Animal Encounters in Thailand for Families
One of the greatest highlights of a family trip overseas is seeing lots of exotic animals which you can’t see in your own country. It’s even better if you can pet them, feed them, ride them and watch them appear in shows. Adding animals to a holiday with children is a recipe for success, and so, in nearly every big touristy city in the world you will find a zoo or aquarium. Thailand in particular is full of options for friendly face-to-face encounters with animals of every type, shape and size.
The elephants must be mentioned first of all. You can ride them, feed them bananas, watch them perform incredible shows (including football, basketball and drawing with their trunks) and even bathe in a river with them. Then there are the monkeys, who roam freely in the forests, the beaches and even some of the temples. They will happily eat straight out of your palm. There are tiger cubs you can take pictures with. There are also snake shows (including extremely poisonous ones) and shows of many other animals. Of course, Thailand also has plenty of zoos, aquariums and safaris in several destinations. In short, it's a real heaven for animal lovers, a truly remarkable experience which will stay with your child for many years. Getting to know the animals up close will teach your children better than any class at school about the properties of the animals, their behaviour, their defence mechanisms, their habitat and many other fascinating facts.
There is no need to go all the way to the jungles in the North of Thailand to enjoy these animals. Even close to Bangkok you will find a large selection of animal attractions, not to mention in the southern islands where -- when you're not lounging on the beach -- you can ride elephants in the jungle, feed monkeys just about anywhere, and watch an impressive variety of animal shows. Of course, if you are planning to visit both the North and the South, it's best to leave the elephant encounters to the Chiang Mai area where there is an even larger variety of options.
In order to assist you with your planning, I will present to you the many options for animal encounters in the popular family destinations:
Bangkok may be a big, crowded, polluted city, but you will be surprised to learn that at the same time it contains a huge selection of animals -- in zoos, safaris, farms, and even Buddhist temples.
Bangkok Snake Farm
This is a zoo for snakes only, most of them venomous, which also serves as a venom research facility. The place holds hundreds of snakes, including sea snakes. You can pet the snakes, take a picture with a big fat snake hanging from your neck (not compulsory...) and watch them being milked for poison in an interesting show which takes place every day around early afternoon. The place also screens a film about snakes and the way they live.
Siam Ocean World
A big, impressive and modern aquarium in the heart of Bangkok's shopping district, in the luxurious Siam Paragon shopping centre. The aquarium, one of the largest in all of Asia, hold over 30,000 sea creatures including many sharks, seals, octopuses, crabs, sea horses, penguins and more. Twice a day you can watch penguin and shark feedings. Those who love activities and adventure can dive into the aquarium with the sharks closely accompanied by a guide. For the less adventurous or those who don't want to get wet, there is the glass-bottom boat ride in which you can safely see the many animals from above. The aquarium is split into seven different areas such as rainforest, deep ocean, reef, and so on, each of them with the climate conditions and sea creatures suitable for the area.
A combination of a safari with a big and modern family entertainment centre. It is divided into several areas: Safari Park, where you drive for 45 minutes along 8 kilometers between lions, tigers, ostriches, zebras and plenty of other wild animals; Marine Park, which contains a huge selection of animals including both sea creatures and birds and hosts several different shows including a dolphin show, a bird show, and monkey boxing; Eggs World, a research centre which monitors the "life" of eggs (bird eggs, alligator eggs, turtle eggs and so on) from laying to hatching; a Jungle Walk and Jungle Cruise; and several good shows which are not animal related, such as a cowboy show and a grandiose was show called Spy Wars.
A long-standing zoo in the centre of the city which started off as the King's private zoo. It contains many animals (around 2400 overall) of many different kinds, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. Some of the most popular animals in the zoo are its white tigers and an impressive collection of reptiles.
Sriracha Tiger Zoo
Located in the Chonburi area, near Pattaya. Especially suitable for families that have decided to pass on the islands in the South and just enjoy vacationing in Pattaya, which is closer to Bangkok, instead. This zoo is home to 200 Bengal Tigers and 10,000 crocodiles along with other animals, including ostriches, camels and pigs.
Crocodile farm in Samut Prakarn
The biggest crocodile farm in Thailand, located roughly 10 kilometres away from Bangkok, on the way to Pattaya. The place houses over 60,000 crocodiles of many different kinds and sizes: 28 different types, including some which are nearly extinct. The park is proud to be the home of the largest crocodile to ever live in captivity, which measure 6 metres long and weighs 1114 kilograms. The farm also holds crocodile wrestling shows. Besides the crocodiles, there are some other animals on the farm including elephants (which also have a show of their own), monkeys, and snakes.
Northern Thailand is the ideal location to encounter animals in their natural habitat, including Thailand's most popular animal, the elephant. This is the #1 place to ride elephants, wash them in the river, watch them perform incredible feats in shows, learn about their lives, and of course, feed them lots of bananas. Around Chiang Mai there are several "elephant camps" which tourists can visit to watch lots of interesting elephant shows, including elephant bathing, elephants painting very impressive pictures with their trunks, elephants playing ball, shooting darts, and dancing; you can ride elephants through a tropical forest (in which they also cross rivers), take pictures with them (sometimes the picture frame is made of elephant faeces...) and feed them. Pai also has a great elephant camp.
