Chai Nat National Bird Park
Twice I had passed through Chai Nat en route to elsewhere in Thailand. Twice I had seen signs for the National Bird Park and twice I had been unable to stop because my colleagues had not been interested.
Chai Nat itself appeared a neat little city. They must really love birds here I thought because on practically every roundabout or corner there was a huge, presumably plastic, painted bird. Usually a Hornbill but sometimes a Stork or an eagle.
The countryside around the city was a haven for Painted Storks. They are here in their thousands. They circle above going up and down in the thermals or perch in trees or wade the rice paddies. With so much wildlife persecution going on they are a joy to watch.
In late 2008 my girlfriend was in retreat in a Buddhist Temple in Uthai Thani and because she was only allowed to eat once a day and I was not allowed to touch her I found myself with 'free' time and a hire car.
So after taking food to my girlfriend I set out with three Thai friends to visit Chai Nat National Bird Park. I had taken them along because they are very good friends but also because Kai said he knew a short cut. It turned out it was still a two hour drive away. A slightly difficult journey because my three companions only have about a dozen words of English between them. The one word they all shared was "Slowly" and they used it frequently. I did not consider myself to be driving fast but perhaps I was anxious to get to the park. We arrived shortly before midday and so ate at a roadside stall before venturing inside.
As with so many Asian Wildlife collections there was a massive impressive entrance. So often this leads one to believe that the inside will be as good or better. Phuket Zoo is a case in point...a very BAD zoo with a flashy entrance.
I was not surprised to find that there was a huge difference between the 'Falang' price and that for the Thai's. I did not object paying for all three because I know they live very poorly but somehow Kai managed to wangle himself in for free. One point on price differences though I wonder what sort of reaction there would be if we tried the same trick in the UK....Japanese one price, Scots another?
Entrance showing some of the Straw Birds
The Bird Park was quite beautiful. Some lovely trees, neat manicured gardens, well constructed paths and, on the whole, well constructed aviaries too. There were the bits I didn't like. I don't like aviaries where the public can get right round and I don't like those that are completely roofed over (partial exposure to the elements is desirable). Most of these were like that. Perching too was a problem. I suppose 70% were well perched and the rest had no perching at all. Sadly too it was the aviaries that needed repairs. Food was none too imaginative and it would seem that sweet corn and pappaya was fare of the day for most.
Signage was better than in many places but again a bit faded. The birds themselves were a pretty standard bunch...nothing to make a special trek to see but all looked in exceptionally good condition.
This place lays claim to "Largest natural cage in Asia". I don't quite know what this means but it not true. Does it mean tallest? Well it is pretty tall but I suspect the one in Chiang Mai zoo is taller. Does it mean largest area? I reckon the one I saw in the south of Thailand in the Hat Yai Bird Park (only it was empty) was maybe twice as big again. Still it was impressive here. What let it down was that it was largely populated by Peafowl (many of the aviaries were as well) and little else of interest. There were virtually no flying birds...well I didn't see any. What then was the point in being big? Ten foot tall all over would have been quite enough.
The collection also claims to be the biggest Bird Park in Asia. This is absolute rubbish. Has Jurong been removed from the equation? Even the tiny Penang Bird Park must have 40 times as many species if 'biggest' was to be considered from another angle. I'm not knocking it. I liked Chai Nat Bird Park but facts should be facts.
Okay critique over. I could pick my way round but, truth be known I quite liked the place. There were a few deer representing the mammals and the lakes were well stocked with fish. What really sets this place apart from other collections was that this place is host to the annual 'Giant Straw Bird' competition which takes place during Chinese New Year celebrations. It was these gigantic structures which drew my attention to Chai Nat in the first place. They are all over the town when I first passed through. I thought they were fibreglass. But no.
The zoo has many of these gaudy, and sometimes quite realistic monsters dotted about. They even have an exhibition hall to show how they are constructed. Wire frame, rice straw, paint, glue and a lot of hard work.
Straw Bird Construction Process
We headed straight home after our visit but I noted there was a 'Monkey Temple' in the vicinity and also a Crocodile Farm. Someone said there was a zoo too but I could not get any details. I will bear these in mind if I am ever back in this neck of the woods.
Retired Straw Birds
Worth a Visit?
In a word "Yes".
Zoo News Digest
Follow news and views of zoos at Zoo News Digest