Thai Mueang – Khao Lampi National Park

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Thai Mueang National Park was declared a national park 1986 to address the issue of the rapidly declining population of sea turtles in the Andaman Sea. The beach is just one of a handful sites in Thailand which once hosted the giant Leatherback.

The beach is ranked as one of the most beautiful in the southern region, earning a full five-star rating from the national parks division. The beauty should come with a warning however; at high tide and during the monsoon season the beach can become a death trap for swimmers due to the powerful undertow. I myself have witnessed a few people swimming far upshore to try to escape the strong currents. There are no lifeguards posted along this beach so please be mindful of the warnings and proceed with caution before jumping in.

The north end of the park was once a tin mine and some aging equipment is still on display around the lagoon.

At the farthest point of the park is a gorgeous little cove which is rarely frequented by visitors with stunning white sand and picturesque rock formations. An elevated walkway weaves through a section mangrove forest and offers some good birding opportunities as well. To get there, birders must make the trek on foot, as no vehicles are allowed to enter. The walk is about 3.2 kilometers long so be forewarned!

Weekdays are the best time to visit the area, as weekends can get a little crowded and there are some adventurous Thais who will go out of their way to find a quiet spot so they can make as much noise as they possibly can.

In early 2011, the park erected a checkpoint on the road leading into the tin mine and nature trail north of the national park office. This gate is open from 8.30 AM – 4.30 PM. Please be mindful of the time lest you find the gate locked and yourself trapped inside the national park after dark!

The second half of the park lies inland and serves as a protected watershed. Lampi Waterfall is located on a forested hill which stretches southwest of Thai Mueang National Park, only a few minutes drive north from Thai Muang municipality.

The waterfall and its surrounding forest was demarcated in 1986, aimed at preserving the area as a watershed for the local region. A survey taken around the same time revealed an abundance of birds and small mammals thrived in the rich forests of the hill slopes. Sadly, despite the promise of preservation, the hunting of mammals and the trapping and capture of birds for the cage bird trade went on unabated for years. Whilst in the past, visitors to the waterfall could easily encounter birds such as Great Hornbill, Bushy Crested Hornbill, White crowned Hornbill and Black and Yellow Broadbill, today most of these birds are confined to the deep forest, never venturing out into the open. An impromptu conversation with a few of the villagers confirmed that the capture and trade of wild birds was an “ongoing business” among members of the community and none have ever been prosecuted for breaking the law.


Birding

Main Attractions: Spotted Wood Owl
Other Attractions: Malayan Bronzed Cuckoo, Green Broadbill, Coppersmith Barbet 

In order to make sense of this wide range of habitat I have divided the review into two sections, one covering Thai Muang and the other addressing Lampi Waterfall.

Thai Mueang National Park

This national park has a wide range of habitats from open sea to beach forest, mangrove and remnants of peat forest. This diversity makes it attractive to many species of birds and birdwatchers should not have too much trouble finding avian life in this park.

Upon passing the park gate, the first four kilometers of road follows the shoreline, with tall casuarinas lining the road on one side and mixed beach forest on the other. Collared Kingfisher, Coppersmith Barbet, Lineated Barbet, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Greater Racket tailed Drongo, Hill Myna, Common Iora and Brahminy Kite are just some of many species which can be seen in the trees.

Brahminy Kite and White bellied Sea Eagle are common and sometimes put on quite a spectacle as they forage over the open sea.

During the migrating season, the park seems to attract a fair number of raptors, most of which come to roost in the trees in the late afternoon or evening. The most common raptors include Japanese Sparrowhawk, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Grey faced Buzzard and Oriental Honey Buzzard but there have been sightings of Peregrine Falcon, Greater Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle and Osprey in the past.

At the end of the straight the road makes a sharp 90-degree turn right. Here there is an abandoned tin mine with some old equipment on permanent display. During migration season this area sometimes becomes an evening roosting site for bee eaters and on occasion one can encounter large mixed flocks of hundreds of  bee eaters fighting for a spot near the tops of the casuarinas.

The muddy patch on the right side of the road is a favorite feeding ground for Ruddy Kingfisher and the bird is sometimes present in the area in the wintering months.