The Best Elephant Camps
In the Chiang Mai Area: Mae Sa Elephant Camp and Mae Taeng Elephant Park -- the second camp has the advantage of also including a ride in a bull-drawn carriage and a bamboo rhapsody river voyage.
In Pai: Thom's Pai Elephant Camp -- the unique thing about this one is that you can wash the elephants in the river and/or combine the experience with a bamboo rhapsody voyage.
Animal lovers will particularly enjoy visiting Elephant Nature Park:
Unlike the other elephant camps which serve purely as tourist attractions, this park was built to save orphaned or injured elephants. In the park they are treated with love and care. They allow visitors to help fund the place. Because the number of visitors per day in this park is limited, you should book ahead of time! The shortest tour is one whole day long and includes buying food for the elephants, washing them (while going in the water with them) and learning plenty of things about these unique, intelligent animals. For true elephant enthusiasts there are also 2-4 day tour packages!
Chiang Mai Night Safari
A great safari which has three main trails: The Jaguar Trail, which is also open during the day and in which you can go on tour by foot, the Predator Trail, and the Savannah. The latter two are open only during the evening and are toured by special tour cars. The main attraction of the place, unrelated to animals but still not to be missed, is the musical fountain show which takes place after dark, three times a night.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Located near the Doi Suthep temple on the mountain top
and can be combined with a trip to this temple. This is
a big, long-standing zoo in which the main attraction is
the panda bears, which live in a modern, impressive and
well-cared for area which simulates their natural
habitat. There are two pandas, and just these two alone
make it worth visiting this zoo.
In Mae Sa Valley, near Chiang Mai, besides the elephant camp mentioned earlier there are plenty of other family attractions including bungee jumping, swimming under waterfalls, riding quad bikes, botanical gardens, and more interesting animal encounters.
Any reptile fan should visit Mae Sa Snake Farm, which is the biggest snake farm in Northern Thailand. The place has an impressive snake display which includes giant pythons, as well as some very impressive snake shows. Nearby are the Mae Rim Monkey School, Mae Sa Dogland, and the Mae Rim Butterfly and Orchid Farm. You can also ride ponies at J&T Happy Riding. In short, you can spend an entire day full of fun and animals there.
The South of Thailand is known for its wonderful beaches
where you can dive or snorkel among many fish. But you
can see more than just beautiful fish in the South.
There are many other animals, both in nature and in the
various tourist sites. All of the main tourist
destinations in Southern Thailand (such as Phuket, Krabi
and Koh Samui) offer elephant-riding tours in the jungle
or along the beach or sea-side horse riding.
In Krabi, in the southern part of Ao Nang Beach, is Monkey Mountain, where there are hundreds of friendly monkeys who will happily eat bananas or popcorn straight out of the palm of your hand. The beaches of the nearby islands (which you can visit for one day trips by boat) also have lots of monkeys you can meet face-to-face and feed. The nearby Tiger Cave Temple is home to plenty of friendly monkeys as well. Prepare lots of bananas to feed them. Likewise, if you go on a kayaking tour in Ao Thalane, you will encounter many monkeys between the Mangroves. You will also see lots of fish, starfish, and a huge assortment of crabs. You can combine the kayaking trip with elephant riding in the jungle in order to enjoy the best of both worlds. The name of the tour (which you can book through any travel agency around Krabi) is Tour 2-in-1 Ao Thalane & Elephant Trek.
In Phuket there is a small zoo, Phuket Zoo, known for its great animal shows: Elephant shows, snake shows, monkey shows and crocodile shows. There are also other places on the island where you can see monkey shows and snake shows. Click here for information about all animal shows in Phuket. The Phuket Fantasea show is one of the best and most popular attractions on the island. It includes acrobatics, dancing, singing, and many other things, but animals also play a major role in this show. You can also take pictures with the animals before going into the show -- for instance, take a picture with an elephant or with an adorable tiger cub which you can feed milk from a baby bottle. In the fish pond at the entrance to the park you can feed huge quantities of giant goldfish that will practically jump out at you for the food. You can also visit the Phuket Aquarium and Marine Biological Research Centre.
If you choose to visit Koh Samui (which is especially
great to visit in the summer months), you will encounter
many animals as well: in Koh Samui's Aquarium; in the
Tiger Zoo next to it, where you can take pictures with
tiger cubs; in a butterfly farm; in monkey shows, snake
shows, crocodile shows, and buffalo fights, a popular
sport in southern Thailand. Click here for information
about all of these attractions. For those interested in
seeing buffalos in a more peaceful setting there is the
Living Thailand Buffalo Show where you can watch
demonstrations of paddy ploughing and rice planting,
visit a Thai farming museum and ride in a buffalo cart.
A new attraction on the island is Paradise Park Farm, which is located on rain forest-covered mountains. The place has lots of animals and hiking trails between waterfalls, rivers, and uniquely-shaped rocks. For people who enjoy diving (and also people who want to try it for the first time) I recommend taking a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Tao (another website can be found here) which is considered the best diving site in Thailand.
More Thailand articles:
The Jungles of Bangkok and the surrounding
Special Guided tours in Thailand
Family Vacation in Phuket
Vacationing in Koh Chang
A Trip from Bangkok to Khao Yai Reserve
Family holiday in Northern Thailand with Private Guide
Family Holiday in Koh Samui
The Islands of Thailand
Vacations Trips and Luxurious Hotels in Khao Lak