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Published: September 12th 2006
Well, with Chiang Mai off for now and Cambodia next week I decided to head south a little to Khao Sam Roi Yot national park. I didn't know much about it except vaguely how to get there. Catch a bus to Pranburi which is 37km north of the park, then get a local taxi or motorbike to the park itself. Bus was no problem, 198 Baht. There was a nice Cambodian girl called Ra who told me that it was now the rainy season in her country so, um...yay. Bit ironic I suppose, being told it was the rainy season by someone called Ra. There was also a young Thai guy who wrote out a questionaire on a pad then came over to me and said he was a tourism student and would I mind answering a few questions. I'm always ready to please a tourism student, so sure. I think it may have been a bit of a ruse though, because he spent five minutes with me, then moved over to Ra's seat and spent two hours talking to her! Almost everybody except me and two missionaries got off at Hua Hin, half an hour before Pranburi. One of the
low-tide at the beach
you can't really see it in the photo but that line of breakers where the tide goes back out to is a very long way back
missionaries spoke Thai, so they were handy in finding me the place in Pranburi where the songthaews park. I found one to take me to the park headquarters for 300 Baht, which seemed a good price for 37km. Once I got to the HQ though and the songthaew had left, I found out that despite what the park's own brochure would have you believe, there are no camping facilities there and the bungalows are 2500 Baht each!!!!! "But right by the beach, showers, air-conditioned..." the guy was telling me. It didn't matter, coz even if I'd wanted to, which I didn't, I couldn't afford that price. The next nearest place is 9km back down the road, he says, where the bungalows are 1000 Baht. About now was where I was beginning to think I'd made a serious error coming to Sam Roi Yot! After a great deal of wrangling however, I finally got out of him that in fact Sam Phraya Beach 5km down the road had bungalows for 300 Baht and tents for 150 Baht. I had no way to get down there, short of walking for a hour in 30 degree plus heat. He kindly drove me there
for 150 Baht. As I've said before, thieves and pirates. I was not impressed with the HQ!
My tent was pitched right at the head of the beach which was right nice. If there was a storm I'd have been in trouble but otherwise it was good. It was nice and bright at night with the full moon reflecting off the ocean, the green lights of distant squid boats glowing on the horizon, the thud of branches falling off the trees above the tent. In the morning I spent a long time stalking birds on the beach, hoping for Malaysian plovers but getting only Kentish plovers. Dusky leaf monkeys are what Sam Roi Yot is best known for apparently. I've seen them a couple of other places so I wasn't worried about not seeing them, but in the morning there was a little troop with babies in the trees at the campsite. It was still too dim for photos though. There were lots of forest wagtails all through there as well which was nice.
The restaurant here serves very good food but it can be hard to get it. I was told it was open from
6 am to 8 pm. At 6.30 the first evening I went over and there was no-one there. At 7.30 the next morning I went over and there was no-one there. I think it was because I was literally the only person staying there so they didn't really bother. The prices may be a little bit higher than they should be but they have almost no trade so you can't really begrudge them that. And they gave me a free meal one time (I think they had never had anyone stay more than one night before).
Despite having no way of getting anywhere in the park (Sam Roi Yot is one place where you definitely need your own transport!), Sam Phraya Beach turned out to be perfect for my needs. The beach itself was good for waders, the treed area lining the shore had lots of other birds, and all along the main road outside (in fact pretty much all the way from Pranburi to the park) were shrimp and fish ponds which were absolutely stuffed with birds. There were hundreds of little egrets -- everywhere you looked there were little egrets -- and lots of common redshanks.
Redshanks are one of those birds that you've never seen before in your life, then you go somewhere like Sam Phraya and they're everywhere. Everytime you focus on a wader it turns out to be a common redshank, but if you don't then it could be something rarer. I don't really like watching waders. You've got some brown bird sticking its beak in the mud, you look at the pages of waders in the field guide and they all look the same (and none of them look like what you've got in your binoculars). But by a process of elimination I managed to get some nice new ones, including common, marsh, wood and terek sandpipers and Eurasian curlew. A couple of times whole flocks of whimbrel would fly in and land in front of me, making trying to find just one on the Christchurch estuary seem a little silly. I don't know when the winter migrants are supposed to turn up but there were lots at Sam Phraya, mostly of the wading variety but also little warblers and such that I usually failed to identify.
On the beach is quite cool when the tide is in but when it goes out there are extensive mud-flats, good for waders (apart for the heat-haze) but the breeze then becomes oppressively hot and uncomfortable. Birding around the shrimp and fish pools was incredibly hot, even in the morning, so I looked for birds morning and late afternoon, and for the middle part of the day just did nothing. On Saturday a couple of professional Thai birders turned up, scoping the place out for a client coming over from England next week. It was good meeting them because it meant they could confirm some of the birds I'd been seeing, especially the greater sand plover which looks so similar to but is much rarer than the lesser sand plover (which I then saw the next day). I thought the beach would get busy on the weekend but only about a dozen people turned up on Saturday and only a couple of them stayed overnight. On Sunday there were maybe twice that number, and no-one stayed. Most people just pass through, stopping for half an hour or a couple of hours.
The last new bird I got was on Sunday afternoon. It was a Pacific golden plover. I don't know if it was coming out of breeding plumage or coming into it, but it was a real stunner. Looked nothing like any of the plumages shown in the field guide. Had to be the bird of the week (and you know for a wader to be bird of the week it must have been a pretty great-looking wader!). I was running low on new birds by Sunday, so decided to leave on Monday morning. I went out to the road at 6 am to hitch a lift to Pranburi. Two cars went by in the first hour and neither stopped. The third vehicle, the one that stopped for me, was a songthaew full of girls going to a pineapple processing factory (I guess that makes it a pineapple plant?).
Sunday was day 45, my halfway point. A month and a half to go.
I saw 50 bird species in the Sam Phraya Beach area, of which 20 were new, which is a pretty good percentage. I saw just one single water monitor!
Back in Bangkok, Prakorb's House was full so I stayed at a place called Chart Guesthouse where the rooms are miserable overpriced holes and there are fleas. I haven't had fleas since Taman Negara. Just as an aside, Prakorb's House has a photo on the wall of Elvis meeting the King and Queen of Thailand (the young good-looking Elvis, not the bloated somnambulistic Jabba-the-Hutt-like caricature he became later).
I'll be off to Cambodia now. My ever-useful tourist-helping-person, Koi, tells me there are mini-buses from Khao San Road all the way to Siem Reap for just 200 Baht. I've read too much about the Khao San scam buses though (not that I think Koi would steer me wrong; and if you can't trust someone called Koi who can you trust?) so I'll be taking the more generally approved but more expensive option of making my own way there via a regular bus to Aranya Prathet then a share taxi to Siem Reap. Its what most backpackers do every day quite safely and cleanly. Because you know what they say about if something sounds too good to be true...
Maybe in a week you'll hear from me again, if I'm not dead in a ditch somewhere...
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