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It’s one thing to see pictures of incredible wildlife online, but getting up close and personal with them is another matter entirely.

From meeting pandas in their natural environment and snow monkeys in Japan, to ethical experiences with elephants in Thailand, here are six amazing travel ideas for animal lovers.

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Don’t Miss These Amazing Animal Experiences Around The World

Elephants in Chang Mai (Thailand)

It’s common knowledge that elephants in Thailand are often abused and tortured for human gain, and the tourism industry is largely what fuels unethical practices. That said, there are many ethical elephant experiences available throughout the country offering a natural way to get up-close to these incredible creatures.

One of the best-known elephant conservation projects in Thailand is Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai. More than 35 elephants roam free here, and many of these have been saved from torturous camps that exploit elephants for tourism or logging purposes.

Stop by for the day to bathe in the river with the elephants and help at feeding time, or stay overnight to spend more time with these gorgeous animals. Longer volunteer placements are also available here.

The founder was named Asian Hero of the Year by Time magazine in 2005 and the park has been featured in many international publications including National Geographic magazine as well as feature documentaries from; The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet, BBC and CNN.

Elephant Nature Park Thailand

Image credit: ryan harvey

Pandas in Ya’an (China)

Bifengxia Panda Reserve is located in the Yucheng district in Ya’an. Since opening in 2004 the reserve has become home to more than 100 giant pandas, and this is a fabulous opportunity to see this exotic species in a beautiful natural setting.

Set in dense forest, numerous waterfalls and breathtaking scenery, the reserve is a research and breeding facility. But luckily for those that get the chance to visit, it’s also open to the public.

Bifengxia Base is divided into the giant panda breeding zone, baby giant panda care zone, research centre, bamboo woods and office area. You don’t need a guide as it is all translated.

Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani (Japan)

Situated in the Snow Monkey’s natural forest habitat, the Jigokudani Monkey Park offers the unique opportunity to witness wild macaque monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring.

The park features a man-made pool around which the monkeys gather. They’ll often be seen in large groups sharing the hot spring. They can be observed close-up, as they almost completely ignore their human guests. Take a peek at them now on the park live cam!

The park has a small information centre with information mostly in Japanese. However, there is a small explanation of the alpha male system of the monkey troop in English, as well as portraits of the park’s present and former alpha males, dating back dozens of years.

Snow Monkey

Photo by nomao saeki on Unsplash

Narwhals in the Arctic Circle

Guided by Inuit and travelling in small groups, journey to the Artic floe edge for days of discovery, narwhal watching and the chance to see a variety of sea birds, polar bears, seals and possibly beluga and bowhead whales.

Perfect for families, first-time visitors to the Arctic (and also professional photographers) trips usually sail from Canada. See the Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari run by Arctic Kingdom for a truly unique expedition.

Giant Tortoises in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos islands are home to many large, and rare species. Giant Tortoises, also known as Galapagos tortoises, are mainly found in the highlands of Islands like Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, San Cristobal and Española.

Two of the more popular farms to visit and see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat are Manzanillo and Primicias. Almost anyone who visits the Galapagos islands to see giant tortoises in the wild will come to see them at a farm in these highlands.

Galapagos tortoises are the longest living in the world. One named Adwaita lived to an astonishing 255 years old and passed away in 2006. Another affectionately named Harriet lived to 175.

Galapagos Tortiose

Camels – Pushkar, India

Camels play an important role in Indian culture and if you venture to the annual Pushkar Camel Fair, drawing hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists every year, you’ll be able to see this first hand.

Elaborately decorated camels are paraded and even raced. It’s a fascinating and peculiar sight, and a great opportunity to witness an old traditional-style Indian festival.


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Animal: The Visual Guide

Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. So neat how the elephant deals around Chiang Mai are more and more ethical these days. I recall having a fruit shake at one of the countless stands in town a few months ago. While the lady whipped it up I paged through tourist brochures at the agency; literally 9 of 10 elephant spots stressed how they were ethical, noting how they avoided using back-busting baskets and how animals were treated with love.

    Awareness is where it starts. If people think of the animal’s well being first and foremost, all places that don’t care for animals will go out of business. Our job as tourists is to see the sentient beings first to have awesome animal experiences in fabulous settings.

    Rocking post Meg.

    • Absolutely Ryan, I genuinely believe with the proper awareness we can make a real difference and stop to unethical treatment of animals. If the tourism dollars disappear then it’s no longer profitable to continue with torturous training and keeping them in chains. We have real power to speak with our wallets as to the type of behavior we support.

      The one thing to look out for is organizations who stress that they’re ethical just do jump on with the current trend, but actually aren’t. So it’s definitely important to be aware of what actually makes an ethical experience, and not accept that an organization is responsible just because they say so.

      A few things you can look for with any animal-related program to determine if the animals are being treated properly are the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare:

      * Freedom from hunger and thirst
      * Freedom from discomfort
      * Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
      * Freedom to express normal behavior
      * Freedom from fear and distress

      They’re pretty good cornerstones to tell whether or not an organization is ethical :)

  2. Elephants in Chang Mai (Thailand) are so friendly to humans because most of them have been domesticated compared to those found in other parts especially in Eastern Africa whereby they are very hostile.

    • As long as the process of domestication does not involve cruel treatment, or removing their freedoms, I’m all for fostering the bond between human and native species :) Ultimately, I don’t really blame wildlife who are hostile towards humans. We are unfortunately the worst plague to have hit the planet, and usually the ones who are invading their territory.

      But yes, on a slightly lighter note, Chang Mai is a fabulous place to interact with Asian elephants in a friendly way :)

  3. SNOW MONKEYS!!!!!!!!

    • Aren’t they adorable!

  4. I’ve literally never seen a panda, not even in a zoo. I would definitely travel to china to see Bifengxia Panda Reserve. I wonder if you can volunteer there?

    • I’m not sure on that one actually, definitely worth asking the question though, those type of reserves are usually after as much help as they can get :)

  5. Surprised that Australia didn’t make it onto the list, what with the Great barrier Reef, Kangaroo Island, Tasmanian Devils, the Outback, great white shark diving, diving with whale sharks, Quokkas in WA, koalas – so many crazy creatures. Phillip Island was among our favorite Aus wildlife experience – seeing the penguins come ashore in the hundreds was magical.

    • An obvious oversight on my part – perhaps because I’m writing this from Australia. You’re right though, so many incredible opportunities for interactions with unique wildlife. It’s a nature lovers paradise :)

  6. I just had to google what a narwhal was. It looks like a unicorn!!

    • Doesn’t it! They do actually call it the unicorn of the sea :)

  7. No African safari?

    • Aiming for less typical ideas for this one, but Africa is definitely a classic!

  8. I clicked on the live cam to see the snow monkeys but they must be elsewhere lol. I guess we as humans can’t claim we invented hot tubbing.

    • Definitely the thing about a wild experience as opposed to a zoo, in that they’re not always going to it still for us lol – and absolutely – pretty sure the snow monkeys were hot tubbing long before we were :D

  9. Love this! Keep inspiring :)

    • Thanks Judi!

  10. A safari in the arctic would be truly unique. It’s expensive, but I’ve been eyeing off a visit to Churchill in Canada for a Polar Bear adventure. That would be the dream trip. You go off in a polar rover and the bears wander up alongside. You’re literally just feet away. I would give anything to go on this trip.

    • Thats an experience no my list as well. One day! It would be magnificent to see them so close. Maybe I’ll see you there at some stage :D

  11. Loved your instagram from Antarctica – it looked like there was a lot of animal interactions there.

    • Thankyou! That was an incredible trip, it really is a mecca for wildlife :)

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