Sri Phang Nga National Park

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Sri Phang Nga National Park is one of eight national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which make up the Khao Sok – Klong Saeng Forest Complex. It was declared a national park in 1988.

Little of the park is accessible to the public as most of the western and northern sectors are comprised of steep mountains. The few navigable trails are  located in the central part of the park. This little area however, is extremely productive for birding. – I’ll go as far as to say it is the most productive national park on Thailand’s west coast for birdwatching! Despite all it has to offer, Sri Phang Nga continues to receive little attention from visiting birders as the majority head to the better-known birdwatching hotspots such as Khao Sok, Khao Nor Chuchi or Krung Ching.

Like most national parks, the best time for birdwatching is from the early morning till around 10 or 11 AM. I’ve never had too much luck in the afternoons, but it could just be my luck (or the lack of it!)

I would recommend that birders planning on visiting the park should pack a spotting scope. The park is home to many large trees and many species of birds prefer to hang out in the treetops.

As of 2011, the access road which leads to the inner campsite is off-limits after 6 PM. Birders who are not residing in the park overnight will not be allowed to enter the park before 8 AM.


Birding

Main Attractions: Malayan Banded Pitta, Chestnut naped Forktail, Large Blue Flycatcher, Goulds Frogmouth
Other Attractions: Blue Banded Kingfisher, Black backed Dwarf Kingfisher, Green Broadbill, Buffy Fish Owl, Lesser Fish Eagle, Blyth’s Frogmouth, Hooded Pitta, Red bearded Bee Eater

The foremost attraction this park has to offer is the Malayan Banded Pitta. Banded Pitta are present in forests all throughout the south of Thailand and are by no means rare or endangered birds; however, Sri Phang Nga is undoubtedly the best place in Thailand to twitch this magnificent species. I once  spotted 14 individuals along the nature trail in one morning! The bird is best seen from late January until the start of the rainy season in early May.

Another major attraction for visiting birders are the six species of hornbill which reside in the park: Great, Wreathed, Bushy Crested, White Crowned, Helmeted and Black Hornbills, although the last species is very rarely encountered. Great Hornbill is by far the most commonly encountered of the six species and the sight of such a huge bird coupled with the sound of its powerful wing beats as it flies from ridge to ridge is truly unforgettable spectacle.

The park campsite is a good place to start birding. In past times it was the perfect spot to find the Great Hornbill, Rufous bellied Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard and other birds of prey. Today most of the birds seen here are bulbuls, flowerpeckers and egrets. Lars Gibbons can be heard howling in the trees at around dawn and with some effort and an equal amount of luck, one may be able to spot them.

The road to the campsite follows a river and the scenery is spectacular. Old forest is dominant in the park and on a good day birds can be heard calling from all directions.

Among the bamboo thickets babblers such as Abbott’s, Grey throated and Chestnut winged Babbler may be encountered. Grey throated and Black capped Babblers are also present but are very shy and always on the move, making them difficult to observe.

The access road to the campsite provides easy birding at an uncomfortable price in the form of a sore neck! The trees here are very tall and mature and most of the birds prefer to hang out in the upper canopy. With patience one may catch a glimpse of Dusky Broadbill, Blue winged Leafbird, Raffles’ Malkoha, Black headed and Black Crested Bulbul, Crow billed Drongo, White rumped Shama, Hooded Pitta and other wonderful birds. In the thickets the elusive Rufous collared Kingfisher is sometimes heard as well.

The river which runs adjacent to the access road is excellent for spotting kingfishers. Blue banded Kingfisher, Blue eared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher are residents which may be encountered and in the winter one can find Black capped and Common Kingfisher as well. The undergrowth and rocky streams are a secret feeding ground for Chestnut naped Forktail as well.

The campsite is another good birding spot and even if one decided not to walk the trails this area has a lot to offer. Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Red eyed, Spectacled, Buff vented, Scaly breasted, Grey bellied and Streak eared Bulbul, Scarlet Minivet, Thick billed Pigeon, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black naped Oriole, Little Cormorant, Crimson and Maroon Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Plaintive, Drongo and Violet Cuckoo, Black backed Kingfisher, Long billed Spiderhunter, Gold Whiskered, Blue eared and Red throated Barbet are some of the many species of beautiful birds found here.

This part of the park offers some easy birding and is best enjoyed from 7-10 AM. Just within this small campsite, one can easily pick up at least 20-30 species in a single morning of birding.

Keep an eye on the skies above, as in the early morning hornbills often fly silently overhead.

A huge fig tree towers over the small ranger hut. When in season, it often attracts Great Hornbill and other frugivores such as Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill, Scaly breasted Bulbul, Black winged Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike, Thick billed Green Pigeon and Raffles’ Malkoha, making birding ridiculously easy.

In the winter and migratory season, birds which can be encountered around this area include Eyebrowed and Siberian Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Chinese Blue and Green backed Flycatchers, Dark sided, Taiga and Asian Brown Flycatchers.

