Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Kaeng Krachan, Thailand's Hidden Gem

Greetings Everyone,
Following our visit to the Philippines we flew back to Bangkok, Thailand on November 26.  The following morning we flew to Chiang Rai and were transferred across the border to Laos.  We stayed in a fancy new hotel but appeared to be the only guests other than the locals who rent karaoke rooms to sing and drink beer.  The plan was to do the "Gibbon Experience" where you zipline from treehouse to treehouse to look for gibbons and other wildlife.  When we arrived at the office we were by far the oldest people.  The Gibbon Experience appeared to have turned into a zipline activity for 20-year old thrill-seeking backpackers who were not interested in wildlife.  After viewing the safety video, Marc looked at me and said "Are you sure you still want to do this?"  Having never ziplined before, there seemed to be much more to think about than what friends had told me.  "Make sure your safety line is attached, if you start to turn on the line reach up and squeeze a piece of tire over the wheel but make sure you don't touch the hot cable, don't mess with your safety line or you'll get stuck in the middle, once on the other side, pull 3 times on the cable to let the next person know you've arrived so they don't come careening into you, etc."  I looked at Marc and said "No!"   Given that the gibbons were sighted on only half of the trips, it seemed like a lot of risk for little reward.

A guy in the office drove us back to the border where we had arranged for our next hotel to pick us up a couple of days early.  We checked into our room and started looking at our next adventure.  We were to look for animals in Kaeng Krachan National Park, the largest and least visited in Thailand.  The plan was to stay in a hotel the first night and camp the next 4 nights deep in the park.  I went on the Park's website to read about the camping situation and found this:

"During the week-ends the camp may get overcrowded by local tourists, especially around public holidays."

We had booked our camping stay on Friday to Monday nights and to make matters much worse, I discovered Monday was a national holiday in Thailand!  It was now the Tuesday before the holiday weekend and we frantically called our local guide to see if she could move our camping bookings up by a couple of days.  We made plans to fly back to Bangkok that afternoon after Aon our guide called us back to let us know she had made the changes.  Whew!

On Wednesday morning Aon picked us up and we drove to the park stopping at the Khao Yoi Cave to see the Long-tailed Macaques that hang out here.

Long-tailed Macaques

Besides seeing the monkeys, the cave was interesting in that it was a Buddhist temple complete with statues, monks and nuns.

Buddhist Statues in Khao Yoi Cave

We were met at the park by Toon, our ranger, and Oh, our driver, who along with Aon accompanied us during our visit.  We drove to the Ban Krang campsite where our tent had already been set up.  The campground was almost empty so we were hoping for a quiet night, not so much for sleeping, but for seeing nocturnal visitors.  We drove up the road and encountered our first mammal, a Dusky Leak Monkey or Spectacled Langur.  They are quite common in the park and don't mind sticking around to have their photo taken.

Spectacled Langur

A number of squirrel species are commonly seen in the park including this Black Giant Squirrel and the much smaller Grey-bellied Squirrel.

Black Giant Squirrel

Grey-bellied Squirrel

We drove past our campsite to some salt licks hoping to see more animals at dusk but they were empty.  When we arrived back at the campground we were dismayed to find a large school group of 35 teenagers and their teachers had moved in and set up their tents below us!  Oh well...  Aon told us that dinner was ready and that she had a surprise for us.  Behind the restaurant were 3 Malayan Porcupines, a new species for us.  They came for the food scraps that the cooks toss out after preparing meals at the canteen.  It is probably not the best thing to do but we sure had great views of the porcupines.  At one time seven had gathered and we watched them squabble over who got the most food by raising and shaking their quills.

Malayan Porcupines

We went for a night walk but didn't see much so we turned in around 10:30.  I had just fallen asleep when we were rudely awakened by people arriving at midnight despite the Park closing the entrance at 5:00!  I was grumbling when Aon and Toon showed up saying there was a bear in camp!  I threw on my clothes and rushed off to see it.  He was at the food dump looking for a free meal.  Marc showed up late, he wasn't sure where we had gone but managed to get a good photo.  Again it was probably not the best situation but to see a Malayan Sun Bear at such close range was a rare treat!

