Bird-watching in Chumphon
Why bird-watchers flock to Chumphon for the annual migration.
Every year, from mid-October to mid-November bird-watchers descend on Prachuab Khirikhan and Chumphon to catch the arrival of a variety of birds of prey, or raptors, fleeing the freezing cold weather and sparse hunting grounds of winter in Siberia in favor of more tropical climes. “In Thailand there are only two spots to get the best view of the raptor migration. One is at Khao Radar [Hin Lek Fai Hill] in Hua Hin and the other is Khao Dinsor in Chumphon,” explains Uthai Woramaskul, director of the TAT Chumphon office.
The term raptor encompasses hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures, and the species on show in Chumphon usually migrate twice a year from their homes in countries like Russia, China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan down to parts of Southeast Asia. They migrate South between September and November and then head back north from February to May.
In a bid to increase the popularity of raptor-watching in Thailand, the local administrative office and the TAT are teaming up to make Khao Dinsor a premier bird watching destination in the south of Thailand. Though an official bird watching station located on the hill is yet to be completed, it’s now accessible for amateur spectators to come view the migration. Compact telescopes are available for rent (B10/hour), too. If you want to get a little closer then trek up through the jungle for 15-20 minutes to the hilltop 330 meters above sea level. At weekends, chances are you’ll meet veteran bird watchers who are happy to share their knowledge and tell you where and what to look for.
Of course, not everyone wants to spend their holidays sat on a hill looking at birds. Chumpon does offer other options for a quick weekend break, even at this time of year when the bad weather limits your chances to go island hopping. The National Museum, Chumphon (next to Chumphon Administrative Office, Muang, 077-658-358. Open Wed-Sun 9am-4pm) is the place to learn about the heyday of Chumphon when its Pah Toh District was one of the major port towns under the ancient Nakhon Si Thammarat kingdom. The place was founded in 1999 to store ancient artifacts, such as pre-historic tools, beads and jewelry. The most exciting room is arguably the one that uses interactive technology (light, sound and wind) to recreate what it was like when Chumphon was hit by the giant Typhoon Gay in 1989. It’s too bad that on our last visit most of the functions didn’t work.
A bit out of town, on the way south, finds the surreal Suan Nai Dum (199 Moo 7, Tung Tako, 077-611-900/1. Open daily 7am-6pm. www.suannaidum.in.th) on the main Petchakasem Road. At first, we thought this was just another souvenir shop—but it’s not. Fifteen years ago, Pongsak Chingsuwanrot and his father, Nai Dam, built one of Chumphon’s best toilets to serve the needs of visitors who came to see their successful fruit plantation, Nai Dum, started 46 years ago. A year later, the toilet was named the country’s best. Flushed with that success, Pongsak was inspired to build more creative loos. Now you can wander around a fantasy world of toilets, which includes one located in a (faux) cave and another perched above the trees. Pongsak doesn’t charge an entrance fee but you can help him out by ordering some tea or coffee, brewed from Chumphon’s famous Khao Talu coffee beans, and served in a shit-shaped cup. (Yes, you read that right.)
WHERE TO STAY
Novotel Chumphon Beach Resort & Golf (Route 4001, Paradornphab Beach, Paknam, Muang, 077-529-529, www.novotel.com) is the only international-brand property in Chumphon. The four-star hotel is located on Paradornphab beachfront and has 86 rooms sitting next to an 18-hole golf course. Rates are from B2,120 with breakfast. Further down south on Arunothai Beach is the more luxurious Tusita @ The Beach (Arunothai Beach, Pak Tako, 077-579-151. www.tusitaresort.com) which features five suites in a Mediterranean-style mansion. Rates are from B10,200 through Dec 23.
HOW TO GET THERE
Starting this month, Nok Air (www.nokair.com) operates a direct flight daily, from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport to Chumphon, on a 34-seat Saab 340 plane. Tickets are from B1,590 one way. Another option is Solar Air (www.solarair.co.th), with rates from B2,700 one way in a more compact 19-seat plane.
Bird Spotting Know-How
• Chumphon Raptor Watch is an annual bird-watching event promoted by Chumphon administrative office and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. This year it takes place from Oct 15-Nov 15.
• Though there are telescopes for rent on-site, if you want to take decent photos of the birds, you’ll need a tripod and a telescopic lens.
• Get there before 9-10am as the birds tend to hunt in the morning time.
• Khao Dinsor is on Route 3180 Road, not far from the airport. The best way to get there is to rent a car from the airport.
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