This decade has seen a tourism boom in Southeast (SE) Asia, with millions of international visitors flocking to Indochina and beyond in search of adventure. Budget-friendly backpacking, exotic cuisine, historical and cultural treasures. The list of reasons for visiting is endless but, for us, wildlife holds the top spot.
SE Asia is home to an extraordinary 20% of global plant, animal and marine species and boasts four biodiversity hotspots. From the tropical rainforests of Thailand to the islands of the Sunda Shelf, SE Asia has so much to offer nature-lovers.
We’ve hand-picked a selection of must-see national parks and reserves from across the region. Here’s a glimpse of some of the wonderful wildlife you might be lucky enough to see one day!
Thailand – Kui Buri National Park
Located in the Surat Thani province, in southern Thailand, this vast national park is characterised by ancient evergreen forests, deep valleys, limestone mountains, and hidden lakes.
Trekking through this rich habitat, you have a good chance of seeing (at least signs of) Asian elephants, golden jackals, langurs and leopards. The Kui Buri is also home to several species of wild cattle, such as the banteng and the gaur. With adult males weighing up to 1,000kg, the gaur is the world’s largest existing bovine species.
Vietnam – Ba Bể National Park
This wildlife hotspot in Bắc Kạn province is around 240km north of Hanoi. It was first set up to protect the Ba Bể freshwater lake, the largest in the country, and the surrounding lowland forests.
There are over 500 named plant species in the reserve and 65 mammals. These include the Asian black bear, Chinese pangolin, slow loris, macaques, flying squirrels and 28 species of bats. The beautiful crested serpent eagle and the oriental honey buzzard are just two of the 233 bird species found in the area, not to mention the 354 types of butterfly!
Laos – Nakai Nam Theum National Biodiversity Area
Nakai Nam Theum is one of the 21 environmentally protected areas in Laos. It’s made up of over 3,500m² of pristine wilderness, covering the Annamite mountain range and the Nakai plateau.
It attracted a lot of attention in 2015 thanks to the discovery of a number of new species in the area. These include the incredible rainbow-headed snake and the blue spotted cave gecko. A range of mammals inhabit the forests and foothills of Nakai Nam Theum, such as the Indochinese tiger, Javan rhinoceros, saola and the giant muntjac.
Borneo – Kinabalu National Park
Kinabalu National Park is Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s first national parks. With more than 4,500 species of flora and fauna, including many endemic species, it should be high on any naturalist’s wishlist.
At the centre of the park is Mount Kinabalu (4,095m), Borneo‘s highest peak. The mountain is home to 48 species of frogs, as well as a multitude of snakes and lizards. As for primates, it’s possible to see proboscis monkeys, macaques, Bornean gibbons and tarsiers. But the most iconic of all is the Bornean orang utan.
If you’ve been to any of the parks and reserves mentioned in the article or if you have other wildlife hotspots to recommend, it’d be great to hear from you!