Planning a trip to Thailand? Keen to see Thailand’s animals in their natural habitats? Then you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you plan your itinerary to increase your chances of spotting wild animals in Thailand.
Thailand’s geography of high mountains, a central plain, and a long coastline with offshore islands and mangrove swamps, combined with the region’s tropical monsoon climate created a wonderfully diverse world of forests, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs.
This wealth of natural environments provides habitat for about 302 species of mammal, over 980 species of birds, 320 species of reptiles, 120 amphibians, and a mind-boggling abundance of butterflies and other insects.
As a keen naturalist living in Thailand for almost 5 years, I made it my mission to discover as many of Thailand’s animals as I could. Every chance I had, I visited wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Thailand. And even simply living in rural Kanchanaburi, I discovered the world’s smallest mammal – Kitti’s hog-nosed bat in a monk’s cave.
So if you enjoy spotting wild animals on your travels, this guide is for you. Some animals are obviously much easier to spot than others. You will spot squirrels running along the power lines in Bangkok, but to see a leopard you would need to spend a couple of weeks camping in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
This guide to Thailand’s animals covers both, the most charismatic animals in Thailand and those that you are more likely to spot on your travels. And as you can imagine, photographing animals in the wild is no easy feat, so I’m supplementing this guide with stock images rather than subjecting you to some of my failed attempts.
Wildlife Spotting Tours in Thailand
Not all National Parks in Thailand are equally good for spotting wildlife. The best parks for seeing wildlife that can be visited on organized tours are:
From Bangkok, it is easy to take a tour to Khao Yai National Park either on a day tour or, for a real wildlife adventure, on a 3-day tour. In Khao Yai you have a chance to see: Asiatic elephants, White-handed gibbons, Indian bison, wild boar, Sambar and Barking deer, Pig-tailed macaques, Black giant squirrels, Great hornbills, reticulated pythons, and many more. See my guide to Khao Yai National Park for more details.
From Krabi, Phuket or Khao Lak, you can book a tour to Khao Sok National Park. In Khao Sok you have a chance to spot: Asiatic elephants, Indian bison, wild boar, Sambar and Barking deer, Long-tailed macaques, plus the giant Rafflesia flowers. See my guide to Khao Sok National Park for more details.
And from Hua Hin, you can join a tour to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park to see Spectacled langurs, Long-tailed macaques, kingfishers, and waterbirds. See my guide to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park for more details.
Asiatic Elephant – the National Animal of Thailand
Even if you didn’t know what the National Animal of Thailand is, you would probably guess the elephant. Thai people always have had a close relationship with the elephant. It was just a very anthropocentric relationship, meaning that it was primarily for humans’ benefit.
Often, these magnificent creatures were mistreated for the sake of making a few tourist dollars. Thankfully as our society keeps evolving, we are slowly moving away from animal cruelty and people are becoming more discerning about which tourist offerings are ethical and which are not.
Scientists classify Thailand elephants as belonging to the Indian elephant subspecies (Elephas maximus indicus) of the Asian elephant. Also known as Asiatic elephants, they are the largest land mammals in Asia. They can be identified by the two bulges on their heads and their smaller rounded ears.
To encounter the elephants on their terms, visit either Kui Buri National Park (from Hua Hin) or Khao Yai National Park (from Bangkok). Both these parks give you excellent opportunities for wild seeing elephants in their element.
In Kui Buri, your chances are generally higher, but the sightings are likely to be quite distant. Whereas in Khao Yai, you may have to work harder to find the elephants, but you are more likely to see them at close range, like in my images above.
Khao Sok National Park is another good place to see the elephants, especially if you book a specialized wildlife-watching tour. I saw elephants in the park without a tour, but I spent almost a month living in Khao Sok and had more opportunities.
Thailand is home to an incredible 9 species of wild cats. But the cats are as elusive as you expect them to be. I’ve spent two decades tracking wild cats all over the world, and I have not seen a single cat in Thailand. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t, of course.
The 3 big cats found in Thailand are the Indochinese tiger, the Indochinese leopard, and the exquisite Clouded leopard.
