Arrived early afternoon and set up camp in what is an extensive camping area with 4 toilet blocks, old toilets are Thai only and new blocks are Thai and western with good (cold) showers and a disabled toilet and shower.
Foreigner entry is a bit steep at 400b but as we plan to stay 3 or 4 nights it is OK per day.
First afternoon I headed for the nature trail to find the entrance blocked by new buildings being constructed, so climb over the work and head down an easy trail but not a lot to see other than trees and butterflies to take photos of but no problem when the butterflies are as beautiful as :
Next morning I headed up the longer trails and decided to do the middle 4.5km trail, again not a lot to see other than where an elephant had slid down the hill and gone over the stream the night before, until I got up to the lookout at the highest point and started down through the pine trees where there were some birds high in the trees. Got my first bird photos with a new species for me a Neglected Nuthatch.
Afternoon I went for an explore and drove up the 14km road to Suan Son Phu Koom Kha, lots of animal sign, Gaur, Deer and Elephant and birds on the road and in the trees at the barrier across the road, as far as you can drive. Plan to come back tomorrow morning when hopefully there will be animals still out.
Next morning a Munjak ran across the road on the way up and there had been a herd of Elephants feeding along the road but they had gone before we got there, very messy eaters these things. On the way back a deer ran along the road for a way in front of us.
Called in at the HQ on the way back and were told there was a big mob of people were expected the next day a Saturday with all the housed booked and a lot of campers coming so we decided to cut our stay down to 3 nights and head for the next destination, also told us the best time for birds is when the trees are in fruit in the spring.
On the last morning I walked about 2 km down the Suan Son Ban Beak track (4km) which is a couple of km west of the park entrance and wow the place is full of elephants with fresh sign everywhere but they had all moved away from the track before I got there, probably just as well, lots of sign of other animals and more birds than I had seen anywhere else in the park and another new bird species for me an Eurasian Jay.
Salt lick come wallow on the Suan Son Ban Beak Trail
Where a (angry) bull Elephant has been attacking a bank, testing his strength, on the Suam Son Ban Baek trail.
A lot of construction going on making a lot of noise which has scared most of the birds and animals out of the area.
The loop trails are best walked starting from the entrance on the road to the youth camp, from there it is about a kilometer to where the first trail forks off to the left. It is then about another KM through open pine forest to the lookout on the center trail. I did not walk the top trail so cant say where it joined in. Leeches were bad on the bottom part of the trails up the stream but none higher up.
The trails on the south side of the road were the best for both animals and birds. It would be possible to do these trails without paying an entrance fee to the park as there was no check as we went drove past the ranger station on the way to Suan Son Phu Goom Kha and there is no ranger station on the road to the Ban Beak track.
The pines and grass area from the junction of the first trail to the lookout was the best place for birds on the north side of the park. Two flights of hornbill went over on different days couldn’t get a good look at them but by the sound of the wings they were great hornbill.
Greater Racket-tailed drongo
Thats what they charged us Paul. Seems there has been an order from on high for the popular parks to up their charges, for instance at Phu Hin Rong Kla we were charged 500b and at Thung Salaeng Luang they wanted 500b so I said no thank you and moved on.
Only 200b entrance this time, much better. A little rain as we arrived so we set up the tent in the Hong Bprachoom (Open sided meeting area) under cover and had a feed then went exploring to work out where to go in the morning.
Heavy fog in the morning made an early start impossible as there was no chance of getting any photos. When the mist had cleared somewhat we headed to a watchtower past a lake where there was an Osprey sitting on a dead tree in the lake, the first bird photo from here. At the watchtower there were several Red Cheeked Bulbul flying around and smaller birds in some bushes.
We then went for a drive along what is called a loop track but soon came to fallen trees across the road, walking from there we did not get far before more fallen trees so turned back to camp where there was a Crimson Sunbird flitting around some flowers, with a fair bit of patience I managed to get a reasonable photo of this small bird.
In the afternoon I went up a track alongside a lake close to the Royal residence to find leeches galore but there were also birds, Gibbons and a species of monkey ( Pig-tailed Macaque) I haven’t seen before so I persevered although picking leeches off the boots and pants before they could get to flesh was a full time job. This track is part of what is called the Queens Loop track which circles the Royal residence.
The see no evil one ?
