From Borneo to Vietnam to Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia is home to a myriad of diverse and exciting species, including elephants, orangutans, leopards, bears, tigers, and the mighty saltwater crocodile. From Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia to Donsol in the Philippines, we share seven locations in Southeast Asia where visitors can observe rare species in the wild.
1. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
As you might guess from the name, Komodo National Park is the home of the endangered Komodo dragon. In fact, the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motag are the only locations in the world where Komodo dragons live in the wild.
Measuring up to three meters long and weighing in at a staggering 150 pounds, an encounter with these gargantuan creatures is a truly unforgettable experience. Trekking tours are available locally, with experienced guides helping visitors to track not just Komodo dragons, but monkeys, wild boars, eagles, and yellow-crested cockatoos.
2. Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia
Since 2017, Malaysia has redoubled its wildlife protection efforts. Taman Negara National Park, the country’s first officially protected area, is where Malaysian conservation first started. Taman Negara National Park presents opportunities for close encounters with elephants, tigers, clouded leopards, and rhinos.
One of the world’s best preserved primary rainforests, Taman Negara covers more than 1,600 square miles. Taman Negara National Park is populated by more than 50 bird species, including the eye-catching great hornbill, whose colossal size and bold colors have earned it a prominent place in local tribal ceremonies and rituals.
3. Kinabalu National Park, Borneo
This UNESCO World Heritage Site takes its name from Borneo’s tallest mountain, the 13,435 feet-high Mount Kinabalu. It provides a habitat for more than 4,500 different species of flora and fauna, most endemic to this area. As a result, Kinabalu is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Home to the Bornean orangutan and the rare proboscis monkey, Kinabalu National Park also hosts several varieties of gibbons and tarsiers. Covering more than 290 square miles and encompassing four separate climate zones, Kinabalu National Park is one of the most important biological sites in all of Southeast Asia.
4. Donsol, The Philippines
Located off the carefree fishing island of Luzon, from November to June each year, Donsol Bay plays host to one of the largest whale shark populations on Earth. Over the course of three or four hours in Donsol Bay, visitors can enjoy swimming with multiple whale sharks. High up on the bucket list of many divers, sharing the water with a spotted fish the size of a small moving. Is a truly unforgettable wildlife experience.
Protected by WWF Philippines since 1998, Donsol has established itself as a thriving ecotourism destination, its community-based tour guides working closely with local authorities to facilitate human encounters with these majestic creatures in a safe, environmentally-conscious way.
5. Cardamon Mountains, Cambodia
Covering more than 4.5 million acres of prime rainforest, the Cardamon Mountains was designated a wildlife corridor by the Cambodian Government in 2016. Today, the region is prime territory for Asian elephants, Malayan sun bears, Asiatic black bears, clouded leopards, and Indochinese tigers.
In fact, scientists believe that the Cardamon Mountains could host thousands of as-yet undiscovered plants, animals and more. These species may disappear from the planet without substantial conservation efforts.
6. Ranthambore National Park, India
India has made significant progress with its conservation programs in recent years, particularly in its efforts to protect tigers. Ranthambore National Park presents the ultimate opportunity to observe these majestic creatures at close range.
Attracting thousands of international tourists, this national park is one of the biggest and most impressive in the whole of India. In addition to watching tigers in their natural habitat, visitors can also encounter hyenas, wild boars, and leopards around Ranthambore fortress.
7. Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
A designated wildlife sanctuary since 1938, Minneriya National Park provides travelers with ample opportunity to observe a plethora of rare and interesting wildlife. Visitors may spot Asian elephants and spotted deer, to torque macaque and purple-faced langur, to rarer, more endangered creatures, like leopards and sloth bears.
Situated within Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, the national park is best known for its phenomenal elephant migration, which is one of the finest wildlife experiences in all of Asia. From June to September, as many as 300 elephants gather at the ancient Minneriya water tank.
Covering more than 21,000 acres, Minneriya is a four-hour drive from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. With a diverse topography comprising scrub plains, rocky outcrops, wetlands, and evergreen forests, Minneriya is home to a cacophony of exotic birdlife, hosting almost 170 bird species in total, including hornbills, jungle fowl, and kingfishers, which are frequently spotted fishing in the shallow waters surrounding the water tank.