It was only an hour long drive from Phetchaburi to Baan Maka Nature Lodge which is close to Kaeng Krachan National Park. This park is one of the foremost in Thailand for bird and animal life.
Baan Maka is a lodge made by birders, for birders, and it proved to be the ideal place in which to recuperate from the events of the previous day. Set in beautiful grounds, there are simple but comfortable cabins set well apart from one another. The cafe/restaurant serves breakfast from 5.30am and has tea and coffee on the go all day long. For a birder this is essential because pre-dawn starts are a must.
We spent the first day exploring the grounds which has a nature trail and a number of hides. The protocol for almost any hide is to get in, set your spotter or camera up and then sit back, making as little noise as possible and wait for the birds to appear. But these were not the instructions for using the Crake hide. Here, you were told to buy a pot of mealworms from the restaurant and scatter them in front of the hide, sitting in the dark at the back. Immediately a White-rumped Shama and several Puff-throated Babblers will appear.
Once you’ve photographed them you pick up one of the empty plastic water bottles placed there and scrunch it up making as much noise as possible. All of a sudden a Rufous-breasted Crake will appear and walk around only a few feet away. We have largely lost the Crake in the UK and to see this delicate little bird pecking close by was quite a treat. Quite why the sound off a plastic water bottle attracts it I couldn’t say.
The grounds also contained a small lake where you could take one of the kayaks out on the water. Jane decided that this would be pushing our luck too much given all that had happened. In amongst the reeds and lily pads you could find, amongst other birds, pond heron, swamp hen, kingfisher, bee eater and bittern. We only saw the Yellow Bittern but there is a Black Bittern which lives in the reeds as well. Bittern are such shy and secretive birds that it’s always a highlight to spot one.
We hired a guide, Son, to take us into Kaeng Krachen National Park over two days and found yet more birds there. Son had little English but he did know the English names for most of the birds we saw. He was a little shaky on lbj’s (little brown jobs) and not too expert in Raptors but otherwise he was a great guide and we did manage to get a great many good birds. It was a wonderful park to drive through and walk in, although incredibly hot. Even though it was the weekend most of the visitors seemed to be birdwatchers or photographers like us.
The park hosts a number of mammals and other species in addition to the birds. Elephant and Leopard are present and although we didn’t see any someone else staying at the lodge had the great fortune to see some at watering holes in the late afternoon.
We did, however, come across more monkeys – thankfully not macaques this time. We watched a lovely family of Dusky Langurs. With their large, moon shaped eyes they were very appealing.
We also came across a family of Gibbon swinging about in the tree tops. I couldn’t help but start singing ‘ooo, ooo, ooo the funky gibbon’ (you’ll have to be quite old to remember that one and probably English to boot). Jane enjoyed watching them as much as I did so she may have forgiven our primate cousins.
You couldn’t miss the rather clownish looking Pied Hornbill, with their incredible beaks. As they flew, their wings made a whooshing sound rather like a Mute Swan. What is amazing though, is that, for such a large and conspicuous bird, they could hide amongst the branches of the trees from time to time.
We also saw the Brown Hornbill and many, many other spectacular birds which we had never seen before. And when you were tired of trying to photograph birds there were also butterflies and interesting bugs to have a go at.
For us, Baan Maka and Kaen Kratchen were just the tonic we needed to get over the monkey attack. We had to break our birdwatching at midday on the Sunday in order to go to the hospital for Jane’s second anti-rabies vaccination. Kaeng Krachen hospital was rather more basic than the one in Phetchaburi but Jane was still seen to quickly so we have nothing but respect for the Thai health service.
I write this blog sitting on the aircraft heading home. We have had a wonderful time in Thailand, have seen some amazing things, visited out of the way places and met some really great people. The Thais as a whole have a beautiful disposition. They smile and laugh readily and even when there is a language barrier they try their very hardest to help you out. Yes, there are bits we wouldn’t be in a hurry to repeat but it has been a great experience.