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× Note: Sanctuaries are different to National Parks in Thailand, Thailand currently has established 39 sanctuaries and access is more restrictive as their role is as a sanctuary for wildlife rather than a park for the nation. Some sanctuaries do allow limited access to tourists.

Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013

21 Sep 2013 00:46 - 21 Sep 2013 22:33 #1401 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013
Thanks for moving the thread!

Start with the news of today. There has been another shooting just 15 - 20kms from where we were, I'm not sure if it happened last night or this morning. A ranger got shot, but from what we've heard he is doing OK, though being treated in the hospital. Not sure what happened with the poachers.
It shocked me quite a bit that this seems to be a more or less daily basis for these rangers. I found out that they take things very serious here, and patrolling seems to be done on a daily basis. Still quite unbelievable people are seriously risking their lives to protect the wildlife, just for a meager salary... They deserve medals (or a better wage) for doing so!

Today, walked the Khao Hin Daeng trail with a ranger (you're allowed to go on your own, but I hoped to learn more about tracks; and I did).
Just 100 - 200 meters on the trail he pointed out a mark on the ground made by Leopard. It's a bit in a V-shape.
It's been raining every day in the afternoons, and last night the whole night including the morning, but luckily it got significantly less when we started the trail. Wet soil might be good for fresh tracks, but tracks soon disappear.
But after the Leopard track, I spotted some very vague pug marks. The ranger thought tiger, I was not convinced, could have been Leopard as well. Then the ranger stopped and smelled the rather sweet smell of Tiger 'spray'. We smelled it about 3 times along the whole trail. Quite lucky, because in this season with all the rain it's not so easy to smell this. Further on the trail a massive pug mark of a male tiger! The size... just amazing! It was not in the condition as the pug marks found on the first day, but more impressive in size. Tiger scratches on 2 or 3 trees, and also a Leopard scratch. And about half way the trail a few ribs and lower jaw of a Sambar. The ranger told that two weeks ago he walked the trail and did not see the tiger, but saw the dead sambar and found tiger tracks on site. At the end of the trail we found the same kind of V-shaped marking in the soil as at the start only this time twice as big as that of the Leopard, again a sign of Tiger.
In between this amazing number of big cat tracks, the whole trail was loaded with animal tracks of Banteng, Wild Boar, Gaur, Sambar, Elephant, and some Bear claw marks on a couple of trees. This trail is my favourite, not only because we found all these tracks, though obviously that makes it incredibly interesting. Actually we did not see much in terms of live animals. The ranger talked a lot, though actually I was fine with it, because I was interested in all the information. I had a split second view of a blond White-Handed Gibbon, which disappeared as fast as it appeared.
And a nice forest dragon, what appeared to be Acanthosaura lepidogaster, but not sure if there are any similar Acanthosaura species in the area.
On the drive out of the park, a solitary Golden Jackal appeared on my last day in HKK.

Today, and yesterday I talked quite a bit with some rangers.
And asked about what is allowed and what not.

First of all to answer Bagheera's question. The area at Lan Sak is open for visitors without permits, just pay 30 baht for your car, and 20 baht for Thai resident (I brought a Thai Driving license, but only the woman today asked to show it) or 200 for a foreigner. Like in a national park.
I'll explain below what I've heard about the restrictions. Even though I would love to go deeper into the reserve some day, it is clear that even this rather small area that is open for tourists has something to offer and clearly offers the slight chance to see a big cat.
When I asked which trails are open to walk without a ranger. The ranger mentioned the following three trails.

Khao Hin Daeng Trail
Khao Pak Dee Trail
Home of The Tiger Trail

He did not mention Pa Teng Rang Trail, it's the area where I heard the tiger calling, and a day later found tiger scratches on 2 trees, and most likely Leopard scratches on another tree.

