Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thailand 1 - Introduction

My latest trip was atypical for my personal travel in several respects. Most of my birding trips to date have been in the Americas and have been with small groups of friends. I went to Thailand to join Jon Dunn and WINGS "Spoon-billed Sandpiper Extension" (after skipping the three week long main tour) and then continued on the "Peninsular Thailand and Gurney's Pitta" tour. I've never been on a commercial tour before, but it made a lot of sense this time. I didn't have time to plan a trip, I can't read or speak Thai, and I wanted to see as many birds as I could in my limited vacation time. I had three free days that I spent birding, two with Nick Upton of the Thai Birding website (, and one with outfitter ETC (Educational Travel Center

So why Thailand? Here's three good reasons - the food, the people, and the birds. Who could argue with all those weird and colorful Asian birds? A more telling reason would be that I've heard Jon talk about Thailand for decades, and I decided to make the time to go this year.

So Thailand. I flew on miles on the now-defunct Continental, and was able to save considerable miles by flying from Houston to Frankfurt to Bangkok, rather than from Houston to Tokyo or Seoul to Bangkok. Mine not to question the airlines, but there were seats for 65K miles going via Europe and it was 200K for the best connections going the other way. Flying on miles worked out OK, though somewhere in the United/Continental merger Continental's policy of allowing upgrades on flights purchased with miles was lost. I didn't make the time to sit on hold over an hour with Thai Airlines to get seat assignments for the legs on that airline, so I ended up in a middle seat on one flight and bulkhead window with NO leg room (thanks to the overwing door) on another. Oh well. It was cheap.

Arriving in country and transferring to the hotel were easy, especially if I ignored the instructions and went straight to the tour hotel's shuttle service. The hotel, the airport adjacent Hotel Suvarnabhumi, was quite posh. I arrived at 6:30 AM and was able to do some easy birding from my window over the courtyard and walking around the hotel entrance, but I didn't see anything that I didn't see during the tour. It was fun to puzzle out the sounds and glimpses of birds in the courtyard and flip through the field guide to identify the birds. And difficult groups, like the swifts seen through a scope as they flew around airport buildings, those were firmly identified only after consultation with Jon.

The hotel has several internal restaurants, and there is nothing else around. It also has a 24 hour check in, with guests arriving at all hours and rooms valid for 24 hours after check in.