Five Malaysian eco-breaks
Sustainable travel, including responsible nature holidays and what has become known as eco-tourism, is on the rise in Malaysia – and with good reason. Though Malaysia has highly developed urban regions, it is also home to a rich ecology and diverse geography.
For the nature-interested traveller, this Southeast Asian nation comprises mountains and highlands; beaches and countless tropical islands; rainforests and mangrove estuaries plus much more. The well-organized tourism infrastructure and wealth of natural locations and activities help make Malaysia one of the world’s top destinations for environmentally-conscious travel. Malaysia is an exciting as well as convenient location for a dizzying choice of eco-holidays.
What follows are five general ideas for eco-breaks in Malaysia. There is naturally plenty of cross-over between and among these categories and lots of variety within each.
The sole great apes that are unique to Asia, these wondrous endangered primates are only native to Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysia has well-developed facilities for observing orangutans in the wild and in special rehabilitation centers. Visiting these reserves and centers aids in the protection of habitats which are crucial to the survival of these fascinating and gentle apes.
Places like the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Danum Valley Conservation Area and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (all located in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) contain different options for accommodation, ranging from basic camping in tents to comfortable, well-appointed stays at more upscale rainforest lodges.
Orangutan, Sepilok, Borneo, Malaysia. Pic: Paul Mannix (Flickr CC).
Other wildlife observation and “volun-tourism”
Besides orangutans, Malaysia is home to a host of other amazing examples of wildlife. Some need your help! Nesting sea turtles are very vulnerable to poachers. Those who wish to combine a holiday with the chance to assist local endangered species can incorporate volunteer work like helping turtles or regrowing coral into a scuba diving vacation or other nature break.
This short description comes from an article on “Ethical turtle tourism” from The Star: “The volunteers conduct daily dinner-time briefing sessions, educating guests about turtles and the threats they face, during which they remind guests to switch off their mobile phones and avoid camera flashes on the beach at night.”
Other options include visiting elephant sanctuaries in the rainforest or even wildlife refuges for endangered wild cattle, called guar.
Ecological agricultural tourism
Those into eating and growing organic food might be interested in a bit of agricultural tourism. Visits to ecological rice, produce and seafood farms can be far more exiting than the idea sounds. These farms are often located in beautiful surroundings and visitors can incorporate jungle trekking, cycling, mountain climbing and river expeditions into their stay.
Kahang Organic Rice Farm features accommodation ranging from camping to “floating chalets” in the rice fields. Of course food is also a major part of each stay, with meals composed of a range of fresh organic fruit, vegetables, fish and rice.
Malaysia is home to several national parks, two of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One such site is Kinabalu National Park in Malaysian Borneo, which contains the country’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu, and around 4,500 species of flora and fauna. The other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Malaysia is Gunung Mulu National Park, also on the island of Borneo. Gunung Mulu National Park is the world’s most studied tropical karst area, contains a 2,377 meter-high sandstone pinnacle (from which the park gets its name) and some 295 km of explored caves. The park is also well-known for its rich variety of plant life, and its canyons, rivers and dense, rainforest-covered mountains.
Gunung Mulu pinnacles. Pic: Paul White (Flickr CC).
Besides these two UNESCO sites, there are 26 other national parks plus many state parks and reserves in Malaysia, protecting most of the nation’s forest land. Nearly three quarters of Malaysia is covered in trees and natural forests. These forests are extremely biodiverse in flora and are also where fauna such as clouded leopards, Sumatran rhinos, Malaysian tigers, Asian sun bears, monitor lizards and orangutans can be found.
Malaysia’s national parks include not only forest land, but lowlands full of rivers, atolls, coral reefs and scores of islands. These parks encompass the main eco-tourism destinations in the country.
Loaded with islands, rivers and coastline, Malaysia is a dream location for eco-friendly water activities like diving, snorkeling and river rafting.
White water rafting is possible at grades I-V (tame to very dangerous) in many rivers located in the country’s national parks. Popular diving and snorkeling spots include Tioman, a small island located within the Mersing Marine Park, and the 9-island archipelago of Redang inside Redang Marine Park.
Tioman Island. Pic: Le Journal de Maman (Flickr CC).
Naturally, Malaysia’s many islands provide ample opportunity for scuba diving and snorkeling among coral reefs.
I hope this list provided you with some inspiration and ideas for an unforgettable Malaysian eco-break. For a more information on responsible tourism, volun-tourism and eco-friendly holidays in Malaysia I recommend a visit to the Wild Asia website.