Thailand's Chainat Bird Park is a tourist attraction, the implementation of which was first started in 1983 during the time when Mr. Kuson Sandtidtarm was the Governor of Chainat Province (from 1982 to 1984). At that time it was considered that if there would be development of tourist facilities in the province then there would be opportunity for tourists to visit Chainat and with it bring about increased first-rate local regional economic development. The project to construct the Chainat Bird Park began then and although the rate of development has diminished as the various facilities came to be developed, it nevertheless continues to be improved. The central area of the park was built on 50 rai (one rai equals 1,600 m2) of public land on the south foot of Phlong Mountain (Khao Phlong) located at Moo 4 Village, Khao Tha Phra Sub-District, Muang District, Chainat Province a distance of about 4 kilometres east from the centre of Chainat Town, the capital of the province. Chainat is located 195 km north of Bangkok along the Asia Highway that runs between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The front entrance to the Chainat Bird Park
|Between February 5 and 15, 1983 the province sent various provincial
government officers, all the members of the provincial legislature, and various
prominent businessmen from Chainat to the
Bird Park in Singapore. The purpose of this trip was to obtain data and
cooperation regarding problems in establishing and maintaining a large bird
park and aviary, and also convince high-ranking government officials that
establishing a bird park was a feasible project.
It is unfortunate that the project was not implemented and completed before Mr. Kuson became ill and passed away and he could have seen his dream of a world-class aviary come true. As replacement, Dr. Phairath Decharin become Governor of Chainat Province on May 1, 1984. Dr. Phairath immediately recognized the potential of the Chainat Bird Park project and began implmenting the project, using both government resources as well as assistance from the private sector.
Assistance even came from overseas and was provided by Singapore as ornithological information which was invaluable in keeping birds alive in huge aviaries as well as information for developing the concept into a viable tourist attraction. According to the hsitorical records of the park engineering assistance for the development of the bird park's facilities was provided by Mr. Bob Vidoni from Canada who was requested by Dr. Phairath to come to live in Chainat during the first three years of the project. Mr. Bob assisted the Provincial Office of Public Works as well as the Provincial Administration Service Office with the design and construction management of a number of the large and more complicated structures in the park such as the main aviary, the night bird complex, the swimming pool, and the suspension foot-bridge.
One of the towers supporting the giant cage's netting.
|When the actual implementation of the project finally began under Dr.
Phairat, the location of the bird park was nothing more than a huge laterite
quarry at the base of Phlong Mountain. The steep, almost vertical south face
of the quarry rising about 100 metres up made an ideal location to attach
a huge net draped over a series of large, steel towers, and then down to
the ground, in effect creating a cage so big that people strolling inside
could hardly notice it and even large birds could fly about freely as if
in a natural forest. This became Asia's largest enclosed aviary.
The planning for the bird park required considerable diplomatic dealings with various parties who had interest in the lands, the project or could be affected by the development. A large number of families squatted on the land slated to be the park. It was resolved to relocate the 100-plus families to a brand-new village with housing and other amenities provided by the provincial authorities for them on the west side of Phlong Mountain. Mr. Bob assisted the provincial government to design and construct a large water reservoir in front of the village. This structure was stocked with fish to provide food for the villagers and it also acts as a water supply for domestic use and for irrigation of villagers' vegetable plots. The large reservoir also provides recreation in the form of fishing and swimming for the local people in the sub-district.
The area of the quarry was enlarged to incoporate the land between the foot of Phlong Mountain all the way to Phaholyothin Road that passes by the park. This road is the main highway between Chainat and the Asia Highway, the latter running the length of Thailand from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The big excavations in the quarry were made into large ponds which were landscaped to simulate a natural setting. In addition to acting as water reservoirs for the water to be used in the park's garden and for the birds, they also create an amenable natural atmosphere and provide recreation for the park's visitors. The large ponds also attract free-flying birds to the park, particularly water fowl, many of which nest in the trees and around the water's edge and live in the park. In total, the whole park covers 260 rai or about 0.42 km2. The park is divided into two parts: the huge aviary and the outside, natural park area which includes numerous smaller cages containing birds which cannot be put together with the free-flying birds in the huge aviary. Such birds include predatory birds which would kill the other birds for food, or birds whose environmental requirements are different from the general bird population in the cage.
Phlong Mountain is a component of the park that is none other than natural. Parts of the area were set aside and improved and left as forested areas. What was beautiful was set aside to become treed slopes and surfaces. This creates shade throught the park area and up the mountainside. A quiet, peaceful, treed atmosphere reaches throughout the whole park area.
Although not a truly natural waterfall, it was constructed to look and behave like the real thing. Water is pumped a way up Phlong Mountain to a height of about 50 metres where an artificial ledge was excavated at the top of the steep quarry side. The water is then allowed to cascade down the side providing a feature that enhances the beauty of the bird park. The water originates from the main artificial pond located within the bird park and returns to the pond.
Four large ponds are located within the bird park. Although appearing to be natural ponds, the are in fact the park's water resources and provide sustence for all life in the park, particularly during the dry season.
