The exotic, interesting, unique and occasionally frightening is on display in Southeast Asia. Wildlife encounters and adventures are becoming more and more popular benefiting both travelers and those often volunteer-led organizations dedicated to saving endangered or exploited animals. Whether it’s tours to islands where massive reptiles still roam or helping out in sanctuaries rehabilitating animals for a return to the wild, the opportunity to travel and learn about Southeast Asia’ biodiversity is a fantastic and rewarding idea to build a trip around. Here are our top 10 suggestions.
1. Dragons of Komodo
Any adventure that includes live dragons gets the nod for the most interesting trip. The dragons of Komodo are huge and incredibly dangerous monitor lizards that exist only on small group of island in Indonesia, and in the nightmares of children. They are the apex predator on the island with bacteria filled saliva that can take down water buffalo.
2. Borneo and Sumatra Orangutans
At one time the Wildman of Borneo inhabited all of Southeast Asia, but now due to an increasing loss of habitat he only lives on these two islands in Malaysia and Indonesia. Various sanctuaries have been set up to rehabilitate and nurture young orangutans who have lost their parents, allowing tourists an opportunity to see the ginger-haired ape-man in its natural habitat.
3. Tarsiers of Bohol
Ever feel like somebody’s watching you? Just wait until you have the eyes of these private prosimians staring at you. Each of the pint-sized primate’s eyes is the same size as their entire brain (about 16mm in diameter). Found primarily in the Philippines and Indonesia, tourists can get an eyeful on the island of Bohol at the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.
4. Tigers of Thailand, Myanmar & Sumatra
For those feline enthusiasts who want to have their photo taken with a massive cat, there are temples in Thailand where Buddhist monks care for tigers illegally captured or used as pets. For those preferring a more natural environment to experience Asia’s majestic striped stalker, Myanmar has the largest Tiger reserve in the world, designating a valley area the size of Vermont to protect their endangered cat.
5. Laos/Thailand Elephant Sanctuaries
Thankfully the Thai government has put pressure on mahouts to remove their elephants from the streets of Bangkok and return them to sanctuaries, allowing the pachyderms to live out a life away from the traffic and asphalt wilds of Bangkok. Elephants are revered in Thai history and various elephant sanctuaries exist in northern Thailand and Laos allowing visitors to bond with gentle giants by helping with their daily care and upkeep.
6. Shark Diving SE Asia
Diving in Southeast Asia is legendary. Thailand’s Similan Islands, the wrecks in the Philippines, the colors of Malaysia and Indonesia are staggering, but everyone loves to see a shark (preferring that it not be the last thing they see). Amongst the relics on the seafloor of the Philippines thresher and white-tip sharks often abound, but the favorite of all divers is the chance of swimming beside the magnificent whale sharks which frequent the seas of Thailand and Malaysia.
7. Gibbon Sanctuaries in Thailand
There are few trips more rewarding than caring for and readying wild animals for release back to a natural habitat. The gibbon sanctuaries of Phuket allow tourists the chance to enjoy a trip to Thailand’s amazing island of Phuket and at the same time, do some good, volunteering at the sanctuary while getting to know some of our ancestral relatives: http://www.gibbonproject.org/.
8. Mekong Fish, Cambodia
The mighty Mekong snakes its way through 6 countries and includes some of the most amazing wildlife. They’re not fish, but they are the rarest of rare, Irwaddy Dolphins of the mighty Mekong are partial to a small stretch of the river near the town of Kratie, Cambodia. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to glimpse their pink skins surfacing for air. While they show off at the surface, monsters haunt the deep. Photos of giant Mekong catfish and giant freshwater stingrays are popping up on the internet all the time. Fishing with the locals may bring you up close and personal with a legendary fish-story.
9. Things that go bump in the night, All of Southeast Asia
There is no other way to categorize some of what you will experience hiking/trekking in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian caves and jungles hold some of the most unique and frightening wildlife this side of Mars. Giant swarms of bats scatter from the caves at dusk, darkening the skies in search of insects, while king cobras, pythons and other snakes rule the jungle floor looking for prey, and the spiders….good lord, the spiders. The largest spider in the world was recently discovered in the caves of Laos. It measures over 12 inches in length. Good luck getting to sleep tonight.
10. Singapore Night Safari
Okay, so it’s not a real safari, it’s a zoo at night but it’s still an interesting experience as most animals tend to be much more active after dark. At the world famous Singapore Zoo you are given the opportunity to get close to the wildlife in a safe environment. Of the most interesting to experience are the giant flying squirrels and the bat habitat.
Scott Holmes is an independent filmmaker and freelance writer and blogger living in Bangkok. He is also the Marketing and Content Manager as well as Executive Editor of www.SoutheastAsia.org.