Malayan Sun Bear

The next morning our plans were thwarted by the Thai tourists who drive up the park road at 5:30 to see the Cloud Lake or "Thale Mog" at sunrise.  This meant that any wildlife on the road would be scared away so we waited for the traffic to pass before we headed up.  At the end of the road was a viewpoint at 3000 feet.  Aon told us that most Thai tourists that visit the Park come to see the cloud lake or "Thale Mog" that forms over the forest every morning.  

Cloud Lake Overlook

We were hoping to find the Banded Surili or Langur and were not disappointed.  Four were feeding on palm fruits near the viewpoint and were so preoccupied with eating that they didn't bound off.

Banded Surili or Langur

After the morning rush of "Cloud Lake Viewers" left the restaurant at the upper or Phanoen Thung campground we went to wait for the Yellow-throated Martens to show up.  While waiting a Northern Treeshrew came to inspect a banana blossom for insects.

Northern Treeshrew

We sat quietly for an hour but the martens didn't appear so we went for a short walk in the forest.  We returned to the restaurant and just as we finished lunch we got the call that the Yellow-throated Martens had arrived!  A family of 4 cautiously approached the food dump at the back of the restaurant.  We've seen these mammals before but only a fleeting glimpse or at night so it was great to have a prolonged view of them and to hear their chattering.  

Yellow-throated Marten

On the way back to our campground, we encountered a Muntjac standing on the side of the road.  At first I thought it was a common Muntjac but Aon told us it was a Fea's Muntjac, a rare species that is not often seen let alone photographed!

Fea's Muntjac

After dinner I noticed an animal sitting in a tree behind the restaurant.  I couldn't make out what it was until he came down to raid the "compost pile".  He was a Long-tailed Macaque, normally diurnal so it was strange to see him after dark.  Aon thought he may have been a pet that someone released back into the wild.  The Malayan Porcupines showed up and the macaque was successful in fending them off until he was outnumbered 5:1!

Long-tailed Macaque and Malayan Porcupines

The Malayan Sun Bear showed up early and chased everyone off for control of the food dump.

Malayan Sun Bear

The show wasn't over yet.  A Brush-tailed Porcupine made an appearance and was very small next to his Malayan Porcupine cousins.

Malayan and Brush-tailed Porcupines

The show ended around 9:00 and we went off for a night walk.  We were hoping to see civets but they weren't around.  We turned in for a relatively quiet night.  The following morning we hiked along some nearby forest trails but didn't see much.  After lunch we were fortunate to encounter some Lar or White-handed Gibbons in a tree next to the road above the campground.

Lar or White-handed Gibbon

We drove to the upper reaches of the Park where the Thai royal family has a residence.  On the way there, I almost stepped on an Oriental Whip Snake.

Oriental Whip Snake

The buildings weren't in use so we were able to check out the view from the deck and Toon spotted this cute White-browed Picolet foraging in the bamboo below.

White-browed Picolet

We returned to our empty camp since the school group had left for the upper campground and we moved our tent to the far end of the lawn in anticipation of the onslaught which would arrive tomorrow.  It was a quiet night at the "compost pile" and also on our night walk so we turned in early around 9:30.  That night I awoke to the sound of crashing trees.  I thought it might have been an elephant but didn't hear it again so went back to sleep.  In the morning Aon told us an elephant had walked right past her tent!

We drove down the road almost to the park entrance but didn't see much.  On the way back we encountered a large troop of Stump-tailed Macaques crossing the road.

Stump-tailed Macaques

When we returned to our campground it was starting to fill up.  Although there was plenty of space, a number of campers chose to set up their tents around our tent.  We went to the restaurant for lunch and were surprised to see the Malayan Sun Bear making a daytime appearance.  A group of Chinese photographers had thrown out their food scraps to attract the bear so they could photograph him.  We couldn't resist and joined them.  Everyone kept a safe distance and the situation was well under control.  I hope it remains this way.