And he told that according to the official rules, you're actually not allowed to walk Pong Chang Puak Trail - where the 1st tower is situated - without permission. Strange. Though, from what I understood they have not really been enforcing that and that I've noticed because we've entered, and the local rangers knew about that, but officially you need to get permission from the HQ. He told they are talking about officially opening this trail and the tower without need of permission, and everything seems to be in place for this change; parking area, a sign with info about the trail, and even on a new map at the main entrance and at the head quarters with texts that mention this trail is open for visitors. A bit strange when permission is needed.
Yesterday I did it the official way. Walked to the HQ, the chief's assistent happened to be there. And we asked not only for the 1st tower, but also the 2nd tower. And without asking further questions the chief's assistent immediately told one of the ladies there to call a ranger to go with us. However, later when we were walking back to the car with the ranger he told that the road to the 2nd tower is not good and that we were not able to go (later we found out he just did not seem to be willing to go because he wanted to go home early.)
BUt well, just to the first tower then. At 16:30 when a group of 7 peacocks walked into the grass, the ranger wanted to go home. He normally works in the office and is used to go home around that time I understand that he doesn't want to work in his free time. But I actually wanted to stay at least till 18:00. He did not allow us to stay there without him, and we had to leave. A bummer.
I'm quite sure that when you bring the right person, you can stay till it's almost getting dark. The ranger at the HQ gate recommended us today that next time we should just bring some whisky for the two rangers at the substation near the tower, park inside at the station, and then everything is fine. Well, we've noticed that even without whisky it works fine. Or I guess we should have talked about a time beforehand, even with the Chief's assistent who seemed to be helpful and friendly. This morning the same ranger did not want to walk with us because it was raining a little bit, which soon stopped. Another ranger was easier to convince.

So a visit to both towers is possible, but officially you need to ask on site at the HQ for permission; which seems to be very easy to get.

BTW, a few days ago when walking the Home of The Tiger trail I found out there is a third tower. It's just 200 - 300 meters walk from the camping area, and since this tower is on the most used, unrestricted trail of the park, for sure you're allowed to visit this tower. Fresh elephant tracks, Banteng, Sambar, and wild boar can all be found, and when we passed again yesterday with the ranger he pointed out some tracks which he knew were left behind by Asiatic Black Bear. It had been digging in the ground right next to the wall of the toilet at the tower.
The ranger told, once, he had walked up to the tower after he had heard a Sambar alarm call, and when he arrived a Leopard ran off, and the Sambar - dead but still bleeding - was left behind, and the next day Dholes were finishing off the carcass. And he told about a tiger trying to catch an elephant calf near this tower, it did not succeed, but it shows everything is possible even this close to the main visitor area.
I know these stories come from a man that has worked for there for 20 years, and in all this time he has seen 4 times a tiger. And Leopard sightings he could not remember how many times. So it seems like that even this tower - even though its proximity to the HQ - could potentially deliver some great sightings. Seems like the big cats don't really avoid the more developed area. I know a birding guide, she has seen a leopard behind the restaurant on the river bank, January 2013, around 10:00AM.

Anyway, it seems like after staying 3 - 4 days people start to know you, and if you have a chat with them, possibly even offer them a drink or two, doors will open. It's not likely that they'll let you into the deeper parts of the sanctuary, but at least do some interesting things in the visitor area.

Other details:
The sanctuary opens the gate for tourists at 6:30AM and it closes at 16:30PM. Don't expect them to let you in after 16:30, unless you've already been staying within the park and informed them to go out to get food, or something.

I've been staying in some pink bungalows outside the sanctuary, at about 2.5km. The nearest option outside the park. Small but sufficient and clean. Aircon bungalow 550 baht/ night.
Camping in the park is possible as well. Offers the possibility to visit the 3rd tower very early in the morning or late afternoon till darkness falls.
Food is available in the park near the HQ (and Sueb monument). Some great birdlife is showing up around there, for those who like our feathered friends.
But not sure what time they close, I expect before 18:00.

Outside the park the few restaurants within a 10 - 20km radius tend to close around 18:00. There are few options in the neigbourhood, it's extremely quiet there when darkness falls. Arranging your food late afternoon and bringing it with you for later, is a better option.

