The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao

15 Jan 2017 12:48 - 15 Jan 2017 13:07 #4184 by WT admin
The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao was created by WT admin
The Sleepy Jungle - A week camping at Nam Nao... by forum member Bernard Lundie

Fascinating insight from naturalist Bernard Lundie of his first experience of a forest in the tropics - Thailand's Nam Nao National Park

nam nao national park dfg

The Sleepy Jungle - A week camping at Nam Nao National Park (12/12-19/12/2016) by Bernard Lundie

I am a Scottish naturalist, who since childhood has explored all strata of my country’s wildlife. Throughout university I had the pleasure of working with bird colonies in Iceland and have engaged in other forays in Europe. 2016 however was to be the year I fulfilled every wildlife lover’s dream of exploring the tropics. After a tough summer working in catering I decided it was neigh time to expand my horizons to the orient.

After a few days in Bangkok enjoying the company of Lumpini Park’s monstrous monitors I bussed it from Lom Sak to Nam Nao national park, where I spent six nights.

I chose to visit Nam Nao as from what I read about it, it seemed like the sort of place I would like to be. The national park (specifically what was in range as a non-driver based at the campsite) seemed to offer a variety of habitats, a large diversity of birds and a reasonable chance of encountering some exciting mammals.

After a small mix up I arrived late at night. I was given a lift in and we spotted a Sambar calmly stroll in front of the pickup -a promising start. A Thai family camping next to me kindly helped this fatigued traveller pitch a tent and gave him something to eat. They provided me with much kindness and good company for the next few days. I fell asleep to a cacophony of frogs and insects, eagerly awaiting my first day in the jungle. As I was forewarned, nights are chilly at this altitude, so campers bare that in mind.


My first port of call was to get a camera trap set up. After a painful amount of miscommunication with the rangers, a man who was in some senior position judging by his smart attire took me for the first time, out of the electric fence surrounding camp and into the forest.


I wasn’t sure how far we were going to go and I had myself hyped for a long trek. However we had reached a suitable spot within five minutes. He showed me some subtle signs that I would have missed; now dry mud from a large animal painting the leaves of understorey plants as well as berries knocked from a tree.

We walked down to a little stream and crossing it was a well-trodden mammal trail. Hoof prints were evident in the mud as was a fresh pile of elephant dung.

“Chang” was a word I associated with beer from friends’ stories of Thailand. To me it symbolised a looming threat.

Nam Nao is the haunt of wild elephants. Being from a country where there are virtually no dangerous animals, this was an exhilarating but frightening prospect. I did drink a few changs and having noticed the elephants on the can, reconciled the two definitions.

The ranger gestured I climb a tree so that the chang don’t destroy my camera. So I fixed it facing the trail at a height I was willing to climb. I doubt it was out with the grasp of Elaphus maximus , but I felt it would have been somewhat less obvious to them.

With that sorted I set a daily routine to make the most of the short days. Head to jungle, come back for lunch (sometimes) head out again and come back before sundown for some rustic but tasty food at the little restaurant.

My first full day in the jungle proved to be exciting but with a pang of the reality. Firstly, construction work was going on most days .It was audible even a good few kilometres away on the trails. The road was also often in earshot. I live in a national park and I understand that developing an infrastructure in a responsible manner is essential; I needed both the road and the facilities to enjoy my trip so I can’t condemn them too much. I have read of development threatening other Thai parks so I hope Nam Nao develops responsibly. Neither of these things seriously affected my enjoyment and I shan’t dwell on them further.

Nam Nao has a series of short overlapping trails going through a variety of habitats. Where deciduous and evergreen stands begun and end, I wasn’t sure. Most trees were only beginning to shed leaves as opposed to looking bare. Epiphytes were evident but not profuse. The forest had some tall but mostly thin trees. However there was the odd giant with huge buttress roots for support as well as cycads dotted here and there. Thick stands of bamboo created a mysterious environment of striped light. A small area of pines with an understorey of grass provided an open and airy atmosphere, where you could find solace from the heavy jungle air. It seems to me that pines, wherever they occurred were something of a boasted curiosity in Thailand. To this European it was the one of the few habitats that had any semblance of familiarity.

My preconceived idea of tropical forests was based on accounts of various friends of mine who had worked in the neotropics; a place dripping with moisture and bursting with life, particularly parasites.

Nam Nao, at the time of my visit, proved to be a different sort of jungle. It was quite dry, and although repellents and nets were welcome, the mosquitoes and flies were less relentless than Scottish midgies and clegs. I have no doubt the wet season could prove different.

New species were not leaping out at me on every corner as I thought they would have. However the more I looked the more I saw. It was a place where secrets had to be unlocked with the key of patience. My silent solitary travel was occasionally broken by “What’s that?” or simply “Wow”.