The tiger native to Thailand belongs to the Indochinese subspecies that also occur in Burma and Laos. Thailand’s Western Forest Complex that’s comprised of several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is home to more than half of the world’s Indochinese tigers.
You are unlikely to see wild tigers in Thailand, but if you would like a decent chance, organise a visit to Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. I did meet a family of wildlife watchers in Khao Yai who spent a few nights camping in Huai Kha Khaeng and one morning saw a tiger near their tent.
Indochinese leopards are a Critically Endangered subspecies of the leopard native to South East Asia. Amazingly, leopards are occasionally seen in Kaeng Krachan National Park. We spent just under a week camping in Khaeng Krachan but since driving in the park after dark is not allowed, we didn’t have much of a chance. But the staff working at the restaurant at Ban Krang campsite occasionally do see leopards when they drive to and from the park at night.
The Clouded leopard is even more elusive and there are no reliable places in Thailand to see them. Even in good ‘clouded leopard places’ like Borneo’s Deramakot Forest Reserve, it may take weeks to catch a glimpse of this gorgeous cat.
Small cats are also some of the most elusive wild animals in Thailand. The six small cats that are found in Thailand are the Leopard cat, the Marbled cat, the Jungle cat, the Asian golden cat, the Fishing cat, and the Flat-headed cat.
The most common, or rather the least uncommon feline in Thailand is the Leopard cat. You might see them on night drives in Khao Yai National Park, or on spotlighting walks in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
To try your luck with Fishing cats, head to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The wetlands and mangroves around the park are good fishing cat habitats, even though they are being increasingly transformed into shrimp and fish farms.
We spent four days camping in Khao Sam Roi Yot on a wildlife-watching trip but didn’t see any signs of the cats.
One of Thailand’s most beautiful small cats is the Marbled cat. It looks like a smaller version of a Clouded leopard. Like the Clouded leopard, the Marbled cat spends most of its life up in the trees. They are known for hunting squirrels by ambushing them at the entrance to their nests located in the tree hollows.
There are no reliable places to look for Marbled cats in Thailand, so I am including a photo of a Marbled cat we spotted in Borneo.
Thailand is home to two species of canids or wild dogs: the Asiatic wild dog or Dhole and the Golden jackal.
The jackal, also known as the common jackal, or Asiatic jackal is far easier to spot in the wild than the wild dogs, particularly in northeastern Thailand. I have seen a jackal in the late afternoon when we were driving home from the safari in Khao Yai National Park. It crossed the road in front of our car and trotted off into the thickets.
Wild dogs can also occasionally be spotted in Khao Yai, but you have to be very lucky to see them. They are highly social animals that live and hunt in packs. They are about half the size of a wolf.
In theory, wild dogs are present in most large national parks in Thailand, but it doesn’t mean that they are easy to see. To have a decent chance of spotting the wild dogs, it is a good idea to book a specialised wildlife-watching tour, like those offered by Tontan Travel.
Two species of bear occur in Thailand: the Asiatic black bear and the Sun bear and both are very rarely seen. The Asiatic black bear has a patchy distribution, with a decent population ( 8-29 bears per 100 km²) in Khao Yai National Park. Although I’ve visited Khao Yai 3 times and never encountered any signs of a bear.
The Sun bear is the most arboreal bear and they are often spotted up in the trees (at least in Borneo where they are much more frequently encountered). In Thailand, you have a small chance of spotting a Sun bear in Khao Yai or Kuiburi National Parks.
Another good location is Ban Krang campsite in Kaeng Krachan National Park. Each night the restaurant staff leave leftover rice on the lawn behind the restaurant and occasionally a Sun bear turns up for a free meal.
Here are some of Thailand animals that you won’t have trouble finding in the wild. Thailand is home to at least 19 species of primates and many of them are quite easy to see.
Perhaps the most well-known primate in Thailand is the White-haded gibbon, also known as the Lar gibbon. An interesting fact about gibbons is that they belong to the ape family (not to monkeys). The giveaway is their lack of tail.