Lesser Fish Eagle, a rare and highly sought after species, are sometimes seen around the weir near the campsite. A breeding pair was seen in late 2009 with two young, providing hope that this species will claw its way off the endangered list.

In the evenings one should listen for the call of Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood Owl near the park bungalows. Brown Wood Owl tends to show after 9 or 10 PM while the Buffy Fish Owl will often arrive in the early morning, sometimes as late as 2 or 3 AM. Both Blyths and Gould’s Frogmouth are also present in the park but one should have the assistance of a park ranger to locate them as they are usually found down the main trail which is closed to tourists after 6 PM.

Trails

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There are a number of trails which offer an alternative dimension to birding in the park. Two trails start off at the campsite: One to heads to Tamnang waterfall (on the left with a bridge) and the other to Ton Deng and Ton Ou Waterfall (on the right).

Trail 1: Ton Deng – Ton Ou Waterfall (ca. 5.8 KM) This well-trekked trail, heading towards Ton Deng Waterfall, starts out through lush evergreen forest for about 1.5 kilometers before it forks into two trails, with one heading up the mountain (right) and the other towards Ton Deng waterfall (left). The trail is quite birdy, with Ochraceous Bulbul, Grey headed Flycatcher, Orange breasted Thrush, Gold whiskered Barbet, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Emerald Dove, Black backed Kingfisher and Rufous Piculet among the specialties found along this trail.

The bubbling stream plays home to the most beautiful of all forktails in the kingdom: the Chestnut naped Forktail. This bird spends its days walking up and down the stream foraging for insects among the rocks. It is worthwhile to spend some time looking up and down the stream while crossing as often the bird is busy feeding and will ignore a passing birder. If not, listen for its piercing whistle as it flies up or downstream.

After the fourth stream crossing there will be a small clearing to the left of the trail with a giant log blocking access to the stream. This is where most birders and photographers sit and wait for the bird to pass by. If you sit quietly and still behind the log the bird will usually  pass through once or twice between 8 – 10 AM.

Near where the trail forks is a good place to start looking for the Malayan Banded Pitta, a bird so beautiful it has earned the title of “King of the Forest”. From January through April this bird can be found along the forest trail and near the gulleys. -Listen for its soft “pouuu” call!

The trail then heads up a steep incline to a narrow ridge. This part of the trek can be quite exhausting, especially in the hot season. From the top of the ridge, one can get a good look at the upper canopy and perhaps even catch a glimpse of some hornbills in flight. -Keep an eye out for woodpeckers which love to feed along the ridgetop. In the early mornings you may also get lucky and see Great Argus crossing the trail or find a pair of Helmeted Hornbill which are known to nest deep in the forest. A few mammals can also be found on this trail, such a Giant Squirrel, Asian Palm Civet and Slow Loris, not to mention the White Handed Gibbon, which is always heard but rarely encountered. After four kilometers the trail meanders down to Tamnang waterfall, where the sight of clean, cool water makes one want to jump in and cool off after an exhausting trek.

Trail 2: Tamnang Waterfall (ca. 0.8 KM) The other trail, starting from the left of the campsite, heads towards Tamnang waterfall. This trail is paved and easy on the feet. The start of the trail was once the best place to encounter the beautiful King of the Forest, the Malayan Banded Pitta (provided you show up during the breeding season!). Large Woodshrike, Striped Tit-Babbler, Chestnut winged Babbler, Black naped Monarch, Ochraceous Bulbul, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Green Broadbill,  Blue Winged Leafbird, Lesser Green Leafbird and Black crested Bulbul can sometimes be found along this trail. This trail is short and has suffered in recent times and the sound of the river and nearby waterfall can sometimes drown out the faint calls of certain birds.

Trail 3: Ton Teuy Waterfall (ca. 2.4 KM) Another trail starts off near HQ heading towards Ton Teuy waterfall. Few people have ventured on this trail but it will soon be paved (according to one park official) so that will make easy access for birders and picnickers alike. This trail passes through a number of dry streambeds and shallow streams, providing the perfect habitat for finding pittas and kingfishers. The downside is that this area is also the most leech-infested area in the entire park. Birds seen here include the Banded Pitta, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Rufous collared Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Blue banded Kingfisher, Blue eared Kingfisher, Chestnut naped Forktail, Rufous winged Philentoma and Black bellied Malkoha.

This trail ends at a labyrinth of rocky riverbeds and is a great place to watch birds come down to drink in the heat of the day. Since the trail is rather unused and overgrown it is imperative to ask a ranger to accompany you on the trek. The trail should never be attempted during the rainy season as the area gets flooded and can be very treacherous.

Other trails: On the road to the campsite at one of the bends is a small trail which forks off to the right (a small sign is posted on the road). This was once a known stakeout for Gould’s Frogmouth, but finding it will require much time and patience.