Not sure if there is any other info one should know before visiting HKK, but if you have questions, just let me know.

The following user(s) said Thank You: WT admin, Bagheera

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21 Sep 2013 10:56 #1402 by Bagheera
Replied by Bagheera on topic Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013
Thanks for the comprehensive post, I think you covered just about everything there.
Sounds like a real wildlife haven and with the chance of big cats aswell I think I will have to go there very soon! even if the rangers do need a bit of alcoholic encouragement to assist you!
With such significant wildlife so close to the HQ, this is very exciting and like you have said maybe it is not the be all and end all to be granted access to the interior.

Thanks again for the research you have done and relayed to us all.

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21 Sep 2013 20:52 - 22 Sep 2013 11:24 #1403 by Paul T
Replied by Paul T on topic Re:Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013
I agree, fantastic trip write up.

A bit off topic but if any one finds a decent restaurant in Lan Sak, do share. After my many visits to Lan Sak I have christened it the Worst Food capital of Thailand.

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24 Sep 2013 15:01 - 24 Sep 2013 15:02 #1405 by onflipflops
Replied by onflipflops on topic Re:Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013
Do you stay in the city of Lan Sak?

Food is indeed a problem in the area. At least within a 10 - 20 kms from the park.
All the area consists of farms/ forest, it's not possible to truly own the land with proper papers, so there are few people living there full-time, and I guess those who stay there don't have much to spend. Together with the lack of tourists, there are very few restaurants available.
There are 2 or 3 options on the first few kms on the main road to Lan Sak from the side road leading to the HKK gate. On the side road there is one option on the right, just 50 meters or so after you turn onto this little road.
It's probably the best option, food is not too bad, good enough for me.
However, just like all the places, you're unlikely to get food after 17:00 - 18:00.

Though, the noodle soup at a little place along the main road was quite good, actually. And it seemed like they could prepare many dishes. I've only tried it once, usually I was in the park during the day...

With all the mushroom poaching in the sanctuary, you expect to be able to get a good mushroom-based dish, but seems like everything is transfered to the bigger 'cities'. Sold at 200 baht a kilo, I've seen the people carrying baskets full out of the park, it must generate a decent income. The rangers seem to allow their presence, as long as they stick to mushroom picking.

I guess the lack of good eateries is the price to pay to be in a non-touristic nature reserve.
Maybe it's best if it stays this way, ;).

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24 Sep 2013 15:26 - 24 Sep 2013 15:39 #1406 by Paul T
Replied by Paul T on topic Re:Huai Kha Kaeng visit September 2013

Do you stay in the city of Lan Sak?

No. I have. I go to Ban Rai and Lan Sak quite a lot (say 10 times a year) for other locations (i.e. not HKK HQ) for insects mainly. Ban Rai is no problem, great food available as well as decent accommodation. If I am closer to Lan Sak I will go in at night for food and cold ones. Its got three main restaurants and a bunch of noodle stalls (as far as I have found so far). The 3 restaurants I have found are all on the main road. First is just past the hospital and have a huge cockerel statue outside, the don't sell kai yang though. Food is oily and miserable and always has a fly problem. Second is about 500 meters further up - eclectic little place with old stuff hanging on the walls, food is better but she closes about 4 oclock so never available at night. Third is over the road by the Fuel Station, very erratic with the quality, can be "edible" one night and "forcable downable" the next. Noodles can't satisfy me if I have had a day on the karsts or forest. I am a fatty who likes good grub and a cold beer at the end of a hard day ;+)

Whenever I am in Lan Sak I stay at Pla Ra Home Stay (check the thread on Pla Ra and the details are there). It's NOT a home stay, its bungalows , and its very clean and hospitable but no evening grub. It would add 40 minutes each way to your daily drive if you are going to HKK HQ.

If in Ban Rai I sleep and eat at Ban Suan , which is actually located in a petrol station!

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