One day brought huge golden ants meandering over a fallen log, ground squirrels gathering mouthfuls of food and huge butterflies swooping like birds. The next unveiled freshwater crabs hiding in the low river, golden orb weavers patiently waiting overhead and long tailed lizards weaving through the dry grass.

Accompanied by books of Thailand’s birds, mammals and reptiles I set about the task of identifying my new neighbours.

Birding in this new environment was incredibly frustrating. My neck ached from spending so long staring into the canopy. The birds moved fast and in mixed species groups. When one bird moved out of view, its closest companion was another species entirely, as was the next bird behind. This combination of poor visibility, mixed species flocks and my lack of knowledge on Asian bird taxa proved against me. However that was part of the fun. I focused on easily identifiable groups given the above conditions. I had some archetypal tropical birds on my wish list and eventually the forest did provide. Pied hornbill, vernal hanging parrot, red headed trogon, scarlet minivet and olive backed sunbird satisfied my urge for flagrant feathers. The less colourful slaty backed forktail however was one of my favourites. The bold monochrome plumage and riparian haunts gave me the impression of a rich man’s wagtail.

I’ve tended domestic fowl many times and to see the humble chicken in its native habitat has been a long time goal. Soon I spied four red jungle fowl cocks just behind HQ. Their plumage was stunning .From my vantage point I watched them nervously scratch the earth and squabble with each other.

Mammals as always were even harder to find. Squirrels were most obvious, particularly the pied variable squirrels. They proved to be the most unobservant wild mammal I’ve ever seen. I got some very detailed views of them feeding and even spotted one having a nap in the crux of a tree only a few feet above my head! When they eventually did notice my presence, their guttural alarm call was my cue to move on.

Big mammals, the type that get the blood going, were much more present than I imagined. Sambar and Muntjac tracks were common. I found the old track of a Gaur and I came across scat and footprints of mid-sized carnivores, no doubt snacking on careless squirrels.

Some days I really wanted to get “ticks”. Some days I just wanted to relax and enjoy the forest as a whole. I’ve found a balance of the two increasingly important the older I get.

The very spacious campsite itself would be a brilliant place to get more positive IDs on birds. However I prioritised on hitting the trails. As the weekend came, so did a huge influx of guests, all Thai. It was great to see local people enjoying their countries nature. By and large they seemed content to relax at the campsite leaving me to enjoy the forest alone.

One species synonymous with Nam Nao campsite is the white crested laughing thrush. This charming species seemed to delight the Thai campers. Perhaps they can relate this highly social bird to their own cultures emphasis on family bonds.

A night time wander revealed the eye shine and outline of possibly a civet and I scared what sounded like Muntjac behind one of the bungalows. Darkness saw an army of frogs descend on the toilet blocks to comically leap all over the place. Most nights though, I was content to dream of strange creatures.

For the first few days, the threat of elephants played at the back of my mind. I had read online of many close encounters birders had had with them on these same trails. My apprehension of them grew the closer I got to Nam Nao .One person at the bus station even went as far to say that me going was an overly dangerous prospect! Road signs, then park signs and finally seeing their blatant trails…..Giant oval footprints, huge heaps of dung, tree trunk scratching posts and bamboo snapped like it was merely a twig. It made me thankful for the electric wire perimeter of the camp. As time passed and despite the wealth of evidence, I began to feel silly at fearing or even believing there were elephants at all! Particularly in the pine forests, so like home, the prospect of an elephant lumbering into view felt fanciful. Once I heard a distant trumpet that filled me with instant fear and awe. The sceptic in me was later unsure if it wasn’t a vehicle related noise. In the end I did not even glimpse an elephant. I feel equally saddened and relieved that I never did. But it was a privilege to share the paths with these icons of the wild.

As I lie in my tent on my final night, I naturally reflect on my first encounter with the jungle .I think of how different this place would be in the wet season. I ponder how is wilderness defined? It would be easy to feel jaded. There is a fridge full of coke five minutes away, stars are swamped by artificial light and the chorus of frogs competes with that of the latest in Thai pop. This isn’t the wild I think to myself. But just beyond that electric wire, behemoths stir and unknown predators prowl. They might disagree.


Species List Birds

• Vernal hanging parrot

• Red headed trogon

• Mountain imperial pigeon

• Red jungle fowl

• Scarlet minivet

• Black headed oriole

• Greater ratchet tailed drongo

• White bellied woodpecker

• Common flameback

• Bronzed drongo

• Grey headed canary flycatcher

• Sooty headed bulbul (red vent)

• Puff throated bulbul

• Black headed bulbul

• Mountain tailor bird(?)

