Along with the excellent aquarium, the aviary is another of our favourite spots in the vast Chiang Mai zoo. It’s actually one of the older parts of the zoo but was completely renovated in 2004 and now incorporates 2.5 acres of a steep valley on the lower slopes of Doi Suthep. Indeed the entirety of the small valley has been enclosed, including the cliffs to the side and a stream at its foot, which certainly gives the 800 or so birds plenty of room to manoeuvre within.
The original vegetation — probably a mixture of dry dipterocarp forest on the slopes and mixed deciduous by the stream — has been replaced by a lush, more ‘jungly’ flora so natural it isn’t, but a great tropical park it is.
It makes for a very pleasant spot for a stroll and you’ll usually have the place pretty much to yourself, too. Despite it being one of their best and oldest attractions, and covering such a large area, it is surprisingly difficult to find. It’s badly signposted and not adjacent to either the overhead railway or ‘bus’ stops. The aviary entrance, located at the lower end of the valley, is actually only a 5- to 10-minute walk from the main zoo gates; head for the pandas and take the right fork opposite. There’s no extra entrance fee for the aviary, so once you’ve bought your zoo ticket you can head for the birds with empty pockets.
Apart from the great setting and sumptuous vegetation the aviary of course has a lot of birds too! We weren’t quite sure what they all were, since most seemed to be African and South American rather than native Thai species, but there were plenty of brightly coloured and rather squawky things that looked like variations on a parrot theme and seemed very at home among the tropical flora.
If you are interested there are plenty of explanatory signs, in both Thai and English, which are really good for impressing your friends. Discreetly look at the sign out of the corner of your eye, walk on a few yards, then say, “Oh look at that neat Violet Turaco up there!”
You’ll also see plenty of larger birds formatted for the stream environment: ibis, flamingos, storks and even this rather large spot-billed pelican. Most of these are to be found in Southeast Asia (well apart from the flamingos) …
… plus lots of large, generally well-rounded varieties that seem to have been introduced with the sole purpose of standing in the middle of the path you want to take, forcing you to shoo them away and causing panic attacks in those who don’t like to get to up close to our feathered friends.
Don’t forget, of course, that you can do a spot of bird-watching in downtown Chiang Mai, too.
By Mark Ord.
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