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Thailand: animal paradise

Thailand is a sanctuary for elephants
Burmese python
Lopburi (Monkey Temple)

Discover the exotic species that inhabit this country and where to find them. Get ready for a wild journey.
With its warm climate and its tropical forests it is not surprising that Thailand boasts such stunning biodiversity. Tigers and gibbons in Thap Lan National Park, langur monkeys and various species of apes in almost all their forests (and some temples) and even Komodo dragons in the middle of the city, the same as in Lumphini Park, in Bangkok. There are others that you may not be so pleased to find, like the Burmese Python, the black scorpion or the giant centipede, which can be as big as a forearm and although its sting does not kill, it will cause you severe pain for days.

Without a doubt, however, of all the exotic creatures we can come across in Thailand, the elephant is the king. And not just because it is considered the national symbol (it was on their flag until 1917), but white elephants, which are considered to be sacred, are the royal family’s symbol. Its mythological consideration comes from a Buddhist Legend: young Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six horns entered her body. Nine months later Siddharta Gautama was born, better known as Buddha. The "Royal Thai Elephant" Museum in Bangkok is dedicated to this animal and its relationship with Thailand. Albino elephants are considered a rarity and, according to tradition, must be given to the king as a gift.

Good places to enjoy the company of such a venerable animal are shelters, like "Elephantworld," in Kanchanaburi or the "Elephant Nature Park," in Chiang Mai. In these centres they try to rehabilitate injured or abandoned elephants in order to, some day, be able to return them to their natural habitat. You can visit them to learn about their work and even collaborate with them. Whats more, there are several tours, including whole-day visits, where you can feed
elephants and bathe together with them in the river, to a week-long programme, where you can become a real ‘mahout,’ caring for elephants according to traditional Thai culture.

If you are a thrill seeker, you are sure to prefer a visit to the snake farm in Bangkok. As well as the fearsome Burmese Python, in Thailand there are up to 180 varieties of snakes, 56 of them are very poisonous. You will be able to see many of them (and even hold them) in the "Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute and Snake Farm," a research centre about these reptiles, right in the middle of Bangkok. There they experiment with antidotes for different snake bites and give demonstrations of how to extract the venom. They also organize shows in the amphitheatre outside and even allow interaction with the snakes, anything that is necessary to bring this dreaded animal closer to the general public.

And now from the most feared to the most endearing animals…the primates' antics make everyone smile. Two hours away from Bangkok we can find the "Monkey Town" in Lopburi. It is one of the oldest in Thailand, with interesting temples and palaces that are well worth a visit, especially if you don't mind doing so in the company of the thousands of macaques that populate it. They are wild monkeys, but they are used to living with tourists so they will come begging for food and you’ll probably get your hair pulled more than once. But it is impossible not to forgive them if later they look at you with their characteristic shiny eyes.

The white elephant home

In the past, the white elephants that were given to the king lived in Dusit, in a stable next to the Royal Thai Elephant Museum. In 1986 they started to transfer them to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in the province of Lampang. It is the oldest centre and the only one that receives support from the government in Thailand.

And if it is not enough for you...

Not only do we find exotic animals on land, they are also in the deep sea.Thailand is a favourite site for divers, and in its waters we can find banks of tropical fish of all colours as well as whale sharks and barracudas, depending on the time of year.