With Thailand gaining an additional long weekend in May 2019 for HM Rama X’s coronation, my wife and I decided to set out on a small road trip in our recently purchased car to Chantaburi province in Thailand’s southeast; although it wasn’t really a birding trip, I had bookmarked a few place of interested that I wanted to check out, and as neither my wife nor I had ever been to Chantaburi, every place along they way would be new for both of us.
Saturday, May 4th
We left Bangkok a little after 7 am, and our first planned stopped was Pak Nam Prasae in Rayong, and upon leaving, Google Maps told us that the 180-odd kilometre trip should take us around three hours to complete. Well! Google Maps obviously hadn’t been told of the numerous roadworks along route 344. The first part of the trip to Chonburi was smooth enough, with only typical long weekend traffic, but once on route 344 that runs southeast to Klang district in Rayong, we battled heavy congestion and numerous bottlenecks, meaning we didn’t arrive at Pak Nam Prasae until around midday – five hours after we’d left home!
At Pak Nam Prasae, right at the river mouth, sits the HTMS Prasae Memorial, where a small naval vessel can be explored. However, more importantly for this trip, also found at this location is Tung Prong Thong Mangrove Boardwalk. So, despite the midday sun beating down, we headed off along the wooden boardwalk, which at first made its way through very thick mangroves, before opening up a little at a covered resting spot. This was where my wife decided she would stop, but I pressed on a little further hoping to find an area where the exposed mudflats would be visible, and after five more minutes of walking I found such a location.
Up until this point, the mangroves had been relatively quite aside from the noisy resident Collared Kingfishers, but once at the exposed mudflats, a small number of shorebirds and a single white egret were evident. Upon closer inspection, the white egret turned out to be a Chinese Egret – a rare migrant to Thailand, and only the second time I’d seen this species. Furthermore, after identifying Common Redshanks and Lesser Sand-Plovers among the small number of waders, the other birds on the mudflats turned out to be much more interesting with three Terek Sandpipers, a single Ruddy Turnstone, and best of all, two Grey-tailed Tattlers, a first for me, and yet another migrant not terribly common, nor widespread, in Thailand.
After around an hour at this site, we decided to find some lunch. Originally, we were going to eat at the seaside seafood restaurants at Pak Nam Prasae, but as we were hot and sweaty from walking through the mangroves, we decided to drive a little further east (the direction we were heading anyway) to find somewhere. Unfortunately, being a long weekend, everywhere on the coast that we drove past was quite busy, with Chao Lao Beach in Chantaburi being especially so; there was considerable traffic along the coastal road, so we cut our losses, and decided to just head into Chantaburi where we’d pre-booked accommodation for our first night.
However, a few wrong turns later, and the guesthouse we booked being less than satisfactory, we finally found ourselves at KP Grand Hotel in Chantaburi – this place reminded me of other large, grand hotels in other provincial capitals that always have large rooms, but seem quite dated. Nonetheless, we were happy with the place, and my wife was especially happy to finally be having ‘lunch’ at around 5 pm. We then decided against walking to the town’s famous cathedral, leaving it for the following morning, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.
Sunday, May 5th
We set off relatively early, and the first stop was the cathedral, but with finding a park in the area nigh on impossible, I stopped the car very briefly while my wife jumped out for some obligatory tourist snaps of the cathedral’s exterior; given it was Sunday morning, too much exploration of the cathedral while a service was happening probably would’ve been a little disrespectful anyway.
After this quick stop, we drove back out to the coastal area we’d driven along the previous afternoon, and our first stop was at Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, sitting on a small cape, and consisting of a forested hill with a couple of beaches, and small trails. While I wasn’t really expecting anything too special from this place, I had seen that Copper-throated Sunbird, a bird I’ve never seen, is sometimes reported from the coastal forests along this section of coastline, but try as I may, I was out of luck at this place. I did, however, turn up some nice, albeit common birds including Lineated Barbet, Green-billed Malkoha, Brahminy Kite, Pin-striped Tit-babbler and Dark-throated Tailorbird. In all we spend about an hour exploring this headland, that included the forest park, a small fort that’s a couple of centuries old, and a lighthouse (which we didn’t visit).
We then continued back west, exploring a few side roads that lead to fishing villages, but our next main stop was at a very interestingly decorated temple – Wat Pak Nam Khaem Nu. The temple itself is quite tall and narrow, making it stick out above the surrounding village, but its most striking feature is its two-toned blue-and-white tile facade, something I can’t remember seeing elsewhere in Thailand (or at least not in such a striking manner). In addition to visiting the temple, while having coffee by the estuary behind it, we saw on the far bank what looked to be a restaurant, so we drove over the bridge which connects the next cape and sure enough, there was a nice restaurant with individual ‘huts’ on stilts over the water. During a satisfying seafood lunch here, we watched Brahminy Kites fishing, while Collared Kingfishers and Striated Herons were also seen flying between the banks and wooden poles protruding from the water.
Our accommodation for the second night wasn’t too far away from our lunch stop – at Chao Lao Beach – and while our bungalow wasn’t beach-side, it was comfortable enough, so we spent the early afternoon relaxing out of the sun, before setting out to explore Ao Khung Kraben Non-hunting Area, a protected area on yet another rocky cape. Unlike the forest park from earlier in the day, this protected area was larger, with more infrastructure (including bungalows for rent), and as such, I had to pay 200B to enter (my wife, 20B). While I’m not a huge fan of dual pricing, it’s usually not a deal-breaker for me, especially if I’m visiting somewhere new, so we paid the entrance fee and set out along a small coastal trail.
