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A Report from

Mae Fang, Doi Angkhang and Golden Triangle! 14-22 of March 2004,

Peter Ericsson

The much appreciated cool season here in Thailand begins in the early part of December. Naturally, we had our sights set on a visit to the North sometime during this period, but due to many responsibilities and engagements were not able to find space in the schedule until middle of March.

The 8 hour drive to Chiang Mai went well. Stayed overnight with some friends and finalized our plans. We decided to head straight for Mae Fang National Park a couple of hour's drive North of Chiang Mai. I was aware that the park, not being on a high altitude, would not provide the longed-for cool weather but the attraction of hot springs, steam baths and inexpensive Thai massage was a draw for the family. Of course, I was looking forward to the Spot-winged Grosbeaks that are regularly found here.

We were able to settle into one of the new park bungalows, which was clean and comfortable. Nights were hot without a fan but towards the early mornings, a blanket was needed.

Upon arrival I took a walk along the stream that runs along the camping area. In the stream, a handsome River Chat was feeding undisturbed.

Deeper in, there is a smaller levy and beyond this point is where one should look out for Brown Dipper. I tried but came only up with Slaty-backed Forktail, Grey Wagtail and Blue Whistling Thrush hopping along the boulders.  A Golden-fronted Leafbird, Paradise Flycatcher and Asian Barred Owlet were other nice birds showing in here.

In the morning I went to visit an agricultural field 20 minutes drive from the park in the outskirts of the little town of Fang. In only one hour we had several interesting species.

(A ranger by the name of Too is seriously studying birds and was taking me to this area. He is quite knowledgeable and happy to help out. He even has a library of foreign bird books etc in his study.)   Our target bird was the Black-faced Buntings, which are rare in Thailand. Soon we had a small flock of 5-6 birds in our view.

The Rubythroat is ridiculously easy around here and other good birds were Common Stonechat, Baya Weavers, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Wryneck, Yellow-eyed Babbler showing well, and White-rumped Munias.

Once back in the park I spent the rest of the morning following the rather large flock of Grosbeaks (40) as they made there way down from higher grounds towards fruiting trees infront of the headquarters. The birds are easy to follow, as they are quite vocal and good seized. Eventually the birds end up on the ground where I guess they were either feeding on fallen fruits or picking up smaller stones to help their digestion system. The Grosbeaks gave me full interaction and I had fun trying to digiscope them.

The afternoon was spent in the hotsprings that also provided for hot spas and saunas. Quite nice for an old Swede like myself.  Then we faced the arduous yet refreshing exercise of having our tendons, sinews and muscles worked on by an ambitious massage team.

Towards dusk several smaller groups of hilltribe villages came walking through the park heading into the forest. They simply go in, bring their kids with them, make a quick make-shift sleeping arrangement out of leaves and then get up the following morning to gather various yields from the forest to sell in the village, making just what they need for the day before the next day repeats itself.

Other birds in the park were Blue-throated Barbet, a female Eurasian Kestrel low between the trees, Chestnut-tailed Starlings, Koels, Olive-backed Pipits, Coppersmith Barbet, Stripe-throated Bulbul and more.

After two nights at Mae Fang we went on to Doi Angkhang for the cooler heights.

Doi Angkhang

The climb up the mountain from the town of Fang is extremely steep. After a few desperate moments in prayer as our clutch gave away and our engine weakened, we eventually learnt the basic lesson of turning off the aircon when negotiating steep mountain climbs.. Most of the ascent has to be taken in first gear and with all of us (2 adults and 4 teens and 2 kids) along with our gear, we were pretty heavy.

Once up at the checkpoint I had to stop and let the car cool down. Anyhow, a single Great Tit was singing away in a pine tree and this lovely little bird encouraged us onward.

The Amari resort is way too pricey for us and the owner of Bahn Luang resort (01-88181140 was away in Chiang Mai. We were prepared with tents but by a miracle, located some nice bungalows at the watershed station (nuay jut gahn nahm mae preu) and thank God, there was just one available for the night. It is open to the public.    

Birding at DoiAngkhang can be a bit overwhelming as so many birds are skulkers and dwell in the tall grass and scrub covering the mountains. They sing a lot though so if one is prepared with tapes etc it should work for a fun and challenging experience.

I was able to bird by myself for two mornings and picked up many good birds but still felt that I had missed a lot. My best birds were at pair of Green Cochouas that had come out of the forest at km 21.5 and let me have good looks at them for a couple of minutes before they flew back in. This was my 3rd lifebird of the trip and an unexpected one.

I tried for the stake out for Giant Nuthatch in the pine stands at km 30 but a lot of the grass lands were on fire in that area and not much bird life around.

 Here are some of the better birds seen in the park: Common Buzzard, Spectacled Barwing, Silver-eared Mesias (very common), White-browed and Rusty-naped Scimitar Babblers, Eye-browed Laughingthrushes, Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Daurian Redstart at the old orchard where soldiers now have cleared the area and set up camp next to the helicopter ramp,

Large Niltava, Blue-winged Minlas, Grey-chinned Fulvettas, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Striated Bulbuls, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Grey Bushchat, Grey-backed Shrike etc. The Brown-breasted Bulbuls were common but hard to photograph. These birds are sometimes seen along with Red-whiskered Bulbuls in larger flocks feeding in flowering trees.

We enjoyed our dinners at the restaurant in the village as the vegetables are so fresh up here. It didn't really get very cold on the mountain but a sweater was needed in the early morning and along with the fresh scent of pine, birds singing and a hot cup of coffee made up for a memorable experience.  

