pault

Khao Yai NP Thailand May 2017

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Posted (edited)

Khao Yai National Park is in the lower north east of Thailand and nowadays just 2-3 hours from Bangkok, traffic dependent. The name literally means Big Mountain and so it is no surprise that it is hilly, covered with seasonal rainforest and has plenty of water. It is part of the larger Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which comprises a number of parks, of which Thap Lan is probably of most interest for wildlife, along with Khao Yai.

It has been encroached, burned, poached, illegally- logged, had a tarmac road cut through it and a number of small reservoirs excavated. It has also become more of a recreational spot than a real protected environment - at weekends and over the holidays it can get pretty busy with noisy day trippers and their cars and (grrrrr) motorcycles. But it still has some wildlife and that's why I gritted my teeth, promised myself I wouldn't murder someone and went.

I contacted a few people to find a guide but only Tontan Travel responded (my contact list may be out of date!) so the choice was easy.

Drove up on Friday evening (nearly 3 hours) and spent two full days in the park, staying at one of the small resorts not far from the entrance. A note here - the park used to be surrounded by rice fields and orchards but now it is resorts, housing estates and even condos! How to make a pretty area ugly! Don't ask me about the golf courses. A lot of it is illegal too. I used to think it would be a nice place to retire to but I don't reallty think that any more.

Anyway, it's easy to get there and easy to find accommodation.

Those of you who have tried it will know hearing wildlife in the Thai forest is quite easy if you are quiet. Seeing it can be a challenge though, and is a matter of luck and staking out spots where wildlife has been seen recently, or salt licks - and from May to October it is liable to be a wet wait.

Those of you who have tried photography in these environments know it can be a challenge. Your starting point is usually ISO 1600 for a telephoto and usable ISO 6400 is pretty much a must-have if you want to shoot what you see rather than what obliges by sitting in the light. Even then it is not uncommon to find yourself down to a shutter speed of 1/160s or lower by late afternoon. Most people use tripods and I brought mine but used it less that I should have because I nearly destroyed my shoulder trying to carry too much gear on my first walk, and after that had to walk lighter.

All shots are with my new Canon 400/4 DO II (a proper field test I guess @@Zubbie15 but a tough one)

Sometimes I had to admit that in the pouring rain, with nothing to see, no light to photograph it anyway, and cars passing every minute, I had a strong feeling of "What am I doing here?"

Pig-tailed Macaque

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Of course when you do find wildlife it might not be where you want it.

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And even when you finally get the perfecf scenario, deep in the forest, it can be so dark you barely have enough shutter speed for a portrait, never mind swinging gibbons racing by overhead, who'll glance down for barely a second.

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And finally you get a cooperative subject, half decent light where the canopy is thinner and a wild look (although you may have to dodge the cars to get the angle for the shot) but even then, the light coming through is so bright you struggle to see your subject and have to try despreately to get it lined up against leaves as far as possible so that you don't lose all contrast on it.

Black Giant Squirrel - length of a small dog

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So is it worth it?

Well I wouldn;t come half way around the world to visit Khao Yai nowadays - maybe 25 years ago - but since I am 2-3 hours away I think the answer is a definite yes. Pretty good actually - and having a decent guide made a significant difference.

Day-by-day with full sightings to come.

Edited by pault
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@@pault My hubby was just talking about this yesterday after we watched wild thailand on natgeo (we taped it a while back), and we were plotting we could make a long weekend out of it when I do my annual trip up to Bangkok.

 

So we'll be reading your post with great interest! thanks for sharing it!

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@@Kitsafari Bring your rain gear if that is before November! <_< I will have more mini trip reports for you soon - am planning a return.

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Great timing, as we'll spend a couple of days there during our next trip to Thailand. We're also going with TonTan, how did you like them?

Even with the bad light, you still got some great pictures, looking forward for more.

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Thanks for posting this @@pault. I hear the Canon 400f/4 IS II is a nice piece of kit!

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The gibbon sighting! So good.

 

It is a depressing park but had good dhole sightings ( they were chowing down on a sambar deer ) & gaur at adjacent site.

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The gibbon sighting! So good.

 

It is a depressing park but had good dhole sightings ( they were chowing down on a sambar deer ) & gaur at adjacent site.

 

What do you mean by "depressing park"? Why?

