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Thailand NEW DATES! Gulf Coast & Northern Hills

A 13-day, small group birdwatching tour to Thailand

Limosa’s birding tours to Northern Thailand begin near Bangkok, with a visit to the Gulf of Thailand in search of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank and other of the world's rarest shorebirds. From there, we fly north to explore the bird-rich border forests of the country's far northern hills - Doi Lang, Doi Ang Khang and Doi Inthanon - as well as the Mekong border wetland of Chiang Saen, with its roost of handsome Pied Harriers. Green Peafowl, Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Giant Nuthatch, Eyebrowed Thrush, Scarlet-faced Liocichla... plus a sackful of other sought-after specialities and winter visitors await on this birdwatching tour to Thailand!

Tour Dates

2020

Available

Leaders
Richard Thaxton
local guides

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 13 Days

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Cost: £4495

inc return flights London Heathrow-Bangkok, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £600

Single Supp: £465
Land Only: £3995

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Black breasted Thrush Thailand Feb 2015 Brian Small resized

Black-breasted Thrush photographed on one of our visits to Doi Lang, Northern Thailand © Brian Small, Limosa

Our birding tour to Northern Thailand offers a superb introduction to the amazing avifauna of Southeast Asia. It's a region blessed with an exceptionally rich and diverse birdlife, including an impressive list of Oriental specialities. An early December visit should also find numbers of wintering Siberian passerines present across the region, while the shores of Thailand’s gulf coast boast some of the most exciting wader watching in all Asia.

Our updated itinerary takes in three key areas: moving from coastal habitats around the Gulf of Thailand in Central Thailand to the border hills of Doi Lang and Doi Ang Khang in the far north of the country, before concluding with an exploration of the excellent bird-rich forests that adorn Thailand's highest peak, Doi Inthanon.

From the capital Bangkok, we head directly to the tidal mudflats, mangroves and saltpans overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. For sheer number and variety of shorebirds this area is amongst the best in all Asia, with an array of sought-after species - but none more special than the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, at what has latterly become the best place in the world for seeing this charismatic shorebird. The endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank also occurs in winter, when other waders of note include Great Knot, and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints. We’ll also take a boat trip to look for Malaysian Plover and the 'taxonomically challenged' White-faced Plover. Also possible here is the near-threatened Asian Dowitcher, a migrant from its breeding grounds in Siberia.

For the second part of our holiday we catch a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, in the far north of Thailand. From there, we drive a short distance north into the ‘Golden Triangle’, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos meet.

Here, a mosaic of wetland habitats beside Mekong River is a terrific spot to look for resident and migratory species. Ferruginous Duck and Lesser Whistling Ducks are likely in winter, along with Grey-headed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Grey-headed Lapwing, Thick-billed Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat. In the late afternoon we will visit Yonok, where a mixed roost of Eastern Marsh and handsome Pied Harriers can sometimes hold up to 200 birds.

Sitting amidst a scenic mountainous region on the border with Myanmar, the forested peaks of Doi Lang and Doi Ang Khang are clad in upland oak and pine forests that hold many localised specialities. The elusive Mrs Hume’s Pheasant and rare Giant Nuthatch, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Maroon Oriole, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Whiskered Yuhina, Crested Finchbill, Spot-breasted Parrotbill and Ultramarine Flycatcher are among mouthwatering possibilities. The beautiful Orange-bellied Leafbird and Scarlet-faced Liocichla also occur, along with a hatful of Palearctic migrants.

Chiang Mai is the provincial capital of Northern Thailand. Here we’ll make a special excursion to see the much declined Green Peafowl, before devoting the remainder of our time to birding the forested slopes of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain (2565m/8415ft). Again, the list of birds to be found here is long and includes many specialities.

Inthanon’s upper slopes are home to the elfin Pygmy Cupwing, Bar-throated Minla, Ashy-throated Warbler and jewel-like Green-tailed and Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds, while lower down we may encounter White-rumped Falcon, White-bellied Woodpecker and Slaty-backed Forktail. Then there are other seldom seen species to keep an eye open for, such as Rufous-throated Partridge, Green Cochoa and Dark-sided Thrush. In December, we should encounter wintering Palearctic and Siberian passerines, too: from Radde’s, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers to Brown Shrike, Eyebrowed and Chestnut Thrushes and Olive-backed Pipit - the stuff that birders’ dreams are made of!