The lake was once home to Buffy Fish Owl although I am not certain if it is still present. The area receives few visitors is relatively peaceful and undisturbed so I assume it is still around somewhere in the area.

Past the tin mine the blacktop gives way to a dirt trail lined with shrubs and small trees. Hoopoes are often found parked in the middle of the path, as if protesting ones intrusion onto their land. Pink necked, Thick billed and Orange breasted Pigeons can be easily spotted in flight as they head towards their roosting spots. Raptors are abundant during the migration period with Booted Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard and Crested Serpent-Eagle reported from the area.

The trail ends at a cove which is is rumored to be a good spot for finding green and imperial pigeons.

Due to the remoteness of the area I would not be surprised if one could encounter Beach Thick-Knee or Crab Plover here from time to time. Neither species have ever been recorded in this park, possibly because few birders venture into the area much less spend time looking for this species on the beaches.

Waders are often encountered on the beach, usually singly or in small groups of no more that five, with Sanderling, Whimbrel, Lesser Sand Plover and Common Sandpiper being encountered. Pacific Reef Egret, Little Heron, Little Egret and Great Egret can also be found walking the lonely sands in the late afternoons and evenings.

Scanning the open sea from the shore can be a boring proposition to some but I’ve sometimes found interesting birds coming quite close to shore, especially when a fishing boat comes by with a net full off anchovies. Little, Whiskered and Common Tern are most commonly seen but I’ve also encountered a few Bridled Tern and Caspian Tern, usually singly. Frigatebirds are sometimes seen in flight but  they are usually too far out to properly identify, although we can safely assume that they are most likely to be Lesser Frigatebird.

During the peak of the dry season the temperatures can soar to ungodly levels. I would recommend birders spend their time staking out the cement lily ponds at the old office near the garage. A host of bulbuls and flycatchers often hang out near the water and on occasion something special may pop up! Both Black Bittern and Malayan Night Heron have been seen here and there is a Malayan Bronzed Cuckoo which winters in the area as well.

Other birds seen at the site include Black shouldered Kite, Large billed Crow, Common Flameback, Black naped Oriole, Racket-tailed Treepie, White shouldered Starling, Purple backed Starling, Plain backed Sparrow, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Cormorant, Red Wattled Lapwing, White throated Kingfisher, Watercock and Vernal Hanging Parrot.

Slow Loris has been photographed on the telephone wires at night on more than one occasion, showing that this park is still blessed with wildlife.

Though not within the national park boundaries, a daytime roost for Spotted Wood Owl can be found at the exercise park in front of Thai Muang Beach Resort. The birds have been present for almost two years now and can be seen fairly easily though not at close range. Sometimes there is only one bird and at other times the number can swell to three individuals.

In January of 2018 a Jacobin Cuckoo was found in the exercise park and stayed for nearly a month.

Khao Lampi Waterfall National Park

Despite the high level of disturbance in the park, on some days there is still a fair amount of birdlife present. The lack of large birds is noticeable but the calls of broadbills and barbets are still frequently heard, even in the open areas around the car park. The abundance of large fruiting trees are a boon for this station and attract large numbers of birds such as spiderhunters, sunbirds, barbets, bulbuls and flowerpeckers. Occasionally specials like Raffles Malkoha, Chestnut bellied Malkoha, Green Broadbill, Black and Yellow Broadbill, Grey bellied Bulbul and Asian Fairy Bluebird can be observed feeding in the trees when the fruit is ripe.

The park was once a haven for Great, Oriental Pied, Bushy Crested and Wreathed Hornbill. Sadly, none can be found here today.

Broadbills are fairly common and their calls are heard frequently in the upper canopy but are often difficult to observe. Dusky, Banded, Black and Yellow, Red and Black and Green Broadbills are present, although seeing all in a single outing will require an enormous amount of luck and persistence. The park staff claim that this is the best place on the west coast to spot the Green Broadbill, especially when the figs are fruiting.

Thrush, such as Eyebrowed and Orange Headed Thrush are fairly common in the winter months. Most are found along the forest trail or in the moist forest understory on the opposite side of the stream across from HQ.

