However many times we travel to Asia, we always get excited about the prospect of encountering some of the diverse and fascinating animal species that inhabit the region! Whether you dream of watching orang-utans in Borneo, feeding elephants in Thailand, or falling asleep to the soundscape of the Sri Lankan wilderness, we’ve picked a few of our favourite hotels where that wildlife will be right on your doorstep.
The only way to reach the remote islands of the Inle Heritage Resort is via an hour-long boat trip past the stilted houses and floating gardens of the Inle waterways, which gives your stay a slightly ‘other-worldly’ feel from the outset. When you reach the resort itself, it won’t be long before you meet a few misty-furred Burmese cats - members of the 40 strong cat colony that calls this heritage project home. The 1,000 year old pedigree breed used to be the chosen feline of the royal court, and is gradually being reintroduced to Myanmar under guidance from an NGO. They're now cared for like royalty themselves, with their own island, complete with cat hotels, a larger house on the main island, and freedom to roam wherever they wish - as well as plenty of pampering from staff and guests.
The rescue and rehabilitation of elephants is a top priority throughout Asia, and ventures like the Anantara Elephant Camp - a huge favourite amongst the Selective Asia team - are a vital part of the story. This camp is currently home to 25 elephants (a number that continues to grow as the herd breeds), and over 60 people who care for and support them. Combining a top-notch luxury spa hotel with hands-on elephant conservation brings new visitors every day to fall in love with these extraordinary animals and spread the message about their needs. Start by breakfasting with the elephants, before accompanying them on foot as they wander through the jungle, and finish off the day back at the hotel with a relaxing massage and a cocktail or two: sounds pretty perfect to us.
Each of Sri Lanka’s national parks has different interdependent ecosystems to discover, and staying in a tented camp alongside the protected areas put you right where the action is. From the brave leopards to be spotted making their way through Yala's grasslands, to elephant sightings at Udawalawe, to the nearly 200 species of birds that visit the Bundala wetlands, each tented camp is sensitively pitched within the animals’ natural habitat. You won’t be roughing it, either: the tents are really more like canvas cabins, complete with plush full-size beds, wall-to-wall carpet, and en-suites with hot showers and flushable loos. Go to sleep under the stars and wake to a different kind of dawn chorus, as the gentle murmur of stirring wildlife echoes through the landscape.
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge combines the childhood dream of staying in a treehouse with an astonishing level of luxury for a hotel that lies deep in the rainforest. With conservation and animal welfare at its core, this project is serious about making sure their guests understand how to behave around any wildlife that comes close, especially the orang-utans. Each cabin has a terrace where you can sit quietly and enjoy the sounds of the jungle, and some are furnished with outdoor hot-tubs and private infinity pools for added indulgence. However, the tree-top canopy walkway is the resort’s crowning glory, allowing guests to wander between high viewing platforms and gaze out into the wilderness. With a little patience, you might find something gazing back.
Staying in Borneo's rainforest, our next recommendation is on the banks of Sabah’s longest river. The Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge is ideal for getting out on the water and close to the animals who make their homes here. You have a good chance of spotting proboscis monkeys (unique to Borneo) pygmy elephants, otters and a vibrant variety of birdlife, as well as catching the odd glimpse of those beautiful orangutans. Once again, eco-sustainability has top priority and the hotel minimises its environmental footprint with efficient water purification technology and minimal waste. After a day exploring the forest, you can fall asleep in a room set high among the trees, completing your immersive experience of the rainforest.
If a daytrip on the river isn’t enough, then staying aboard a klotok house boat, gently traversing the waterways of Tanjung Puting National Park, might quench your thirst for watery adventure! Although the accommodation is simple, as you would expect from a small wooden vessel, the experience of observing the riverbank from a different vantage point is well worth it. Moving quietly across the water, the klotok avoids frightening off the wildlife. As they leave the shelter of the forest to drink at the river’s edge, you may see orang-utans, macaques, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, hornbills, and any number of other creatures who live in the mangrove swamps and thick jungle which make up this protected parkland.
The Sepilok Nature Resort is located in a place of truly outstanding natural beauty. Just a walk away from the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, one of the last remaining homes of wild orang-utans in Borneo, it is not uncommon for these ‘old men of the forest’ to wander right up to the Sepilok chalets when they think no-one is about! Spend the day learning about conservation at the nearby Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, followed by trekking through the jungle, birdwatching or taking a trip down the river, before returning to the resort just as the day-trippers head home. With fewer people around, you can sit on your terrace in the stillness and listen to the sounds of the forest as its inhabitants prepare for sunset; wildlife experiences simply don’t get better than this.
The rainforest of Taman Negara National Park, is estimated to be over 130 million years old - one of the most ancient on Earth. As you traverse through the canopy on rope bridges, you get an overwhelming sense of the depth and age of the ecosystems that have evolved here, and the importance of protecting them. The Multiara Resort sits lightly in the landscape, with biodegradable materials, low lighting and simple facilities ensuring it leaves as little trace of itself as possible. Sharing your forest surroundings are macaques, slow loris, Malkoha birds and porcupine, while deeper in live critically endangered Malayan tigers. The relaxed, spacious chalets make this a fabulous option for families too, and an unforgettable way to introduce children to the rainforest.
The pioneering Elephant Hills project, deep in the forested landscape of Khao Sok National Park, is arguably Thailand’s most well-known wildlife venture. Moving rescued elephants into eco-tourism projects such as this steers the ‘elephant economy’ away from entertainment and around to focus on the welfare and wellbeing of the animals. Instead of riding the elephants, you will assist the rangers in feeding and washing them before watching them play together in their natural environment. The glamping luxury of the tented camp is ideal for combining some relaxing downtime along with your elephant interaction and, if you fancy a slower pace and a little more solitude sometimes, opt for a couple of nights in the floating camp on Cheow Larn Lake too.