Where to see animals in Thailand

Thailand may be more famous for its beaches and temples, but it is an incredible place for wildlife too. There is a vast array of animals in Thailand, on land and underwater. National parks in Thailand are home to a range of animals, including Asian elephants, gibbons, sunbears and even tigers – although they are not commonly seen. There is a lot of birdlife, including many species of hornbill, as well, of course, as reptiles, amphibians and Kris’ favourite, insects. It’s a great place to do safaris in Asia.

For more on African safaris, read our post on safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park during our trip around Uganda.

This post will give you a round up of some great places to see wildlife in Thailand, from us and other bloggers. Hopefully, you’ll get some inspiration.

Thailand is a great place for wildlife watching so we take you through the places to see animals in Thailand, not only national parks in Thailand but also Thailand wildlife in cities and underwater. #Thailand #Thaiwildlife #Thailandnationalpark

Animals in National Parks in Thailand

Umpang Wildlife Complex

Contributor: Margarita Steinhardt from The Wildlife Diaries

Um Phang wildlife sanctuary is part of the 18,730-sq km Western Forest Complex that straddles two countries, Thailand and Burma and contains National Parks in Thailand, as well as Wildlife Sanctuaries.

The complex protects the largest breeding population of Indochinese tiger, as well as Indochinese leopard, Clouded leopard, Sun bear, Asiatic black bear, Malayan tapir, Indian elephant, gaur and a wide array of more common species.

While most of these species are very difficult to spot, a three-day tour to Um Phang Wildlife Sanctuary from the city of Mae Sot provides a good opportunity to get a taste of the area’s biodiversity.

A typical tour involves a day of rafting through pristine jungle along Mae Klong River, camping in the forest, hiking to the stunning Tilawsu waterfall, and spending the second night in the tribal Kho Ta village.

Green whip snake

While rafting along the river, keep an eye out for the endangered Lar gibbons, macaques and squirrels. The birds you are most likely to spot along the river are White-throated kingfishers, Blue-eared kingfishers, Green bee-eaters and Spangled drongos are common near the water.

You might also spot a few species of Hornbills here. All six species have been recorded in the area.

The first night in the forest is a good opportunity to look for the endangered Bumblebee bat. Also known as the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, it is the smallest bat and arguably the smallest mammal on earth. If you see something that looks like a super-fast moth, this is it. These tiny creatures only occur in the narrow band of habitat along the Thai-Burmese border.

Khao Yai National Park

Contributed by Christa from Expedition Wildlife.

Khao Yai National Park is a rainforest gem located only three hours north
of the bustling city of Bangkok. The national park is extensive, stretching for hundreds of kilometers all the way to Cambodia with contiguous tracts of forest perfect for plenty of Thai wildlife to roam.

Elephants in Khao Yai National Park Thailand. one of the easiest National Parks in Thailand to visit
Elephants in Khao Yai National Park Thailand

The wildlife viewing opportunities abound in Khao Yai, which is easiest to see when accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide, such as Guide Jay through Tontan Travel. Patience and persistence are key, as the jungles are vast and dense.

On a one-day visit to the Park, it is possible to see a wide variety of animals in Thailand over one hundred bird species, including Great Hornbills, White-handed Gibbons, Macaques, Water Dragons, Otters, Barking Deer, and Black Giant Squirrels. Even more rare, but not impossible to see, are Asian Elephants, Sun Bears, and Dhole.

White handed gibbon in Khao Yai National Park one of the awesome animals in Thailand
White handed gibbon in Khao Yai National Park

Whether you decide to go with a guide or not, take the time to walk one of the many trails, and spend lots of time at the giant fig tree pull-off just ten minutes into the main Park entrance. Fig trees are the ultimate location to spot all variety of birds and mammals during fruiting time!

If not going with a tour guide, a car is necessary to visit the prime wildlife destinations in the park. The best place to base yourself when visiting Khao Yai is the Pak Chong District, which has a train and bus station serviced from Bangkok and has a wonderful night market in the middle of town.

