January 19, 2001
Bangkok is exactly what we needed after two months in India. One thing I love to do, and felt for various reasons unable to do in India, is to just go outside and walk around aimlessly. The last few days we've justbeen wanderingaround the streets of Bangkok, stunned at how beautiful, clean and enchanting the town is. I don't think I've been this excited by a city since moving to New York City some twenty years ago. Actually, it's the first time on this trip that I thought, wow we could live here! (This is news to Bill). Tomorrow we head north to Khao Yai National Park - it's supposed to be one of the best national parks in the world and somehow I'm sure it will live up to our expectations. We're not sure how long we're going to stay, but it's a great feelingto look forward to returning to Bangkok. More later!
January 29, 2001
We ending up only staying only four days at Khao Yai National Park. If we weren't so worried about going over-budget with the private birding tours, we would have stayed a few extra days - especially since Bill got to add the Sultan Tit on to his lifelist and I didn't. Oh well, I need to put a brave face on it and double-cross my fingers that somehow the bird shows itself to me in the future (Kaeng Krachan and Fraser's Hill, Malaysia are supposed to be good bets). You see, birding isn't all fun and games. I've been down a lifebird twice so far, but have managed to rebound - usually at the eleventh hour.
We've been feeling so good about Thailand that we're going to try our luck at renting a car for a week or so and see how that goes. The trains and buses are great deals, but we want to explore the largest national park in Thailand, Kaeng Krachan (prime Sultan Tit territory) and you must have a car to do so.
One of the many nice things about Thailand is how unbelievably reasonable the accommodations are. For as little as ten to twenty dollars a day we've been able to stay in large, spotlessly clean, air-conditioned rooms with fridge and television. And always centrally located, even in Bangkok. The only expense that's a bit expensive is food, but since restaurants mostly serve meat and fish, we don't mind dining on bread, cheese, and, of course, chocolate - which is always better anywhere outside of the US.
Well, I must go now and study the call of the Sultan Tit - no joke!
February 7, 2001
The car was a huge success. We drove to two national parks, Khao Sam Roi Yot and Kaeng Krachan. Both parks would have been very difficult to visit without your own transportation, so we were pleased that Avis had reasonably priced automatic cars and that we didn't need an international drivers license. We picked up the car in Hua Hin, a small touristy town about 4 hours south of Bangkok. Traffic and driving on left hand side never presented any problems, and now we may even rent a car once we travel up north.
Kaeng Krachan is a top class place to bird and although we would have seen more species with a guide, it's always more rewarding for us to discover the birds ourselves - plus, I aced the Sultan Tit. We also loved our accommodation at Kaeng Krachan - it was a brand new eco-hotel that overlooked the Kaeng Krachan dam, and for most of the time we had it to ourselves. The price, location, privacy and scenery were outstanding. The only downside was a visit by a scorpion that found it's way into my pants and stung me on our last day in the park. My morning birding was a little blurred due to pain, panic and shock that I had actually been bitten by a scorpion. This may be the wake-up call we needed to be more careful where we leave our clothes at night, and to always triple check our trousers in the morning, (especially since we're going to Australia where tons of bites can be life-threatening).
February 28, 2001
Three weeks ago we traveled from Bangkok to the lovely temple city of Chiang Mai, a place surrounded by national parks and jam-packed with cheap vegetarian restaurants - a superb combination as far as we're concerned. We've also been very surprised at how cheap everything is in the north, compared with the other parts of Thailand we've visited.
Our first attempt at visiting Doi Inthanon (reputedly the best birding site in Thailand) was a complete failure. We'd decided not to rent a car, since the Lonely Planet and various internet trip-reports mention that bungalows are available at the park HQ. We were so under the spell of how wonderful and easy things are in Thailand that, without hesitation, we took a series of songthaews right to the park headquarters. As we arrived, a fleet of helicopters was escorting the Queen of Denmark and her entourage out of the park. (Quite a coincidence, seeing as how we spent several days in India hanging out with a pair of Vikings). We headed right to the sign that promisingly read "Park Accommodations" -it looked like this was going to be easy. As we raced across the helicopter landing-field, I spotted a large hawk circling above, and thought that in only a few minutes would we be birding away. This was not to be. At the accommodations office they informed us that, in order to book a bungalow, we had to call Bangkok first. They also informed us that we couldn't get in touch with the Bangkok office because it was a Sunday, and the office was closed. So no bungalow.
There we were - on top of mountain, miles from Chiang Mai, and without a place to stay. Needless to say, nine out of the ten bungalows were empty. After several frustrating hours, (including a brief and dismal attempt at renting a tent and camping for the night), we decided the only thing to do was to head back to Chiang Mai and come up with a new plan tomorrow. Unfortunately it's not that easy getting back down the mountain. Only after I'd suggested a possible medical condition - and that we were willing to pay any price - did one of the forest rangers agree to take us back to Chiang Mai. The "any price" turned out to be a slightly budget-wrecking $35.
But we weren't going to give up that easily. The following day we called Bangkok and booked a bungalow, hired a car from Avis, purchased five day's worth of food, and bought a couple of cassettes for the drive. We thought that should do it, and arrived at the HQ a day later, armed not only with the name of the bungalow but also the name of the woman in Bangkok who took our reservation. When we told the staff member that we'd booked bungalow number ten, he just shook his head and would only say "you must call Bangkok". The next couple of hours weren't pretty. Eventually, after everyone in Bangkok and at the HQ had finished lunch, the lady in Bangkok confirmed our confirmation, and everyone accepted that we hadn't just made up her name and the name of the bungalow. (If we had, that would have been quite impressive).
Luckily, since we'd had the opportunity to spend several hours in and around the headquarters, we'd had a chance to read the rental conditions. There was a no-refund policy in small print, and a recommended that you inspect the accommodation before handing over any money. The semi-helpful woman who'd finally agreed to take our money took us the cabin, and our first impression was of the trashcan on the porch overflowing with garbage. The inside was Spartan at best, and absolutely unacceptable at $20 a night. This couldn't have been more different from Kaeng Krachan, where we had excellent accommodation for about half that amount. After dropping the semi-helpful woman off at the HQ, we saw a couple of confused looking Germans trying to read the same baffling information sheet that we had been handed two days before. It turns out that they had actually gone to the Bangkok office in person, and been told that they could just book a bungalow at the park! We advised them not to bother.
We ended up staying at a very nice guest house just outside the park entrance, and really enjoyed the rest of our stay at the not-so-accommodating Doi Inthanon national park. Perhaps the people at the HQ are so unwilling to rent the bungalows because, once they've seen them, no-one wants to stay in them. We did see several trucks ferrying new furniture up the mountain road, so maybe some new cabins are being built. We hope so.