We are back in Thailand now in the Upper Coast gulf coast region which has proven to be full of shorebirds (we finally made it to the ocean after 2 months of traveling).The area is mostly used for Salt production and the evaporation pools are full of tiny shrimp and other creatures that attract a plethora of hungrey birds. A rare example of a major human disturbance benefiting rare and endangered species, although the mangrove forests that covered this area and the creatures that inhabited them have less reason to be enthusiastic. Highlights included a tiny shorebird with a spatulate bill that is highly endangered called the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Other goodies found here include: Nordmann’s Greenshank, Ruff, Great Knot, Terek Sandpipers. Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasuian Curlew and many many others. Today we took a boat trip to a small Sandspit where we saw Malaysian and White-faced Plovers. In the reminant patches of Mangrove forest we found numerous Water Monitor lizards, Collared Kingfishers and perhaps Jen’s new favorite animal, the Giant Mudskipper ( A fish with frog-like eyes on top of its head that acts more like an amphibian).
Happy New Year, we have visited 11 countries in 2011. We started the year in the Amazon jungle and it has been the most awesome and adventure packed year of our lives. I hope 2012 can come close to matching it. .
We spent the last 3 days at one of the wonders of the world: Angkor Wat. It consists of numerous temples created by a long succession of kings between 800 – 1000 years ago. Some temples were adorned with beautiful engravings in stone walls depicting stories of ancient battles, mythical creatures and every day life. Some temples were surrounded by jungle over-taking the ruins and giant trees with impressive roots that engulfed stone walls. It was amazing to see architecture with such perfection and uncomprehensible to think of how these massive temples were constructed.
Last night we stayed at a floating village on Asia’s great lake, Tonle Sap. The village is located in an isolated corner of the lake (2 hour boat ride from Siem Reap) and consisted of houses floating on bamboo rafts. There were floating markets and children rowing to school. I can’t imagine never stepping on dry land (for half the year, the wetland do dry up with the change of seasons)! The lake is home to the largest colony of water birds in south east Asia. We saw 100’s of nesting water birds, including four species of storks, spot-billed pelican, 3 species of cormorants and ibis. It was nice to see copious amounts of big birds when it is typically very difficult to find an animal bigger than your fist. Several conservation organizations are working with and educating the local community about the importance of these wetlands and the animals in them. Locals get a cash reward for finding bird nests! Such a great incentive for not hunting or selling bird chicks!
As Ryne mentioned in the last post, our stay in Laos was adventurous indeed. Laos has some of the best scenery with limestone spires and forest clad mountains. This makes for good vistas but very long, bumpy bus rides down torturous roads. We travelled the whole length of the country from north to south by bus, so many days were spent in transit. Buses were often old, falling apart, crowded and very hot!
Along our journey we went on a 4 day jungle trek accompanied by a guide. It was nice because we didn’t have to carry any of the food and meals were prepared for us. Meals were traditional Lao and eaten on the big banana leaves on the ground. Sticky rice was served with every meal and is traditionally eaten with your hands by rolling it into bite sized balls and dipping it into sauces or vegetables or meat. Meals were very tasty, but very repetitive! After eating rice 3 times per day I was ready for bread or anything different. On the hike, we saw very few animals, mostly small birds and a few insects. Whenever an animal was seen the guide would say “barbecue.” The forest was conspicuously quiet. This is because Lao hunt and eat everything!
Another highlight was a boat trip through a 7 km cave! The water was gorgeous blue-green and the cave was at times 100m high and 100m wide with spectacular cave features. Unfortunately, a virus or worm infected our camera and we lost all of our pictures from Laos and northern Thailand. There is a chance we can recover the photos so I am going to try.
3 Things we learned in Laos:
1) Even if a bus or bus seat appears full, it is not full! There is always more room to crunch another person on a bus!
2) Lao people eat anything and everything (except cobra “because it is poisonous”).
3) Tourists never pay the same price for food or bus fares as the locals; simply because we have more money.
We are going to Siem Reap, Cambodia today. We will visit the mother of all temples: Angkor Wat
After a very adventurous stay in Laos we are once again on the banks of the mighty Mekong in Cambodia. Unfortunately, Jen just made a long post, but the computer froze! I will delve into more detail regarding our stay in Laos and show some pictures later. We stayed at unscale eco-lodge ($12 a night!) last night and spent the day Kayaking through the maze of island and rapids along the river. We were lucky enough to see 4 species of Kingfishers (Pied, Stork-billed, White-throated and Black-capped) and a bird found only along the the Lower Mekong, the Mekong Wagtail. In the next several days we will see the river dolphins and other natural wonders!
We spent the last 2 days in Chiang Saen, Thailand. This town is situated on the 10th largest river in the world, the Mekong River. This area also hosts some of the only wetlands in Thailand. We rented bicycles, which was a nice change from walking, and went birding around these wetlands. We saw a Harrier roost where dozens of Pied, Marsh and Northern Harriers gather at dusk. We were fortunate enough to have a brief look at a beautiful but one of the worlds deadliest snakes, the Banded Krait.
We were lucky to meet a couple of excellent naturalists from the US and England who taught us a lot. It was sad to hear how much Thailand has been raped of its wildlife over the last several decades. The Thais take virtually every animal from nature and either eat them or sell them to China. I have never witnessed such wholesale exploitation of nature. It is downright disturbing to witness and hear about. The American naturalist had given up all hope and seemed borderline suicidal and the Brit was putting his life on the line to try to save a remnant wetland that we visited to see the Harriers. The most disturbing part is that its not just a handful of people, its pretty much everyone.
Now we are in Laos, hopefully things will be better here.