Mention whale watching in Thailand and you may get funny looks. Not widely known, the Gulf of Thailand is indeed home to whales, specifically Bryde’s (pronounced ‘bruda’) Whales. These majestic 15-metre long creatures live in the waters off Samut Songkhram and Petchburi provinces year round, but they flock to the northern gulf to feed on an abundance of anchovies during the rainy season.
Experiencing a close encounter with the whales in their natural environment requires a day trip, with a 1 to 1.5 hour drive from Bangkok to the gulf and a 4 to 5 hour leisurely boat ride through open waters, passing numerous fishing boats and huts. As Bryde’s Whales are endangered, there are only 50 or so left in the area; however, the chances of spotting them are good. Many have been given names and are individually recognized by whale watching guides and boat operators.
Several whale watching trips are organized throughout the year, and it is recommended that you go with a reputable organization such as Wild Encounters Thailand or ChomWhales of Love Wildlife Foundation. Both promote educational wildlife ecotourism. Conscious of the effects of tourism on the welfare of the animals, they will move slowly around the whales, keeping a safe distance. The latter also focuses on conservation and research, collecting data on the whales’ behaviour during the trips.
For all participants, the anticipation builds as the boat chugs along. About an hour into the ride, kids can keep an eye out for whale droppings in the form of fluorescent orange blobs on the water. They can also look for flocks of terns that await the chance to feed on the frenzied fish pursued by the whales, as well as for protruding dorsal fins and water patches whose surface has an odd sheen.
The first sighting will elicit screams of delight, with everyone clamouring for a good look. Subsequent sightings are just as thrilling. Often, the whales graze the surface of the water for a second or two, taking in air before submerging again. If you are lucky, a curious whale may swim right up to your boat. You may also see whales rising gracefully out of the water with their mouths agape to capture fish, showing off their pink underbellies.
Wild Encounters Thailand tours usually operate eight months a year while ChomWhales runs their touring season from October to early December. The best months see the whales are from September to November as the waters are most calm during that time. Tours costs from 1,800 baht to 2,300 baht per person. For ChomWhales, the 2,000 baht donation to join the trip helps fund Love Wildlife Foundation‘s main programs: the Slow Loris Conservation and the Marine Conservation Program, which includes monitoring dolphins in captivity.
Whale watching involves a long day, with lunch and drinks provided on the boat. It can get hot so the tours are best suited for children ages 5 and up. Prepare hats, sunblock, snacks and motion sickness medication. You should be back in Bangkok by early evening, tired but with lasting memories of a fun, exhilarating day with nature’s gentle giants.