Independent Birding Trip to Thailand
In part one of this guide to planning an independent birding trip to Thailand you will find some information to help you make up your mind on whether it might make good sense to consider embarking on your own Thai birding and photography adventure.
Before I get started I perhaps need to mention a few things about Thailand that you may not know and why it is a great choice of venue for an independent birding trip.
Firstly Thailand is a safe country to visit, I have lived here for the last eight years and I find it an easy going, modern society with an affordable cost of living. I am sure you know that it is also the home of around a thousand species of birds.
Thais are friendly and polite, they are also quite laid back and may not always see the same things as a priority as a Westerner would. They also expect visitors to respect their culture, religion and monarchy.
While the Thai infrastructure gets a little stressed at times mostly things work and run on time. The roads are of a decent standard and there is a good public transport system including a bus and rail network along with several low cost budget airlines.
Of course as with any country not everything is a bed of roses an example being public safety on road transport, particularly long distance buses. Accidents do happen and tend to be mostly down to the standard of driving on Thai roads which leaves a lot to be desired compared to some Western countries.
In Thailand English is often spoken quite well in tourist areas but away from the main centers do not expect even a rudimentary understanding of the language. That said a phrase book and a willingness to make a fool of yourself with some sign language will usually get you by and create a few smiles too.
Health care in Thailand can be world class and hospitals are modern. Local clinics are a bit more basic and here doctors often run their own practice as well as working in a hospital. This means that often the local doctor you see may well be a specialist in some discipline at the district hospital. Pharmacies are everywhere and you can often buy, what would be prescription drugs at home, over the counter.
Visitors must pay for their health care needs making adequate travel insurance a must.
Why Choose an Independent Birding Trip to Thailand
There are a few reasons you might like to travel independently but the chances are that among them you looking to keep costs down and have complete flexibility in your plans. If this is the case then I believe it is worth considering a budget do-it-yourself birding adventure to Thailand.
Cost of an Independent Birding Trip to Thailand
So how much would it cost?
Well clearly that depends on quite a few things including what you do and how long you stay, means of transport and standard of accomodation. To get started lets look at an example of what you can expect to pay a top birding tour company for a guided tour in Thailand and compare it with what you might be able to achieve yourself.
An Organised Birding Tour
The top internet search result reveals it will cost you 4925 GBP($6000) a person for a tour starting in Thailand lasting 18 days visiting top sites in Northern Thailand. This does not include the cost of international flights and any internal flights taken as part of the tour. If you are travelling alone single supplements apply too if you don’t want to share a room with a stranger.
There are of course lots of other trips available of varying duration and venues but costing is about the same or pro rata for shorter stays.
A Do-it-yourself Birding Tour
So here is a quick costing for a do it yourself 28 day trip to Thailand which I have put together that could cover all the sites in Northern Thailand(mentioned above) and leave time to explore some more too. Costings are based on known international airfares and local prices which have been converted from Thai Baht to GBP at a rate of 40Baht= 1 GBP.
|International Flights||500.00 per person||Return from UK|
|Car Hire||1000.00||28 day hire Toyota Vios or similar. Fully insured.|
|Accommodation||560.00||This is calculated at 500-800 baht per room per night|
|Food/Snack/Drinks||350.00||For 2 people|
|National Park Fees||2.50-12.50 per person||Most birding to be done national parks|
|Travel Insurance/Visa||Travel Insurance: Dependent on level of cover.|
Thai Visa Exempt or Tourist Visa
|Thai 30 day visa exemption for citizens 55 countries or Thai tourist visa for 60 days currently free for US/UK citizens|
|Petrol/Fuel||Average cost 0.70 per litre|
As I said just a quick calculation with the main variables being flights, which may well come in a lot cheaper depending on the airline & when you travel along with comprehensive travel insurance. It is also impossible to calculate fuel costs for a hire car. But even allowing for these unknowns a budget of around 2000 GBP per person for two people sharing looks pretty doable.
Hopefully the above table will serve as a starting point for you to do some independent research and see what is possible. I bet you can easily come in under my budget of 2000 GBP per person.
For example you could try utilizing Thailand’s numerous low-cost/budget airlines in your plans which could also save time and money. As would camping out in the Thai National parks, as opposed to using nearby hotel accommodation. Tent/equipment hire is inexpensive & the facilities are good. Most parks even have a small restaurant or two.
Flexibility of an Independent Birding Trip to Thailand
After cost saving, the flexibility of an independent birding trip to Thailand must rank pretty highly on most birder/photographers priorities. Indeed flexibility also often means cost saving. The ability to change itineraries is not something you get with the big birding tour companies. Sure they want to keep their clients happy but there is only so much flexibility they can allow and keep on schedule.
As an independent traveller you go where you want when you want.
Specialist group birding tours tend to be limited to certain dates of the year, so if you want to visit a raptor migration viewpoint in say November for example there may well not be an available group tour.
The means by which you travel can also be more flexible. Whilst self drive is great in Thailand the country also has a good cheap public transport and a budget airline network. You can get flights, buses and trains to many locations. For example you could hire a car in Bangkok and bird your way north all the way up to Chiang Rai but travel back by air or land on the bus or train. Or hire a car in Bangkok and bird Central Thailand before flying or taking the train north and repeating the process around Chiang Mai.
The options are numerous. Thailand also has lots of hotels and guest houses that are clean and low-cost. An average room away from the tourist routes, for two people can cost around 350 Baht(less than 10 GBP) a night. Most of the time you can just turn up and find a room locally. That is not to say that some spots do not get busy, they do, but there are several local internet based booking services that can help if you really need to book in advance.
Local food is also cheap(compared to the West) and instead of being tied to the establishment a tour operator will inevitably be associated with, you can branch out and try a place you fancy. They might not have a posh menu but I bet the food is tasty & cheap.
When and Where to go on an Independent Birding Trip to Thailand.
Given that Thailand generally speaking has three seasons, hot, wet and hot and not so hot and dry planning the timing of your trip to the Kingdom can be a little difficult, especially if you have target species and limited dates available. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the Northern half of the country(north of Bangkok) has different weather patterns to the South.
The best months weather wise in the north are from November to March and perhaps even April because of the NE Monsoon, which despite the name does not mean rain. In the south the weather can be wet at the end of the year and doesn’t really pick up until March through June. Although birding is possible July to the end of September can be very wet. However migrants are usually on the move from late August/early September and some impressive raptor viewing is available in both the north and south.
So it that gives you an idea of when what about the where? Well given that birding tour companies usually split the country along the lines of north or south of Bangkok that might be a good place to start. Personally I would recommend anything North, West or East of Bangkok from late November onward. It can still be a little wet in the forests and leeches can be an issue in some locations.
Really the planning of where and when is up to you so in the next paragraph I have included some links to gather information from.
Some Resources to help you Plan and Independent Birding Trip to Thailand
This map gives you the location of all major birding sites in Thailand. In fact the web-site it is on, North Thailand Birding, is an excellent resource for the nitty-gritty of planning. Well worth exploring. Another excellent resource is Thai Birding that is owned by a birding tour leader.
Thailand has a fair few birders and there are several Facebook groups that are good for birding information. Thai Bird Report(in both Thai and English) contains information regarding sightings of interest and contains links to several other resources.
Also don’t forget sites like e-Bird that has good coverage of Thailand.