The large patch of bamboo on the forest edge across the bridge sometimes attracts Pin tailed Parrotfinch in the dry season when the bamboo is seeding. However, sightings of the bird are sporadic and seasonal and  not always guaranteed.

Other birds recorded at this substation include Red eyed, Black headed, Black crested and Cream vented Bulbul, Red throated Barbet, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Crimson and Ruby cheeked Sunbird, Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle and Chinese Pond Heron.

There is a nature trail which starts behind the cafeteria and winds into the forest. The trail climbs and drops a number of times and can be pretty hard on the feet. The trail is poorly maintained and is mostly frequented by locals who enter the forest to forage or set up traps.


Accommodations and Fees

Thai Mueang National Park offers bungalows (with fans or air conditioning) and tents for those wishing to stay overnight. The park staff usually ask would-be patrons to book online with the national parks website. Preference is given to those who book in advance online but if there are available rooms the park will accept walk-in customers provided they are at the park before the office closes at 4.30. While it’s not as classy as a hotel or resort, it’s hard to beat the price and location. There will be complaints about the mattresses though, so if you are picky about the beds don’t risk staying here.

[To reserve a DNP bungalow at Haad Thai Mueang National Park, click here]

Another option is the Thai Muang Resort just down the road from the national park on the left hand side behind the row of seafood restaurants.

A renovated, park-operated restaurant has tasty food at reasonable prices and stays open late on most days.

The park charges a 200 baht entry fee for all foreigners during the high season and weekends; the price is reduced to 100 baht in the low season.  Lampi Waterfall charges a 30 baht parking fee for all vehicles.

Directions to Thai Muang and Lampi Waterfall

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

From Phuket, after crossing Sarasin bridge, drive north on Highway 4. Follow the signs to Khao Lak and Thai Muang. The park is only 12 kilometers from Sarasin bridge and should only be an hour or so from Phuket town. At Thai Muang municipality the road will fork in front of a large archway which resembles a temple gate. Thai Muang beach will be straight ahead; Lampi Waterfall will be to the right, another 6 or 7 kilometers north.

Those visiting Thai Muang beach should drive through the temple archway, ignoring the signs which point to Takuapa and Khao Lak (on your right). Follow the road all the way to the end (a fairly long drive) past the Rhamkampheng University and the Marine Biology Station and you will reach the park headquarters.

Those heading to Lampi Waterfall will take a right at the archway, heading in the direction of Takuapa and Khao Lak. The waterfall is on the right about 7 kilometers after Thai Muang municipality and about 3 kilometers up from the main road.  There is a school (Lampi school) at the entrance of the road to the falls.


Personal Opinion

ProsBest site on the west coast to find Lineated Barbet and Spotted Wood Owl;  fairly productive for birding in the winter months; abundance of fruiting trees attract barbets, broadbills and malkohas; park staff sometimes waive entry fees; relatively quiet and undisturbed, even on weekends; easily accessible location.

Cons: Lampi Waterfall suffers from unabated poaching; extremely quiet when trees are not fruiting; lack of knowledgeable staff; high entry fee for only a few hours of birding during high season; Lampi Waterfall often crowded and noisy; forest nature trail poorly maintained; generally dull for birding on most days; nature trail and peat swamp road at Thai Muang close at 4.30 P.M..

Thai Muang beach is a great place to visit with the family and as far as beaches go, it ranks as one of my personal favorites. The sea is clean and the sand is smooth and free from broken bottles, plastic trash and other unwanted pollution. The food in the restaurant is clean and tasty. It isn’t exactly a dedicated birding site but if the main focus of the day is to enjoy the sea and get in a little birding same time, this site is for you.

Lampi Waterfall can be productive for birding when the trees are fruiting. I personally love the Orange headed Thrush and this is one the best places to find it. However, most of the time birders will find it to be crowded, noisy and lacking in feathered friends – unless you are only after the ones which are slathered in barbeque sauce and roasted over a charcoal fire.

This page was last updated in January, 2018.

Useful Links

Department of National Parks: Haat Thai Muang – Khao Lampee Information and Datasheet