White-handed gibbons have two colour morphs – white and black and you can see both quite easily in Khao Yai National Park. Of course with gibbons, hearing them is as amazing as seeing them. The gibbon song is one of the most iconic sounds of the Thai jungle.
Langurs, also known as Leaf monkeys are some of the most handsome primates in Asia. The most commonly encountered langur in Thailand is the Spectacled langur or Dusky leaf monkey. You can see these adorable primates at close range in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. There is a mangrove walkway behind the park’s headquarters where you often see the langurs in the trees along the walkway.
If you have a chance to spend a few days camping in Kaeng Krachan National Park, you’ll also see plenty of Spectacled langurs, including females carrying their young who have bright orange fur in the first few months of their lives.
The macaques are the most conspicuous animals in Thailand. There are more macaques in Lopburi town than people! But if like me, you prefer seeing animals in natural settings, here’s where to go to see macaques in Thailand.
To see Long-tailed macaques, head to Khao Sam Roi Yot or Khao Sok National Parks. These cheeky monkeys are everywhere in these parks.
In Khao Yai, you’ll see Pig-tailed macaques, which are very similar to Long-tailed macaques but without long tails.
Another type of macaques you can see in Thailand is the Stump-tailed macaques. To see them, head to Kaeng Krachan National Park.
There are two species of Slow loris in Thailand: Bengal slow loris and Sunda slow loris. Unfortunately, the adorable slow loris is another victim of wildlife trade – its cute big-eyed face makes slow loris a very popular exotic pet. If you come across any enterprises offering selfies with a slow loris, please avoid them like a plague. The lorises often have their teeth pulled out so they can’t bite the tourists.
Seeing a slow loris in the wild in Thailand is becoming increasingly difficult. Two decades ago they were common in rural Kanchanaburi on the outskirts of the village where I lived. Now, they are mostly restricted to protected areas.
One of the easiest National Parks to visit in search of slow loris is Ko Lanta. And if you are feeling adventurous, consider arranging a trip to Hala Bala, Klong Saenz or Pang Sida National Parks. I’ve never been lucky enough to see a slow loris in Thailand, and the image above was taken in Danum Valley in Borneo.
Of all animals in Thailand, ungulates are perhaps most often seen simply because they are large animals and there are many different species.
Sambar deer is the largest deer in Thailand and they can be seen in most National Parks.
Barking deer is one of the smallest species that is also frequently seen in many National Parks. You should be able to see both species in Khao Yai.
The smallest deer in Thailand is the Mouse deer. There are actually two mouse deer species in Thailand: Lesser mouse deer and Greater mouse deer both found in Southern Thailand. And if you think Greater mouse deer sounds grand, it actually weighs only 5-8 kg, about the same as a well-fed domestic cat. The lesser mouse deer, on the other hand, weighs about 2kg. It is one of the smallest known hoofed animals in the world.
A good place to try seeing a Mouse deer is Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand.
One of the most impressive ungulates to see in Thailand is the gaur. Also known as the Indian bison, the gau is the largest wild cattle in the world with some individuals reaching a weight of 1,500 kg. They used to be common animals in Thailand but in the last few decades, the population has dramatically declined with fewer than 1,000 individuals remaining.
The best place to see Gaur in Thailand is Kuiburi National Park. There is also a chance of seeing them in Khao Yai National Park. I came close to a herd of Gaur in Khao Yai, we heard them on the grassland near Nong Pak Chi tower but by the time we came out of the forest, they were gone.
The odd-looking Sunda pangolin has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most trafficked animals in South East Asia. It used to have a wide distribution in Thailand but has disappeared from many areas due to habitat loss and poaching. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered.
The pangolin still occurs in Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan National Parks, as well as in the Western Forest Complex in Kanchanaburi Province. But your chances of seeing a pangolin in the wild are very slim.
Pangolins are worth their weight in gold on the illegal wildlife trade market. More specifically, a trapped pangolin brings the poacher about 500 baht (US$16.20) per kilogram of the animal’s weight.
