When it comes to Thailand, your brain may rush to remind you of their beaches, rich food scene and the floating markets. But when visiting Thailand, not only can you see some truly unique animals, but even some endangered ones.
As Thailand has such a diverse natural environment, ranging from jungles to beaches and mountain peaks to marine life, there are many animals to get up close and personal with. With Thailand having some of the most varied in southeast Asia.
The national animal of Thailand is the elephant, with the animal playing a considerable part in Thailand’s history. The white elephant, in particular, has been a symbol of royalty for years and was also part of the Western white elephant gift exchange. Elephants have also helped win wars, and for a long time were put to work across Thailand.
In Buddhist history, the white elephant is also hugely important. On the eve of Buddha’s birth, his mother had a dream that she was given a lotus flower by no other than a white elephant.
Now, Thai people celebrated the elephant’s incredible strength, durability, and longevity, with them making a special appearance at festivals and events. If you’re hoping to see one, elephants can be found in and around jungles across Thailand. Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary and ethical sanctuary Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. However, most elephants take refuge in national parks due to the increase in poaching and logging.
Within Thailand, there are both zoos, sanctuaries and national parks. The main difference between zoos and sanctuaries is how they acquire their animals. A zoo might buy, sell, breed, or trade animals. At the same time, sanctuaries don’t capture animals from the wild but acquire those who can no longer survive in the wild. National Parks, however, are owned by the government with the aim to protect endangered animals and ecosystems.
Certain zoos in Thailand boast the chance to see amazing wildlife and offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences to get up close with an animal, but are in fact exploiting both the wild and domestic animals they have, so it is worth being careful and discerning with which you choose to visit. Not all are bad. For example, Khao Kheow Open Zoo where it is a cross between a forest and wildlife reserve park.
Khao Yai National Park is one of Thailand’s oldest rainforests and best national parks and only 4 hours away from Bangkok. You have the chance to see wild elephants, tigers, bears, snakes and gibbons, and even visit the bat caves if you visit.
Seeing an animal in its natural habitat will always give you the most authentic impression of an animal, especially when they are as unique and interesting as the ones below.
While lizards are prolific in Thailand, the Tokay Gecko is one you must see, although you’re more likely to hear one first. Making a call that sounds like “tokay”, these beautifully coloured creatures are a sight to behold.
Pic by Ansel.Ma
These noisy forest-dwellers are unmistakable with their white wing patch, which can be spotted when in flight. Their loud shrill call can often be heard and usually found in the North of Thailand around Doi Inthanon.
While predominantly seen in captivity, you may catch a glimpse of a tiger in the wild when visiting Thailand. With no two tigers having the same stripes using their coats to camouflage them against prey and them being great swimmers, tigers are understandably a must-see animal.
Found in many National Parks across Thailand, these amazing tree-swingers can cover a forest quickly. With speeds of up to 55km p/hour and even reaching as far as 15m. Their long coats vary from cream to brown to black. These tailless animals are quick but wonderful to see.
This small black bear can be found in Khao Sok National Park and one of the world’s smallest bears. They take their name from the bib-shaped golden or white patch on their chest and can weigh up to 150 pounds and grow to up to five feet.
Whale Sharks are harmless animals and can be found in many of Thailand’s waters. They can grow up to 12 metres in size and may have up to 300 teeth inside their heads, but oddly they don’t use these to eat.
Pic by Adam Tusk
Another animal you are likely to find in Khao Sok National Park is the Pangolin. This hard scaled animal tends to curl up into a ball when confronted and eat up to 70 million insects every year.
Diving is popular in Thailand, and while the animals living under the water are awe-worthy, you’ll never forget seeing one. Manta rays have two horn-shaped fins protruding from the front of their heads, and some even grow up to seven meters in length. The most notable place to see them is at the Similan Islands, where they reside for weeks at a time.
Growing up to two meters long, these black and yellow edged monitors have long necks and an elongated snout and are among the largest lizards to be found in Thailand. The best place to see this animal is at Bangkok’s Lumphini Park is famous for its water monitor population, where the lizards go about their business as usual.
Found all over Thailand, you may not need to go out of your way to spot this creature. They are one of few snakes which build nests for their eggs and grow in excess of five meters in length. While it may seem scary to meet one, they aren’t likely to attack unless threatened.
Pic by NOAA Photo Library
A lucky but amazing sight, if you see one, is the Bride’s Whale, which can be spotted when visiting the Gulf of Thailand’s northern waters. With them growing up to 40 to 55 feet in length, with males often smaller than females, these dark grey or blue animals are not to be missed when travelling to Thailand.
Pic by ronykr
Often found at the Kaeng Krachan National Park, the Dusky Leaf Monkey can only be found in Thailand, Malaysia or Myanmar. Born with bright coats, they slowly change to grey or black as they age. They also have well-developed fingers and opposable thumbs.
Pic by tontantravel
A rare animal to spot, but one not so easily forgotten, is the Siamese Crocodile. Growing up to 3.5 metres in length, these crocodiles reside at Pang Sida National Park or the Samut Prakarn crocodile farm outside of Pattaya. Unbeknown to humans, the Siamese Crocodiles construct burrows and feed mainly on small animals.
These animals are prolific at climbing trees and are often named a ‘bearcat’ for their resemblance. Interestingly, Binturongs have a very distinctive smell which is that of buttered popcorn. Usually shy, you may struggle to spot these, especially with how quickly they move between trees.
It didn’t seem right not to include one of Thailand’s most notable animals. Compared to other elephants, the Asian Elephant has smaller ears. They also keep in constant motion and can grow up to 6.4 metres in length. They can be seen at various National Parks, including Khao Yai National Park.
Visiting Thailand is something one must do at least once. Not only to visit the beaches, eat local delicacies but also to see their wildlife. With plenty of open spaces allowing you to see those who swing from trees or those that swim, there are more than just the fifteen amazing animals we’ve listed above. Thailand boasts the chance to spot many of them in their natural habitats, or if not, at least in protected conservations or National Parks. Ranging from big to small, furry to scales, which animal are you desperate to see when you visit Thailand?