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@@xyz99 speeding drivers, imbibing locals, dead roadside snakes, garbage, encroachment by development etc. in amidst some amazing wildlife

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I'm also looking forward to more. I'm impressed by your pictures.

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@@xyz99 speeding drivers, imbibing locals, dead roadside snakes, garbage, encroachment by development etc. in amidst some amazing wildlife

 

Ohhh, that is sad, you are right...I keep hoping that governments will understand someday that they can make more money out of tourism and nature/wildlife preservation than from developing and ruining the land. It's the right thing to do, anyway...but that does not matter unless it's money to be made.

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"Well I wouldn;t come half way around the world to visit Khao Yai nowadays"

 

But there'd be the added bonus of seeing you too!

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I feel your pain in trying to take decent photographs in those conditions, but look at it this way: it keeps you on your toes and prevents you from losing your skills!

 

That macaque is tack sharp, and I love the giant squirrel. I'm not familiar with it, but a squirrel the size of a small dog? Intriguing.

 

Perhaps Khao Yai alone is not worth a trip half way around the world, but you won't convince me that Thailand at-large is not.

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@xyz Wenchy is right but it's not at all depressing of course - when you gert away from the worst of it, or early morning before the bikers get over last night's hangover and get their motors running. You have to take the common Thai advice of "Don't think a lot." which comes with the common understanding that such an activity will bring nothing but depression! :D It's not really money driving it now either from a government perspective - more like populism. Anyway - top tip: If you can go on a weekday and avoid public hoilidays. Rubbish collects on the way to the waterfalls - if your're focused on wildlife you might not go there anyway - although they do tend to feature in itineraries as they get you the classic "the Beach" waterfall picture. Also I think the rubbish situation is a bit better, and NO ROADKILL THIS TRIP!!! That was great. Not even a snake or a dog on the highway going there or back.

 

@@wenchy You were really lucky - both are rather uncommon signtings according to my guide, although possible.

 

@Atravelynn Not that worthy a sighting, although rare! Everybody contemplating a visit should look me up and invite me along though! :D

 

@Alexander33 I won't try to convince you of any such thing. The water transport, food and massages alone iare probably worth the trip and there is no doubting the beauty of some places. I am just an old cycnic- and worse one who has taken to saying things like "You're 30 years too late." like Thailand had an expiry date. My sister and her daughters cry every time they leave (and they're in double figures now I guess) and it is not because they can'tr bear to be not seeing Uncle Paul for another year.

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Thanks for sharing @@pault, you definitely did a nice job in challenging conditions. I'll be following the rest of the report with interest.

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Hi Paul,

We'll be there mid-week and told Tontan that main focus is wildlife, so I hope the guide will be able to avoid people and find us animals, birds, snakes, anything that lives and breaths. We are not picky :)

 

Ha ha, Thai people are smart! ""Don't think a lot." which comes with the common understanding that such an activity will bring nothing but depression! :D"

 

Looking forward for more tips and pictures. Thanks.

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Posted (edited)

@pault I’ve only written bits and bobs about my visits to Khao Yai so it’s great to see an actual report, looking at that bull elephant in that setting you could almost be forgiven for thinking he’s some sort of statue. I think for international visitors Khao Yai is a must if you are a birder and or if you want to see and hear gibbons. To me standing in an Asian forest listening to duetting gibbons is one of the World’s great wildlife experiences and Khao Yai is pretty good place to try and experience this. As far as other mammals are concerned (apart from the ubiquitous pig-tailed macaques) India is really a better choice. Seeing dholes and guar in Khao Yai does require a lot of luck whereas seeing them in India isn’t too hard if you go to the right parks. Khao Yai unfortunately as with some other Thai parks lost its tigers a while back, it’s fairly certain as far as I know that there are none in the park now; this is again a good reason to go to India. Having said that if you are a very serious mammal enthusiast, then there may be a few other species of South East Asian mammals that don’t occur in India or only in the very far east of the country that you’d want to go to Khao Yai to try and see. Whatever the case it still a very beautiful park despite sometimes being slightly overrun by local tourists, not all of whom behave quite as well as they should, and when added to everything else the country has to offer, is a good reason to consider going to Thailand.

 

I’m looking forward to more and a some future reports on other corners of Thailand.

