami are magnets for waders hoping to keep their feet dry with the incoming tide. The best time to visit is when the tide is flowing in or out and the birds are flocked on the sandbars. (To be sure, please check the tide tables for your area in the local paper the day before.) This makes birding easy and less stressful. Remember to bring a large hat and sunscreen lotion; this place can be scorching in the midday sun!

A number of local fishermen based in the area make a living off of trapping crabs or fishing for anchovies along the shoreline. Often one will encounter a local or two patrolling the beach with nets in hand stirring up the bird life, so be prepared for disturbance from time to time. In the afternoons locals conglomerate on the mudflats to search for crabs and shellfish for local consumption or to sell at the local markets.

Beware when sitting on logs or coral; the beach is infested with literally millions of hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes. -Stand too long in one place without shoes on and they’ll be munching on your toes!

There is a rule prohibiting the collection of coral and other marine life so please refrain from collecting any shells or coral. Those caught in possession of coral are subject to a fine of 40,000 THB and/or three years in jail. – Be warned!


Birding

Birding on the beach can be very productive – if you come at the right time of the year!

Laem Pakarang is one of the most important sites on the west coast for waders . The beach is a rich feeding ground, loaded with crustaceans and small fish. Many migratory waders use this site as a refueling stop on their journey to or from their breeding grounds.  Ruddy Turnstone, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Common and occasionally Nordmann’s Greenshank, Bar tailed Godwit, Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and Kentish Plover are just some of the many waders which frequent this site.

The feeding opportunities attracts a number of specialties as well. Beach Thick-knee was found roosting on the rocks with other waders in December of 2008. In the winter of 2011 a pair of Crab Plover showed up at the site and stayed around for a few weeks, drawing observers and photographers from as far away as Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. The birds reappeared in 2012 and 2013 as well. Since 2015 the bird has become an annual spring visitor to this site.

Malaysian Sand Plover also makes an appearance from time to time along with the enigmatic “White faced” Plover. This site is also frequented by another uncommon migrant, the Grey tailed Tattler.

Terns are also quite abundant, with Little, Black naped, Greater and Lesser Crested Tern being the most common. Bridled Tern and the handsome-looking Caspian Tern are often seen over the open waters and I have noted what appeared to be juvenile Long tailed Skua around there as well. It may be possible to hire a boat from the local fishing community and try to go out for a look to see what else can be seen in the shallow waters off the cape coast. Some experts in the local birding community believe that one day the endangered Chinese Crested Tern may be recorded at this site as well.

The site is becoming increasingly popular among birders looking to twitch the Chinese Egret. This winter migrant is an uncommon visitor which shows up at annually at Laem Pakarang, albeit in small numbers. Notable points to look for when identifying this bird is the blue facial skin and bill which droops slightly at the tip. The bird is easiest to identify in breeding plumage when it sports a shaggy crest on its neck, unlike other egrets such as the Little Egret which has two long strands protruding from its crown.

Little and Great Egret and Chinese Pond Heron can be seen frequently, and on occasion Indian Pond Heron has also been sighted.

Occasionally one will come across a Collared, Common or White throated Kingfisher, and Brahminy Kite and White bellied Sea Eagle are also fairly common.

It is advised to bring a spotting scope if you want good views of the birds as there are times when it is impossible to get close to the birds, especially when the tide is out and the birds are spread out over the vast area.

The grassy areas and adjacent beach forest along the roadside are great places to find many open country birds of southern Thailand. White throated and Common Kingfisher, Brown Shrike, Chestnut winged Cuckoo, Thick billed Green Pigeon, Pigeon, Orange breasted Green Pigeon, Chestnut capped, Blue tailed and Green Bee Eaters, White Vented, Common and Jungle Myna, Yellow Vented, Streak eared and Black headed Bulbul are just a few of the many species which abound here.

Few birders have opted to go out birding at night but those who have reported finding a number of Spotted Wood Owl, Brown Boobook, Collared Scops Owl, Sunda Scops Owl and Large tailed Nightjar in the area.


Accommodations

There are hundreds of hotels and guest houses available for rent in Khao Lak, just seven kilometers south of this site. A local songthaew runs between downtown Khao Lak and Laem Pakarang so those without transport should not have any issues getting to the site from their hotel.

Birders who can afford it are recommended to try the upscale Katelya Hotel located a few kilometers south. This hotel is a fairly large complex with sprawling grassy lawns and gardens which are good for birding. There is a marshy lake on the property which also attracts ducks and Cotton Pygmy Geese.

The Sarojin is another brand-name hotel which is surrounded by plenty of great birding habitat.

For those staying on Phuket island, Laem Pakarang is a two-hour drive from Phuket town.


Directions to Laem Pakarang

If driving from Phuket, cross Sarasin bridge and follow the signs to Ranong, Khao Lak, Takuapa or Thai Muang. The signs will vary but you should be heading north on Highway 4. After passing Khao Lak continue heading northward. After passing a PPT gas station and JW Marriott Khao Lak look for a large construction and hardware store on your right and a Sawasdee Home Mart a little further down the road to your left. You are now getting close to the turnoff.

At the entrance of the road will be a 7-11 mini mart.

Along with a sign pointing towards Laem Pakarang there will be signs pointing left to South Sea Resort, The Sarojin, Takolaburi Resort and Aspara Hotel.  Turn left into the small road and drive about 4-5 kilometers. At the T-junction with an enormous tsunami evacuation tower take a right and follow the beach road north. Laem Pakarang is located at the end of the road. There is ample parking space for those with large vehicles.


Personal Opinion

Pros: Arguably the best site for waders on the west coast; easily accessible from the main road; plenty of good birds at all times of the year; attractions have included Beach Thick-Knee and Crab Plover and could include new records in the future; possibility for sighting pelagic species off the coast.

Cons: Sporadic disturbance from fishermen and tourists can wreak havoc on birding trips; sound pollution problematic, especially on the weekends; very hot with little shade.

This is arguably the most productive wader site in the entire south of Thailand. Birding here can rewarding and surprises are not uncommon to come by. However, within the past few years the site has lost many of its rare or special birds. Many birders now complain that the site is becoming too commercialized (as evidenced by the food and beverage stalls near the cape) and locals choose to visit this site primarily to eat and make a lot of noise. Lesser Crested Tern, Malaysian Sand Plover and Chinese Egret are now getting harder and harder to find in the area.

Nevertheless, the site still remains one of the best in its class. Any birder passing this area should drop by for a short visit to see what may be lurking among the boulders and exposed reefs.

Those interested in spending more time at this site should find accommodations in Khao Lak, only a few kilometers south of Laem Pakarang. Those with a larger budget can opt to choose from the hotels along the beach road on the left of the T-junction, which provide four and five-star accommodations and plenty of dining opportunities.

This page was last updated in April, 2018.

Useful Links

Nick Upton’s review of Laem Pakarang
Dave Sargeant’s review of Laem Pakarang
Birdlife International: Assessment of Laem Pakarang