SOUTHEAST ASIA IS A UNIQUE MOSAIC of natural wonders. However, the future of its ancient rainforests teeming with wildlife, vibrant waters, and rugged mountain ranges and vast plains home to remote communities hangs in the balance due to climate change and environmental devastation. To mark Earth Day 2021, here are some of the best eco-experiences that put sustainability, communities and the environment at their core.
Veer off the well-trodden trail in northwestern Vietnam with a stay at charming Topas Ecolodge. Here, 41 rustic bungalows are tucked away on a mountaintop in majestic Hoang Lien National Park. Protecting the local environment and indigenous culture sits at the core of operations. The team of 100 staff is recruited from nearby villages home to Red Dao, Black H’mong, Tay, Xa Pho and Giay hill tribes. The kitchen also operates under a farm-to-table philosophy, with rice, vegetables, fruit and meat sourced from local farms. Additionally, a plastic-free policy runs across all rooms and suites, and water is purified and recycled on-site. A winner all round!
topasecolodge.com; rooms from US$230
What better way to discover Langkawi’s treasure-trove of mangroves, mountains, islands and vibrant waters than alongside one of Malaysia’s leading naturalists, “junglewalla” Irshad Mobarak? The archipelago is blessed with a delicate ecosystem comprising several UNESCO geological parks rich in marine and wildlife. The sustainable tour operator curates eco-adventures that range from hiking up Gunung Raya – Langkawi’s highest peak – in search of macaques, giant squirrels, hornbills and the island’s national bird, Brahminy kites. Alternatively, enjoy a leisurely cruise through the network of mangroves and keep an eye out for land-walking fish, kingfishers and otters, or kayak along rivers that slice through forest abounding with nature.
junglewalla.com; half-day tours from US$45
Koh Tao, Thailand
Avid divers can turn into budding marine conservationists at New Haven. The dive school on idyllic island paradise, Koh Tao – one of the world’s most popular destinations for underwater exploring – runs a diverse range of marine and conservation activities. The aim is to teach divers to respect precious marine life through a variety of projects that include restoring coral reefs, coral reef research and taking care of sea turtle hatchlings. Experiences start from a full-day immersion and run to three-month internships for those really keen to get involved. To take part, an advanced scuba license is necessary. Of course, if you’re not qualified, the school can train you up.
newheavenreefconservation.org; accommodation from US$35 for divers, and basic diving courses from US$270
Bokeo Province, Laos
Adrenaline junkies can get on the ultimate high while saving one of Laos’s most pristine forests at Nam Kan National Park. The tourism-based conservation project delivers aerial adventures deep in the jungle that include a night’s sleep in the world’s tallest treehouses, teetering 30 to 40 meters high. An exhilarating zipline adventure through treetops home to a host of gibbons is the only way to access them. Visitors can enjoy hiking through thick forest and flying from mountain to mountain along ziplines to Laos’s largest tree, the 55-meter-high Tree King. Profits are ploughed into sustainable agriculture projects to reduce illegal logging, commercial cropping and slash-and-burn farming.
https://www.gibbonexperience.org/; prices from US$190 for the “Express” two-day/ one-night tour
Luzon, the Philippines
Check-in at the go-to retreat for Filipino A-list celebs and indulge in a stay at The Farm at San Benito. The holistic eco-resort is spread across 48 hectares of lush jungle and, as well as ensuring the wellness of its guests, it places caring for the delicate ecosystem it sits within as a top priority. In addition to unique nature-inspired holistic treatments – think mandala flower meditation, heated bed therapy and an aqua sanctuary – visitors can feast on nutritious vegan dishes that use ingredients hand-picked from the garden at Alive! Restaurant. Keep an eye out for Nirvana, the resident albino peacock.
thefarmatsanbenito.com; rooms from US$280