Thailand's tropical climate is at its best when we visit, while accommodations and the delicious local cuisine are good throughout - in fact, food is something of a religion in Thailand!

Guide Richard Thaxton teams up with our excellent resident Thai birding expert 'End' to lead this super tour to Northern Thailand. This will be Richard's fourth visit to Thailand, and End's eighth tour of duty with Limosa.

Ultramarine Fly m Thailand Brian Small Jan 2014 IMG 7453 copy

Ultramarine Flycatcher is another cracker to watch for on Thailand's forested northern peaks © Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1
DEPART LONDON FOR BANGKOK
Our birdwatching tour to Northern Thailand commences with departure from London Heathrow today on the British Airways nonstop flight bound overnight for Bangkok.

Days 2-3
SHOREBIRDING ON THE GULF OF THAILAND
We shall be met on arrival in Bangkok (morning of day 2) by our local guide and head southwest from the Thai capital, directly to the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. We will spend two nights here, staying at a comfortable beachfront hotel close to the best birding sites.  

Our birding destinations for these two days are the coastal sites of Khok Kham, Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia - areas of intertidal mudflats, saltpans, shrimp and fish ponds, rice paddies, mangroves and marshy pools that are simply outstanding for wintering shorebirds from Northern Asia. Topping the bill, this area has become famous in recent years as the best place to look for one of the world’s rarest and most charismatic waders: Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which winters here in tiny numbers. The Gulf is also a reliable spot in winter to find Nordmann’s Greenshank. With a world population estimated to be less than 1000 individuals, this is another of the world’s rarest waders and we have good chances to see both these ‘five-star’ Siberian shorebirds during our birding here today, and again tomorrow.

It will come as no surprise to discover that wader watching is generally excellent here, with an exciting cast of migrant and wintering species present. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Broad-billed, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, Great Knot, and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints are among a range of more “exotic” shorebirds we could see. With luck, we might come across the rare Asian Dowitcher, which also passes through the Gulf of Thailand at this season, while more familiar species we could see include Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, plus Red-necked Phalarope.

If the tide is right, we will take a boat trip out through the mangroves to a sandy spit to look for the rare and localised Malaysian Plover, as well as the recently rediscovered White-faced Plover, the latter an enigmatic bird which many authorities now regard as a separate species.

Herons, egrets and terns are numerous in the coastal wetlands that fringe the Gulf of Thailand, with both Chinese and Javan Pond Herons to look for, and buoyant Whiskered Terns much in evidence. Heavy-billed Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers hunt crabs amongst the mangroves, as striking chestnut, black and white Brahminy Kites patrol lazily overhead. Among a wide variety of other species we are likely to come across over these two days are Pacific Reef Heron, Striated Heron, Heuglin’s and Brown-headed Gulls, Caspian, Greater Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Golden-bellied Gerygone (Flyeater), Pied Fantail, Asian Pied Starling, Great (White-vented) Myna, Brown-throated and Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, and Streaked Weaver.

If time permits, on one evening we will visit the limestone outcrop at Na Yang, where we can marvel at the nightly exodus of millions of Wrinkle-lipped Bats from their roost high in the limestone cliffs - whilst marauding Grey-faced Buzzards and Common Kestrels pluck them from the sky. Two nights Petchaburi (Pak Thale)

Day 4
FLY BANGKOK TO CHIANG RAI, TRANSFER TO THE ‘GOLDEN TRIANGLE’
After breakfast and some early morning birding close to Petchaburi, we’ll return to Bangkok in time to catch our flight north to Chiang Rai, in the northernmost region of Thailand.
 
We'll be met on arrival in Chiang Rai and drive north into the ‘Golden Triangle’, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos meet. Our destination this evening is the Imperial Golden Triangle Resort, in Chiang Saen district, where we spend the night.

In the late afternoon we'll pop out to Yonok, where a large mixed gathering of Eastern Marsh and exquisite Pied Harriers should make for a thrilling end to the day. Night Chiang Saen

Day 5
CHIANG SAEN TO THA TON
We’ll spend this morning at Chiang Saen lakes, searching for wildfowl that winter here. Lesser Whistling Duck occur alongside Eurasian species such as Ferruginous Duck - and there's always a chance of unearthing something rarer, such as Baer's Pochard, Falcated Duck or the exquisite Baikal Teal.