• Olive backed sunbird

• White crested laughing thrush

• White browed scimitar babbled

• Chinese pond heron

• Pied hornbill

• Slaty backed forktail

• White throated fantail

• Bar winged flycatcher shrike


Unidentified leafbird, wader, swift and whiteye amongst others



• Pied variable squirrel

• Indochinese ground squirrel

• Grey bellied squirrel

• Sambar deer



• Long tailed grass lizard

• Common striped skink


Various others lizards unidentified

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16 Jan 2017 18:38 - 16 Jan 2017 18:40 #4186 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
Nicely written article!
Only been there on my very first trip in Thailand, and after having visited several parks further up North in Thailand, it was the first park where I found more evidence of wildlife than I had seen in the parks in Northern Thailand.
But I can not recall seeing anything special. And to be honest, I don't think it is a park where you will see as much as in the more famous big parks like Khao Yai or Kaeng Krachan.
Parks like e.g. Khao Yai I skipped on my first Thailand visit, because I read they were the most popular in the country, and I wanted to avoid the crowds. Like many other first time visitors I expected the unknown parks would offer me much more chance for wildlife.
I am glad I met my current wife towards the end of that trip and got another chance to learn how wrong I was about that.

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18 Jan 2017 20:20 #4194 by Robby L
Replied by Robby L on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
The best place to see mammals in Nam Nao are the two trails on the south side of the road one is Phu Koom Khao rail which is driveable for 14 km it is 3.4 km from the park entrance along the main road to the east, the other is Dong Paek trail which is walking only for 4 km from a place to park 1.4 km west of the park entrance road.

When I went there there was a huge amount of mammal sign as well as birds, time spent on these trails particularly the Dong Paek where there is a salt lick on the side of the track less than a km in would be sure to give some sightings.

Salt lick Dong Paek track.


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19 Jan 2017 00:56 #4195 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
Do you mean south of the Route 12, Robby?
If so, I didn't know it was possible to go there.
But that sounds interesting.
Is there also accommodation on the Southern side?

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19 Jan 2017 18:28 - 20 Jan 2017 20:27 #4196 by Robby L
Replied by Robby L on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
Yes on the south side of road 12 see the 2 tracks (vehicle) on this map,the short, Dong Paek, track can only be walked......

Click here for map

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19 Jan 2017 18:33 #4197 by Robby L
Replied by Robby L on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
Sorry forgot, no accommodation and if not staying at the park no entrance fee as you dont have to go into the park. There is a ranger station on the Phu Koom Khao road but nobody around so we just drove past..

We did see some people camped in tents on the roadside at the park entrance but no toilets there.

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19 Jan 2017 20:27 #4198 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
Thank you for the info. Will definitely give it a try someday in the future.

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29 Apr 2023 13:35 - 29 Apr 2023 13:40 #5894 by wvwv
Replied by wvwv on topic The Sleeply Jungle - Nam Nao
The trails in nam nao, apart from the ones which start directly from the campsite, are mostly dirt roads which i think also serve as firebreaks.

the 14km dirt road is past a barrier and another ranger station but usually the barrier is up and nobody says anything when you go past. The best time to see mammals will be dawn and dusk, like anywhere really.

another interesting and less travelled path starts at the observatory at chulabhorn dam. It is gated and locked but you can get past on foot or any 2-wheeled form of transport. This path travels 10km deep into the forest (with 2 or 3 possible turnings which i have not yet explored). After the 10km if you want to get to the 14km dirt road mentioned above you must bushwhack for about 1.5km-2km and cross the river at least once (waist high in april, would not like to attempt in rainy season).  Google maps says you can walk through but the trails dont quite join up and that last 2km is just animal trails and sometimes no trail at all. I came across an elephant near the river and had to wait for 30 minutes for it to move on. They dont bother me when i see them on the road because i can uturn if i need to and put some distance between us but in the jungle, and especially jungle in which i cant easily move, theyre a real danger. I can imagine a herd of them would be much worse than one lone animal because you could end up surrounded.

Apart from kui buri, Nam nao is probably the easiest place to see them in thailand. Certainly their poo is much more common than in khao yai. That salt lick already mentioned in this thread is a good start and it's closer to the road than 1km. It's about 200 or 300m. The watchtower is right next to the road, so 1km away would be too far to see. But that watchtower was locked and dilapidated the last time i passed. I put a trail camera at that saltlick once for a single night which the elephants had smashed up by morning, snapping the SD card in half.  I'm surprised that in a week the Op did not see elephants but not surprised that he heard them.

the pictures attached are from the trail from the observatory into nam nao, including the river i crossed. And a dead jackal i think, at the side of the road.  I imagine that road must kill a lot of animals since it cuts right through the heart of the forest and there are no speed bumps like at khao yai.


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"Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius." > Edward O. Wilson

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