Vans leave Mochit New Van Terminal in Bangkok at least twice daily for less than €10 per person one-way, and they tend to be faster than the train. We recommend printing out your tickets and itinerary with full Thai addresses and phone numbers in the event you need assistance getting around.

We found everyone incredibly helpful, including helping us call our guide or hotel to ensure we would be getting to the right place. Guides are often able to pick up and drop off visitors directly from Pak Chong station as well, so consider this when booking a tour. Plan for an extra day or two to head to Khao Yai National Park, and experience this wildlife haven in Thailand!

Kris and I have also visited Khao Yai National Park, and we have a post with lots of advice on how to visit Khao Yai.

Khao Sok National Park

Contributed by Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles

With 48 species of mammals, more than 300 species of birds and even more reptiles and insects, there’s no arguing Khao Sok National Park is one of the best places to spot wildlife in Thailand. The jungle in this region is the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, and with majestic limestone rock formations set against water, this park truly a special place.

One of the best ways to experience Khao Sok is to stay in floating bungalows over Cheow Lan Lake. This will put you smack dab in the middle of nature, and you’ll have the best chances of seeing animals.

Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok, one of the national parks in Thailand

This virgin jungle is home to rare animals like Malayan sun bears, wild elephants, leopards, and tigers, though we were not lucky enough to spot them during our visit. But that doesn’t mean we left without any wildlife encounters… Around sunset, we went on a “boat safari” where our guide brought the boat into nooks and crannies of the jungle and told us to listen. He pointed out gibbons and exotic birds. We saw bats and wild boar. And he even pointed out a matted down spot in the grass where he said he thinks wild elephants sometimes congregate.

Frog in Ko Sok National Park, Thailand, one place to see animals in Thailand
Lizard in Khao Sok National Park

If you love nature and want to see a side of Thailand that hasn’t yet been spoiled by tourism, Khao Sok National Park should be at the top of your list. A visit to this pristine jungle will surely be a highlight of your trip!

If you are interested in seeing wildlife, you will be interested to know how we halved the price of a typical trip to Uganda, including gorilla and chimp trekking. Read more in our post on our Uganda trip costs.

Kaeng Krachan National Park

As Khao Yai and Khao Sok, another National Park in Thailand that we visited was Kaeng Krachan. Kaeng Krachan National Park is a little further off the typical tourist trail, but it’s well worth visiting, especially if you are a birder. There are great hornbills there, as well as over 450 other species of birds, and many mammals, including dusky langurs. There are evergreen and deciduous forests, spectacular waterfalls, and a reservoir.

Dusky langur in Kaeng Krachan national park
Dusky langur

We spent a very enjoyable couple of days birdwatching and camping in the National Park, and our guide showed us some incredible Thailand wildlife.

You can read more about how to visit Kaeng Krachan in our blog post. Before you head there, check which parts are open, because the top campsites are currently closed to the public.

Animals in Thailand in cities

The Monkeys of Lopburi

Contributed by Allan Wilson from Live Less Ordinary

When you think of wildlife in Thailand, you don’t really think of the cities. And when you think of wildlife in cities, you can only think of tortured animals held behind bars. But in the ancient capital of Lopburi, it is the humans who are found behind bars, with secured windows, balconies and shop fronts, as it is the monkeys that run wild and boundless through the streets and buildings of Lopburi’s old town.

Lopburi monkeys running around the town, cool Thailand animals

But it is a somewhat symbiotic relationship, where the town at least benefits from a bit of tourism from the monkey’s notoriety and the monkeys are honoured with a massive feast of fruit during the annual Lopburi Monkey Festival. Otherwise, the monkeys are just well-known to steal pretty much anything they can get their paws on.