Malayan Sun Bear

We drove back down the road again and headed back at dusk.  About 2 km from the campground we encountered a roadblock.  Toon got out of the truck to see what what going on.  A lone male elephant was feeding on a tree next to the road!  It took some time for Toon to coax him off the road so that vehicles could safely pass.

Elephant on the Road!

When we reached the campground it was a complete zoo!  The lawn was jam-packed with campers preparing dinner, partying or just hanging out.  We had to wait until space became available in the restaurant to have dinner.  There were no visitors to the "compost pile" tonight.  We gave up on the idea of a night walk.  With all the commotion going on there wouldn't be an animal for miles. We went to our tent fell asleep immediately as I was so exhausted but woke up at 1:30 AM.  Some of our neighbors were still partying so we couldn't sleep.  We got up and walked around camp but didn't see any nocturnal mammals.  We returned to our tent and were kept awake all night by partiers or snoring sleeping neighbors.  At 3:00 AM people were up to cook breakfast before their early-morning run to see the Cloud Lake.  Take it from us, if you want to see wildlife don't visit a national park in Thailand over a weekend particularly a holiday weekend!

Park Campground on a Saturday Night

I wanted to leave first thing in the morning but Aon had arranged for us to visit a rangers' station deep in the park where other tourists couldn't go.  Thank you, Aon!  On the way we stopped to climb up to the Khao Pakarang Cave, a limestone cave, to see Horseshoe Bats.  

Horseshoe Bat in Khao Pakarang Cave

We didn't see any other wildlife on the way but when we arrived at the Ranger Station it was a beautiful, quiet spot.  

View from the Ranger Station

We returned to the campground for lunch before leaving the park.  On the way out we encountered a very large troop of Stump-tailed Macaques feeding on seed pods that had fallen on the road.

Stump-tailed Macaques

We spent the two nights at a resort resting up for the long journey home.  After two and a half months in Asia it was time to return to the US and face reality.  Thank you Aon, Toon and Oh for an amazing ending to our Asian odyssey!

Toon, Marc, Peggy, Aon and Oh

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

  Kaeng Krachan National Park Mammal List

 No. SpeciesScientific NameOther Names  / Conservation Status
 1Dusky Leaf MonkeyTrachypithecus obscurusSpectacled Langur / NT
 2Banded Surili Presbytis femoralisBanded Leaf Monkey or Langur / NT
 3Long-tailed MacaqueMacaca fascicularisCrab-eating Macaque / LC
 4Stump-tailed MacaqueMacaca arctoidesBear Macaque / VU
 5Lar GibbonHylobates larWhite-handed Gibbon / EN
 6Malayan Sun BearHelarctos malayanusHoney Bear / VU
 7Fea's MuntjacMuntiacus feaeRare species, conservation status unknown 
 8Common or Red MuntjacMuntiacus muntjakIndian Muntjac or Barking Deer / LC
 9Sambar Rusa unicolorVU
 10Malayan PorcupineHystrix brachyuraHimalayan Porcupine / LC
 11Asiatic Brush-tailed Porcupine Atherurus macrourus LC 
 12Yellow-throated MartinMartes flavigulaLC
 13Black Giant SquirrelRatufa bicolorMalayan Giant Squirrel / NT
 14Grey-bellied Squirrel Callosciurus canicepsLC
 15Pallas's SquirrelCallosciurus erythraeusRed-bellied Tree Squirrel / LC
 16Northern Treeshrew Tupaia belangeriLC
 17Brown RatRattus norvegicusCommon, Street or Norway Rat / LC
 18Horseshoe BatSp. ?
 19Asian ElephantElephas maximusAsiatic Elephant / EN

Our route in Thailand:


Monday, December 05, 2016

Terraces and Tarsiers

Greetings Everyone,
We're traveling in the Philippines with KE Adventure Travel.  We're on the second half of our tour heading north from Sagada toward Banaue on the island of Luzon.  The main draw here is to see the rice terraces and we stopped at several viewpoints.  The Banaue Rice Terraces have been dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World".  The terraces were once thought to be 2000 years old but recent data suggests that they are less than 1000 years old.  They are very impressive nonetheless having been carved largely by hand into the mountainsides by the ancestors of the Ifugao people.  Today rice is still planted in these terraces but at this elevation we were in between growing seasons and the paddies contained only water which reflected the sun hence the name the "Mirror Season". 

