ECO-TOURISM – SOUTHEAST ASIA’S NEWEST DRAW
News of spreading extinctions in the animal kingdom have made ecotourism an urgent priority for tourists who love the Earth. Ecotourism destinations make visitors appreciate the lavish gifts of nature – all the more so that nature is slowly giving way to human development.
The Southeast Asian region is a biodiversity hotspot, which means that Southeast Asia packs more ecotourism destinations within its borders than most other places on the globe.
The New York Times’ Michelle Higgins names Laos as a major ecotourism destination to watch, specifically the provinces of Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Khammouane and Champassak.
Malaysia is also getting in on the act, selling the pristine territories of East Malaysia to travelers seeking an ecotourism spot off the beaten track. The Malaysian part of Borneo in particular is a top attraction, with ecotourism stops like Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary responsible for drawing travelers from all around the world.
Finally, the Philippines would like to grab a piece of that ecotourism pie, and a new award from a French organization brings the country a little closer to its goals. The Philippines received the “Ecotourism Destination of the Year” award in the 2009 edition of Nature, a major French travel fair. France has paid a little more attention to the Philippines since it played host to the French edition of Survivor.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Though “ecotourism” is a vague term to most consumers, there are specific components to look for in a vacation marketed with the word.
Where the environment is concerned, tourists should ask whether or not a tour operator or hotel is certified and incorporates sustainable energy practices like solar power or water conservation.
Companies should also make clear exactly how they contribute to local communities. Volunteer time, financial contributions or donations of needed materials can be effective depending on the location. If a company doesn’t comment on these issues or doesn’t respond to questions, chances are they may be “greenwashing”–just using the “eco-” term as a marketing tool.
“You don’t want to turn your vacation time into labor,” he says of researching ecotourism travel options, “but you have to be pretty determined.”
Awareness of one’s impact often helps convince travelers to explore so-called ethical measures. At the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, for instance, independent travelers contribute about $100 to the local economy, whereas those on a package tour spend half that and those who arrive via a cruise ship have a local impact of only three cents. With this knowledge, a tourist might decide against a cruise and instead book local alternatives and buy keepsakes from native artisans.
“The important thing to note is that when you say ‘ecotourism,’ it’s not just about one particular group of companies you can travel with. It’s about doing everything possible to make your experience more sustainable and more responsible.”
SOUTHEAST ASIA ECO-TOURS AND POPULAR DESTINATIONS
Eco tour becomes one of the top trends for travelers who love natures and ecology around us. And many travelers found today South East Asia countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines as their top destinations for eco tourism.
If you are the one who love eco tour and plan your next trip to South East Asia, you may love to try some leading eco tour destinations.
Surat Thani, especially the Gulf of Thailand dotted with hundreds of limestone islands having lush jungle, waterfalls, clandestine caves and many deserted beaches has a strong line-up of natural attractions for eco travel. All outdoor activities are fun and adventurous. Fertile in tropical wildlife, birds and plants, Surat Thani on the mainland has many interesting attractions for hiking, trekking, and nature study. Camping is a must at many national parks, notably Angthong and Khao Sok, the most famous places for eco tourism in Surat Thani. Many national parks in Surat Thani are the sites for nature trails that could be used for soft adventure. Surat Thani is the largest of the southern provinces of Thailand, on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand.
Chiang Mai is in the far North of Thailand is renowned for its scenic natural beauty – an area filled with forested mountains, rivers, waterfalls and lush tropical jungles. Accordingly, it is also an area with innumerable opportunities for visitors to experience first hand a wide range of exciting and enjoyable eco-tourism activities. So much so that in 1999 Chiang Mai was aptly chosen as the official venue for the annual conference of the PATA Eco and Adventure Conference. The event focused on a variety of eco and adventure activities in the region, as well as similar activities available in other parts of Thailand. The most popular eco activities in Chiang Mai include rafting – either on bamboo rafts or inflatable dinghies, white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, trekking – either by foot or by elephant, mountain biking, climbing, hiking and bird watching, to name but a few.
Sabah, Malaysia’s most eastern state, sits at the northern tip of Borneo, the world’s third largest island, and provides you with 1,440 km of coastline and 74,500 km² of tropical jungle to explore. Within Sabah’s rainforests and beaches, there lies a host of exciting eco-tourist activities. You can climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in the region, visit the largest orang utan sanctuary in the world and dive at some of the world’s best wall, reef, wreck and macro diving locations. Malaysia’s increasingly popular eco-travel destination has everything that you could possibly want in a holiday: beautiful beaches, the finest resort hotels, water sports, international and richly varied local cuisine, mountains, forests, temples, coral reefs, turquoise seas, and tropical sunshine – all in plentiful proportions
Sarawak, the ‘Land of the Hornbills‘ is the country’s largest state forming part of East Malaysia in Borneo. It’s characterised by distinctive ethnic groups many of whom still live in riverside settlements.
Sarawak is an eco-adventure destination for trekking, caving, mountain climbing, kayaking, biking, rafting and diving. There are many national parks and wildlife reserves such as Bako National Park, close to Kuching which contains many plant species endemic to Borneo.
Kubah National Park, Matang Wildlife Centre and Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre provide rehabilitation for endangered animals like Orang Utans.
Similajau National Park has emerald waters, a tropical rainforest and long, golden beaches where Green Turtles lay their eggs. The 10,736 hectare-Loagan Bunut National Park contains Sarawak’s largest natural lake and is a bird-watchers’ paradise. The Niah Caves is the archaelogical site of 40,000 year-old human remains.