 

@@xyz99 It's definitely a good to know that the main focus of your tour will be wildlife, I don't know if it's changed these days, but my experience on my first visit to Thailand is that for Thais nature trips are all about visiting waterfalls and caves rather than seeing wildlife.

Edited by inyathi
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@@xyz99 It's definitely a good to know that the main focus of your tour will be wildlife, I don't if it's changed these days, but my experience on my first visit to Thailand is that for Thais nature trips are all about visiting waterfalls and caves rather than seeing wildlife.

 

It must still be true, because each time we contacted any guide or tour company, the first draft itinerary included either waterfalls or caves or both. I have to admit though, they were all very receptive to make adjustments. We'll see when we actually get there...

 

Interesting to read your thoughts about wildlife in India....hmmm, maybe we'll get there someday.

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Posted (edited)

I think for international visitors Khao Yai is a must if you are a birder and or if you want to see and hear gibbons. To me standing in an Asian forest listening to duetting gibbons is one of the World’s great wildlife experiences and Khao Yai is pretty good place to try and experience this.

 

@@inyathi I completely agree on the gibbons - it's my favourite ape of all (though I have to admit I have yet to see the other great apes....). Listening to the gibbons' call first thing at dawn in the Bornean jungle (Danum Valley) covered by the morning mist has been one of the greatest experiences for me and I'll long remember it. and watching them in a blur as they swing across trees is just incredible.

Edited by Kitsafari
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Posted (edited)

Sorry, I had some issues with my computer and couldn't really process photos without beating it. Seems to be behaving itself now - not due to the beatings - so I can get on with it. thanks for many interesting comments.

 

What we are dealing with, albeit with some patches of grassland.

 

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I drove up from where I live in Nonthaburi, just outside Bangkok, on Thursday night and (joy!) my mother-in-law decided to come with me, but not to head out into the park with me (phew!). Left home just after 6 and arrived at Khao Yai Cottages just after 9, having had difficulty finding it in the dark (it has no sign from the main road and even though I spoke to the owner on the phone on the way her directions were only any use in daylight as the landmarks she gave me were not visible at night!). There was also a mix up with the rooms as I had made a separate booking for my mother-in-law and it took a while to work that out. A silver lining from that was that I put Mum in the first room available, which was the one I had booked through Tontan travel. That meant I got the deluxe cottage with a separate bedroom and living room - which was excellent since I could sleep in my bedroom with the air con on and leave it off in the living room so my gear could sleep soundly without getting chilled. that's important because if your gear gets chilled the heat and humidity means it will be 1-2 hours before you can use it without condensation. I had offered to swap with Mum but fortunately she forgot about that.

 

My guide was coming at 8am so I went out to buy rice for my bean bag at 7.30 and had just completed the filling (with I am ashamed to say a lot of mess and much interest from the mangy but friendly dogs they have) by 8. My guide was Jay, which was lucky as he is one of the photo tour guides and I hadn't specifically requested that (he said Tontan didn't know as he was one of a group of four guides they subcontract much of their work to and it was pure rotation chance he got me). So, although I am infamously quiet out in the bush, we had much to talk about on those occasions when I returned to earth. although i speak Thai fluently I had requested an English speaking guide as my Thai birds, plants and insects vocabulary is pretty awful and my Thai animals list is not long, and I imagined situations where the guide would call out a sighting of a rare mongoose and my eyes would go to the treetops looking for a monkey with a name vaguely similar.

 

Jay has his own 4X4 twincab, high clearance pick up with a flatbed left in the back into which benches have been bolted and over which a canopy has been erected to keep off the rain and sun. It would be more practical in other circumstances to have the back open but the sun and rain here make that very difficult. There is limited shade on the roads and no driveable tracks in this part of the park now You could remove the canopy if you were brave, In any case, I chose to sit in the passenger seat with my bean bag and we could have had an ordinary car really. Still, we looked the part and Jay's vehicle helps justify the cost, which is pretty high by Thai standards!! :D That bean bag didn't get a lot of use by the way - we saw most stuff on foot. The flatbed did come in very handy with the coffee-seeking elephant though, and for storing gear out of the rain while we were waiting for something near the road.

 

Why so late? Well, that is how things are done. The tour lasts until after 8 pm, so it is a long day for the guide anyway and difficult for them to start again at 6 the next day as they don't necessarily live all that locally. Another reason is that there is very little wildlife activity before that. It is a great time to be somewhere that wildlife is already around, and watch it stirring, but it is difficult to find something as not much is very active at that time. There is also the mist that doesn't clear until after 8 some days to take into account!