Banaue Rice Terraces

Some old Ifuago woman wearing traditional dress were hanging out at one viewpoint to collect money from tourists who take their photo.

Ifuago Women

The following morning we visited the Banaue city market before heading out by Jeepney to the start of our 2-day trek.  Jeepneys are the most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines and are often heavily decorated and loaded.  We had ample room to spread out in our Jeepney and Marc and sat in "Business Class" behind the driver.

Inside a Jeepney

The weather looked ominous at the start of our hike but at least it wasn't raining.  The trail to Cambulo Village was now being built into a road so the going was easy until we reached the construction zone.  We had to dodge heavy equipment while picking our way through thick mud!

Muddy Road

It started to rain and we sought shelter in a road construction camp where lunch was being prepared.  Since chicken feet were being served we didn't stick around.  We reached the end of the road overlooking Cambulo and took a slick trail down to our guesthouse.

Trail's End

We peeled out of our wet rain jackets and muddy boots and settled into our dry, cozy room.

Our Room at Cambulo Guest House

Bryan, our trip leader, and Johnson, our local guide, decided that we would return the way we had come and not attempt to hike to Batad tomorrow.  With all the recent rain they were concerned that the trail would be impassable.  Bummer!  Once the rain let up we set off to explore Cambulo.  People pretty much live the same way they have for hundreds of years.  They grow rice and other vegetables and raise chickens.

Cambulo Village Life

A family had just returned from a shopping trip to Banaue and crossed a suspension bridge over the river carrying supplies on their heads.  The new road will definitely make this trip much easier.

Villagers on the Bridge

When it was our turn to cross the bridge we were much more tenuous.

Trekkers on the Bridge

The following morning we awoke to clearing skies.  Brian and Johnson agreed that it would be Ok to trek to Batad, yippee!  The trail was in pretty good shape as we left Cambulo and unlike yesterday we had good views of the village.

Last View of Cambulo

We stopped to wait for a local man to fix a washout on the trail above.  It was only a very short section but one slip would mean a fall of hundreds of feet to the river below.  We crossed this section very carefully.


It took us about 2 hours to reach a viewpoint overlooking Batad.  The rice terraces formed an amphitheater surrounding the village far below.

Batad Rice Terraces

It was a very steep climb down on cement steps reminiscent of climbing down Mayan pyramids in Mexico and Central America but much longer.

Steep Descent

We finally reached the bottom where we sat in the churchyard listening to the sermon while some in our group visited a waterfall.  We then had to climb back up to the Pension Restaurant where we had lunch and a great view of the village.

Restaurant View of Batad

After lunch we climbed back to the road where our Jeepney was waiting to take us to Bangaan, a village with many traditional houses.  The rice terraces here and the ones we visited in Batad are part of "The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordillera", inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, the first-ever property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List.

Descent into Bangaan

We returned to Banaue for the night before our long drive back to Manila.  The following morning we wound our way down from the mountains to the lowlands where rice was being planted.  This is back-breaking work as you have to bend over to plant each rice seedlings by hand!  We were a welcome diversion when to stopped to photograph the rice planters and asked them many questions.

Planting Rice Seedlings

We arrived back in Manila in time for the sunset from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel.

Manila Skyline at Sunset

The next morning we flew to Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol, the final stop on our Philippine tour.  We stayed at the Alona Beach Resort right on the beach and were treated to a glorious sunset over the South China Sea.

Bohol Sunset

The next day we set off to visit Bohol's many attractions starting with the Baclayon Church.  Built in 1727 it is the oldest coral stone church in Bohol.

