Ngao Waterfall National Park is located in a quiet corner of Thailand in the seldom-frequented province of Ranong. The main attraction of this park is its magnificent waterfall which drops several hundred feet from a massive rock face. This waterfall can be seen clearly from the main highway and is one of the most famous and iconic symbols of the province and one which all locals are well acquainted with.
Interestingly, word “ngao” in Thai means “lonely”. Birders who visit the site will indeed find themselves quite alone in the wilderness as very few birders frequent this national park. However, this park is far from lonely on weekends and during festivals or holidays as locals swarm to the attraction to swim, blast local country hits from improvised car stereos and enjoy a picnic under the shade of the trees.
Ngao Waterfall is reportedly rich in wildlife. A survey in 2002 revealed the existence of at least two tigers, a healthy and thriving population of Asian Elephant, and plenty of other mammal and reptile life. -Mind you, a lot can change in a decade or so! Despite the ongoing problem with poachers, it seems there are still plenty of large mammals in the area, as evidenced by the the ongoing reports of rubber tappers encountering elephants, guar and other wildlife around the forest edge late at night. Large birds seem to have fared well in the park, unlike other sites further south.
The birding here can be rewarding if one has the time to devote a good amount of time to this site. An average morning birding along the nature trail and campsite can net around 30-40 species.
Hornbill, such as Great Hornbill, are often encountered. The most commonly encountered hornbill is the Wreathed Hornbill, which sometimes show up in huge flocks of up to 200+ individuals in the months prior to breeding season. It seems like the park is used as a forward base from which the hornbills migrate into neighboring Burma. Many residents of Ranong have witnessed the annual migration spectacle on numerous occasions, to the point where it is no longer a topic worth discussing. Bushy Crested, White Crowned and Oriental Pied Hornbills are also present but harder to locate. Since this forest is part of the same forest block which spans through Sri Phang Nga, Khao Sok and Kaeng Krung National Parks, I would not be surprised if Black Hornbill and Helmeted Hornbill are present in the park .
The trail upstream towards the upper levels of the waterfall is home to Blue eared Kingfisher, a species strikingly similar to the Common Kingfisher and not easily encountered as one might think. In fact, many birdwatchers claim that this is one of the best spots in Thailand to find it. Along the stream one should listen for the calls of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and the Blue banded Kingfisher. These birds tend to zip by at lightning speed but can be observed with some patience and the aid of a playback call. I once found a juvenile Malayan Night Heron along the waterways and also heard a Banded Kingfisher and a pair of Orange breasted Trogon in the foliage nearby.
Both Blue winged and Hooded Pitta are common in the wet season but I have not heard any reliable reports of Banded Pitta being seen at this site, although it is certainly present in the park.
Other birds recorded from this site include Grey Capped Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Crested Serpent Eagle, Rufous bellied Eagle, Booted Eagle, Red eyed, Cream Vented, Stripe throated, Olive winged and Buff Vented Bulbul. Leafbirds, Ioras and woodpeckers are frequently encountered in the wooded areas and the towering cliff sides are great places to look out for raptors, which usually take to flight in the heat of the day.
The old trail which follows the stream to the main waterfall is now closed and very overgrown. When I talked to the rangers about it, they seemed to hint that it was just too much work to keep the trail open and cleared of debris, especially since so few people made good use of it. The closing of this trail means that birders interested in finding the Chestnut naped Forktail, Blue eared Kingfisher or Blue Banded Kingfisher will have a difficult time connecting with their quarry. Some birders have attempted it despite the obvious risks and have found it to be excellent for birding.
A new trail was opened which is much more tame and offers little of interest to most birders, as it is much shorter and passes through degraded or disturbed forest habitat. The trail begins on the right side of the stream near the sala (arbor) and heads into the forest for about 1.8 kilometers before ending near the bungalows at the top of the observation platform.
Another trail forks out from behind the administrative area and heads up the waterfall to a meadow far up the hill. While some birders have made this trek on their own, park staff have stressed to me many times that birders should be accompanied by a ranger for their own safety. The trail is very long and some trekkers have not been able to make it back in time before nightfall, posing a threat to themselves and creating a headache for the park staff. This trail has a lot of potential and should offer birders a chance to see not only birds, but perhaps encounter some wildlife as well – that is if one is not too exhausted from the trek to reach for their binoculars from time to time!
Accommodations and Fees
The national park has bungalows which are available via online booking. Some of the bungalows are rather cute and appealing to those with a sense of adventure. There are a number of “tree houses” built on stilts as well as normal bungalows, some of which even offer hot water and air-conditioning! The prices range from 400-800 baht a night.
Tents are also available for a cheaper price but I would think one would prefer the safety of the bungalows. Critters around the campsite are quite common and I have encountered some rather unfriendly visitors such as scorpions and centipedes on my way to the toilet at night.
Most tourists will prefer to stay at the well-appointed bungalows located near the Pon Rung Hot Springs. These bungalows are operated by Ngao National Park and are built with the same style and class one would expect of a three or four-star resort in Khao Lak or Krabi. Each bungalow has a terrace overlooking a forested stream. To reserve a bungalow at Pawn Rung Hot Springs, call Ngao National Park at 077-848-181.
Those light on the wallet will find plenty of budget hotels on the road to Ranong. Most are only about 10 – 20 minutes away from the park which means one can still get there in time to cash in on an early morning birding run. The Eiffel Inn, located a few kilometers north of the park, is one such hotel which offers an array of modern facilities and a reasonably priced restaurant with a somewhat foreign menu for those with a low tolerance to the southern or local cuisine.
Like other national parks along the west coast, the entrance fee for foreigners is 200 baht per person per day. The fee is only paid once for those who choose to book accommodations within the park.
Directions to Ngao Waterfall National Park
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From Phuket, drive north on Highway 4 past Khao Lak, Takua Pa and Kuraburi. Ngao Waterfall is located on the main highway past Ranong Airport on the right hand side of the road. The park is located about 20 kilometers before reaching Ranong municipality (if you are coming from Phuket). There are signs posted at regular intervals along the way which point in the direction of the national park.
Directly across from the park is another attraction known as “Khao Ya”, translated as “grass hill”. These hills, as the name suggests, are covered entirely with grass with nary a shrub or tree in sight. This site is a popular place for taking selfies but can be a waste of time for birders looking for optional birdwatching opportunities.
Pros: Easy to access from the main road; reduced entry fee; fairly easy to find birds; optional accommodation and dining facilities nearby.
Cons: Limited and poorly maintained trail network; no “special” resident attractions to entice serious birders; resident species can also be found in other, more accessible sites; relatively little coverage of the site.
My first visit to the park was back in 2003 when I hosted an English Camp at the park headquarters and I have briefly visited the park a few times since then. Overall, I’d say the birding is decent. The best times to visit are near the end of the rainy season through the dry season, from October through February. During the rainy season, the trails can be dangerous due to the possibility of flash floods. (Leeches are also a nuisance in the wet season.) In the hot, dry months the birding is restricted to a few hours in the early morning as once the heat is on the birds tend to retreat deep into the forest. I never tried waiting at the watering holes along the stream, but I think the technique could be a great way to get some good birding in during those hot summer days.
I’ve only tried the trail once with limited success, but I’d encourage others to give it a try. Some birders have raved about the abundance of birds along the trail; others have complained about the utter lack of bird activity on the trail. I guess there will be some days which are great and others which are less than perfect. The reports of Blue Banded, Blue Eared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher from the stream sides further up the trail are also a great incentive for any birder to give it a go.
The park is easily accessible from the main road, making it a nice place to stop over for those who have time to burn in Ranong.
This page was last updated in June, 2018.