Doi Inthanon, October 2023

Pope’s pit viper

Trimeresurus popeiorum (M.A. Smith, 1937)

One of the most abundant snakes at higher elevation mountain ranges in Thailand, we encountered individuals up to 1, 700 metres above sea level.

A short 6 day trip to Doi Inthanon in north Thailand during my October half-term. This was my first time in this area of Thailand so almost all of the amphibians and reptiles I would encounter here would be lifers, which makes a nice change compared to my Phuket and Peninsular Thailand trips where I don’t see a new species very often these days.

Flying to Chiang Mai from Phuket is very straight forward and less than two hours later we were in our hire car and heading for the mountains. Another motivation for visiting Doi Inthanon was to enjoy a cooler climate compared to the constant heat and humidity of Phuket. Once we arrived at Mr Deang’s Inthanon Bird watching accommodation at around 1,600m we could already feel a noticeable difference compared to around Chiang Mai. Nighttime in particular was quite cool, with a low of around 16c. However, at the summit of the park (2,580m) it was around 13c in the middle of the day which was such a nice environment for walking compared to what we are used to in Thailand.

While many of the species here were new to us, we did miss out on a number of species restricted to the highlands and northern areas of the country. We took things rather easy most of the time without too much intense searching, so with that in mind I was pleased with the species we observed. Some highlights included a breeding spectacle of Fea’s flying frogs (Zhangixalus feae) around an artificial lake and the abundance of Pope’s pit vipers (Trimeresurus popeiorum) which were omnipresent at every site we visited. The much anticipated Chiang Mai crocodile newts (Tylototriton uyenoi) seemed to be mostly inactive, apart from one animal we rescued from a cistern and another we found sitting on the road one afternoon. We did not have the rain that we had hoped for and this no doubt limited some of our findings, although thankfully some very localised downpours late one night were sufficient to allow the previously mentioned flying frog spectacle.

Our time in and around the park was mostly enjoyable apart from a few things to mention. The best trail is closed from June- October which was disappointing for us as that is where we had hoped to find some cheeky frog targets. We also didn’t like how the park was only geared up to groups of people arriving en masse by taxi (mainly local or Chinese tour groups) and that the park had hardly any wildlife or nature focus whatsoever. You couldn’t even visit one part of the park with a perfectly good tarmac road in your own vehicle, instead you had to pay to go on the back of an organised pickup truck and were yelled at if you dared to approach the barrier in your own car. The main road was also extremely busy, very much à la Khao Yai on a bank holiday weekend. Numerous pancaked snakes were therefore a common sight. In the end, we enjoyed a number of places away from the park itself which had nice habitats, far less tourists and just as much wildlife. We also met a more friendly ranger who allowed us to revisit a pond to watch the giant flying frogs, after other rangers we had met were rather more passive aggressive: “You should leave now, some Japanese tourists got lost here.”

Thanks to Mr Deang and his family, especially Goong for her helpful hints along the way and to Ian Dugdale for sharing some locations.

Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand, home to a number of highland amphibian and reptile species.
Doi Inthanon
Red bamboo rat snake (Oreocryptophis porphyraceus) just hit by a bike.
Chiang Mai crocodile newt (Tylototriton uyenoi).
White-lipped horned frog (Megophrys major)
Pope’s pit viper (Trimeresurus popeiorum)
Fea’s flying frog (Zhangixalus​ feae)
2500m up and 13 degrees celsius.

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