Sadly, I have first-hand experience with pangolin trapping – many of the young men living in my village in rural Kanchanaburi spent their nights walking in the forest at night hoping to find a pangolin. Pangolins like to feed on ants and termites up in the trees. And once a hunter’s dogs locate a pangolin, all the hunter has to do is climb the tree and grab the defenceless animal.
Thailand is home to an impressive variety of squirrels and you are more than likely to see a few different species on your travels. From the tiny Striped squirrels to the enormous Black giant squirrels, these bushy-tailed arboreal rodents are distributed across all corners of Thailand.
The most common squirrel in Thailand is Finlayson’s squirrel, also known as a Variable squirrel. The easiest place to see them is Lumpini Park in Bangkok.
To see the Black giant squirrel – one of the largest squirrels in the world, head to Khao Yai National Park where they can be seen quite easily.
If you spot a small striped squirrel scurrying around on the ground, it is most likely a Ground squirrel, like the young ones in the images above that I photographed just outside of my house in Kanchanaburi.
Thailand is home to two species of porcupines: the Asiatic brush-tailed porcupine and the Malayan porcupine.
You are much more likely to encounter a Malayan porcupine. It is the larger of the two and has the more impressive quills, which are modified hairs.
For an almost guaranteed sighting, spend a night camping at Kaeng Krachan National Park. The porcupines are common visitors to the restaurant at night, keen to feed on the leftover rice.
A curious fact about porcupines is that while they look nothing like mice and rats, they belong to the family of rodents.
Often called civet cats, civets are small, lean, nocturnal mammals. There are nine species of civets in Thailand, some are easier to see than others.
Since civets are nocturnal, your best chances of spotting them are on nocturnal walks. The two campsites at Kaeng Krachan National Park are great for spotting Common palm civets and Masked palm civets. They come to feed on the leftover rice left behind the restaurant by the staff.
Arguably the most adorable civet in Thailand is the Binturong. These shaggy critters are not easy to see, but if one is nearby, you’ll definitely smell it. They have a strong odour that smells like a combination of rotten vegetables and urine.
We definitely smelt one in Kaeng Krachan. It was during the day, so the animal must’ve been concealed in its layer somewhere up in the trees. We tried to follow our noses but couldn’t locate it.
Like in any tropical country, bats represent about half of all mammals in Thailand. There are at least 139 bat species in Thailand. The most incredible of the 139 species is Kitty’s hog-nosed bat, also known as the Bumblebee bat. Weighing all of 2 grams, it is arguably the smallest mammal in the world.
Another incredible thing about Kitty’s hog-nosed bat is that it has an incredibly narrow distribution range on the Thai/Burmese border. They have only been recorded in a few caves in Thailand and a couple of caves in Burma.
There was a Buddhist monk living in a cave near the village where I lived in Kanchanaburi province and that monk shared the cave with at least 4 species of bats, one of which was Kitty’s hog-nosed bat. In fact, it was this monk who introduced me to Kitty’s bats in the first place.
While you won’t be able to access this particular cave, you can see Kitty’s bats flying above your head after dark in and near Sai Yok and Erawan National Parks.
Another bat spectacle you can observe in Thailand is the emergence of 2 million Wrinkle-lipped bats from their roosting cave near Khao Yai National Park. If you’ve seen bats emerge from Gomatong cave in Borneo, you’ll know what to expect.
It takes the bats almost an hour to emerge from the cave and you can watch them undulate in a moving cloud above the countryside, trying to avoid birds of prey that try to snatch them from the air.
Whales & Dolphins
This may come as a surprise, but Thailand is an excellent whale-watching destination. You can see almost 20 different species of whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Thailand. But the species most frequently and reliably encountered is the Blyde’s whale.
The whale-watching experience is offered by Wild Encounter Thailand a company based in Bangkok. The adventure begins with a 40 min drive to the mouth of Chao Phraya River where it meets the Indian Ocean. There you jump onto a whale-watching boat and head out to see for the whole day.