 

I won;t go too blow-by-blow from now on as really you can't expect that much and as I told Jay right at the start the trip was really a survey to see what was there, how my back and shoulder held up to walking with gear and what gear I could comfortably carry on slippy paths, uphill in 35 degree 50% humidity sort of conditions, and how the new lens, ballhead and camera rain protection worked out in the field in rather challenging conditions. I also wanted to see if I should make visits to Khao Yai a regular occurrence. Anything would do for this purpose.

 

In line with my purposes I kept the 400 on my camera the whole time (with 1.4x teleconvertor for nearly all of the first day as I had not tried this combination at all yet), although I had a 16-35 on my Sony A77ii (so a 24-70 sort of thing) on a belt for the occasional landscape and in-jungle shot.

 

We paid my outrageous $13 entrance fee (outrageous because it is multiple times what all the people I live and work with pay, but one Schengen visa cost every two years and I am well up on them in entry fees!!) and after driving a few minutes and stopping for pictures of the early morning mist started looking for Great Hornbills. The first group you see by the side of the road from the gate will likely by doing this,as there is an excellent area for them not far from the gate. We were in luck and found a pair almost immediately, feeding in trees. Good start! A little far from the road for portraits but a good, clear view by forest standards, and good to see how the lens would go with what was still a slightly misty morning. We stayed with them for half an hour, hoping for some flight shots, but they exited via a rear entrance (hornbills often seem to keep an eye on you and do this, to my growing frustration).

 

Misty morning

 

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The Canon 5D mkIII I have really doesn't seem to handle the tropical forest colour well and requires a lot of WB adjustment. Have to dial the magenta and the warmth down significantly. I think the second of these shots is much better adjusted but I'll add the first too as this is the scene as we found it, with clarity affected by the mornimg mist. The second is later, as they started hopping from branch to branch (most shots have one or other bird very much obscured!)

 

 

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We then drove to a hornbill nesting site next to the road (but neck-achingly waaaay up in a tree). Although we waited for half and hour the birds did not show to feed their chick so we moved on to look for gibbons (yes, this is the advantage of having a guide - there are spots that are good for particular things and driving to these and then searching from there on foot is many times more productive than driving up and down the road looking, although that can work too).

 

No luck with either spot this morning. Not so good, and so we reached 11 am with only the hornbills (we had an obscured view of the Oriental-Pied Hornbill too), Black-crested Bulbuls and some LBJs (I'd stressed this was not a birding tour so Jay let them go with my blessing). Patience was needed but so was coffee (which is quite good here and always tastes twice as good up on Big Mountain as in the city) so we headed to the visitor center, which was also a decent strategy for wildlife spotting - albeit the most common creatures of the forest.

 

This morning the visitor center wasn't too busy (it can be terribly crowded) and mostly it was the keen who were there. Really very nice to get your coffee to go and then wander around the perimeter looking to see what might poke its head out of the forest.

 

The warning is clear - the Sambar Deer that wander around are habituated but they are not tame.

 

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You can approach quite close though

 

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Watching the river flow

 

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Feeding

 

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Habituated?

 

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There was also a water monitor that waits for a quiet moment and then comes across the river to where the fish gather to feed on the effluent from the waste water pipes that flows into the river (just due to couple of cracks in the pipe - not deliberately releasing waste water into the river - so this may be a temporary attraction) for an easy fishy feast, before retreating back across the river and into the forest.

 

No escape from 560mm mate (especially as I sneaked up on you).

 

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Heading back to the forest

 

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Of course you can see these in Bangkok. We had to remove a baby from the mosquito screen on our front door a few days earlier because it was driving the cats nuts, and they can be dangerous to dogs who haven't met one before and don't know they fight back quite effectivelty. Nevertheless, in the forest I can't help feeling they are prettier!

 

 

The open spaces and effluent at the visitor center also attract huge numbers of butterflies (although they are all over the park really - just more settled here and seemingly with a smaller radius of fear). the minimum focus distance on the 400/4 means that even with a TC it is no butterfly lens, but it was a chance to try out the accuracy of the focus I thought. The following shots are more part of the 400/4 field test than photography from Khao Yai (there are many prettier butterflies and flowers) but it is very nice sitting by the river and being able to see all this.