As we had brought some educational materials and snacks from one of our sponsors,  we decided to visit a couple of schools and hilltribe villages right at the border. At the first school in the village, we were able to provide our interactive English teaching program for some 300 children here who are from the Mai Ai -- a Burmese ethnic group. At Ban No Lae, we located the Palong tribe (near the Burmese border) on this mountain where we had the opportunity to distribute clothes, toys & snacks .We were able to organise queues and eventually hand out rice to the elders of the village. Trying to locate the second school at Ban Kob Dong was a little more tricky as it was in a more remote dirt track on the mountain. To get there, however, we had the pleasure of driving through the Queen's Botanical project,  admiring the beauty of temperate flower fields in there. Our younger kids really took to this spot. 

When we finally got to this hilltribe village and school, we put on a little program for the students of both the Palong and the Lahu (know locally as the Mussur tribe) and amongst other things, taught them some fun English songs. Both tribes are descendants from Tibetan immigrants who've made their way through Myanmar into Thailand. The Lahu, having been longer here, have received Thai nationality, and have a school set up in their village whereas the Palong are more recent arrivals and have no rights. The Palong kids thus walk about 4- 5 km to school each day. We found these kids to be fresh and responsive which overshadowed the dirty and bedraggled state they were physically in. Interacting with these young students was a highlight for all of us.

It's always a joy to be able to share something of ourselves with others -- there's not much we can do to change the world or the state of poverty that these folks are in. But really, lighting just one other candle in the midst of darkness is far better than cursing the darkness. So, sharing our lights of joy and love in even a small way, with just one person -- we're changing our part of the world!

Once down the mountain, we decided to skip out on Doi Inthanon and instead head for the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen lake in Chiang Rai. This turned out to be a wise decision as this part of our journey was quite special.

On our way to Mae Chan we passed a sign that read '3 hilltribe villages'. We drove in and found out that the local Ahka village had received another two tribes in a project funded by a private company to make the 'long-necked' Kareng women  (Padaung) and 'long-eared' (Lahu) available for the tourist industry. These women had been brought in from Myanmar and set up on display for a hefty fee for visiting tourists. The girls seemed happy as this way they get a much better income then living in there remote village back home but much could be said about this exploitation of these people. We were able to buy some of the Padaung handicraft and donate some bags of rice directly to the girls.

We settled at Mae Chan for the night. Rim Chan resort is a nice, clean, air-conditioned hotel with TV, swimming pool and breakfast included for only 12US$ (053-771882-3). The lake is only 20 minutes drive from here of which I visited while the others were sleeping in.

Next day we drove to the Golden Triangle, an easy drive from Mae Chan. Right before Chiang Saen town there is a sign to the Golden Triangle. Follow that one and take another left turn at the next intersection. Soon you will see a large restaurant catering to tourists. About 100 meters before the restaurant there is a dirt road down to the river. Park here and walk down (unless u have 4 wheel drive)...The river was quite dry and the riverbed was covered in smooth pebbles. Around midday the Small Pratincoles that live in this area will stop feeding and roost on the ground. Easy to approach and quite frankly, stunningly beautiful little birds. My 4th lifebird.

Along the waters edge several Pied and Citrine Wagtails were feeding. Lots of Little Ringed Plovers were around. Yellow-bellied Prinias were singing from the reeds. A bit further up the river there were a pair of Spot-billed Ducks on a sandbar, little

Temmincks Stints were frantically feeding, Common Greenshanks and Grey Lapwings were standing on parade and a single Spotted Redshank walked about.

The Golden Triangle itself holds many souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels. Best place to view the area is from a temple (I forgot the name) up a hill. From up here you can see see all 3 countries including the huge casino built by a Thai business man on the Myanmar side.

We went back to Chiang Saen lake and found a couple of nice rooms (clean, new, aircon -- great!)  at Jojeera resort right across from the lake (01-88446126). There's a restaurant upstairs -- the only decent one you'll find in this area for miles around. This area is very scenic and quiet. Hardly a person around. The morning hours come with a mist and birds singing filling the air. The Striated Grassbird (a Warbler) is easy to see singing from the top of a reed. Beautiful songster.

Pied Bushchats perched everywhere, Purple Swamphen walk in the open as does White-breasted Waterhens and Common Moorhen. Plenty of Little Grebes in the lake along with some Mallards I suspect to be feral birds. There were still some rafts of ducks around but couldn't see anything outside of Gargenys and Lesser Whistling Tree Ducks of whom there were plenty.

Oh yes, I took a drive to the very opposite side of the lake and drove down a huge orchard. Down in the reeds here I had 6 Spot-billed Ducks at a fairly close distance.

Many other birds were around such as Long-tailed Shrike, Brown Shrike, Black- collared Starling, Common and White-throated Kingfishers, Pin-tailed Snipe and a male Painted Snipe. Lots of Sooty-headed Bulbuls blended with Red-whiskered and on the ground Pipits were hurrying around.

After this we headed back to Chiang Mai and a couple of nights with friends. Kids' favorite was the sport stadium that features an Olympic-sized pool and jumping towers. That tower really was fun and the waters still cool and refreshing inspite of the warm winds blowing our way.

We managed a walk to the top of Doi Pui but didn't add anything new from earlier.

All in all, an action packed vacation,  filled with all the ingredients that make for happy living. We will be back!

Peter Ericsson


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