The non-hunting area itself was a pleasant, rocky peninsula, with a few rocky beaches dotted along its eastern edge, and this place well-known for its ‘pink stones’ – coastal rocks that have been turned a pinkish colour due to the conditions; on top of the colour of the rocks, some had very intricate brain-like patterns caused by erosion which were interesting to look at. Before reaching the pink stones, we noticed a small trail that lead over the hill to the other side of the peninsula, and once we’d explored the rocks, we headed back there to see where it actually went. The trail lead up the hill and stopped at a shelter, and in contrast to the eastern side, the western side of the cape consists of steep windswept forest and cliffs, with no beaches visible; although you could see across to a small islet that sits just off the southern end of the cape.
As with earlier in the day, I was on the look out for Copper-throated Sunbirds, and there were even display boards featuring this species, but alas, I once again came away empty handed. I did, however, see some interesting birds, including a small flock of Black-naped Terns off shore, a single, male Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, several Pacific Reef-Herons as well as a Shikra near the cliffs. All in all, it was a relaxing afternoon spent exploring a nice area, but as the sun was starting to set, we headed back to our bungalow for a well-earned cold beer (well I did anyway).
Monday, May 6th
As always before heading away, I’d done a little research about the area, and where we were staying for the second night was only a few kilometres from a mangrove research centre, set inside a small bay. Official named the ‘Khung Kraben Bay Royal Development Study Centre’, the site features a very good quality wooden walkway through the mangroves, complete with swinging bridges and an impressive birdwatching tower that takes you above the tree line. The bay itself was once home to dugong, but mismanagement in the past has lead to their extirpation, but I was still hopeful of finding some good birds, and with the mangroves sitting next to a small section of grassy scrub, my morning ended up being quite productive.
Collared Kingfishers, and Striated Herons were numerous in the mangroves themselves, while on the mudflats, the herons were once again present along with a few Whimbrel and many Great Egrets. Out the back of the mangrove, in an area of scrub and some fish ponds, many other birds were also seen, including Racket-tailed Treepie, and a single Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, both Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinia, Green Bee-eater, Common Iora, Oriental White-eye, and rather surprisingly a single, vocal Red-breasted Parakeet.
The trail then lead me back through the mangroves where I came across a Dusky Warbler, seemingly unperturbed by my presence, but a little further along I spotted another small bird which turned out to be a Lanceolated Warbler, a skulky little bird that has always eluded me in the past – another new bird from this trip!
With a potentially long drive ahead (time-wise, not distance-wise), I finished up my morning’s birding after around 90 minutes, and after heading back to the bungalow, my wife and I were on the road before 9 am. A few stops later to fill the car with tropical fruit – something for which both Chantaburi and Rayong are renowned – and we were finally heading back to Bangkok. And despite the traffic again being a nuisance on our return trip, we’d both had an enjoyable weekend exploring new places (and I picked up a few lifers as well!).
BIRD LIST (66 species identified):
LOCATION CODE (Location seen first)
PP – Pak Nam Prasae
LS – Khao Laem Sing Forest Park
KKN – Ao Khung Kraben Non-hunting Area
KKM – Khung Kraben Mangroves
EW – Elsewhere (incidental birding)
- Feral Pigeon (PP)
- Red-collared Dove (EW – roadside viewpoint)
- Zebra Dove (PP)
- Green-billed Malkoha (LS)
- Greater Coucal (KKM)
- Asian Koel (KKN)
- House Swift (LS)
- Germain’s Swiftlet (KKM)
- Asian Palm-Swift (LS)
- White-breasted Waterhen (KKM)
- Red-wattled Lapwing (EW – at Chao Lao Beach)
- Lesser Sand-Plover (PP)
- Whimbrel (KKM)
- Ruddy Turnstone (PP)
- Terek Sandpiper (PP)
- Grey-tailed Tattler (PP)
- Common Redshank (PP)
- Black-naped Tern (KKN)
- Little Cormorant (PP)
- Great Egret (KKM)
- Chinese Egret (PP)
- Little Egret (KKM)
- Pacific Reef-Heron (KKN)
- Striated Heron (PP)
- Shikra (KKN)
- Brahminy Kite (PP)
- Collared Kingfisher (PP)
- Green Bee-eater (KKM)
- Blue-tailed Bee-eater (EW – near Chao Lao Beach)
- Coppersmith Barbet (LS)
- Lineated Barbet (LS)
- Indian Roller (PP)
- Red-breasted Parakeet (KKM)
- Golden-bellied Gerygone (PP)
- Ashy Woodswallow (EW – roadside viewpoint)
- Common Iora (KKM)
- Black Drongo (EW – near Chao Lao Beach)
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (KKM)
- Malaysian Pied-Fantail (PP)
- Racket-tailed Treepie (KKM)
- Large-billed Crow (EW – small fishing village in Chantaburi)
- Pacific Swallow (LS)
- Stripe-throated Bulbul (LS)
- Yellow-vented Bulbul (PP)
- Streak-eared Bulbul (KKN)
- Dusky Warbler (KKM)
- Lanceolated Warbler (KKM)
- Dark-throated Tailorbird (LS)
- Common Tailorbird (KKN)
- Yellow-bellied Prinia (KKM)
- Plain Prinia (KKM)
- Oriental White-eye (PP)
- Pin-striped Tit-babbler (LS)
- Oriental Magpie-Robin (KKN)
- White-rumped Shama (KKN)
- Asian Pied Starling (LS)
- Common Myna (PP)
- White-vented Myna (PP)
- Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (LS)
- Ruby-cheeked Sunbird (KKN)
- Plain-throated Sunbird (KKN)
- Olive-backed Sunbird (KKM)
- House Sparrow (PP)
- Eurasian Tree Sparrow (PP)
- White-rumped Munia (EW – roadside viewpoint)
- Scaly-breasted Munia (EW – small fishing village in Chantaburi)