For most of us here in Singapore when we hear of whale watching, we think that this is an activity that can only be done in some faraway country, and where it’s usually winter weather. For myself, I’ve been on whale watching cruises in Australia and Iceland, and it’s not a totally pleasant experience due to rough seas and below freezing wind chill. So rejoice as I share with you that you can actually see whales in Thailand just 2 hrs drive from Bangkok (in the wild, not in an aquarium) in warm tropical waters, and get a suntan while doing it.
This is my last blog on Samut Songkhram, and you can read my previous blogs on Amphawa and Mae Klong by clicking on the links. Besides just hanging out in Amphawa and feasting on seafood, or dodging trains at the Mae Klong Railway Market, you can also take a boat out into the Gulf of Thailand and look for whales.
On the way out to the Gulf of Thailand, we also passed by kelongs which farm oysters as I’m told.
After more than an hour of sailing, our captain said that a whale had been spotted and we sped to it’s location. We were probably less than 20km from the shore.
These Bryde’s (pronounced as Bru-dess) whales are resident in the Gulf of Thailand, and the best times to see them are from September to October when they display their lunge feeding behavior more frequently (and I’m told the seas are calmer during this period of the year). Because this is during the monsoon season and the flooded rivers carry nutrients down into the Gulf of Thailand where it attracts the anchovies and also the whales closer to shore.
Once we found the spot where the whale was, it was hard to predict when it would come up to breathe or feed. We only had a split second to see the whale come out of the water and open it’s mouth. And trying to get a clear shot on a rocking boat with a long telephoto lens isn’t very easy. However, if the whale was feeding, it would open it’s mouth for several seconds as it filtered out the anchovies using it’s baleen, before closing it and sinking back into the sea.
After about an hour with the single whale, our captain informed us that more whales were spotted further out, and off we went to find them.
After about 5 hours on the boat where we had our lunch onboard, we headed back to shore. It was a really fruitful trip, and we didn’t have to brave long flights, rough seas and cold weather for this.
From what I gather, there are 2 licensed whale watching conservation tour operators whom you can contact for tours and they arrange pickups from Bangkok too. For ourselves, we had chartered a boat privately for the trip through local Thai friends. Whether it’s a tour or a private charter, I see that the boats used are basically wooden fishing boats that have been converted into a sight seeing boat with an upper observation deck. Don’t expect well organized and well fitted ships that you find in commercialized whale watching tours elsewhere. It’s best to get your own travel insurance before setting out and make sure the boats have serviceable life jackets onboard.
The boats don’t have any radar or sonar, so spotting of whales is by visual means and the boat captains will radio each other if they have a sighting.
Not many people know about the whales as they only appeared in large numbers from 2011 onwards. This is one of the best kept secret activities that visitors to Bangkok and even the locals don’t know about. I’m not sure if it’ll stay this way as more people start to know about it, or there will be efforts to restrict the viewings due to conservation.