For both luxury and budget travelers, ecotourism and “green travel” are all the rage these days. By definition, ecotourism is travel inspired by exotic locations with threatened natural environments, for the purpose of observing wildlife habitats and supporting conservation efforts. The International Ecotourism Society recommends that eco-minded travelers should adhere to the following principles:
- Minimize impact
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate
Asia has some of the most beautiful, remote, and exotic, ecotourism spots in the world. Millions of tourists venture to Asian destinations each year, foregoing brand-name hotels for eco-friendly accommodations and volunteerism. And all over the continent, ecotourism is boosting local economies and helping families thrive and become self-sufficient.
These are a few of the best Asian destinations to add to your green travel wish list:
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Koh Kong, Cambodia
Cambodia is one of the most popular ecotourism destinations in Southeast Asia. Many tour operators in the area purchase carbon offsets, use regionally-sourced materials, and work closely with neighboring communities to give travelers an authentic experience and boost the local economy. For many years, villages like Koh Kong had very little contact with the outside world. But thanks to new roads, political stability, and new Western-run accommodations, visitors can now explore the region’s largest tracts of virgin rain forest, untouched sand beaches and clear waters, and dozens of threatened species, including the endangered Asian elephants and tigers.
Located in the northern part of India, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh is a high-altitude desert land between the Western Himalayas, Tibet, and the Hemis National Park. Some of the most exciting activities to do in this area include trekking to view diverse flora and fauna, whitewater rafting, and camel safaris. Hemis National Park became a protected area in 1981 and covers 600 square miles in the Markha and Rumbak valleys. Visit between May and November to avoid the harsh winter season.
Luang Namtha, Laos
Green Globe is a company that rigorously investigates the environmental practices of eco-hotels, and one of the best in Laos is the Boat Landing Guest House. Located in Luang Namtha, this hotel features riverside bungalows and connects visitor with trekking, biking, and rafting opportunities in the nearby protected forests. One of the best ways to see the Nam Ha National Protected Area, an ASEAN Heritage Site, is by taking a trip down the wild Nam Tha River. Follow up your adventure in the local villages by sampling foods collected from the forest and watching local woodsmen at work.
Unlike many area of the world, Bhutan has been incredibly successful at preserving its local culture. Located between China and India, Bhutan is nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, making some regions a bit challenging to access. Eco-trips to Bhutan often involve exploring Jigme Dorji National Park, viewing snow leopards and musk oxen, and visiting ancient monasteries. Many ecotourism opportunities here fall within the luxury travel category and are targeted at high-end clients. To help preserve the landlocked country, each visitor must pay a daily tax.
Taman Negara National Park – Malaysia
The Taman Negara is one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, and the Malayan tiger and the Sumatran rhinoceros call this region home. One of the most exciting activities at this eco-travel destination is the canopy walk, which is the longest canopy walk in the world, hovering 45 meters above ground. Adventure-seekers will love this destination for its jungle safaris, strenuous hikes, and white water rafting opportunities.
Sagarmatha National Park – The Himalayas, Nepal
Right within the Himalayas, the Sagarmatha National Park is located in eastern Nepal and is also home to the southern part of Mount Everest. Trekkers love to explore this area’s steep and rugged terrain, and the Kala Pathar Peak is one of the most popular trekking trails. Make sure to stop at the gompas and monasteries along the trail to learn about Nepal’s history and culture. Like many Asian ecotourism destinations, Sagramatha is an excellent place for bird-watching, with more than 100 species of birds as well as endangered mammals like the snow leopard and Himalayan black bear.
Even though Savaii is a relatively large island in the South Pacific, it is sparsely inhabited by rural village populations that are rich in local culture. You can visit the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve and the Tafua Peninsula Rainforest Preserve to explore caves, waterfalls, lava fields, and canopies in Savaii, Samoa. Much of this area has remained untouched by modern infrastructure projects. Although a single paved road goes around the island, many areas are only accessible by dirt trails.
Donsol and Peleliu – Philippines
Donsol, Philippines is a must-see destination for any diving enthusiast. This small Philippine town is a booming metropolis for ecotourism, as local groups strive to protect the region’s whale shark population. You can reach many dive sites within a two-hour boat ride of Donsol. This is also a great place to see manta rays while scuba diving. Another great ecotourism destination in the Philippines is Peleliu, which is located in the east part of the Philippines. Peleliu is the best place to see spinner dolphins and stingless jellyfish. Take a kayak tour between Koror and Peleliu to get an up-close look at the jellyfish!
Sariska Tiger Reserve – Rajasthan, India
To protect Bengal tigers in the region, the Sariska Tiger Reserve was designed a wildlife reserve in 1955. But these aren’t the only species that call Rajasthan home. Visitors can sometimes spot golden jackals, the Great Indian Horned owl and the four-horned antelope in the reserve too. This is a great place for bird-watching, especially the grey partridge, bush quail, sand grouse, and spot peafowl. One of the best ways to explore this area is atop a camel! Camel safaris allow visitors to explore local villages, farms, and palaces with the expertise of a local guide.
Way Kambas National Park – Indonesia
The Way Kambas National Park spans 130,000 hectares of land and is home to Sumatran tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses – many of which are endangered. Make sure to visit the Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge, an elephant sanctuary, inside the park. After taking an elephant safari, you can tour nearby villages and sample local cuisine. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, because this is a great area for bird-watching.
Ecotourism gives deeper purpose to travel, going beyond the “escape” many of us seek during that two-week vacation from the office. It inspires us to take time to appreciate nature, understand other cultures, and commit to a lifestyle of environmental responsibility.