If you take the tour between August and October you will likely see the whales feeding, which is an incredible sight. And if you are lucky, you may also spot the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
Starting the introduction to Thailand’s birds with the country’s most magnificent avian family – the hornbills. Thailand is the land of hornbills. Out of 31 hornbill species in Asia, 13 have been recorded in Thailand.
The biggest family member is the Great hornbill. With a wingspan of about 1.5 meters, it is one of Thailand’s largest birds. You can see Great hornbills quite easily in Khao Yai National Park. In fact, Khao Yai is home to 4 species of hornbills including Oriental Pied Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, and Austen’s Brown Hornbill.
However, a better place to see the Brown hornbill is Kaeng Krachan National Park. There are usually a few birdwatchers around Ban Krang campsite who you can ask if they know a nesting tree.
While hornbills are some of the biggest birds, songbirds are, by far, the most diverse. And in Thailand, many songbirds are brilliantly colourful. Sunbirds, monarchs, pittas, flowerpeckers… you don’t have to be a birder to appreciate these feathered splashes of colour.
One of the best and most easily accessible places to see a great variety of songbirds is Khao Yai National Park. Although in a country with such a diverse avifauna as Thailand, you can see more birds than you can count in any city park.
In Bangkok, head to Lumpini Park and you are guaranteed to see a good variety of songbirds, especially if you visit early in the morning.
Kingfishers and bee-eaters are some of the most iridescently-coloured birds in Thailand. They are quite easy to see because they like to perch on electricity wires or on branches that overhand rivers.
Thailand is home to an incredible 16 species of kingfishers. You’d be quite unlucky not to see a White-throated kingfisher. They are widely distributed and are quite happy to live in human-dominated landscapes. If you visit any parks in Bangkok, keep an eye out for the Stork-billed kingfisher.
If you are keen to see several species of kingfishers in one place, head to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. We spent a few nights camping at Hat Sam Phraya beach and saw White-throated, Blue-eared, and Oriental dwarf kingfishers.
Bee-eaters are smaller but just as colourful as kingfishers. Green and Chestnut-headed bee-eaters are quite common throughout Thailand.
Most bee-eaters like to nest in sandy banks. We had chestnut-headed bee-eaters nesting in the wall of an artificially excavated canyon, miles away from water.
Unlike the green and chestnut-headed bee-eaters who live in colonies, the Blue-bearded bee-eater is not as gregarious which makes it harder to spot. But we’ve seen quite a few of them in Kaeng Krachan National Park.
Of all Thailand animals, snakes are probably the most feared by locals and tourists alike. Yet the majority of snakes in Thailand are harmless to humans. And even venomous snakes probably see more harm from people than vice versa.
Let’s start with harness snakes. One of the most common snakes in Thailand is the Golden tree snake. It is harmless and quite handsome. As the name suggests, it lives mostly in the trees.
My favourite Thai snakes are the whip snakes. They are easily identified by their elongated noses. I’ve encountered Green whip snakes in Kanchanaburi and Oriental whip snakes in Khao Yai National Park.
A Marbled cat snake used to live on the veranda in my backyard. It is mildly venomous but because it’s quite small it doesn’t pose any real danger.
The bat cave near my house in Kanchanaburi was inhabited by a handsome Cave-dwelling snake. Also known as the Beauty rat snake, it is a constrictor, like a python, so it isn’t venomous. Although it would bite if disturbed.
The king of pythons in Thailand is the enormous Reticulated python. It is the longest snake in the world and can weigh up to 75kg! Like all pythons, it constructs its prey, meaning it doesn’t need venom to feed itself. The most incredible sight to witness is a python swallowing large prey, like a deer.
This brings us to venomous and dangerous snakes. There are plenty of those in Thailand too. The most famous is the King cobra which can grow longer than 4 meters. We once came across a king cobra slithering across a dirt road, and it took a good few minutes for it to cross. It looked like a small tree was being dragged across the road and we felt rather insecure on our scooter. At least king cobras don’t spit their poison like the spitting cobras.
Another family of highly venomous snakes is vipers. And they can be deceptively beautiful, like the White-lipped viper in the image above that I came across on the side of a trail in Khao Yai National Park. It pays to visit National Parks with a guide!
