The world’s largest continent is a drawcard for wildlife enthusiasts but with Asia being so diverse and playing host to so many ecosystems it is easy to feel overwhelmed by its grand scale, and to know what to see and where. The continent claims 30% of the Earth’s land area, and reaches almost halfway around the globe from east to west.
Insider Journeys Managing Director Paul Hole says Asia’s abundant wildlife is no secret. The difficulty for travellers is knowing how to access it.
“Many of the world’s best known endangered species like the leopards and tigers live in Asia and as a result, we get many inquiries from travellers asking how they can experience Asia’s wildlife in their natural habitat before it changes forever.
“The Insider Journeys team has hand-picked several of Asia’s top National Parks offering unique and individual journeys where the sheer presence of these magnificent animals provide life changing experiences,” says Hole.
Insider Journeys’ eight highly rated National Parks for the best wildlife encounters in Asia are:
- India: Ranthambore National Park was once a princely game conserve covering an area of approximately 400km2. It is now one of India’s most important Project Tiger reserves. This famous national park located at the junction of the Aravalli and Vindhya Range is the best place to spot wild tigers in Rajasthan.
Ranthambore National Park is also home to a huge variety of wildlife such as leopards, pangolins, sloth bears, deer, monkeys, and birds, seen amongst the cliffs and valleys, while crocodiles bask on the shore of the lake.
- Cambodia: Covering 2,225 km2 – more than 15% of the total area of the Mondulkiri province – is the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary located in eastern Cambodia. The wildlife sanctuary offers diverse ecosystems ranging from hilly evergreen and semi-evergreen forest, to open dry dipterocarp woodland and seasonally wet grasslands.
The National Park is teeming with wildlife – many endangered – and is home to a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles including the Asian elephant, sun bear, wild water buffalo, jungle cat, deer, leopard, banteng, gaur, Eld’s deer, marbled cat, pangolin, and green peafowl. Some of the bird species include sarus, crane, giant ibises and the elusive white-winged duck.
- Vietnam: Although not actually a National Park, Tra Su Bird Sanctuary is certainly worth a mention as it covers an area of approximately 850-hectares and is home to more than 70 species of wetland birds including the stork, heron, and teal that call this conservation area home.
Just 25km from Chau Doc, this dense wetland can be explored on board a small motorised boat and a rowboat, travelling through the brilliant green duckweed, lotus flowers, water lilies, and mangroves while wildlife spotting.
The best time to visit is when the cajeput (paperbark) forest is flooded, from July to November. For most of the year, the sanctuary’s narrow 12-km track can also be explored by bicycle.
- Laos: To encounter wildlife under the cloak of darkness, visit the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area and join the Nam Nern Night Safari, a 24-hour boat based tour that travels down the Nam Nern River throughout the day and well into the night while wildlife spotlighting, looking for wild and endangered animals.
Located in northern Laos, this protected area covers 5,959km2 across three provinces, Houaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang.
Some of the wildlife to include on the watch list are the tiger, leopard, soft and hard shelled turtles, python, Asian elephant, Sambar deer, gaur, white-cheeked crested gibbon, and otters to name a few. Travellers may even be lucky enough to catch sight of the nocturnal pangolin, one of the rarest and oldest animals on earth, having evolved over 80 million years.
- Japan: Set in the Chubu region of the main island of Honshu is Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park, the second largest national park in Japan that spans over the mountainous area of Gunma, Nagano, and Niigata prefectures. The central part of the park is traversed by a series of steep mountains, including Mount Asam, Honshu’s most active volcano.
Set in the forests of the Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where the Japanese Macaques – also commonly known as Snow Monkeys – live; a native animal to Japan. Here visitors can enjoy a unique and up close experience of seeing these wild monkeys’ act with humanlike behaviours in their natural habitat as they play and bathe in an onsen (natural hot spring).
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open all year but the best time to travel is between December and March when the Jigokudani valley is covered in a blanket of white snow.
This national park is also home to a large number of Japanese serow, sika deer, and wild birds who have claimed many parts as breeding grounds.
- Sri Lanka: Rated among the ‘Forbes top 10 coolest places to visit in 2015’ list is Sri Lanka, with the wildlife recognised as the country’s main attraction.
Yala National Park is also highlighted and comes as no surprise to those who have paid this park a visit. It is the most visited and second largest national park in the country, consisting of five blocks covering 979 km2, and is best known for its variety of wild animals.
Most high on visitors watch list is the leopard – the apex predator – with the park having the highest density of leopards in the world.
The Yala National Park offers a variety of ecosystems as habitations for park wildlife, from the monsoon forests, to freshwater and marine wetlands that is home to an abundance of wildlife, including 130 bird species, elephants, pangolins, buffalo, deer, wild boar, monkeys, sloth bears, crocodiles, and jackals.
The best wildlife viewing is from February to June when the animals compete for water to drink during the dry season.
Snow Monkey (Macaque) keeping warm in Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park’s onsen (natural hot spring)
Insider Journeys offers the following trips to these destinations of Asia:
- Take the ‘Taste of India with Ranthambore’ 9 day Small Group Journey tour from $2,995 pp twin share. The itinerary includes: Delhi, Agra, Taj Mahal, Amber Fort, Jaipur, Samode, and Ranthambore National Park.
- Experience the 14 day ‘Cambodia Revealed with Battambang’ journey from $3,240 pp twin share. The itinerary includes: Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, National Museum, Tuol Sleng, Sihanoukville, Ream National Park, Kampot, Kep, Takeo, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Sambour Prei Kuk, Tonle Sap Lake, Temples of Angkor, Battambang.
- Be a part of the 15 day ‘Sri Lanka Discovery’ tour from $4,770 pp twin share. Itinerary includes: Colombo, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla Caves, Yala National Park, and Galle.
- Experience Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, Tra Su Bird Sanctuary, Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park on private travel tours where you decide exactly which parts of Asia you would like to experience and the accommodation style that best suits your needs.