About Phu Khiao
Known for one of the best wildlife spots in Thailand, Phue Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary covers 1,560 km² in Chaiyaphum Province in Western Isaan Complex. The sanctuary is adjacent to 3 other protected areas; Nam Nao National Park to north, Tat Mok National Park to west and Ta Bao-Huai Yai Wildlife Sanctuary to south-west.
The forests comprises mixed deciduous forests and dipterocarp forests with some semi-evergreen forests below 800 meters asl, the higher elevations are mainly hill evergreen forests covering 55% of the sanctuary. There are also some minor grassland areas and lakes within the sanctuary. The higher elevations at around 900 meters asl consists of a plateau and sandstone mountains surrounded by limestone outcrops.
According the sanctuary's own brochure, there are 111 species of mammals, 419 species of birds, 45 species of amphibians, 110 species of reptiles and 76 species of fish recorded in the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is one of best locations for bigger mammals in Thailand. The most common ones around headquarters area hog deer which are re-introduced in the sanctuary, sambar deer, red muntjac, porcupine and golden jackal. Other relatively common species accross the sanctuary are long-tailed macaques, elephants, Phayre's Langur, white-handed gibbon, black giant squirrel and variable squirrels. The sanctuary is also home to an important population of gaurs, about 10-20 tigers, leopard, Assam macaque, rhesus macaque, Asian black bear, Indochienese serow, clouded leopard, dhole, marbled cat, leopard cat and many others. One very interesting mammal sighting confirmed lately is the yellow-bellied weasel.
There are over 400 bird species recorded in the sanctuary. Some of regular and interesting sightings are Siamese fireback, golden crested myna, sultan tit, blue pitta, red-billed blue magpie. There was a group of re-introduced green peafowls which didn't survive the predators. There are no more green peaforls in the sanctuary as claimed by some sources. Other very interesting birds are; sarus crane, globally endangared white-winged duck, white-rumped falcon, Austen's brown hornbill, great hornbill, mountain scops owl, oriental bay owl.
Western Isaan Forest Complex
Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary is part of Western Isaan Forest Complex including three other national parks and four wildlife sanctuaries covering 4,594 km² all together.
The protected areas within the complex are;
- Nam Nao National Park
- Tat Mok National Park
- Phu Pa Man National Park
- Phu Kradueng National Park
- Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary
- Pha Phung Wildlife Sanctuary
- Phu Pha Daeng Wildlife Sanctuary
- Taboa Huai Yai Wildlife Sanctuary
The rules for wildlife sanctuaries are stricter than national parks. Sanctuaries are not for typical tourists, a written permission must be obtained from DNP headquarters in Bangkok to enter most areas. Permission will be given to researchers and people who wish to study the nature for various purposes. Although there is no guarantee, it happens that people are allowed to enter Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary without a pre-written permission if the reason for the visit explained convincingly. Tourists with pure passion for wildlife can only move around headquarters areas where there are few trails and a big grassland area.
The best time to visit the park for mammal sighting is when there is little water across the sanctuary, easy to spot various animals seeking water on ponds, water streams and lakes. March to April is traditionally always driest period, but due to climate changes the drier periods tends to start earlier than March and could continue beyond May. November to February can also be rewarding but during the rainy period a lot of effort needed to see uncommon mammals.
Visitors are allowed to move around the HQ area on few limited areas on their own. There are many trails on all directions, visitors will be briefed about what trails they can walk on their own. Visitors are advised to respect the rules as a quite experienced Thai citizen recently got lost on one of the trails and found alive 14 days later. The only reason he survived was because he had good knowledge about edible plants, fruit trees and some basics about survival. A ranger must be accompanied on certain trails for a good reason, it costs only up to 500-600 Baht for a day's hiking with a ranger. Researchers can be taken to remote places with overnight stay but all equipment, including tent and food/water is not provided, guests must be prepared with all sort of logistics.
There is very limited reception for mobile, only around headquarters area and seemingly only through one provider; AIS. The mobile data (Internet) connection is relatively good through AIS.
There are no public transportations to the HQ area. Visitors are recommended to get there with their own transport only, be advised that motorbikes not allowed inside the reserve.
Getting to the sanctuary is very straight forward, whether coming from Nam Nao direction from n/w or from Khon Khaen direction from east along highway 12, keep an eye on signposts to Chulaphorn Dam and turn to route 2055 in Khon San Town by following signposts to the dam. If you need to fill the fuel tank it is recommended to visit one of many petrol station in Khon San, there are couple of LPG station 7-15 km towards Khon Khaen as well. There is a smaller Tesco Lotus market and few 7-Evelen shops along the road near the junction if you need to buy anything before heading to the sanctuary. Once on the road towards the sanctuary/dam, drive straight ahead all the way. At one point ignore a signpost "Phu Khieo" to left which is an alternative road to the town. Following the signposts to Chulaphorn Dam and Phue Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary for nearly 40 km will take you to the main sanctuary checkpoint on your left site near a police outpost, signposted well and within sighting range. The headquarters is another 23.5 km away. The road is paved all the way to the headquarters, no 4WD needed unless you are planning to visit some remote areas in the sanctuary.
The checkpoint is open daily from 8:30am till 16:00pm. Entrance fee is 200 Baht for foreigners and 20 Baht for Thai citizens, 30 Baht for vehicles. The rainy season is from May to October, cold season is November to February and dry season from March to April.
There is a camping ground in HQ area, but no tents available for rent. Visitors need to take their own tent with them. There are number of bungalows that can be pre-booked, or if available arranged on spot. There is no fixed price on bungalows, visitors asked to pay what they think is worth. We recommend paying with support of wildlife conversation in mind, not by judging the quality of stay which is quite poor.
There is only one restaurant in HQ area but it is only for sanctuary staff and researchers. Researchers needs to inform and order in advance so that enough meals can be cooked, 75 Baht per person and meal (2016 price).
Attractions of Phu Khiao
A big grassland area nearby headquarters where visitors are allowed to visit on their own, a good spot to see some mammals. Hog deer can be seen there any day, sambar deer and red muntjac are other common sightings. Golden jackals can be seen visiting the area during late afternoon quite often, other possible sightings are elephant, wild boar and other smaller mammals.
The area is surrounded with coniferous and evergreen forest in most directions, the headquarters end is swamp with few ponds and 3 watchtowers at the forest edge behind the headquarters.
A lake where the very rare and endangered white-winged duck can be seen. A 5 km long hiking accompanied by a ranger required to get there, overnight stay may be needed. For overnight stay, visitor must take with them their own tent and food.
The Amazing Pool
A small pond only couple of hundred meters into a trail nearby bungalows. The pond has a smaller wooden bird hide for birders, only few birders can use this hide and a slot must be pre-booked in advance. The hide is very popular among the birders.