1. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Spot: Komodo dragons
This UNESCO World Heritage site comprises three main islands plus numerous smaller ones, all arid and volcanic. These are home to rare creatures such as the Timor deer and orange-footed scrub fowl, though the star of the islands is the fierce Komodo dragon (below), the world’s largest lizard that can grow to more than 3m long. Despite tourist arrivals, the predatory reptiles with muscular tails – found on Komodo and Rinca islands – are well protected, as only around 10 per cent of the national park is open to the public.
Getting there: Take a two-hour boat ride from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island to Rinca island.
2. Mulu World Heritage Area, Malaysia
Spot: Wrinkle-lipped bats
Mulu World Heritage Area is one of South-east Asia’s top parks, with 17 different vegetation zones. There, you’ll find lush flora, a sea of sharp limestone pinnacles, caves, as well as an array of tropical wildlife. The park is not on any road, meaning most folks have to fly in – unless they wish to walk the challenging Headhunter’s Trail for several days – which adds to the magical feeling. Every night at dusk, you can see millions of wrinkle-lipped bats flying out of the Deer Cave. Trekking trails lead to the jagged photogenic pinnacles.
Getting there: Flights from Kuching, Miri and Kota Kinabalu are available, or hire a guide and walk the famed Headhunter’s Trail for two days to enter the park.
3. Nam Ha National Protected Area, Laos
Nature seekers are drawn to this landscape of mountains, rivers and forest in Luang Namtha province, where only tours by registered eco guides are allowed. While you may be hard-pressed to catch a glimpse of the elusive tigers, elephants and clouded leopards that reside in the far reaches of the 222,400ha park, you may see – and hear – muntjac (above), a species of deer known to emit deep barks. Keep an eye out also for the more than 300 species of birds found in the area. The top activity here is kayaking down the Nam Ha river, which leads you to ethnic minority villages where you can spend the night.
Getting there: Take a 40-minute taxi ride from Luang Namtha.
4. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
This 126,236ha speleologist’s paradise in Quang Binh province is home to 400-million-year-old karsts and prehistoric cave systems. While much of the park is off limits to the public, you can explore various caves and view wildlife, such as the clouded leopard and the critically endangered saola (Asian bicorn; above), while on foot. Recognisable by its two parallel horns, the deer-like creature with white markings on its face is the first large mammal discovered by conservationists in more than 50 years.
Getting there: The park is about an hour by car from Dong Hoi in Quang Binh province.