A part of the original area, that is, which is steep and hilly has been planted with trees that flower as well as simple, ordinary green trees. This helps create beautifully colourful scenery in the park.
Giant Bird Cage
This huge bird cage was constructed to provide a large enclosure in which all species of birds could be kept together to live freely in a natural environment.
|The cage is formed from a huge sheet of special netting draped from the
top of the escarpment of Phlong Mountain, over a series of tall steel towers,
thence down to anchors in the ground. It covers an area of 30 rai (48,000
m2) to a height of 24 metres.
It is the most important structure constructed in the Chainat Bird Park and there is no other bird cage larger in all of Asia. Construction of the cage started in July 1986 by Mr. Phisan Mulasasathorn.
The first part covering an area of 20 rai was completed on January 24, 1987 when the deputy Minister of the Interior came to celebrate the official completion of that part of the structure. By 1995 another 10 rai in area was completed.
|Within the cage gardens and a small forest were planted to provide an
natural environment for many species of birds released into the cage to live
in a near-natural setting. Free to fly about, nest and live, even large storks
and pelicans hardly notice they are inside this huge structure. This provides
visitors to the park with an opportunity to observe the myriad birds in a
near-natural setting. At the same time the large vegetation provides pleasant
shade from the burning sun.
In addition to the giant cage, the Chainat Bird Park also has more than 50 other separate large, medium and small cages contain many more birds in addtion to those in the giant cage and those attracted to the external park.
The cages serve to separate those species of birds that cannot live together such as eagles, hawks and nocturnal birds which are housed in a separate structre designed and constructed by Mr. Bob and which is called the Nocturnal Bird Aviary
Nocturnal Bird Aviary
The Chainat Bird Park's nocturnal bird aviary located against the foot of Phlong Mountain
|The nocturnal bird aviary is a reinforced concrete structure that consists
of thin-shelled roofs and arches and is completely dark inside. Although
Mr. Bob carried out the structural design and managed the construction, the
architectural work was carried out by a local architect residing in Chainat.
The main hall within rises to a height of 11 metres above the ground and
the half-dome has a diameter of 15 metres.
Inside this structure, daytime is artificially created during the night and nighttime is created during the day when visitors come to visit the park. Dark blue lighting, which is invisible to the owls and other nocturnal birds, allow visitors to view the birds while they fly about and go about their "nighttime" activities. This structure was completed in 1989.
This open hall in reality is at the end of a peninsula that juts out into the middle of the largest pond within the Chainat Bird Park. It is for providing a place to rest and get out of the son for visistors to the park. It also serves as a place for ceremonies as well as a meeting place for the bird park managerial committee which regularly meets every Tuesday.
Built on the summit of Phlong Mountain's escarpment at the same altitude as the top of the artifical waterfall, it can be reached by a road that extends from the large pathways winding through the park. It provides visitors to the bird park a place to enjoy the view from above and see the bird park in its entirety.
This is one of the main features located within the giant cage, the net roof of which spans high enough, with room to spare, to accommodate the tall reinforced concrete bents supporting the main cables of the suspension bridge. Designed and constructed by the Chainat Provincial Office of Public Works with the assistance of Mr. Bob Vidoni, this bridge allows visitors to have an opportunity to properly experience the natural ambience within the huge cage from a higher perspective. The suspended walk way is 12 metres above the ground and 80 metres long.
According to the provincial records this public swimming pool apparently was also designed and constructed with the assistance of Mr. Bob, who had worked as a life guard in Canada prior to coming to Chainat and had experience in such matters. Located within the bird park, it is a standard 25-metre short-course pool and is used both for training as well as for swim meets. The pool is regularly open for use by members of the bird park as well as for visitors. This is the first such modern swimming pool constructed in Chainat Province and it features water disinfection and proper high-rate sand filtration facilities.
This is a privately operated feature of the Chainat Bird Park to add to the tourist attractions as well as to create employment opportunities for Chainat Province's snake handlers. Within the area of the snake park is a snake pit in which snakes are raised. Various king cobras and other vipers as well as pyhtons and large constrcting snakes can be viewed. The snake handlers cleverly handle the large, dangerous serpents without being harmed. However, there is also opportunity provided to learn about snakes, their life cycles and natural habitats.
At the front of the Chainat Bird Park is a large former warehouse that has been converted to the park's offices and which contains a large souvenir shop containing souvenirs of the park as well as crafts, textiles, fruit and other food products and other items produced in Chainat Province.
A large cage 29 metres long and 14 metres wide contains numerous rabbits which are allowed to freely do their thing. Built to provide as natural a setting as possible for the rabbits, it is another feature that forms an attraction for visitors to the park, particularly children.