 

One likely close to death

 

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Feeding on seepage from the public toilets (let's assume it is from the taps, okay? :) )

 

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And feeding on a wall next to the stalls selling food, which is probably just food waste, right? A kind of butterfly salt lick.

 

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The backgrounds and foregrounds were a bit unattractive in the last three shots so I did some other "stuff that the 400/4 was not designed for" shots to check out the bokeh in other situations.

 

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Beautiful dragonfly (really tempted to get the 70-200 from the car as I was retreating 2 meters or so for this shot, but stuck to the plan).

 

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Of course these shots are not fair on the 400/4, especially with a TC on and at ISO 800 to get the shutter speed needed to handhold at 560mm (it was quite cloudy and/or shady from the trees, which is why the highlights are not too blown at after 11 am) but that was the point.

 

 

We decided to try for the gibbons again and Jay had another spot to look at, so we headed back the way we had come. As soon as we got out of the car park, Jay braked and pointed, saying "giant squirrel". He told me to get out while he parked as it was too high to shoot from the car. So, with a bit of luck we had a nice sighting of a Black Giant Squirrel feeding on bark for half an hour. I had to dodge the traffic coming in and out of the visitor center to get angles for shots and of course the light from the sky beyond the canopy was bright, bright at nearly midday, but I haven't seen more than a couple of giant squirrels and this one was huge - I'd have put it somewhat over the 43-inch upper limit on size given to them, but it's not easy to judge these things from the ground looking up, and so I won't make any fisherman-like claims on size here. It could eat the squirrels in my garden though!

 

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So we ended up around the visitor center for over 90 minutes, having just stopped for some coffee and a toilet break for Jay (I didn't need one, which reminded me to drink more water, and I did so from then on).

 

Since it was getting close to lunchtime, Jay suggested we hunt for gibbons after lunch and we'd check out another nesting site now. Sounded a good plan to me. The nesting site was for a pair of Long-tailed Broadbills. Has to be one of the cutest birds in Thailand. Fortunately, given the high sun position, the nesting site was in a very shady area. Unfortunately it was in a very shady area and there was very little light indeed. ISO 3200 needed at 1pm! A guy was there trying to get shots of it flying out of the nest. You'd need 1/2000s at a bare minimum for that I reckon and the light was not good for focus acquisition, so I doubt he was very successful, but he was having fun and that is what it is all about. We were lucky and the bird perched nicely for me almost immediately. After that I mostly watched them coming and going and just enjoyed the silence and sounds of the forest (gibbons, birds and above all the din of cicadas) on one of the minor roads, occasionally chatting with Jay and the optimistic photographer until my stomach rumbled and we decided it was time to head back to the visitor center and fuel up for the afternoon, and so we might get some gibbon hunting in before the inevitable rain.

 

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Emerging from the nest after feeding it's chick

 

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Edit: Haha... I went blow-by-blow... never mind. I probably won't continue like that.

Edited by pault
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@@pault

Keep going as you are - I am really enjoying it! Lovely photos - you cope very well with the difficult light. The Giant Squirrel is indeed giant. The Broadbills are beautiful.

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I second that - love all the details, and the pictures are great, even in the difficult light. I can't even imagine a squirrel that big :)

 

Gear question: the most I can hand hold is a 300mm zoom. Will that be enough? Actually, it will have to be...

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@@xyz99 If it is a full frame camera like mine, no. If it isn't then it will do fine for most shots. However, being a zoom I am guessing a maximum aperture of 5.6? That is where you will have problems. However, as you said it will have to do so don't worry about it.

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Hi Paul,

Not a full frame, but a crop and f/4 max aperture lens, but that would push my ISO too high so it's usually 5.6 or lower. We'll see, it will have to do and I'm sure I'll be happy with it. Can't wait to hear more about your trip, we'll be there in January.

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I forgot the turtle sunning at the visitor center first time around. More wildlife there!

 

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As we arrived for lunch it started to rain and the sky didn't look very promising. It often rains here around the middle of the day and then again in the evening, but nothing is certain as rain can be very localised of course.