A full-day trek through the forest will take you to the highest peak (Khao Nom Sao) in the northern sector of the park. This trek has never been attempted by any birder (as far as I know) but the trek may offer a chance to encounter some unusual species. If one is interested, they should contact the park beforehand as the person must be accompanied by a armed ranger since it will require an overnight stay on the summit as well.


Accommodations and Fees

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Overnight stays must be arranged in advance by phone or email or by booking online through the national park website. Bungalows with fans are available for rent at 700 – 1200 baht a night. The rooms are modest but clean, with fresh bedding and clean towels. The mattresses are quite hard (more like judo mats) and will draw complaints from most birders. Some of the bathrooms are equipped with gas-powered hot water heaters but due to lack of maintenance they can’t always be relied on to work properly.

So why would any birder choose to stay here? Simply put, staying in the park is the only choice for birders who wish to twitch the nocturnal birds such as Buffy Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl, Blyth’s Frogmouth and Gould’s Frogmouth. -Or those who want to get on the access road before 8 AM.

Tents are also available for rent and cost a mere 400 THB.

HQ provides clean bathroom facilities and a restaurant for those who need a bite to eat. The food is cheap and delicious and can be tailored for those who prefer to stick to a non-spicy routine. The restaurant opens at 8 AM and closes at 4.30 PM. For those staying late, packed dinners can be arranged with the kitchen and the night security guard will leave the lights on for those who plan to eat late.

[To reserve a DNP bungalow at Sri Phang Nga National Park, click here]

For those who require modern conveniences, the Kuraburi Greenview Resort is located about 10 kilometers north of the park. The hotel offers comfortable beds and hot showers and even has a pool for those who would like to take a swim after a long day of birdwatching. The average rate stands at roughly 3000 THB per night, making it the most expensive hotel in the district.

Likewise, there are a number of smaller establishments along the Takuapah – Kuraburi road which offer clean accommodations at reasonable prices, starting from as low as 350 baht a night. Baan Lung Ta, located on the left hand side of the road around seven kilometers north of the park entrance is such a place. It offers air conditioning, hot showers and simple yet clean and comfortable accommodations for a mere 450 THB a night. Those interested in booking a room can contact the owner at +66-089-895-8951.

Foreigners visiting the park will be charged 100 baht per head while vehicles are required to pay an additional 30 THB fee. Those who stay in the park accommodations are exempt from paying any additional daily entrance fees. Birders are also required to sign their name into a log book at the entry checkpoint.


Directions to Sri Phang Nga National Park

From Phuket (or Khao Lak) drive along Highway 4 bound for Takuapa. After passing the municipality, take a left on Highway 4 at the T-junction after the bus station. Continue  heading north to Ranong. (Going straight through the junction will take you to Khao Sok and Surat Thani on Highway 401.) Look for signs posted on your left. The national park will be on your right about 25 kilometers before Kuraburi town.

There will be a large sign posted by the side of the road which marks the entrance to this park.

To get a better idea of the surrounding area, please zoom out by pressing Ctrl on your keyboard and scrolling with your mouse.

At Kuraburi municipality it may be possible to find directions to Tung Chalee substation, the former headquarters of Sri Phang Nga National Park. Tung Chalee was once a grassy plain which was a popular feeding ground for large mammals but after years of hunting and deforestation the wildlife no longer frequent the area in large numbers. Birding at this station is still quite good and it is worth it to pay a visit to this site if you plan to spend a few days in the area. The station is blessed with an abundance of fruiting trees and when they are in season birding here becomes ridiculously easy.

The northernmost substation for the park, Suan Mai Waterfall, is a site seldom frequented by birders or tourists. There are not too many birding opportunities at this station but when the trees are fruiting it offers birders a chance to see bulbuls, broadbills and barbets up close. A former director planted a flowering bush from northern Thailand which attracts Grey breasted, Little and Spectacled Spiderhunter as well as Crimson Sunbird. There are no productive trails at the station and unless there is a fruiting tree in season, birding will be very quiet.


Personal Opinion

Pros: Rich habitat with excellent birds; best site in Thailand to find Malayan Banded Pitta and Chestnut naped Forktail; most trails are well maintained with only a few leeches present.

Cons: Access road off-limits after dark; park location rather remote; few dining and lodging options nearby.

This park is definitely one of the top birding destinations in Phang Nga. However,   its attractive not only as a birding site, it’s also a great place to spend a weekend with the kids and family or friends.

Birdwatchers who are making a comprehensive visit to the south must include this site in their itinerary. Birders with a limited timeframe may choose to spend only a day here and focus on hitting the bigger sites like Krung Ching or Khao Sok. However, if what you’re really after is an audience with the King of the Forest, the answer is simple: this site deserves a place in your itinerary on your next trip to the south!

This page was last updated in January, 2018.

Useful Links

Department of National Parks: Sri Phang Nga Information and Datasheet
Nick Upton’s review of Sri Phang Nga National Park
Dave Sargeant’s review of Sri Phang Nga National Park

Sri Phang Nga National Park in Photos