The Mekong River flows along the border, where wader watching can sometimes be rewarding (the likes of Long-billed Plover and Small Pratincole have been recorded here). We will take care to search the long grasses close to the water for the distinctive Jerdon's Bush Chat.

After lunch, we move west to our riverside hotel at Tha Ton, with views of the northern hills off to our right as we drive - and Pied Bushchat plus various bulbuls to watch for on roadside wires. Tha Ton will be our base for a three-night stay.

If time permits after we have checked in, we'll take a quick look at the Mae Kok River from the hotel. Black-collared Starlings and Stejneger’s Stonechats may be seen before we pay a late afternoon visit to a local riverbed. Here we can try again for wintering Jerdon’s Bushchat, the lovely Pied Harrier and Citrine Wagtail, plus the aptly-named Long-tailed Shrike. Night Tha Ton

Days 6-7
DOI LANG
The forested mountains of Northern Thailand (which are known locally as 'Doi') extend across the border into neighbouring Myanmar, and are rich in birdlife. This is especially so during the winter months, when the region’s numerous resident specialities are boosted by an influx of wintering birds from Northern Asia. Possibilities include Brown Shrike, Dusky Warbler, Eyebrowed and Black-breasted Thrushes, and Olive-backed Pipit... and the prospect of getting to grips with an excellent selection of these over the coming days makes this a spectacular location for birds!

To make the most of our stay, we’ll be making a couple of very early starts on these two days for the drive (about an hour) up towards the summit of Doi Lang. Set at an elevation of more than 2000m (6500 feet), the birding here is superb and well worth the 'extra' second day that our updated Northern Thailand itinerary affords.

After a picnic breakfast near a Thai-Burmese border post, we will sit and watch for birds coming into small ‘feeding stations’ that have been specially set up for them. We should encounter many localised specialities: Rufous-throated Partridge, Blue Whistling Thrush, 'embarrassed-looking' Scarlet-faced Liocichlas, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Striated Yuhina and Spectacled Barwing are among more regular visitors at the summit. Various wintering species might also be about, perhaps including the large and distinctive Scaly Thrush, plus localised birds such as the very smart Black-throated Bushtit - a member of the Long-tailed Tit family - along with Grey Treepie and Orange-bellied Leafbird in the flowering trees.

Gradually working our way back down the mountain, we will stop to bird the roadside forest edge and to sit and watch at more small feeding areas. Here we have the chance for more great views of new species: lovely White-gorgeted and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, Chestnut-headed Tesias, and both Himalayan and Red-flanked Bluetails. The scarce Crested Finchbill can be locally common here and we may also find Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Whiskered Yuhina and White-bellied Redstart. As well as great birding, there are spectacular views from the escarpment over the Burmese Highlands. This is a seldom visited and poorly known corner of Thailand, with much still to be discovered and we might be lucky to spot one or two of the rarer or more difficult-to-find species such as Mrs Hume's Pheasant, Himalayan Cutia, Red-tailed Laughingthrush or Scarlet Finch.

The pine trees up here hold populations of Cinereous and Yellow-bellied Tits, and are also home to the rare and highly localised Giant Nuthatch. The not-so-rare Cook’s Swift (now 'split' from Pacific Swift) breeds and roosts in limestone caves nearby and may pass overhead in huge numbers. Two further nights Tha Ton

Day 8
DOI ANG KHANG & CHIANG MAI
After an early breakfast this morning, we leave Tha Ton and travel some 50 miles southwest to Doi Ang Khang. We will spend the morning here, exploring the scenic landscape which rises to a height of 1500m (5000ft). Although the extent of forest cover here has been reduced over recent decades, thanks to government intervention - Doi Ang Khang is now a National Park - this once threatened environment is now protected and still home to an excellent variety of forest birds.

In Ang Khang’s open pine-oak woodlands we might encounter parties of Short-billed and Long-tailed Minivets, large flocks of Chestnut-sided White-eyes and Yunnan Fulvettas, the 'bandit-masked' Slender-billed Oriole and the gaudy Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. Specialities up here include Brown-breasted Bulbul, White-browed Laughingthrush and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler. In more pine woodland, if we are fortunate, the scarce and elusive Giant Nuthatch might put in another appearance, too.  

A visit to a lovely inhabited orchard with feeding station could bring views of Black-breasted and Eyebrowed Thrushes, Grey-winged Blackbird and White-capped Redstart, with perhaps a White-crowned Forktail or even the rufescent Black-browed and Spot-breasted Parrotbills - the latter being distinctly ‘parrot-billed’! And with wintering species arriving from further north there's always the chance of turning up a surprise or two anywhere in these border hills!