Enjoy the hospitality of Sarawak’s indigenous communities who live in longhouses along the Lemanak, Rejang, Skrang and Batang Ai Rivers. Access is normally via long motorised boats. In the past, paddling meant arduous journeys but today, small outboards make the task easier.
Luang Namtha is in the northwestern part of Laos and is slowly gaining a name for itself in Southeast Asia as a centre of eco-tourism and environment-friendly tours, the province is a great place to get off the beaten path and explore a rugged and remote mountainous region. The Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA) is located near the town and has been listed as an ASEAN Heritage Park since 2005. The NPA is home to a number of ethnic minorities as well as to several endangered wildlife species. The region offers great opportunities for Luang Namtha tourism activities such as trekking, cycling, kayaking, rafting, and walking.
More than 200,000 hectares of forestland are part of this protected area. The fauna includes almost 300 species of birds, reptiles and over 38 species of mammals, such as the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopards and sun bears.
A 2003 survey confirmed that a small number of the rare and endangered Black-cheeked Crested Gibbon lives in the remote forest districts of Muang Long, Nalea and Vieng Phoukha. Some of the birds spotted here are the Yellow-vented Warbler, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Rufous-throated Fulvetta, Pied Falconet, Grey-headed Lapwing, Green Cochoa and Blyth’s Kingfisher. Large populations of the Silver Pheasant also live here and the Crimson-breasted Woodpecker was spotted here for the first time in Laos.
Taking an eco-tour is a great way to see the highland forests and waterfalls. The Nam Ha NPA is the fourth largest protected area in Laos and also the fourth largest protected area in the subtropical forest zone of Northern Indochina.
Bokeo is tucked in the north-west corner of Laos between Thailand and Myanmar, a mountainous province home to a rich mixture of flora and fauna and 34 different ethnic groups. Bokeo has one of the last remaining populations of black-cheeked gibbons in Laos, and an innovative canopy forest camp called the Gibbon Experience has been developed to provide travelers with the opportunity to see and hear the gibbons.
Having rediscovered a population of Black Gibbons, once thought to be extinct, the Gibbon Experience now works to grow their numbers. They also have programs to rehabilitate animals orphaned by poachers as well as elephants displaced domesticated elephants. In the last year, they have helped to rehabilitate one black gibbon, four civet cats and two macaques.
Bohol has hills that roll gently around lush forests and grassy meadows. Marine life – from schools of tiny reef fish to bigger pods of dolphins and whales – teem in the surrounding waters. It is essentially an agricultural province, with rice, coconut and corn as main produce. Fishing is a major industry and handicrafts from this area is famous throughout the country.
Palawan is made up of 1768 islands and is the second largest province of the Philippines. It is rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the best island destination in East and Southeast Asia region in 2007, and the 13th best island in the world having “incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes. The island has had a Biosphere Reserve status since early 1990s, showing local interest for conservation and sustainable development”.
Koh Kong is mostly known to people as the passage town to and from Thailand, or a convenient stop-over for a visa run from Thailand. It’s generally a quiet town, but there many reasons to stay in and around Koh Kong for more than one night and experience the scenic beauty it has to offer. Located on the South-West corner of Cambodia, Koh Kong city, the capital of Koh Kong province, is a large forested area with mangroves, rivers, and tropical islands. Around the town is the Bay of Thailand, Koh Kong island, the country of Thailand, and mountains and jungles. There’s a few eco-tourist lodges outside the town in the jungle and on the rivers, and hundreds of kilometers of unspoiled jungles for the real adventurer. Many destinations are only accessible by foot, boat, motorcycle or cow.
Chiang Rai province is also known for its attractive destinations replete with beautiful mountain and valley views. Blessed with a cool climate, the region boasts many scenic areas. Important districts that offer beautiful views of the river, mountains, and valleys are Amphoe Maw Fa Luang, Amphoe Wiang Kaen, and the Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao. Of these, the Amphoe Wiang Pa Pao has excellent Thailand attractions. For instance, the Bo Nam Ron hot spring situated in the Tambon Me Chedi Mai area of Wiang Pa Pao is an excellent destination for a relaxing Chiang Rai tourism experience. The Khun Chae National Park in the Wiang Pa Pao district is also a top destination for adventure enthusiasts; the park is best known for its campy atmosphere. Visitors interested in adventurous Chiang Rai travel will find several hilltops, cliffs, jungles, and beautiful waterfalls to explore.
Ninh Binh in Vietnam is an outstanding destination with stunning landscapes including Cuc Phuong National Park and the towering limestone peaks rising from the Tam Coc valley, called the “Inland Ha Long” and Van Long Nature Reserve. Escape the stresses of the city for a couple of day into an area that compliments a mix of adventure and relaxation.
Cuc Phuong National Park is the oldest national park in Vietnam. Located only 120km southwest of Hanoi and nestled between the provinces of Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa, Cuc Phuong boasts engaging cultural and wildlife heritage and enchanting scenery. Magnificent limestone mountains rise up majestically from the green rice-terraces and traditional stilt houses of the Muong hill-tribe. Covered in a dense forest they form a habitat for some of Asia’s rarest species. It is no wonder that researchers, naturalists, enthusiasts and conservationists alike are drawn to this corner of the world.
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