The macaques are found mostly in the grounds of the ancient Khmer temple of Prang Sam Yot, aka Lopburi Monkey Temple, which is where the mischievous macaques preside. And, while I would forever recommend a visit to the temple, I would also advise to not wear loose clothing, or to bring belongings inside. This will just attract the attention, and likely groping, and theft, by the monkeys around the temple, and I wouldn’t stand still either, as there’s a good chance that they will climb all over you.

Monkeys in Lopburi, Thailand wildlife in cities as well as the countryside

But the temple is no doubt a fascinating site to explore, and the juxtaposition between wildlife and local life in Lopburi is completely unique to these central parts of Thailand.

To reach the city as well from Bangkok, it is only a short 2-3 hour journey, making it an easy overnight trip by either train, or bus, or minivan from Bangkok’s city centre.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

As this list makes all too clear, there are plenty of places to see wildlife in Thailand. But Elephant Nature Park, which is located approximately 37 miles from the city of Chiang Mai, is the rare Thailand tourist attraction that allows visitors to give back to the animals they dearly love every time they visit. 

Founded by Dr. Sandeun “Lek” Chailert in 1996, Elephant Nature Park is a 250-acre sanctuary primarily devoted to rescuing Asian Elephants. With around 40+ members (including several babies), the park’s herd includes disabled, orphaned, and blind Elephants. Many of these gentle giants were rescued from the abusive treatment they received in the logging, street begging, and tourism industries.

Lek grew up in a small hill tribe village a few hours north of Chiang Mai, and was shocked by the treatment of Elephants she witnessed while working with trekking companies after college. So she created Elephants Nature Park and the non-profit Save Elephant Foundation, which works to rescue, rehabilitate, and advocate for the rights of Elephants and other animals throughout Asia. 

Lek Chailert at the Elephant Nature Park

From restoration of crucial habitat in the Indo–Burma Forest and the Erawan Elephant Retirement Project to establishing new Elephant sanctuaries in Cambodia and Myanmar, SEF has established itself as one of the leading wildlife conservation organizations on the continent.

Now, with a loving home, plenty of room to roam, and much-needed medical care, these Elephants have been given a chance to live out their lives surrounded by peace and love. Elephant Nature Park also offers unique volunteering opportunities that allow visitors to feed, interact with, and even bathe these magnificent creatures. You’ll also see other rescued creatures on the property, from cats and dogs to a variety of domesticated farm animals.

To be clear, you should never ride an Elephant, and there are other sanctuaries in Thailand that do not fit the true ethos of responsible travel. But Lek’s commitment to animal rights and wildlife conservation make Elephant Nature Park a bucket list dream destination for wildlife lovers.  

Whale watching from Bangkok

You might be surprised to hear that you can go whale and dolphin watching from Bangkok, but there are Bryde’s Whales in the Gulf of Thailand and you can go on a boat trip from Bangkok to see them. Wild Encounters Thailand run full day trips on their boat, with their excellent expert staff to explain the biology and behaviour of the animals.

Brydes whale and calf we saw while whale watching - incredible Thailand wildlife
Bryde’s whales in The Gulf of Thailand

We did this trip on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago and it was excellent. We saw Bryde’s whales and Irrawaddy dolphins on our trip. You can read more about it in our post Whale Watching in the Gulf of Thailand

Pink River Dolphins in Thailand

Irrawaddy dolphins are also known as pink river dolphins and there are also trips to see them from Khanom, a town in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. River dolphins is perhaps a slightly misleading name, as they live in the sea, but tend to spend the most time around river mouths and estuaries. They don’t look very pink either.

Irawaddy dolphin in the Gulf of Thailand - taken by Wild Encounter Thailand crew
Irrawaddy dolphin

You can arrange a tour to see the pink dolphins from Khanom. This post tells you more, as well as their recommendation for the tour.

Thailand wildlife underwater

Diving on Koh Tao

Contributed by Louis Smith from The Northern Boy

Do you want to jump in and explore one of the best and cheapest dive locations in the world – Koh Tao? Diving on Koh Tao is a diver’s dream. With clear waters, stunning fish and awesome colourful coral. Koh Tao is one of the best locations to dive in the world.