Inside Baclayon Church

The highlight for me and one of the main reasons for visiting the Philippines was a visit to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary.  These tiny primates, quite possibly the inspiration for the Star Wars character Yoda, have enormous eyes, each as large as its brain!  They have the largest eye-to-body size ratio of all mammals.  The eyes are fixed to the skull so they can't rotate but a special adaption in the neck allows the tarsier to turn its head 180 degrees.  At the sanctuary the tarsiers are housed in a semi-wild enclosure where they are easily seen.  Being nocturnal, they were sleeping during our visit or at least they were trying to.

Philippine Tarsier

We were told that it is almost impossible to keep tarsiers in captivity as they commit suicide by holding their breath.  Sadly people still try to keep them as pets.  Besides seeing the tarsiers we got to meet the man responsible for founding the sanctuary,  Carlito Pizaras, also known as the "Tarsier Man".  In fact, the Philippine Tarsier has been broken out into its own genus, Carlito, named after him.  How cool is that to have an entire genus named after you!  It was a privilege to meet him and thank him for all his hard work over the past 30 years to protect the Philippine Tarsier.

Carlito and Peggy

To read more about The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary and how you can help, go to:

The next stop was the Chocolate Hills, a famous landmark in Bohol.   In the dry season they resemble Hershey's Kisses hence the name.  However at this time of year they are not brown but green.  They are part of an unusual geological formation called conical karst topography.  These conical limestone hills were formed by erosion and have been uplifted from sea level and fractured by tectonic forces.  The Chocolate Hills are covered with grasses because the soil is too thin to support the growth of trees.

Chocolate Hills

We visited the Bohol Habitat Conservation Center where we got to see many of the Philippines' beautiful butterflies including this Birdwing.

Birdwing Butterfly

While at the Center I noticed that they offered a night safari.  We discussed with Bryan about returning tomorrow night to do the tour.  We stopped at Loboc where we boarded a floating restaurant for lunch.  We cruised down the Loboc River enjoying a Philippine buffet and stopped to watch some local women perform the tinikling dance.  The dancers required a lot of coordination to blindly hop over moving poles.

Tinikling Dance

Marc checked the weather and discovered that it was going to rain tomorrow so Bryan arranged for us to do the night safari tonight.  We broke from the group and were driven back to the Habitat Conservation Center where we waited until 5:30.  Our local guide showed up to take us to Magsaysay Park on his motorcycle.  He couldn't speak good English but we indicated that all 3 of us would not fit on his motorcycle so we asked our car driver to take us.  He was dubious but agreed.  We headed out on a dark, narrow side road into the forest.  Our guide said it was only 4 km away but it was more like 10 km.  Our driver was hesitant to wait for us on the edge of the dark forest but we convinced him to do so.  We were joined by 2 other local guides from the park.  They seemed excited to be taking foreign tourists into the forest at night.  Right off the bat our guides spotted a Flying Lemur in a tree.  I had never heard of a Flying Lemur which by the way doesn't fly and isn't a Lemur.  There are only 2 species of Flying Lemur in the world.  

Philippine Flying Lemur

We saw only one other animal, a Common Palm Civet, on our walk but plenty of creepy-crawlies like spiders, millipedes and insects.  It was a long, dark drive back to our resort but we made it in time for a late dinner.  The next day was free for more exploration of Bohol.  We were thinking about snorkeling but an approaching cyclone kept all the dive boats from going out.  We'll have to return to explore the Philippines' underwater realm.  It turned out that the cyclone brought some rain but no high winds.  We flew back to Manila for our last night in the Philippines.  Thank you Bryan for sharing your wonderfully diverse country with us!  Having visited only 2 of the Philippines' 7000+ islands we know there are many more to explore.  Thanks to our fellow KE Adventure travelers for a fun trip.  May our paths will cross again.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

       Mammal List
 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
 1 Philippine Tarsier Carlito syrichta Bohol
 2 Philippine Flying Lemur Cynocephalus volans Bohol
 3 Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus Bohol

Our route map on Luzon:

Our route map on Bohol: