Southeast Asia is the home of the planet’s oldest surviving forests, a treasure trove of natural and genetic resources whose enormous potential to benefit mankind into the far future is being squandered in the drive for rapid economic gain as largely uncontrolled logging, both legal and illegal, fell the ancient trees and destroy the habitats of countless species, even before science was ever aware of them, with potential cures for who knows what already lost.

Ironically, it is the insatiable demands of the Chinese medicine market that drives the extinction of many of the World’s most loved and iconic wildlife species through illegal poaching, not just in Asia, but all over the globe.

With Rhino Horn said to cure cancer, just one of the many false claims which prevail, it is easy to comprehend the powerful driving forces of the trade in animal parts, a sad fact that led to the complete extinction of Javan Rhino in Vietnam in 2010.

As a consequence, it is becoming increasingly rare to see many of the most sought after species as those that remain hide ever deeper in the dwindling forests.

However, there are significant areas of primary forest set aside for the purposes of conservation in the many national parks throughout Asia though, in practical terms for some of its countries, the status does little to hinder the depletion.

Historic attitudes to wildlife, most of which is widely regarded as food or medicine, are the backdrop of many of the cultures against which conservation efforts struggle. With impoverishment a widespread phenomenon, and the tempting sums on offer, it is easy to see the difficulties.

Add to that the often-contradictory actions of many of the governments who profess environmental credentials on one hand but offer lucrative land concessions, hunting and logging concessions in the very areas declared as sanctuaries.

Nevertheless, there are some spectacular protected wilderness areas and laudable conservation projects in the region and wildlife tourism can often offer an incentive to preserve these into the future.

In China, the wild northeast is a frozen wilderness harbouring Siberian Tigers, Wolves, Reindeer and Bears, whilst the country’s most wildlife dense areas can be found in Sichuan Province in Woolong National Nature Reserve and Yunnan Province, where the rainforests of Xishuangbanna are a haven to wildlife, including China’s only Asian Elephant population, to be found at Mengyang Nature Reserve.

Further west, the wild Tibetan Plateau is home to Snow Leopards, Blue Bears, Tibetan Antelopes, Kiang, Eurasian Lynx, Tibetan Foxes, Pallas’ Cats, Tibetan Wolves and Himalayan Brown Bears. The best sites are found in Chang Tang Wildlife Sanctuary.

Across Tibet’s southern border, Bhutan is, without doubt, the most sincere of all the nations in its determination to preserve its wildlife, forests and landscapes as an intrinsic part of cultural heritage and core beliefs, inspirationally leading the way in Asian wildlife conservation with its intricate enlightened wildlife corridors connecting vast tracts of protected forests, enabling wildlife free passage throughout the country.

Despite this, Bhutan, with limited resources, struggles to control the highly organised illegal logging and wildlife trafficking from neighbouring criminal gangs operating out of India to the south and China to the north.

Most of the country’s forests are admirably well preserved and home to a fantastic array of plants and animals, though because of the limited scope of research, the full range of species has yet to be discovered.

In the south of the country, Tigers, One-horned Rhinos, Clouded Leopards, Sloth Bears, and Himalayan Black Bears roam, while in the mountains of the north provide space for Tibetan Wolves, Snow Leopards and Himalayan Musk Deer.

To the east of Bhutan, in Myanmar, large tracts of forest remain virtually untouched, particularly along its western border with India and Bangladesh and the eastern Karen lands near Thailand but the historic limited access due to the country’s political isolation is only now opening up to scientific study.

The largest protected area is Taungdwin Forest Reserve, known to harbour Himalayan and Sun Bears, Macaques, Elephants, Clouded Leopards and Jungle Cats among its rich diversity. In the south, wild Tigers still survive in Tanintharyi National Park.

To Myanmar’s east is Laos, a country that, partly because of the lack of beaches which have fuelled the phenomenal growth of tourism in its southerly neighbours, has actively marketed its appeal as an eco-tourism destination and has many nature reserves which harbour Tigers, Black Bears, Sun Bears, Clouded Leopards, Elephants, Leaf Monkeys and several species of Gibbons among many others.

The innovative zip line eco-tourism venture at Bokeo Nature Reserve reflects the country’s desire to find interesting ways to fund its green ambitions, as does the Night Safari at Nam Et-Phou Louey Reserve.

A rare pod of Irrawaddy dolphins is a classic feature of many trips to southern Laos.

In the border lands to the east, Laos also suffered in one of the worst ever mass environmental crimes ever, during which the USA spread over twenty million gallons of chemical weapons and defoliants over Vietnam during the infamous war, in their ultimately futile attempt to prevent the country deciding its own future.

Because of the lack of study, and the chaos prevailing at the time, it is unknown what effect this insane bombardment had on the wildlife of the country, though it is estimated that some 15% of southern Vietnam’s natural habitat was destroyed and animal and bird species in the affected areas were reduced by some 80-90%.

Mercifully, though not without legacy, the eco system has now recovered and despite the additional pressures arising from Vietnam’s economic growth and population expansion, large tracts of Vietnam have been set aside as protected areas in the shape of its many National Parks.

In Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam’s oldest and largest reserve, Clouded Leopards and Black Bears are among the larger species that survive here. The park’s Endangered Primate Rescue Centre tries to turn the tide for creatures such as Delacour’s, Golden-headed and Tonkin Snub-nosed Langurs, Francois Leaf Monkeys and Black-crested Gibbons. Nearby Van Long nature reserve is a good place to see langurs in the wild, as is Cat Ba National Park in Ha Long Bay.

The larger species in Vietnam, such as Elephants, Asian Black and Sun Bears and Clouded leopards are known to still be present in Cat Tien National Park.

To the west, Cambodia’s wildlife habitat is in serious decline and the main area of conservation is on the country’s eastern side in the Mondulkiri Protected forest, Phnom Prich and Lumphat Wildlife sanctuaries.

The last wild Tiger was seen in 2007, but moves are afoot to re-introduce the creatures to these areas. Clouded Leopards, Fishing Cats and Sun Bears are among the surviving species found here.

On Cambodia’s western fringe, the Cardamom Mountains, a wild and difficult to access area full of both wildlife and the poachers who pursue it, stretch into Thailand.

Just to the north of the Cardamoms, four interconnected national parks comprise Thailand’s Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest area, a UNESCO World Heritage site and refuge for many of the region’s most endangered animals, including Tigers.

To the west the UNESCO World Heritage site at Thungai-Huai Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries are among the best preserved and protected in the region, and home to very healthy populations of many endangered species including Tigers, Clouded Leopards, Marbled Cats, Fishing Cats, Asian Black Bears, and several species of Macaques.

Heading down the Malay Peninsula, Kaeng Krachan and Khao Sok National Parks are likewise havens to the most iconic of Southeast Asia’s most precious animals. Khao Sok is one of several pockets of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, unaffected by the planet’s many ice ages.

Across the border in Peninsula Malaysia, three additional areas of this ancient forest persist which form the National Parks of Taman Nagara, Belum Temengor and Endau Rompin and likewise a haven for many of the rarest animals among the rich wildlife that occupy these reserves.

Across the Sea in Malaysian Borneo, the UNESCO World Heritage Gunung Mulu National Park, Lambir Hills National Park and Boku National Park are the best wildlife areas in Sarawak, while further west in Sabah the UNESCO site at Kinabalu Park is the premier location.

One of the principal attractions of the Borneo forests is the iconic Orang Utan, whose habitat is being rapidly displaced by the uncontrolled growth of the plantations of the Palm Oil industry.

Stretching out from Borneo’s eastern tip, the Philippines is a diverse array of over 7,000 islands. In Mindanao, the most southerly of its main islands, the UNESCO World Heritage site at Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is the site of the Pygmy Forest, a 225 hectare area of diminutive ‘bonsai’ trees. The area is also a refuge for the rare Philippine Eagle.

On the island of Bohol, the Philippine Tarsier is an iconic draw for tourists, who flock to find the world’s smallest primate in the hills above the town of Corella.