Paddle boats are available for visitors to the Chainat Bird Park so that they can paddle around in the largest of the ponds and experience the natural ambience from an aquatic perspective, surrounded by the cries of waterfowl attracted to the park's ponds.
|A little, rubber-tired train with a small locomotive and several wagons plies the paths winding throughout the park. It provides a special service for visitors and allows them to appreciate the wide 260 rai area within the park without getting tired. On board is a tour guide that points out features of interest and explains them. Unfortunately her English is quite poor and the talk is usually in Thai, nevertheless it still is fun and interesting to take the ride. And certainly it is great fun for the kids.|
Chainat Bird Park Office
|Acting as the main entrance to the Chainat Bird Park to view and appreciate the many features in the park, it also provides office space for the park's officials and has a large room featuring a display of the park, its features and history. It also features a slide show room where relevant photographs are shown. It is here that adminssion tickets into the park can be purchased. Furthermore, the building houses shops featuring arts, craft, and products made in the homes, villages and towns throughout Chainat Province.|
A photo gallery of fowl housed in the Chainat Bird Park's giant cage:
The rare Nok Chao Fah Ying Sirindhorn
Chainat Province's main economic activity for most of its people has been the cultivation of rice, although there has been a some increase of small-scale industries, mainly around the provincial capital. Rice is grown about twice a year although in some areas that receive irrigation services it can be grown up to three times per year. Once the rice is threshed tons of straw are left over. In the past this straw was burned or converted to mulch. As such it held little value for farmers.
Since the time when the Chainat Bird Park was constructed a good deal of the tourism effort revolves around advancing the park as a place to visit. With the establishment of the Chainat Bird Park there have been a number of spinoffs which have directly and indirectly benefited farmers in Chainat Province, particularly those in Muang District. For some farmers the left-over straw has gained some value as it has use in an activity for which Chainat Province has become quite famous, particularly around Thailand--the Chainat Straw Bird Festival. This festival typically is held towrds the end of January or in early February and coincides with the week of the Lunar New Year. Huge life-like effigies of birds are constructed by the people of Chainat and put on display and judged. This activity comes replete with a parade through the provincial capital and ceremonies in front of the Provincial Buildings and, of course, the bird effigies afterwards are put on display in prominent places within the Chainat Bird Park. This has become a well-known annual event.
However, the idea of making bird effigies in Chainat Province did not come about directly. In 1985 the farmers of Huei Gnu Sub-District, Hankha District, Chainat used straw to construct large straw effigies of rats as part of the activities to support an project to annually rid the local rice fields of the pests. The tails of the captured rats were then put on display as mounds of rat tails beside the rat effigies. Associated with this local tradition was a small ceremony to which the Governor of Chainat at time, Dr. Phairat Decharin, was inviited.
Upon seeing the large straw effigies of the rats and being caught up in the merriment of the farmers it struck Dr. Phairat that perhaps bird effigies could similarly be made and the development of a tradition surrounding these effigies would complement the development of the Chainat Bird Park. He saw that the farmers of Hankha District could make straw effigies of all nature of animals, trees, and even people so he suggested they try making straw birds. This also seemed a good way to make use of the waste rice straw that otherwise would have been burned or left to rot.
At first making the straw birds was a little difficult, however technical support was provided by the Chainat Technical College. The elementary school education office constructed the first trial bird effigy which also acted as an example for others to follow. The frames for the effigies are constructed from bamboo and wire mesh on which is applied a thick skin of paper mache or plaster of paris and cloth. The leaves taken from palm trees are cut and shaped to resemble feathers and these are applied to give the birds a realistic look. Rice straw is also used in the same way. Together with other materials these are also put together to create the beautiful plumage that many birds in tropical areas have.
It was not long that perfect, life-like straw effigies were being produced by the people of Hankha District. The technology was provided to all the people of Chainat Province. Soon farmers and all the people in Chainat became enthusiastic about the idea and now annually become caught up in the events and construction of the giant bird effigies. All the various government, public and private offices and organizations became involved and now to produce their own birds as the competition in various classes to make the best birds is quite fierce.
The first Chainat Straw Bird Festival was helded from February 6 to February 12, 1986 to show the birds and to judge the best entries in a variety of classes. In all 130 different birds were entered that year. The second festival was held the following year, 1987, and it ran from January 24 to February 2 and 163 birds were entered. This second festival was a great success and it attracted a large number of visitors to the province which was estimated to have reached about 150,000 people. Chainat town alone at that time held an official population of only about 25,000 people. This brought in tourist revenues to the province of about 20 million Baht ($US=25 Baht in 1987). It also increased revenues of businesses in Chainat that were only indirectly connected to the straw bird festival and Chainat Bird Park as well as unrelated businesses. Today the Chainat Bird park a number of jobs for local people. Indirectly the tourist spin-offs--food, entertainment and souveniers and production of local crafts creates good employment generation for the province.
All sorts of groups from all village councils, through to sub-district, district and the various provincial offices, city hall and their offices, the police station, the fire hall, all the schools, businesses, and clubs and social organizations in Chainat Province now make the birds every year. These are entered into the annual straw bird festival which runs for about a week. The birds are then left on display afterwards in the Chainat Bird Park. Over time they fall in disrepair hence were it not for the annual straw bird festival they would eventually disappear.
Upwards of 200 of the giant straw bird effigies are made annually by the various groups in Chainat. The birds are extremely life-like except for their size, which invariably is huge, and they are a wonder to see for all.