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Looking for Moby Dick

Wildlife-watching trips can be hit or miss I know from experience as it depends on so many factors.

Not just your guide, but also the others in the group, if there are some talkative or impatient participants among them, you might as well forget spotting any animals.

Most animals prefer their privacy and avoid humans (rightfully so) like the plague!

In the late 1980s, I did my first wildlife tour in Khao Yai National Park, and we had a fantastic Thai guide who somehow managed to show us something of interest every 10 minutes or so, awesome.

Since then I’ve been back there several times with guides of lesser quality, but even the worst one redeemed himself during the night safari by showing us flying squirrels gliding from tree to tree with his spotlight!

As for taking photos, for any serious pics you better have a ‘proper’ camera ready as your mobile phone just won’t cut it…

For insects, flora, and fauna a mobile is ok, but when it comes to fast-moving animals/birds who only stick around for a few seconds, forget it.

I have an excellent book about Thailand’s national parks and considered my animal knowledge here not that bad, so up until 5 years ago if anyone had told me about whales in Thailand I’d probably burst out laughing, you gotta be kidding…

Elephants, hornbills, gibbons, tigers, etc., yes sure, but whales???

It turned out I laughed way too soon as in the Gulf of Thailand there definitely are whales swimming around!

In 2019 I noticed on social media a company offering whale watching tours and contacted them for a possible trip towards the end of the year, but they were fully booked…

Then Covid happened and everything went almost down the drain, I guess we all experienced that.

Somehow the whales slipped somewhere to the back of my mind (early-stage Alzheimer’s?) until 2 months ago when they resurfaced in my memory…

As my friend Leo is always on the lookout for new material for his magazine Go Thailand Go, I mentioned the whale experience to him.

No surprise really that in no time he’d contacted the WildEncounter company and arranged for the 2 of us a trip!

The days before the tour were a bit worrisome as Leo informed me that we’d take a long tail boat…

Thinking of the average Chao Phraya River’s long tails (tiny) and the size of a whale (huge) I suddenly started feeling pretty doubtful about this trip.

Also, last year’s global environmental thriller TV series version of Frank Schätzing’s The Swarm didn’t do much for the supposedly friendly whale’s image…

Luckily Leo managed to restore my confidence by adding that the long tail was only used as a ’taxi’ to get to the main ‘proper’ boat!

As a result, we left a rainy Bangkok in the very early morning and drove to a pier somewhere in Samut Sakhon from where the tour started.

We arrived early, parked the car, and checked out WildEncounter’s ‘base’ which is basically a restaurant and a pier.

Due to low tide, the harbor offered great views of houses and piers on stilts as well as fast (and noisy!) fishing boat traffic.

No lack of birds here either, as they consider places like this a potential all-you-can-eat buffet!

Slowly other participants arrived, both Thai and foreigners, and today’s tour leader, Khun Nat, gave us a warm welcome plus 2 tablets against sea sickness, just in case.

We boarded the long tail which turned out to be considerably larger than those on the Chao Phraya and said goodbye to Samut Sakorn.

On the way.

A little later we were aboard the JP main boat and gathered in the air-conditioned lounge for a briefing by Khun Nat.

He kept it nicely short and gave us the basics about the so-called Bryde whales, their variants, and other potential candidates to be spotted; dolphins!

Life jackets, snacks, drinks, and (later) lunch were all provided, everything was well organized!

Important; viewing directions would be given according to the clock’s numbers, NOT left or right, which later caused some hilarity when one of the staff shouted “5 o’clock!” but pointed in the opposite direction (*).

Suddenly we could see an open mouth sticking out of the water for a little while, but unfortunately, it was too far for most of us...

But not for Leo’s bazooka-style camera, he got some great shots as you can see here.

Then it turned into a kinda ‘whale hide and seek’, frustrating, every time we saw a dorsal fin or a ‘blow’ just for a few tantalizing seconds before the rascal went underwater again.

By now I thought he was doing it on purpose!

Also, the weather looked tricky, not that far ahead the sky was dark blue with an occasional lightning flash…

Despite the lack of whale sightings views remained impressive, also seeing a tiny part of Bangkok’s skyline in the distance was a bit unreal.

No lack of other fishing boats either and (much) later another whale watcher joined us as well.

During the ‘break in whales’ some group members decided to take a break in the comfy sun deck chairs on the back of our boat.

One of the staff was permanently on the lookout with binoculars and finally spotted a whale again, in fact 2, which turned out to be a whale mom and her calf!

This time we were more lucky and had several sightings, including some close encounters (although not on ‘The Swarm’ level!).

By now I’d given up on taking photos and switched to video which worked out much better (**).

Short, but cool!

Everybody thought it was an amazing experience and spirits were high.

Later we spotted another whale as well, again at times views were impressive.

Khun Nat informed us we were about to return to Samut Sakorn and that lunch was ready.

By now my stomach fully agreed with this proposal so I headed over to the ‘kitchen’ area where a quite decent lunch set awaited us.

Leo joined me and together we wolfed down a bowl of rice and various Thai dishes until we were satisfied.

The way back to the harbor was easy as by now the tide was high and our boat brought us all the way to the pier.

Here we disembarked and went over our fantastic experiences today while enjoying a beer before heading back to Bangkok!

Useful links:

The Swarm Whale Attack Scene:

(*) He translated directly from Thai 5 โมงเช้า which is 11.00!

Note that Thai time is divided into 4 parts of 6, instead of our Western 2 X 12…

(**) Even so, once back home I had a critical look at the photographic results of the trip and deleted a lot!


This trip triggered some memories and a quick search on the Net confirmed those…

In brief: Whaling in the Netherlands was a centuries-long tradition and began with 17th-century exploration of Arctic fishing grounds!

The beginnings of Dutch whaling are indirectly attributed to Willem Barentsz (1550–1597), who was a Dutch navigator and explorer, a leader of early expeditions to the far north.

In 1964, the long history of Dutch whaling came to a conclusive end when the country's last factory ship, poetically named Willem Barendsz (II), was temporarily sold to Japanese whaling interests along with whaling rights, and later ended up in Korean hands.

And here follows my personal involvement in this ‘shameful(?) part of Dutch history’!

Most of my school trips are completely forgotten, but one definitely stands out.

At age 6, Primary 1, our class went to Amsterdam’s harbor where we visited the Willem Barendsz (II)!

I remember walking through it and being mightily impressed by the size of this whaling vessel, also feeling proud (gasp, the horror!!) about it being Dutch…

It gets 'worse', in Primary 2 (or 3) I was in charge of a class performance about Willem Barentsz during our history lesson. Of course, I had the lead role as Willem, until I got killed by a polar bear (one of my classmates wearing a fur jacket!).

Finally, most kids in those days had to take a spoonful of cod liver oil (a whale product!) before going to sleep, which was dreaded by most as it tasted foul…

I guess some of the ‘wokextremists’ would see this as a classic case of a white male boomer’s highly politically incorrect past who refuses to apologize for it as well ;-)

This school poster was hanging in our classroom and we all loved it!


A fabulous post, KK...loved the pics, loved the story, loved the School Poster.

Jul 06
Replying to

Thank you Ray, it was quite a surprise finding that old school poster on the Net!


Great story! Thanks Koen (and Leo for a couple of the photos). I am also amazed that there are whales in Thailand! Looks like it was a very rewarding outing. Too bad about Koen's barbaric past! ;-)

Jul 06
Replying to

Hahahaha 🤣 Thanks Steve!


Good experiences!!!

Jul 06
Replying to


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