 

Lunch was choose your own from typical "quick" Thai dishes and then a ranger's wife would cook it. Just like home would be if my wife could cook the typical Thai dishes. Jay had brought along a watermelon too and prepared that for me in the kitchen (or part of it). He's been guiding here for 15 years and he's a cheerful man, so he has access to all the kitchens.

 

After lunch Jay mentioned we might have to scrap the night drive and move it to the next night if the weather didn't improve. That would be okay with me as I'd seen that the worst weather of the week was forecast for Friday.I was more concerned about walking in the forest that afternoon!

 

The Sambar Deer were out despite the rain of course.

 

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But it quickly brightened and then the rain stopped. Excellent! The visibility wasn't great and there were clouds over the other side of the valley, but I could take off the waterproofs I had put on.

 

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And there were deer out, other than at the visitor center - although I suspect they might have been the same deer as the stream in the background originates in the river that winds around the visitor center.

 

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After the rain is a good time for wildlife Jay told me, and sure enough there were some macaques out and about.

 

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We didn't need to drive far to get to the spot Jay was hoping for gibbons and got out there and listened. Nothing. We'd heard gibbons all morning and now they were silent, although the cicadas were back at full volume. So Jay decided we would walk in the forest a ways and see if we could hear any in there and get a bearing on where they might be heading if so. Our ideal scenario was that we would be on the road when they crossed it using the trees overhead, with lots of light and some nice clear views. However, if we had to find them in the forest. that would do too!

 

Here's a picture of the road through the forest. There are only a few spots at which the gibbons can safely cross using trees and they aren't dumb and use them. this isn't one of them although you can see how they'd need places where big branches reach out from both sides.

 

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As I was testing out my capacities I carried the 400/4 on a black rapid strap, the Sony and wide angle zoom on a camera holster belt and put my macro lens and my 70-200/2.8 in a shoulder bag. I was going to take the tripod but since we were looking for gibbons I thought that would be very difficult to use, so took the extra lenses instead. It took about 15 minutes of walking to realise that the bag was a bad idea and my shoulder was not as strong as I had hoped (of course I had been carrying and using the big lens all morning already so I wasn't starting fresh. However, by that time it was too late to go back.

 

We followed paths most of the way. These had been created by elephants and then used and expanded a little by people. About 50 meters off the road you are really in the forest. Everything changes completely, including the humidity (significantly higher) and the temperature (lower, thank goodness). You are in another world.

 

We walked for I guess 45 minutes but there was no sound of gibbons. In fact we didn't see much at all. Not even LBJs. So although it is great just to be in the forest anyway, Jay decided we should exit the forest and head back to the road to see if we could hear any gibbons on the other side.

 

A quite golden-coloured centipede (look at the ground, and wear appropriate footwear).

 

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Some mushrooms (edible i believe although even if it hadn't been a national park I wouldn't have tested that).

 

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Yum!

 

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Lots of big vines of course - perfect for gibbons.

 

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Whole trees had died or even disappeared but the fig vines stood firm in a tree shape, sometimes with a hollow center.

 

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Back out on the road, it started to rain very lightly. We walked back towards the car, which I guess was 800m away but then Jay's eyes got big. I hadn't heard anything but he'd heard gibbons, and getting closer. There was no way we would be sure we would get to the crossing place in time so we headed back into the forest, moving a bit more quickly than before. I had no idea where we were going or how we would find gibbons in this but after a few minutes Jay said "There! Here they come. Oh wow do you see the baby?" I saw nothing, but two seconds later there was a crashing sound above my head and I saw the first one swing by. Fortunately they travel in groups as I'd have missed the first, but I didn't miss the rest. It's really a difficult thing to decide - shoot or watch - but I decided to shoot and we had gibbons around us (although some 20 meters higher) for well over a minute, so I got to sneak in a bit of watching too. They were whooping and swinging as they do and it was just great.

 

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They are so agile. I could show you 30 shots and no two would be the same.

 

Of course by now the rain had started to get heavy and a minute after the gibbons had left we were in a downpour and getting soaked. The car was only 5 minutes or so away, but that is an eternity in a tropical downpour. The first minute is fine as most of the rain is getting trapped by the leaves, but then the leaves start to drip and there are an awful lot of leaves! And I'd left my waterproof trousers and raincover for my camera in the car. Oops.

 

Despite arriving back at the car drenched, but with cameras relatively safe, I was a happy man.

