Ecotourism Destinations: Asia (Part 1)

Outdoors & Animals

Bengal Tiger, India

Asia is the largest continent in the world and has the highest mountain range on earth – the Himalayas, the largest river delta – the Indus River in Pakistan, and the largest freshwater lake – Lake Baikal in Russia. I would like to restrict this article to, in my humble opinion, some of the more interesting and special Asia ecotourism destinations. My apologies if I missed out a destination which you, the reader, could deem important. Right, let’s start off with India and Malaysia.

INDIA
Currently, there are about 80 national parks and 441 sanctuaries in India all working for the protection and conservation of wildlife resources. So what to select?

There are the snow-capped Himalayas, the deserts in the west of Rajasthan, the tiger sanctuaries, the beaches of Goa, and the backwaters of Kerala – to name a few contrasting eco-destinations.

Kerala
Kerala is a state on the tropical Malabar Coast of south west India, and easily reached from Cochin to the north. National Geographic magazine called it “One of the 10 Paradises of the World.” It is well known for its ecotourism initiatives and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Kerala is known not only for its tropical backwaters, but also its pristine beaches such as Kovalam. Kerala is blessed with gorgeous natural beauty. Most of the resorts here have eco-friendly and sustainable practices that are in tune with their surroundings. Bird watching tours, a wildlife tour, or a remarkable Backwaters cruise will all allow you to explore Kerala without harming the natural ecosystem in any way.

One of the best ways to enjoy the Backwaters is definitely a leisurely cruise through a network of rivers, lakes, and canals all interconnected. You can take a houseboat which is available for an afternoon’s cruise or longer, or take a small, more upscale vessel for a 3 or 4 night cruise. You will become familiar with village lifestyles and rural activities, such as coir-making and prawn farming. You cannot miss the land birds and human habitation on the water’s edge coexisting peacefully as you pass by banana plantations, tea plantations, coconut palms, rice paddies, wild life sanctuaries, jungles, and parks.

Cruising Kerala backwaters, India
Cruising Kerala backwaters

Tiger Sanctuaries
There are 48 tiger reserves in India, all of which are governed by Project Tiger, which is administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. Tigers are a precious commodity today, and their numbers continue to diminish as a result of habitat loss, poaching, and other human-related factors. India remains the most prolific home of these animals and boasts the highest population numbers.

Corbett National Park
Named after the legendary hunter turned conservationist, Jim Corbett, the Corbett National Park is often considered as India’s first national park located in the state of Uttar Pradesh at the base of the Himalayas. It not only has tigers but offers breathtaking surrounding scenery plus it has an interesting variety of fauna and flora. The park is home to over 585 species of birds and 7 species of amphibians. Some of the animals found here include Bengal tigers, crocodiles, leopards and elephants. As personal vehicles are not permitted inside the park, an elephant or jeep safari is the way to explore the vast terrain. There are eco-resorts close to the park, allowing you to wake up to the sounds of nature every morning.

Bandhavgarh National Park
The Bandhavgarh National Park is a tiger reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The nearest town and railway junction to Bandhavgarh is Umaria, which is 35 kilometres/22 miles away. The nearest airport is in Khajuraho, 210 kilometres/130 miles away. The park takes pride in having the largest tiger population in India, plus the largest population of leopards, and a few rare species of deer. From a conservation point of view, the park has consistently shown significant increases in its tiger population. Apart from Bengal tigers, there are 22 species of other animals such as jackals, foxes, Rhesus monkeys, and hyenas. Animal viewing is undertaken by jeep tours and elephant safaris. There is a wide range of all grades of hotels in the vicinity of the park.

Bengal Tiger Walking Towards Two Tourist Jeeps in Bandhavgarh National Park, India
Bengal Tiger walking towards two tourist jeeps in Bandhavgarh National Park

Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary
Ranthambore is one of the country’s largest national parks and is located in south east Rajasthan. The nearest airport is at Jaipur, situated 45 kilometres/72 miles away. It was once the most sought after hunting destination of the royal Jaipur Maharajas. The good thing about Ranthambore is that the tigers are awake during the daytime and not nocturnal. Other attractions in this park include an ancient fort located in the reserve, and animals such as sloth bears, hyenas, Indian foxes, jackals, and crocodiles.

Ellora and Ajanta
The Ajanta and Ellora Caves, located close to the city of Aurangabad, are more than 2000 years old and are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The caves have been carved out of mountain rock, back in time when there were no sophisticated tools to work with. There are some amazing paintings and sculptures to see pertaining to Buddhism and Jainism. The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta are considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. Ellora’s 34 caves are actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the local hills.

Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, India
Ellora Caves in Aurangabad

MALAYSIA
Malaysia, made up of Peninsular Malaysia and East Borneo (or Malaysian Borneo), is an amazing country with an abundance of biodiversity. 75% of its land area remains forested, with 60% virgin rainforest unchanged for millions of years. Natural attractions include diverse flora and fauna, white sandy beaches, exotic marine life, dense rainforests, and the oldest and largest caves in the world. There are a huge number of activities to choose from such as hiking, jungle trekking, white water rafting, rock climbing, bird watching, river cruising, and much more.

PENINSULAR MALAYSIA

Taman Negara
Taman Negara means “national park”, and is the world’s oldest rainforest (over 130 million years old). Activities here include river rapid shooting and rafting, staying overnight at a wildlife observation hideout, and taking a canopy walk. This huge park covers 3 individual states in Peninsular Malaysia.

You can immerse yourself in the various types of landscapes – from dense rain forest jungle to mangroves, grasslands, as well as endless stretches of beach. It is a virtually untouched treasure where you can experience exotic flora and fauna in their natural environment.

Stroll on the world’s longest canopy walkway, enjoying magnificent panoramic views. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks supervises the park’s safety aspect and manages the daily operation. The canopy walkway can be reached by boat or by walking. You might consider a night jungle walk when you can observe and discover the nocturnal creatures in Taman Negara. Among those always being spotted are reindeer, tapir, and wild boar.

Asian Tapir in Taman Nagara, Malaysia
Asian Tapir in Taman Nagara

The Kampung Orang Asli, or aboriginal settlement, is one of main attractions in Taman Negara. This group of people is still living in a remote area which is far from being of today’s world. In general, they are gentle people with dark skin and tight, curly hair who live a nomadic lifestyle. During your visit to their village, they will share with you how to use their bamboo hunting blow pipe and make fire. They speak their own language.

Cameron and Genting Highlands
Cameron Highlands and the Genting Highlands were both originally hill stations created to get away from the summer heat. They offer low humidity and jungle trail hikes. Cameron Highlands offers visits to butterfly and insect farms, flower markets, a strawberry farm, and a tea plantation. Genting Highlands is a little more commercial, offering simulated free-fall skydiving, a rock-climbing wall, and the Genting Skyway – Southeast Asia’s fastest and longest cable car. Here you can also visit a strawberry farm, a bee and insect farm, and a mushroom farm.

Tea Plantation in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands

EAST MALAYSIA (MALAYSIAN BORNEO)

Mulu National Park
The world’s largest single cave passage was discovered in the Mulu National Park in Borneo. The park is a combination of forests, caves, wildlife, and breathtaking karst stone formations. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique scenery and expansive array of native plant and animal species. Some 3500 species of plants and 109 species of palm trees flourish here. The area provides protection for wildlife, as it includes a substantial area of Borneo’s primary tropical forest.

Deer Cave in Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia (Borneo)
Interior view of Deer Cave in Mulu National Park

Bako National Park
The Bako National Park in Borneo contains an incredible variety of plant species and vegetation. It is possible to see almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo here. It is also home to approximately 275 rare proboscis monkeys, found only in Borneo.

Danum Valley
The Danum Valley Conservation Area in Borneo is blessed with a diversity of tropical flora and fauna. It is home to the rare Sumatran rhinoceros, orangutans, ,and the beautiful clouded leopard. Some 270 species of birds have been recorded in the area.

Borneo Orangutans
Borneo orangutans

Pulau Redang
The Pulau Redang Marine Park in Borneo is a tropical paradise, offering beautiful coral reefs, crystal clear waters, and secluded coves located 45 kilometres/28 miles north east of Kuala Terengganu. It has become popular due its pristine nature and rich marine environment, and is a protected site by the Malaysian government. You can go diving and snorkeling as the sea bed around the island holds a magnificent variety of marine life. You can also kayak around the island, but jet-skis and water-skiing is banned to protect the tranquility and quality of the environment. There are three species of turtles that come to Pulau Redang to nest – the Green Turtle, Olive Ridley, and Hawksbill. There are several trails to explore in the rainforest on the island, leading you to scenic hilltops and rocky cliffs that offer panoramic views of the island and sea.

Pulau Redang Beach in Malaysia (Borneo)
Pulau Redang Beach

Next:
Ecotourism Destinations: Asia (Part 2)

Our Ecotourism Series:
Ecotourism – An Important Trend in Travel
Ecotourism Destinations: East Africa
Ecotourism Destinations: Southern Africa
Ecotourism Destinations: Central and South America (Part 1)
Ecotourism Destinations: Central and South America (Part 2)
Ecotourism Destinations: Central and South America (Part 3)
Ecotourism Destinations: Asia (Part 1)
Ecotourism Destinations: Asia (Part 2)
Ecotourism Destinations: Australia
Ecotourism Destinations: New Zealand
Ecotourism Destinations: Europe