Skirting the western side of Bangkok through the maze of canals, irrigation systems (can you tick any of the wildfowl here????) and mile upon mile of snooker table green rice paddies, we headed kind of east towards Khao Yai, with a brief and fruitless stop at Wat Phra Puttabat (imposing home of Buddha's footprint) for Limestone Wren Babbler, before arriving at Khao Yai late on the afternoon of January 17th.
The Wren Babbler-less Wat was quite cool, with 12 Coppersmith Barbets together in one tree, White Rumped Munia, Scarlet Backed Flowerpecker, tickling prayer bells and monks checking their e-mails on I-Pads and assorted 5G technology.
Earthly possessions are such a drag....
We'd heard some bad tales about Khao Yai national park, to the extent that we'd shaved a day off the amount of time we'd planned to stay there in favour of more birding at Kaeng Krachan.
The decision seemed justified as we drove past mile upon mile of tourist lodges, paintball and moto-cross franchises, hoardings, tat stalls and restaurants along the approach road to the park.
The forest on the ridge above us was ablaze - a line of flames stretching for a click or two in the fading light.
We found some cheap cabins to stay in close to the park entrance and grabbed some munchies and beer at the deserted Cowboy Steak House.
A Brown Hawk Owl was calling nearby as locals explained the fire on the ridge was a "controlled burn".
Hmmm, if that was a controlled burn, I'd hate to see one that got out of hand...anyone would think areas were being allowed to burn to clear scrub and give access to old timber and create new farmland (or is that just me?)
Straight into the park next morning at 0600 and onto the area around km33, scattering Macaques to bird this stretch of road and the adjacent trails.
Contrary to what we'd heard, the forest looked great, with plenty of hornbills, Abbott's Babbler, roadside Radde's and assorted bulbuls and phylloscs.
For all their size, the Great Hornbills could be quite hard to pin down in the canopy and considering they were the size of a three seater sofa, they blended into the leaves remarkably well.
See what I mean?
Certainly more hornbills in this park than anywhere else we went to.
A bird tour, complete with very impressive (and completely unnecessary) matching "leech gaiters" pulled up to work the Km33 trail, so we decided to give it a miss and head deeper into the park.
Open grassland made a change from the forest trails and held good numbers of Sibe Stonechats, prinias and cisticolas, while lovely Ashy Woodswallows were everywhere, hawking about like heatwave Waxwings.
We parked up and walked Trail A along the river from the Pa Gluay Mai campsite, a gorgeous hike through fairly open forest, with the occasional waterfall and crocodile warning sign for local colour.
Kinda quiet birdwise though, with Mugimaki Flycatcher, Grey Wags and a feeding flock holding Laced Woodpecker, Small Minivet, White Tailed Warbler and Greater Flameback among the highlights.
A punishing walk back down the hill in the afternoon sun did nothing to raise the spirits, although Sambar and Common Barking Deer were good, if predictable.
We moved down towards the Tat Ponds in the afternoon, where Trops found a wholly unexpected Blue Winged Pitta late on, compounded a short while after by Eared Pitta (with Neill) on the Km33 trail.
His grin was wider than the Maekong.
That's the nature of jungle birding - even though a trail is well marked like this one to start with, there's no point going in together, best find a track on your own for minimum noise.
This means we all tend to see different things, but that's life.
Out of the national park by 1830 for a good Thai meal at a restaurant heaving with locals before a good night's kip and into the park again at 0730 on the 19th.
Straight to the Km33 area, where pitta-magnet Tropical once again scored an Eared Pitta on one of the smaller trails (ouch).
We all headed up to the Pa Gluay Mai campsite and split up to bird the area, with Trops and I heading into the jungle behind the ladies' toilets, only to stumble across a Thai bird photographer in a hide in a shady, muddy hollow.
I think this was the former Coral Billed Ground Cuckoo stake-out, but this lovely old boy beckoned us in and scattered a few mealworms behind his hide - can't imagine too many UK photographers being so accommodating when two birders crash his site...
Within seconds a stunning Orange Headed Thrush emerged from the dense forest, to be followed shortly afterwards by a breathtaking adult Siberian Blue Robin and a White Rumped Shama.
Trops and I thanked the Old Boy and crawled away to find Bazzo and Neill, before returning to enjoy the show all over again, with added Radde's Warbler and Puff Throated Babbler.
What a smashing guy - thanks whoever you are!
Asian Emerald Cuckoo showed briefly, and typically against the sun in the canopy, but at least you could see the red crown on this one as we walked out of the woods back to the campsite.
Large Woodshrike was just a flitting shape in the same neck of the woods, but we hadn't done badly given the short amount of time we had to spend in this, the most expensive of national parks, before hitting the road back to Bangkok at 1215.
In retrospect Khao Yai probably deserved more time than we afforded it, but you could say the same for every site we went to.
Heroic driving by Neill and Trops had us dumping the car at a Hertz office in the teeming megacity mid-afternoon and grabbing two cabs to the grand old central train station at Hualamphong.
The drive through steamy Bangkok was fascinating - this vast city also deserved more time, but we were birding baby, not sightseeing.
Got to Oopalumpa Station to meet up with MIke Stocker, who despite losing his passport and missing the first half of the trip, had persevered, scored a new passport, got new flights and made the long journey out on his own to meet us for the trip north.
Well done Mike. Respect.
Not sure who advised him on appropriate head gear for Thailand, but his birding skills were as sharp as ever, and a handy boost for the tired, dusty and mighty thirsty remainder of the unit.
We toasted our reunion with big boy strong Chang at the station before boarding the "party train" north to Chiang Mai.
The narrow guage track clackety clacked through the night and arrived a few hours late the next day, but no one seemed to mind - oceans of Chang against a yellow smog sky meant the train lived up to its nickname, although the grisly details are probably best left undisclosed.
Mr Hunt had his party pants on quicker than the conductor could shout "tickets please".
Bizarrely they were not his pants - it was that kind of night.
Here's what it looks like when everyone has gone to sleep or fallen over - at about 0400.
Doi Inthanon and the mountains of the north beckoned.
Clickety click, clackety clack.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...
Khao Yai list
Great Hornbill, Abbott's Babbler, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Ashy Drongo, Scarlet Minivet, Hill Myna, Black Drongo, Radde's Warbler, Plain Prinia, Bright Headed Cisticola, Siberian Stonechat, Large Billed Crow, Common Kingfisher, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Chestnut Flanked White-eye, Ashy Minivet, Grey Wagtail, Greater Flameback, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Yellow Browed Warbler, Sulphur Breasted Warbler, White Tailed Warbler, Two Barred Greenish Warbler, Laced Woodpecker, Small MInivet, Large Woodshrike, Blue Winged Pitta, Moustached Barbet, Chinese Pond Heron, Ashy Woodswallow, Siberian Stonechat, Brown Shrike, Golden Fronted Leafbird, Asian Koel, Puff Throated Bulbul, Siberian Blue Robin, Bar Winged Flycatcher Shrike, White Crested Laughing Thrush, Eared Pitta, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Orange Headed Thrush, White Rumped Shama, Radde's Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Streak Eared Bulbul, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Barn Swallow, Common Myna, Openbill Stork.