In the heart of Southeast Asia is Thailand, a nation known as the Land of Smiles for its friendly, welcoming people. Many travelers spend time in cities like Bangkok or tropical islands like Phuket, but outside of these busier areas it is possible to find some incredible landscape and wildlife. Thailand is home to a wide range of animals, many of which can be spotted in their natural habitats as well as conservation areas and zoos. Animal lovers planning an exotic getaway will want to spot as many of these native animals in Thailand as possible on their upcoming trips.
Found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia is the sun bear, an animal that typically boasts jet black hair, a crest on the neck and slightly bowed legs. The sun bear is the smallest bear species, making it appear cute to those lucky enough to spot one, but these bears still have enormous teeth and a strong bite. Deforestation has cut down on the living space of sun bears, but they still roam in the wild in the Khao Sok National Park in Phanom District of Southern Thailand. Some hikers in the park report spotting the sun bears naturally, but guided tours can increase the likelihood of seeing these wonderful animals.
The Siamese crocodile is a freshwater species that, as the name suggests, is local to the region of Southeast Asia. Today, however, there are very few Siamese crocodiles still found in the wild, and the few that remain are located in Cambodia. Thailand, however, is fortunate enough to have a number of Siamese crocodiles under their care. A handful of young Siamese crocodiles have been released in the wild at the Pang Sida National Park, but these are rarely accessible by everyday travelers. At the Samut Prakarn crocodile farm outside of Pattaya, however, it is possible to see the reptile in captivity alongside as many as 60,000 other more common crocodiles.
The Tokay is a large species of gecko, and it is one that is native to Asia and to a select few Pacific islands. The Tokay gecko is known for its distinct vocalizations, after which the reptile is named. Although the Tokay gecko prefers to live in rainforest environments, it is not unusual to find one on the ceiling or shower walls of a hotel room in Thailand. These geckos are commonly spotted at night, and they will be quickly recognized by their blue skin covered in orange dots.
As the world’s longest venomous snake, the king cobra is both a revered and threatening animal to many. The king cobra is found in India and throughout Southeast Asia, and it prefers to live in dense highland forests. These long snakes are often found near water like lakes or streams. Although stumbling across a king cobra in the wild might appeal to some, others prefer to see their poisonous reptiles in a safer environment. The Bangkok Snake Farm is a zoo and venom research facility where enormous king cobras can be spotted with ease.
The incredible Crab-eating macaque is a primate that has some unusual characteristics as well as a unique society of its own. Crab-eating macaque have a female-dominated society, with the males leaving the group once they reach puberty. Some Thai people revere the crab-eating macaque as sacred, and there is more than one temple built to honor the primate. The macaque is sometimes also known as the swimming monkey because of the great lengths it will go to find fresh seafood! Crab-eating macaques can be found in multiple locations throughout Thailand, but none so fascinating as the village of Lopburi, where the monkeys roam the streets and coexist with humans.
The Indochinese tiger is a rare tiger species, and across the globe there are just 600 of these incredible animals remaining. Roughly 200 of them live in Thailand, where they tend to reside in tropical rainforests because the atmosphere is humid and they can better camouflage themselves. Most of the Indochinese tigers in Thailand are located within the sprawling Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Thailand. The summer, or dry season, sees the greatest number of visitors to the park, and it is also when travelers get the best chance of seeing an Indochinese tiger on a guided expedition.
With long arms, long hands and the ability to swing with ease from one tree branch to the next, the Lar gibbon is the perfect example of a primate. Lar gibbons spend most of their time in tree canopies and they sleep in trees for 16 hours a day, making them a challenge to spot unless visitors know what to look for. However, with over 20,000 gibbons in Thailand, those on guided tours have a fantastic chance of spotting them. A popular spot to find the Lar gibbon is in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, where tours follow hoo sounds, the main means of communication for these primates, in order to locate the animals.
The enormous whale shark looks intimidating, but it is actually a filter feeder that uses its large mouth to collect plankton. The whale shark is the living non-mammalian vertebrate, and it lives exclusively in warm, tropical waters where there is no risk of low temperatures. In Thailand, it is possible to go scuba diving and see these amazing whale sharks up close. Some divers are lucky enough to spot whale sharks in popular dive spots like Phuket and Phi Phi, but a near guaranteed sighting requires traveling to places like Richelieu Rock in the Andaman Sea.
The dusky leaf monkey goes by many names, including the spectacled leaf monkey and the spectacled langur. As is possible to guess from the name, this monkey has fur discoloration around the eyes, giving it the appearance of eyeglasses. The dusky leaf monkey is an adorable species that is among the animals in Thailand that many people want to see in the wild. While it is found in Malaysia, Burma and Thailand, the greatest concentration of dusky leaf monkeys is in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which is located right on the border with Burma.
Elephants are nearly synonymous with Thailand, and no visit to the Land of Smiles would be complete without spotting an Asian Elephant. Despite the ubiquity of elephant rides and shows, there are serious concerns about whether these elephants are being properly treated. A better alternative that still allows travelers to see the majestic Asian elephant up close is a more sustainable, natural approach. At Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Sukhothai, for instance, visitors can collect elephant food, watch feedings and even lead elephants to grazing areas for a truly unique and cruelty-free experience.