Leaving Doi Ang Khang, we continue south this afternoon to our next hotel, which is situated on the outskirts of Thailand's northern provincial capital, Chiang Mai. Night Chiang Mai

Days 9-11
GREEN PEAFOWL & DOI INTHANON NAT. PARK
After breakfast in Chiang Mai, we drive a short distance to visit the Royal Project Area at Huai Hong Krai. Our target bird here is the majestic Green Peafowl, a spectacular but endangered Southeast Asian pheasant that’s difficult to see elsewhere nowadays since its population has declined rapidly through habitat destruction and over-hunting. A walk along the trail might also produce Swinhoe’s and Rosy Minivets, and Asian Barred Owlet. Or perhaps a Brown Hawk Owl will let us know of its presence via its characteristic ‘boobook’ call, while the manmade pools at Huai Hong Krai can also be a good place to see Lesser Whistling Duck.

From Huai Hong Krai, we head directly southwest to Doi Inthanon National Park, where we spend the next three nights at the Inthanon Highland Resort. Around the resort itself we might find Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Arctic Warbler and Purple Sunbird, while in the local wood and paddies we will look for the extraordinary Red-billed Blue Magpie and Bright-capped Cisticola.
    
At 2565m (8415ft), Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest mountain. Encompassing more than 120,000 acres, this superb National Park is not only fantastic for birds but the best locality in northern Thailand to appreciate a succession of different habitats controlled by altitude - ranging from scrub and open, dry deciduous forest on the lower slopes, through montane evergreen forest to moist ‘cloud forest’ at the top. It will come as no surprise to discover that the Inthanon’s avifauna is equally varied and magnificent and our three days here are sure to be rewarding!

The shrike-sized Collared Falconet, Blossom-headed Parakeet, the pint-sized Violet Cuckoo, Rufous Treepie, Blue-winged and Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Yellow-bellied Fantail, the sought-after but shy and seldom seen Green and Purple Cochoas, Large and Vivid Niltavas, tiny Snowy-browed and Little Pied Flycatchers, Blyth’s Leaf and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Silver-eared Laughingthrush (recently split from Chestnut-crowned), Bar-throated Minla, the eye-catching Silver-eared Mesia, Rufous-fronted and Golden Babblers, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Dark-backed and Rufous-backed Sibias, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tits, and jewel-like Mrs Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds are among a mouth-wateringly long list of exotic names and appearances to conjure with!

Minuscule Pygmy Cupwings and diminutive Ashy-throated Warblers haunt the fringes of the summit bog, where we may also encounter the tiny Himalayan Shortwing, Red-flanked Bluetail and an assortment of wintering thrushes, possibly including the understated Grey-sided Thrush and the timid but striking Dark-sided Thrush with its outrageously oversized bill!

Descending, many of Inthanon’s forest birds rove the woodlands in mixed species feeding flocks. Pin-striped Tit-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis and the restless Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher are typical flock components in the more elevated woodlands, with Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler and Clicking Shrike-babbler (formerly known as Chestnut-fronted Shrike-babbler) among scarcer associates. Flighty Slaty-backed Forktails grace the tumbling upland streams, where we might also see the attractive duo of White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts.

All in all, we are assured of an exciting few days exploring Thailand’s highest mountain! Three nights Inthanon Highland Resort

Day 12
DOI INTHANON, FLY CHIANG MAI-BANGKOK
We have time to enjoy a final morning of birding at Doi Inthanon today, perhaps investigating the lower elevation forests that are home to the likes of noisy Lineated Barbets and whinnying Greater Flamebacks, the uncommon Black-headed and big White-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Oriole and Purple Sunbird. With luck, we might come across the very smart Black Baza, localised White-rumped Falcon or shy Black-backed Forktail to round off our North Thailand birding in style!

After lunch, we head to the airport in nearby Chiang Mai and catch the afternoon flight back to Bangkok. On arrival back in the Thai capital, we transfer the short distance for dinner and an overnight stay at our comfortable airport hotel. Night Bangkok

Day 13    
FLY BANGKOK-LONDON
After an early breakfast today, reluctantly, we must return to Bangkok airport and check-in for our morning flight home.

Late afternoon arrival (same day) at London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Thailand ends.