We were backpacking in Thailand and stumbled across the amazing diving experience in Koh Tao. We couldn’t believe how cheap it is. You can do a fun dive here for less than $60. Also, travellers from all over the world come to Koh Tao to get their PADI licence, just because how cheap it is. Divers can get fully teacher certified in Koh Tao for less than $650, crazy.

We spent a full day doing 3 fun dives in Koh Tao and we had an amazing day. Let’s look at some of the amazing things we saw;

  • Coral – The coral is amazing and you will see many rainbow colours on your underwater adventure. You must never touch the coral reef!
  • Fish – I love exploring the underworld and Koh Tao is a perfect place for it. There is endless amounts of different fish you will see and there is no certainty as to what fish you will see in any of the dive locations in Koh Tao. Which makes it even more exciting.
Diving in Ko Tao to see the underwater wildlife in Thailand

We got to meet people from all over the world whilst diving in some of the best locations we had seen in Asia. Cannot wait to go back to the amazing island of Koh Tao, Thailand.

Snorkeling in Ao Sane beach in Phuket

Contributed by a Lithuanian couple, Kristina and Andrius from Katrippin.

Do you like marine life and have a bit of spare time in Phuket, Thailand? Then wait no further and head straight to Ao Sane beach in the south-west for the best snorkelling experience in Thailand!

Anenome fish in Phuket

Ao Sane beach is quite remote and is not known by many so I would recommend renting a scooter or hopping into a taxi to get there. If you are using a taxi service, make sure you have it tagged on your mobile map application. Showing it to the driver will give you additional confidence you are getting where you want!

Once in Ao Sane beach you will notice a small dive shop and a couple of restaurants right on the beach. Feel free to wander around and find a spot that you like but keep in mind this is the best entry point for snorkellers as shallow corals make it difficult to enter the water further down the

Once you get yourself into the water turn right and swim along the coast. This is where the majority of the fish are hiding! I love this snorkelling spot as due to shallow corals you can get really close and personal with the marine life. A quick word of caution: stepping on corals is damaging to the aquatic life and is very dangerous as sharp edges pierce through the skin easily. Avoid any contact with the marine life and you are 100% guaranteed to have a fantastic snorkelling experience.

Most of the time you will be able to see curious Surgeon fish, graceful Banner and Butterfly fish, colourful Parrot fish and Trigger fish, various kinds of sea stars and even the world famous Nemo!

coral reef in Phuket, home of some animals in Thailand

Remember the little dive shop on the coast of Ao Sane beach I mentioned earlier on? If you feel adventurous these guys offer reasonably cheap scuba diving sessions for both newbies and experienced divers. Talk to one of the guys in the shop to find out more.

Have you visited other wildlife in Thailand? If, so, we’d love to hear from you.

Hopefully, this has inspired you to add some Thailand wildlife watching to your trip, and to check out some of the amazing animals in Thailand there are to see. We’ve lived in Thailand twice, and visited many more times, and we’ve got lots of posts on Thailand on this blog.

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Thailand is a great place for wildlife watching so we take you through the places to see animals in Thailand, not only national parks in Thailand but also Thailand wildlife in cities and underwater.

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5 Responses

  1. How incredible! It is true that I didn’t immediately associate Thailand with such a variety of animals – just elephants elephants really – but you certainly discovered some wonderful places and saw some beautiful things. Not too sure about that rather evil looking Green whip snake though! #FeetDoTravel

  2. Great to hear about so much biodiversity and wildlife parks even fairly close to Bangkok! Pinning this post for use when I visit Thailand! #FeetDoTravel

  3. Shona says:

    Great info. I’ll be using this on my next Thailand trip. I lived in Bangkok for a couple of years & had no idea about the whale watching. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Philip Moren says:

    Great post! Please note that Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai no longer allows visitors to bathe elephants.

  5. Pete says:

    thanks for your post..new ideas for next trip to Thailand..

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