It is possible to follow the road past accommodation and drive to a dam where there is a pump shed, (4WD) in the wet, this is part of the Queens Loop (other end). I did this the next morning after first having a look at what I thought was the track to Mon Lake, if it was it hasn’t been used for some time by other than deer and elephants. Several Pied Hornbill flew past me and I managed to get a photo of a small warbler.
I then walked the nature trail past a big fig tree on to a narrow walkway across a swamp this branched in the middle with the branches going either side of a lake on to the main road, a bit of pig sign on this track but nothing worth taking a photo of until I got back on the road where there was a Common Kingfisher on a dead tree and a Grey Heron on an the remains of an old shack.
Rain in the afternoon so I hung around camp getting some bird photos between showers. Rain most of the night and next day but managed to get some photos in the few brief clear periods.
Elongated Tortoise that was wandering on the road they are said to be endangered and this one was in danger of being run over so I redirected it into the forest
Lots of deer about Sambar, Hog Deer and Muntjak mostly on the open grass area but a few around the camp area with one particularly cheeky Sambar hind that we were told would raid camps and eat anything, this proved to be true as it ate my soap.
Got brief glimpses of 2 small flocks of Pied Hornbill but no photos unfortunately.
In the mornings there were a lot of birds in the camping area, White-crested Laughingthrush, Red-billed Blue Magpie predominant. A lot of Red-eared Bulbul present, these birds which are mostly seen in cages are also in Tat Mok NP which is part of the same forest complex.
A place well worth the visit in spite of the rain.
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Chinese Pond Heron
Red-billed Blue Magpie
Access is up a steep winding road through what must be one of the most difficult farming areas in the country with steep fields of cabbages, pineapples and corn with the occasional patch of dry land rice among large and small boulders. Entrance fee is a steep 500b for foreigners and the whole place is tourist orientated.
Main attractions are rock fields and the old communist HQ which is what most of the selfie takers go to see. There are 2 large restaurants and gift shops and a small museum.
We set up our tent under one of 2 large covered areas with attached kitchens. Toilets are good with both western and Thai toilets and good showers, cold water as usual, mains power.
Really only 2 places to go other than the camping area which is large with lots of tents set up waiting for occupants with several houses for rent
We walked round the rock fields in scattered rain but only saw a few bird species and not many of them.
I think I have this right. A place where they bury communists.
Only ended up staying 2 nights as five truck loads of Uni students arrived and wanted to use the area we were camped in for a cooking and dining area, seems they had booked the place and were not happy we were there.
2 Barred Warbler
Blue Rock Thrush
Access is through a winding narrow road up a long valley flanked by pineapple fields which makes for a slow trip.
Pineapples are the main cash crop hearabouts
Entrance fee is 200b for foreigners 40b for Thai, Several good camping areas with the best toilets in camp ground 3 where we set up camp.
The whole place is surrounded by heavy forest with few access points, the main one is at a waterfall a kilometer up the road from the camp a fee is charged for access but when I walked up the road one morning the ranger on duty asked if I was camped and when I said yes told me to go ahead no charge. There is a restaurant and small shop selling snacks and gifts.
Entrance to the waterfall and trail to the top.
From the waterfall there is a track that leads to a high point which gives the park its name Phu Soi Dao which roughly translated means “Cliff where you can hold the stars”. This is a 8.5KM trek in for an overnight stay, porters are on hand to carry your gear no doubt for a fee, I didn’t ask as I was not intending to do the trek or stay. The only other access I found was an old road starting at the youth camp that led up the water supply pipeline. This is pretty overgrown with fallen bamboo so much so that I did not get to the water source before the track became very blocked.
There is a road about 500m up the main road from the waterfall that I suspect in an access road to the top of the waterfall trail, it is concreted most of the way and is very steep 30 degrees plus in places. I struggled up this road to where it follows a ridge top but as I had not started till 1pm it was getting late by then so I didn’t follow to the end, a bit of wild pig sign and a lot of bird activity up there and I would like to get up there again starting early and spending the whole day but that will have to wait for another time.
The whole place has an ambience that I liked it has mains power and internet access but no phone coverage. The lack of access into the forest means it is well protected as are its residents which appear to be mainly birds and small mammals as I saw no indication of larger animals other than pigs although they could survive in remoter parts for this park is part of a quite large area of forest along the Lao border that includes our next stop Phu Suan Sai NP.
Most people that visit there go for the trek up the waterfall trail for an overnight camp we were told that there were about 60 people up there when we arrived on a Saturday but probably less on weekdays.
I saw a Forktail in the waterfall stream but failed to get a photo