On Palawan’s Caluit Island, 108 species of naturalised African animals roam free with native species such as the Palawan Bearcat.

Far to the south, in Indonesia, on the Island of Bali, the West Bali National Park is the protected preserve of Black Panthers, Macaques and Leaf Monkeys. Tours also operate out of Bali to the island of Komodo, to see the famous Komodo Dragons. 

Country: Vietnam
Type of holiday: Adventure, Heritage, Beach, Trekking, Wildlife
Destinations: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Con Dao Archipelago
Duration: 15
Guideline price: US$ 3008     (per person for Superior accommodation)
Highlight: Sample travel plan only: for a ‘no obligation’ comprehensive itinerary within 24 hours, click here.

A delightful tour suited to those who want to leave conventional tourism aside and really connect with the culture and environment of Vietnam, visiting the usually unvisited villages of the northern and central highlands and culminating with a visit to Con Dao Island. Travellers wishing to model a tour on this template should be aware that, in some village locations, the local river will provide your only bathing and washing opportunities.
Country: Malaysia
Type of holiday: Wildlife
Destinations: Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's interior, Sabah's east coast
Duration: 10
Guideline price: US$ 3233     (per person for Superior accommodation)
Highlight: Sample travel plan only: for a ‘no obligation’ comprehensive itinerary within 24 hours, click here.

This amazing 10 day sojourn of Borneo offers a wealth of experiences, visiting the forests around Mount Kinabalu in search of Rafflesia and orchids, meeting the Murut tribespeople, white water rafting down the Padas Gorge, and visiting three of its island hideaways. If you’re an experienced Scuba diver, the final stay at Pulau Mabul can be extended to include the awesome world class diving at nearby Pulau Sipadan.
Country: Malaysia
Type of holiday: Classic, Heritage, Wildlife
Destinations: Kuching, Sarawak's interior, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's interior
Duration: 8
Guideline price: US$ 0     (per person for Superior accommodation)
Highlight: Sample travel plan only: for a ‘no obligation’ comprehensive itinerary within 24 hours, click here.

This 8 day discovery tour of Malaysian Borneo explores the natural landscapes and rainforest cultures of Borneo, and includes a first-hand encounter with an overnight stay at an Iban Longhouse in Sarawak as the guest of the Headman, enjoying tribal life and testing your skill with the blowpipe.
  
Another highlight is meeting the Orang Utans in their forest reserve at Semenggoh. The journey then takes you to Sabah, exploring the rainforest beneath the looming presence of Gunung Kinabalu, hunting for Rafflesia and visiting the beautiful orchid gardens. The tour culminates with a thrilling white water rafting experience down the Padas Gorge.


Country: Vietnam
Type of holiday: Adventure, Wildlife
Destinations: Hanoi, Sapa and beyond, Hue, Ha Long Bay
Duration: 12
Guideline price: US$ 2097     (per person for Superior accommodation)
Highlight: Sample travel plan only: for a ‘no obligation’ comprehensive itinerary within 24 hours, click here.

This 12 day tour explores some of Vietnam’s precious national parks, from Ba Be Lake in the north, to the island haven of Cat Ba, set amid the stunning vistas of Ha Long Bay, then on to Cuc Phuong and its Primate Rescue Centre, before culminating in the delightful forest trails of Bach Ma.

Country: Vietnam
Type of holiday: Adventure, Wildlife
Destinations: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City
Duration: 9
Guideline price: US$ 1542     (per person for Superior accommodation)
Highlight: Sample travel plan only: for a ‘no obligation’ comprehensive itinerary within 24 hours, click here.

This 9 day tour takes you deep into diverse habitats of Vietnam’s wildlife, including Cuc Phuong, Xuan Thuy and Nam Cat Tien National Parks, seeking out the wild creatures that inhabit these areas. With accommodation standards within the parks unsuited to mainstream tourism, this mild adventure holiday is aimed at amateur and professional nature enthusiasts, who enjoy simple living. This template can be adapted for the specialist wildlife enthusiast or Photographer who wishes to focus their explorations on particular habitats or species.
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