From Khao Sam Roy Yot we headed to Kaeng Krachan – Thailand’s largest national park where we spent the next 4 nights. There are two camping sites at Kaeng Krachan: Ban Krang a few kilometers from the park entrance and Phanoen Thung at the top of the mountain, both have some basic facilities and a restaurant.
The first couple of nights we spent at Ban Krang. There was an enormous fig tree growing up from the ravine below with its crown towering over the camp site and the road to the top of the mountain. That tree was an all-around wildlife watching destination in itself. As soon as we arrived we spotted a family of Dusky langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus) and a Black giant squirrel (Ratufa bicolor) on that tree. The bird-life variety around that tree was astounding. In the first few minutes we spotted: Great hornbill, Stripe-throated bulbul, Oriental pied hornbill, Asian fairy bluebird, Red-throated barbet, Lineated barbet, Black-capped kingfisher and Forest wagtail.
Once we pitched our tents we went for an exploratory walk along the stream and spooked a reasonably-sized animal from its mud bath. Judging by the prints on the bank it was a wild pig, but none of us actually saw the animal.
We didn’t see much else on the trail, apart from a Forest crested lizard and a Four lined tree frog, so we went for a drive on the main road towards the park entrance.
We stopped when we saw a Blue-bearded bee-eater disappearing into the thicket, and followed it for a closer look. What we found inside the forest was the remnants of a carcass surrounded by WWF wireless camera traps. It must’ve been a leopard’s kill that the researchers in the park were monitoring.
In the evening after we had dinner at the restaurant the staff told us that civets and porcupines often come to feed on left-over rice that the cook leaves for them behind the restaurant. And true to form, the grass patch behind the kitchen saw a fair bit of activity at night. At first a Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) appeared from the gully below. It was then followed by another porcupine and the two animals fed together quite contently for a while. Until a Common palm civet ( Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) emerged and intimidated the porcupines into retreating back to the gully.
The porcupines were quite common around the campsite, just outside of the lit areas.
We woke up to an absolutely incredible dawn chorus. One of the most interesting birds on the fig tree this morning was an Asian barred owlet. Another two additions to yesterday’s list were Green-eared barbet and Puff-throated bulbul. There were also a couple of Black giant squirrels and a Grey bellied squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps) feeding on the fruit.
While we were watching the birds a fellow birdwatcher told us that there was a Brown hornbill nest in a tree about two kilometres up the road leading to the top of the mountain. Our hire car was just a little sedan and the road all the way to the top was very steep in parts, incredibly windy and interspersed with creak crossings. The common consensus was that it was impossible to reach the mountain top in a 2WD.
To compromise we drove for about 1km until we reached the first creak crossing, parked the car and walked the rest of the way up. The birdlife was very abundant on the trail: Common goldenback woodpecker, Orange-breasted trogon, Chestnut-breasted malcoha, Green-billed malcoha and Indian roller.
We found the Brown hornbill nest without too much trouble andspent some time watching the parents take turns bringing food to their young sealed inside their tree hollow nest.
While we were watching the hornbills I caught a whiff of the distinct musky smell of Binturong. And the hunt was on. We followed our noses through the forest along the road obsessively scanning the high branches in hopes of spotting the animal itself. The foliage was very lush and thick and visibility was incredibly poor. We gave up after a few hundred meters, but our spirits were lifted by a sighting of a Crab-eating mongoose ( Herpestes urva) on the walk back to the car.
Dusky langurs were everywhere. Some of the females were carrying their bright orange young. At some point they became very excited and filled the air with their alarm calls. As hard as we stared into the forest we couldn’t see or hear the source of the potential danger.
Further up along the road, near Ban Krang we found a few prints on the road. One set belonged to a civet, while the other was from a smallish feline, though not as small as a leopard cat.
Back at the camp we were greeted by a large Rock monitor that was snoozing on a tree standing between our two tents. Slightly higher up the tree slept another Black giant squirrel.
At night we saw a single Malayan porcupine behind the restaurant. No civets turned up for a free meal.
Encouraged by our explorations of the mountain yesterday, we decided to go back to town to swap our rental car for a 4WD. On the way to the park entrance we came across a watering hole. The park wasn’t busy and we haven’t seen a single car on the road, so we pulled over by the curb and decided to wait and see if something would come out of the forest for a drink. This watering hole, turned out to be an absolute gem and over the next three days we saw quite a few species of mammals there. This morning it was a Barking deer or Common muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) that came out wearily for a quick drink.
On the way back in our almost luxurious 4WD we watched a troop of Northern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca leonina) spend some time by the water hole. From there we continued all the way to the Panoentung camp site at the top of the mountain. The road was very steep indeed and we could see that there would’ve been no way to make this trip in a 2WD. By the time we arrived at the camp and pitched our tents it was already nearing sunset. The restaurant here is a good place to watch Streaked spiderhunters. I also saw some Flavescent bulbuls and a Black-throated laughingthrush while waiting for the others.
One of the things Kaeng Krachan is famous for is the thick Sea of Mist that envelopes the mountain tops early in the morning. I thought a look at it at sunset would also be a good idea and we were not disappointed.
The restaurant at Panoentung also leaves its leftover rice for the animals at night, but the only visitor we had was a single Malayan porcupine.
We started the day with a visit to the viewpoint to see the famous Sea of Mist. The scene that unfolded in front of us as the dawn light began to seep through was amazing. The mist – heavy as a blanket of snow was hanging over rugged mountain tops for as far as the eye could see.
Back at the camp for breakfast and some quick bird watching: Black baza, Treepie, Mountain imperial pigeon and an Emerald dove.
After breakfast we started to slowly make our way down the mountain watching out for wildlife along the way. There were lots of Dusky langurs in the trees, a pair of White-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) a white and a black morphs, and plenty of Black giant squirrels.
During the heat of the day we took a drive to the watering hole and today there was quite a bit of action there. At first a troop of Stump-tailed macaques (Macaca arctoides) turned up. Some of the females were carrying tiny little young, pure white in color.
Once the monkeys departed a Sambar (Rusa unicolor) fawn emerged from the forest followed by its mother. The young had a good drink and even a bit of a bath while his mother stood guard.
We took a drive to the visitor center at the park entrance and saw a stunning Blue crested lizard sunning itself on a log. The visitor center has some information posters about the wildlife found in the park as well as some maps of the area.
As we drove past the watering hole on the way back to camp we saw another couple of Barking deer. We stayed and waited to see if something else would come out, but it was quiet for the later part of the afternoon.
Back at camp after dinner we settled in to watch the rice battle ground and were rewarded by the views of a Masked palm civet (Paguma larvata) in addition to the Common palm civet and Malayan porcupines.
Our last morning in the park didn’t turn up any new species with the exception of a Western striped squirrel (Tamiops mcclellandii) on the fig tree. However, ‘no new species’ is in no way the same as ‘no species’. Langurs and giant squirrenls, hornbills and barbets they were all there making Kaeng Krachan a wildlife watcher’s paradise.
Before we left the park we waited for a while at the watering hole, but it wasn’t hot enough yet, so the area was quiet. For us it was time for a new adventure – a tropical island and the underwater world of corals and multicolored fish.