Lizards are everywhere in Thailand, from Tokays that run up and down the walls of your hotel to the enormous Water monitors sunbathing along the banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.
Some of Thailand’s lizards, especially the males, are super colourful. The Blue-crested lizard with its iridescent blue scales is one of the most striking reptiles you’ll ever see.
Another common and handsome lizard you might spot is the Butterfly lizard. They are widespread throughout the country.
If you are spending time anywhere outside of the big cities, you’ll likely spot Garden fence lizards. The males of this species become particularly colourful during the breeding season.
And wherever you go in Thailand, you won’t escape Spiny-tailed house geckos. These small geckos are ubiquitous in human habitation in Thailand. They figured out that artificial lights attract all sorts of insects which makes human houses with their porch and window lights all-you-can-eat buffets.
Thailand is not well-known for its frogs as say, Borneo. But there are some interesting amphibians you can come across on your travels.
As far as wildlife spectacles go, the emergence of the Blunt-headed burrowing frogs after the first heavy downpour of the season. Burrowing frogs spend most of their lives underground and emerge after heavy rains to breed. Unfortunately for the frogs, they are a very popular food item in Thailand. It broke my heart to see the villages collect hundreds of these balloon-ish frogs during their explosive breeding season.
The coolest-looking frog in Thailand is the Malayan horned frog. They are not easy to see, but if you do, you probably won’t forget them, whether you are a keen frogger or not.
Much easier to see are Yellow frogs, Narrowmouth frogs, Painted bullfrogs, Rice field frogs and Ornate chorus frogs. As always with frogs, you’ll hear them long before you see them.
Moths and Butterflies
As you would expect from a tropical country, Thailand is home to an extraordinary variety and abundance of butterflies. Kaeng Krachan National Park alone is home to more than 300 species of butterflies.
While Thailand doesn’t have butterflies as striking as the Morpho family in South and Central America, some of the butterflies in Thailand are amazingly colourful, like Lacewings and Swordtails.
One of my favourite species however is the Indian leaf butterfly. You see it fluttering in the air as a sudden splash of colour and then it lands and disappears in front of your eyes. It took me quite a while why I couldn’t see it. This amazing butterfly closes its wings and becomes virtually indistinguishable from a dry leaf.
Then, slowly, it opens its wings up and becomes a vibrant splash of blues and yellows again. Until it closes its wings again.
When it comes to moths, some of the most visually striking moth species in Thailand belong to the Hawkmoth family. Their name comes from the hawk-like shape of their wings which are designed to sustain rapid flight.
Although none are more spectacular than the giant Atlas moth with its wingspan of 25-30 cm. Despite their enormous size, these moths are not very easy to see. The only place I’ve seen an Atlas month was Khao Sok National Park.
I am going to leave you with a gallery of weird and wonderful creepy crawlies of Thailand’s animals. Some of you will love them, others will run the other way.
Final Thoughts on Spotting Animals in Thailand
As you have seen in this guide, wild animals in Thailand are as diverse as they are abundant and you are guaranteed to see some of them on your travels in Thailand. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will be amazed by the diversity of life around you.
If you are a keen animal watcher, visit Khao Yai, Khao Sok, Khao Sam Roi Yot or Khaeng Krachan National Parks. However, you don’t have to travel to National Parks to see wildlife in Thailand. Apart from large mammals, you can see most animals in this guide in rural Thailand, especially if you go out early in the morning or after sunset. Happy spotting!
More on Exploring Thailand
- Exploring Western forest complex, Thailand
- Caves, Bumblebee Bats and Other Wildlife of Rural Thailand
- The striking world of moths of Thailand
- 3 Days in Mu Ko Chang National Park, Thailand
- Butterflies of Thailand
- Slow Living on Koh Jum Island – Thailand off the Beaten Path
- Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is more than Phraya Nakhon Cave
- Spotting wildlife in Kaeng Krachan National Park
- Why You Must Visit Erawan National Park on your Trip to Thailand
- Thi Lo Su Waterfall Jungle Adventure – Thailand off the Beaten Path