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Thailand is one of the best destinations in South East Asia for wildlife and nature. There is so much nature to see in Thailand’s jungles, oceans, mountains, national parks and islands. Thailand has such a variety of different natural habitats that you can see wild elephants one day and scuba dive with whale sharks the next.
So, for the best places to see wild animals such as elephants, dolphins, whales, turtles, sharks, whale sharks, monkeys and more, continue reading my Thailand travel blog. I have recommended the best places for wildlife in Thailand, particularly ways to experience wild animals in their natural environment as I believe this is important for respecting the animals and ethical wildlife tourism.
Elephants in Thailand
The top wildlife that you can see in the jungle in Thailand are the wild elephants, in my opinion. Many travellers come to Thailand wanting to see elephants and many tourists end up seeing working elephants at questionable elephant camps where animal abuse can be rife. Luckily, travellers and backpackers are becoming increasingly aware of this elephant abuse and choosing better alternatives to elephant camps. Read here to see why you should never ride an elephant in Thailand. More sanctuaries where elephant riding is banned have opened up for tourists to have an ethical elephant experience. However, the best way to see elephants in Thailand is in their natural habitat, the jungles of Thailand.
Where to see Wild Elephants in Thailand
I think Khao Yao National Park is one of the best places to see wild animals in Thailand and the most common place to encounter wild elephants. They are amazing creatures and despite all the elephant sanctuaries in Thailand (ethical or not?), the jungle is where they truly belong and to have the opportunity to see Asian elephants in the wild, and not in chains or in a camp, is a unique animal experience that I would love more tourists to take advantage of. Paying National Park fees ensures that that protected areas like Khao Yai National Park will remain safe and ethical places to see animals like elephants.
Wildlife Safari in Thailand: See Wild Elephants in Khao Yai National Park
I strongly recommend the ethical wildlife safari called Greenleaf Tours as I thought they were fantastic and they have very knowledgeable guides and will even pick you up from Pak Chong, the town where the minivans from Bangkok arrive.
Want to visit the park independently? You can rent scooters from Pak Chong upon arrival from Bangkok and ride around 15 minutes until you get into the park. Like all National Parks in Thailand, you can camp overnight by renting equipment from the National Park office. Make sure to bring your own food.
Khao Yai is about 2 hours from Bangkok by minivan (approx. 180 baht) making it an ideal day or overnight trip from Bangkok.
Cost of Foreign Visitor – National Park fee (at time of writing) = 400 baht. Seeing wild elephants = priceless.
Thailand Travel Tip: For getting to Khao Yai National Park, take a minivan to Pak Chong from Bangkok Ekkamai Bus Station
Thailand Wildlife Fact: Elephants are seen as Thailand’s sacred animal. However, many elephants who are forced to work in elephant camps are subject to animal cruelty and animal abuse in Thailand. Read here for my recommendations on ethical elephant sanctuaries.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Snorkelling with turtles or scuba diving with turtles?
Seeing turtles when snorkelling or diving is definitely possible and you can have a good chance in some areas of Thailand. The island of Koh Tao is named after turtles although I have seen more when scuba diving around Koh Chang, Koh Phi Phi and around the Similan islands. The type of turtles that I have seen most frequently in Thailand are Hawksbill turtles.
For getting to the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui): book your transport here.
For travelling to Koh Phi Phi, book flights or a night bus to Krabi and then a ferry. You can book in advance using this website.
Koh Phi Phi Travel Tip: allow more time as the ferry has often taken longer than 2 hours for me.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Scuba Diving with Whale Sharks
The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean and are one of the best marine animals to see in Thailand. They are generally spotted around Chumpon Pinnacle near Koh Tao and occasionally around Koh Phangan. Richelieu Rock, above the Similan islands is the dive site where I was lucky enough to see my first one and most divers will tell you this is the best dive site in Thailand for whale shark spotting. Rainy season around Koh Tao and Koh Phangan sometimes brings more in and a few were spotted around June-July of this year (unfortunately not by me!)
Diving Thailand Tip: For dive trips to Richelieu Rock and the Similan islands, take a night bus to Khao Lak and book your diving in centres there. It can get busy so consider contacting a dive centre in advance to ensure your place.
Are there dangerous animals in Thailand?
Short answer – yes. There can be dangerous animals in Thailand particularly some species of snake so it it always advisable to enter national parks with a tour guide or stay on allocated paths when trekking in Thailand.