 

We decided to head back to the visitor center again to wait out the worst of the rain, but on the way there it stopped. We still parked while I dried off my cameras and changed my t-shirt (be prepared!). My trousers were soaked but because I'd been wearing a jacket it hadn't soaked my crotch, so I'd dry off reasonably quickly - and I have waterproof boots. So I was actually good. It certainly wasn't cold and I certainly didn't want to take a break. So we were wondering what to do between now and dinner (before the night drive) and checked out a salt lick, hopefully. Nothing there. No problem - one of Jay's friends called him to tell him there was an elephant outside the public camp site. Cool!

 

A one-tusked bull had decided he wanted to check out the camp site and of course it was full of families, with it being a long weekend and so the rangers couldn't allow that. The elephant was not best pleased and there was something of a stand off in front of the coffee sign (see my first post). Of course the elephant was never going to win - the car with flashing lights now being deployed was only stage two of the escalation - so we settled down to see what was going to happen and Jay suggested the flatbed would be a good place for me and he'd try to drive in front of the elephant when it eventually started to move. I agreed.

 

I am not going.

 

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But he did go eventually and we set off - us in front the elephant in the middle and the rangers behind. Others were around but they didn't have a plan like us, and so we got the prime spot. I think others were understandably a bit reluctant to test car vs elephant too! The elephant wasn't staying on the road for long though. He trotted off down a hill and the ranger's vehicle turned around and sped off in the other direction. Strange. But he was going into the campsite via his back door and a minute later we hear kids screaming (but silly screams, not terrified ones) and saw the flashing lights of the ranger vehicle through the trees. Out of the trees the elephant dutifully came and within five minutes or so we were back in our procession again.

 

Elephant emerging from his back door

 

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In procession

 

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The ranger kept 30 - 100 meters back and we sped off in front, stopped and killed the engine for photos and then sped off again when the elephant got to within 15 meters or so. And the elephant just kept on walking and walking on the road, occasionally stopping to feed, until it got to 6 and under the heavy, heavy cloud it was nearly dark.

 

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Eventually, the light was getting too low for photos and the elephant was totally relaxed so we waited for a fork in the road, took the one the elephant didn't look like he was taking and headed back. The ranger did the same and the same time as he was far from the campsite now. That was a mistake.

 

We scouted a couple of saltlicks but nothing happening again, and then we returned to the visitor center for dinner and the night drive. After all the time in the flatbed I was dry too.

 

Night drives have to be taken in National park pick-up trucks with two benches in the back, even though our vehicle was much better equipped. One ranger drives and another spotlights. The trucks are pretty uncomfortable but the drives are only 45 minutes. There can be 15-20 vehicles out some nights and they can be quite packed, but we had our own (told you the tour was expensive by Thai standards). Our spotter was pretty poor and Jay had to tell him where to spotlight on occasion. I am certain Jay would have done a much better job, but it is a government job and god forbid that a private citizen hold a government spotlight. Anarchy would surely follow! We saw Sambar Deer. Sambar Deer, a something (but our spotter didn't know what it was and couldn't find it again), and then an elephant! On the road. Our boy was back, making another go for the camp site. And our driver was useless at reversing in the dark. At first he wanted to drive off the other way, but Jay told him no, this was more interesting and the competent rangers would get us past (he didn't say competent though). Stick to the plan. Within a minute the flashing light rangers were there but our boy was stubborn and kept on coming, forcing three vehicles to reverse and getting me seriously concerned as our driver clearly was not able to.do so in a straight line - instead of getting his head out of the window he appeared to be trying to use the mirrors and of course he could see nothing. He ended up trying to turn around on a stretch of road too narrow, failing and blocking two trucks in front of us, with the elephant still coming. Fortunately, competent rangers with their flashing lights sprang into action, eased the elephant to the side of the road, and when he began to feed, blocked him off and waved us all past. And what did we see after that? Sambar Deer. Not a great drive but these two were roped in last minute as we had got in late and Jay's usual rangers had already agreed to take someone else, thinking he wasn't going to show. You'll almost certainly have a better experience and they do see things other than Sambar Deer sometimes, especially porcupines. Twenty years ago they used to see tigers sometimes. Not really recommended but the cook is good so why not an after dinner drive? As long as you don't have Laurel and Hardy on duty like we did.....

 

Guess what?

 

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The gibbons! I am soooo envious

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