Limosa Group Thailand Jan 2017 DSCN4627 resized

Participants enjoy a boat trip through the coastal mangroves on the Gulf of Thailand © Colin Bushell, Limosa

What To Expect

A 13-day, small group birding tour to Thailand, beginning on the Gulf of Thailand looking for Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other rare shorebirds before flying north to explore the bird-rich hill forests and mountains of Doi Lang, Doi Ang Khang and Doi Inthanon, along the border with Myanmar. A visit to the less well-known lowland site of Chiang Saen, beside the Mekong River, explores a wetland area near the borders with Laos and Myanmar.

In the coastal lowlands, where the climate is hot and humid, it will be important to be in the field at dawn, so early starts are the norm as with all tropical tours. Daylight hours are relatively short in Thailand - approx. 6.00am-6.30pm - and bird activity is at its peak early and late but generally dies right away during the middle of the day.
 
Away from the coast, much of our birding in Thailand will be in areas of hill forest. We’ll spend most of our time here walking on level ground, birding from paved or unpaved roads or tracks, plus some forest trails with occasional steeper sections, but these are usually quite short. After a chilly start in the hills, it will be warm to hot throughout, humid at times. Note that we may be on our feet for several hours at a stretch, walking and watching for birds - so some participants may find it helpful to carry a lightweight collapsible stool.

Our guides will be able to advise you locally about each day's events - if you prefer to opt out of a particular session or walk, please don’t be afraid to ask them.

Thailand has a tropical climate. Early December is an excellent time to visit, when the weather is mostly hot, sunny and largely dry. It will be humid at lower elevations, especially near the coast. At this time of year, daily average temperatures at Bangkok are in the range 21-31C (70-89F); similar in the northwest around Chiang Mai, ranging between 15-28C (59-82F).

December averages only 2 days of rainfall in Bangkok and Chiang Mai; this typically occurs as short-lived tropical downpours. At higher altitudes towards the peaks of Doi Inthanon and Doi Lang conditions can range from warm to cool, and it can feel particularly chilly here at night. Overnight frosts are possible at the summit area of Doi Inthanon at 2565m (8415 feet), where it will be very cold first thing, though it warms up quickly once the sun is up.

Some worthwhile photographic opportunities, especially at the coast and in more open habitats. Generally poor or difficult for photography in the forest due to low light levels. At Doi Lang, Ang Khang and to a lesser extent Doi Inthanon, small ‘feeding stations’ can attract birds quite close at times and good photo opportunities exist in these areas.

Birds

300 species

Mammals

10 species

Accommodation

11 nights accommodation at hotels and lodges in Thailand. Hotels on this tour are of good standard, comfortable and air-conditioned, and all rooms have western-style private facilities (not the traditional Oriental-style toilets). At the Inthanon Highland Resort, the available accommodation is more rustic, in wooden cottages with multiple bedrooms, but each room with its own private bathroom. Most hotels can usually offer a laundry service.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price (and with drinking water also provided), commencing with lunch on arrival in Thailand on Day 2 and concluding with breakfast in Bangkok on Day 13.

Thai cuisine is delicious and for many travellers there meals are a trip highlight. Breakfast and dinners will usually be taken at the hotels. Packed lunches most days (plus the odd packed breakfast), but some lunches may be taken at a convenient restaurant along the way.

Walking

The walking effort is mostly easy. Away from the coast (where the terrain is flat), much of the birding on this tour is along roadsides, tracks and forest trails.

The highest points on this tour are at Doi Lang and Doi Inthanon, where we shall be birding at altitudes of up to 2565m (8415 feet). Inevitably when walking in the mountains, there will be some steeper sections along the roads and tracks, although these are usually quite short and, wherever possible, we will aim to drive uphill and bird as we walk back down.

Comfortable, lightweight walking shoes or boots with stout soles and good grip recommended.

Travel

Return flights from London Heathrow to Bangkok, nonstop with British Airways.

Our tour price also includes two Thai domestic flights, from Bangkok-Chiang Rai and returning Chiang Mai-Bangkok.

Ground Transport   Air-conditioned minibus with local driver.

Boat Trips

 If the tide is right (we haven’t missed out yet), we will take a boat trip at the coast, out through the creeks and mangroves to the sand spit at Laem Pak Bia, to look for shorebirds - hopefully including the rare and localised Malaysian Plover as well as White-faced Plover.

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