Dangerous Animals in Thailand: Monitor Lizards
These enormous monitor lizards can be found all over Thailand and even in Bangkok. They can grow up to a couple of metres. We regularly see them in Bangkok’s parks and have a good look when crossing over any canal as you can often see them swimming (and not what I thought was a crocodile on first glance!). They eat small birds and can climb trees. Despite many locals nonchalant attitude towards these massive lizards, they are actually extremely dangerous and their bite can be fatal to humans so do not approach them. If you want to see monitor lizards then visit Lumpini Park in Bangkok. It is home to many monitor lizards who are used to people wandering around the park and co-existing with us.
Thailand Wild Animal Fact: The nickname for a monitor lizard is an extremely rude swear word in the Thai language.
Where to see monkeys in Thailand?
There are monkeys all over Thailand and they range from shy to over-friendly with tourists depending om how they are treated in that area. In the National Parks they are treated as a wild animal and the monkeys are extremely shy and will steer clear of humans, whereas on crowded tourist islands like Monkey Beach in Koh Phi Phi, the monkeys are fed by people and therefore associate people with food and can be aggressive.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Monkeys
Thailand has a variety of different species of monkey. Macaques are probably the most common monkey that you can see on the mainland and also on some of the islands. They live in huge families so often where this is one, there are lots more. I love seeing them in Khao Yai National Park as they are still a respectful distance away from humans, whereas places like Lopburi you can see them but they can be aggressive and often steal items from visitors. I also heard some good advice once which was not to smile at monkeys – they see the act of baring your teeth as a threat.
Dusky Langur Monkeys – These monkeys are fairly rare but can be seen in various places around Thailand. I have personally seen them in Khao Sok National Park, Railay beach and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.
Thailand Animal Abuse: Be aware that monkeys should be in the wild and never pay for a photo with a ‘pet’ monkey as monkeys are treated as a tourist attraction. They often have their teeth removed, are wearing nappies and on chains. Read here for more things to avoid doing in Thailand
Wild Gibbons in Thailand
Gibbons are one of my favourite animals to spot and to hear in Thailand. You can often hear their distinct voices but catching a glimpse of these tree-top dwellers is more difficult. You can often hear gibbons calling to each other at dawn and dusk. After watching a documentary on them I discovered that when they mate for life, their mating calls develop and become more complex and have a wider range as years go by. I’ve spotted these in a few different national parks around the country such as in Khao Yai National Park and Khao Sok National Park.
Marine Life in Thailand: What sea animals are there in Thailand?
Thailand is home to a huge range of marine animals and it is the best destination to learn to scuba dive because of the cheap cost of open water courses. Thailand is home to the rare pink dolphin as well as spinner dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and passing Bryde whales in season.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Spot Wild Dolphins in the Sea
Dolphins will always remain an amazing animal to me, no matter how many times I go dolphin spotting and I love seeing them when I am not even expecting to. I was told that on boat trips to Koh Similan, dolphins were spotted on average twice a week during dry season (October-May). I have recently been to Nakhon SI Thammarat to go pink dolphin watching which was an incredible experience, read about how and where to see pink dolphins in Thailand here.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Go Whale Watching in Thailand
During the months of August-November, huge Bryde whales migrate to Thailand to feast on anchovies in the Gulf of Thailand. I went last year and was lucky enough to see around 5 whales including a mother and calf and they even swam around our boat while we were having lunch. I did the day trip from Bangkok with Wild Encounters who were very professional, extremely knowledgeable and answered all of my many questions about whales.
Dive and Snorkel with Sharks around Thailand
If you are a shark lover then definitely consider a shark watching trip either diving or snorkelling. Thailand is a great destination for budget dives and a high chance of seeing a variety of sharks. I have seen sharks around Koh Phi Phi and diving the Ao Nang islands near Krabi. I’ve spotted black tip reef sharks, bamboo sharks and once I was lucky enough to see a 3 metre leopard shark while diving in Koh Phi Phi. Thailand doesn’t have any dangerous sharks and some people think you have more chance of seeing them snorkelling than diving as the bubbles can scare them away. Some dive centres like the Adventure Club on Koh Phi Phi have a specific shark watching trip that I plan to try out in the future.
Travelling Thailand? Don’t forget these useful items!
- Gopro – essential for documenting all your adventures and underwater trips. Buy your GoPro HERO5 Black from Amazon here
- Gopro Red Filter for diving – unless you want all your photos to come out extremely blue. Buy a GoPro Blue Water Filter (HERO5 Black) (GoPro Official Accessory) from Amazon
- A completely waterproof Dry Bag (Blue, 5l) to keep all of your things dry when jumping on and off boats, or getting caught in sudden downpours in the jungle.
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