Written by David Bowden on 6 Aug 2006 with 0 comments. Be the first!
Ecotourism (ecological tourism) describes sustainable tourism activities in natural places. As such, ecotourism involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas to enjoy the scenery, wild plants and animals, as well as significant cultural features.
These are niché products catering to a small, but growing number of travellers, as more tourists want to learn about cultures and the environments in which people live.
For a country with vast tracts of tropical rainforest, it's not surprising that Malaysia has several internationally recognised ecotourism sites. These forests are a big attraction as are wetlands, islands, coral reefs, towering mountains and untamed rivers. While many areas are isolated, accessing them with some degree of comfort is now possible.
Trained guides pass on their intimate local knowledge and the need for visitors to participate in environmental conservation so that future generations can appreciate Malaysia's natural beauty.
One Malaysian organisation working towards responsible and sustainable tourism in the region is Wild Asia (www.wildasia.net). Wild Asia's Responsible Tourism Initiative aims to promote responsible tourism among operators and tourists. Travellers can gain information from the site about operators who "walk the talk".
Their overall goal is to promote sustainable tourism, to offer quality experiences for tourists and to ensure that local communities enjoy the benefits.
Malaysia has the potential to effectively manage its many natural tourist attractions so they continue to attract visitors well into the future and show that in the long run, ecotourism is one of the best ways to utilise and continually profit from the environment.
For travellers who want to appreciate Malaysia's natural assets while enjoying comfortable resort accommodation, several destinations stand out.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah
The isolated Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley is an exclusive retreat where emphasis is placed upon guides passing on their knowledge to tourists. Chalets have been constructed from stone and timber like the traditional homes of local Dusun people.
Danum Valley's 44,000 hectare forests support over 270 bird species, 110 mammals, 56 varieties of amphibians and fascinating animals like the rare Sumatran Rhinoceros, Bornean Bay Cat, Proboscis Monkey and Orang Utan.
The rainforests are some of the world's richest, oldest and tallest. One of the most popular treks incorporates a canopy walk; 30-metres high through the upper forest storey. The bird's eye views are stunning and provide opportunities to observe the forest from a unique perspective.
At day's end, guests adjourn to the restaurant and bar overlooking the Danum River. At dusk, the chorus from a multitude of droning Emperor Cicadas fills the air. A little later, fireflies start their synchronous flicker and pre-dinner drinks take on a completely new dimension as the forest reveals a sight and sound show equal to nature's best.
After dinner, guides organise excursions to see those animals that are more active in the evening. The lodge offers two options - jungle trekking or from the comfort of a slow moving truck.
The nearest airport to the lodge is Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah. From here there's a morning 4 x 4 shuttle that takes 2.5 hours.
Hilton Batang Ai Longhouse Resort, Sarawak
Legendary tales of mystical Borneo have lured adventurous travellers to follow the call of the mighty Sarawakian rivers, the soaring of colourful hornbills and the welcoming gong from a longhouse community.
Batang Ai is in a remote part of the state but within reach of various Iban longhouses. The Hilton Batang Ai overlooks the tranquil lake and offers excellent facilities including a pool and architecture based upon traditional longhouses.
While resort staff conducts various educational and adventurous activities on the lake and in the adjoining forests, a visit to an Iban longhouse is a highlight of visiting Batang Ai.
These former headhunters are now most welcoming and keen to share their rural lifestyle with all those who drop by into their remote rainforest communities.
Daily mini van transfers operate from the Hilton Kuching to Hilton Batang Ai with the last part of the four-hour journey across a section of Lake Batang Ai.
Mutiara Taman Negara Resort, Pahang
On peninsular Malaysia, Taman Negara (meaning national park) is the country's oldest and best-known parks. Comfortable chalet accommodation is available at Mutiara Taman Negara Resort. These chalets are surrounded by rainforest and make a welcomed retreat for tourists who make the three-hour boat journey into the park via the Tembeling River. The riverboat journey to park headquarters at Kuala Tahan is, for some, as exciting as the rainforests.
Sharing a corner of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan states, Taman Negara is an isolated area offering adventure, mountain climbing to Mount Tahan (the peninsula's highest peak at 2,187 metres), rafting, swimming, wildlife watching and peaceful relaxation in one of the world's oldest rainforests. Established in 1939, much of the park is untouched and remains as it has for 120 million years.
At 4,343 square kilometres it's by far Malaysia's largest park and one of the world's best-preserved rainforests. Nine-day walks to the summit of Mount Tahan are one of the challenges for enthusiastic adventurers.
The park is home to the original inhabitants, the Orang Asli, some of whom lead a traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle of fishing and hunting. They're the only ones allowed to hunt and forage in the park and still use their preferred hunting weapons of blowpipe and poisonous darts.
Flora and fauna species lists for the whole of Malaysia are impressive with an estimated 10,000 plants, 150,000 insects, 25,000 invertebrates, 675 birds, 270 reptiles, 250 freshwater fish and 200 mammals. The exciting news is that scientists are still discovering new species. Who knows what valuable resources remain locked up here just waiting to be discovered?
Many of these species can be found in Taman Negara but visitors need to appreciate that wildlife is mostly shy and well camouflaged. Unlike Africa's open savannah, wildlife spotting here requires patience, time and lots of luck.
Spending time in an isolated hide is the best way to observe wildlife. Several hides are located next to salt licks which animals visit to supplement their diet with essential minerals.
An essential activity is to venture across one of the world's longest suspended canopy walks. The 450-metre traverse is located 40 metres above the ground.
Facilities at the 110-room Mutiara Taman Negara Resort are reasonably sophisticated considering the location. Perched above the junction of the Tembeling and Tahan Rivers it features chalets with open verandas that become a private hide for wildlife spotting in the surrounding rainforest.
The journey to Taman Negara takes much of the day with a daily bus departure from central Kuala Lumpur to the boat terminal at Kuala Tembeling near Jerantut.
Royal Mulu Resort, Sarawak
Royal Mulu Resort is located on the banks of the Melinau River adjacent to Gunung (Mount) Mulu National Park. The resort's unique layout features several 'long houses' connected by elevated walkways. While civilisation is hundreds of kilometres away, the resort has everything to meet the demands of international travellers.
Mulu, one of Malaysia's two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the other being Sabah's Kinabalu Park), has been proclaimed for its stunning geological formations both above and below the surface, its wild rivers and also rainforests that blanket the area. Covering an area of 550 square kilometres, the park is one of Sarawak's largest and named after the state's second highest peak at 2,376 metres.
Traveling is inspired by a fascination with the weird and wonderful, the old and the new, the biggest this and the tallest that, that motivates many of us to seek other destinations. The capital Kuala Lumpur may have one of the world's tallest towers, but Sarawak stakes claim to the world's largest caves. Sarawak Chamber is the world's largest chamber while Deer Cave is the world's largest passage. Other caves to explore include Lang, Wind and Clearwater.
The serrated limestone peaks called The Pinnacles dominate the park's high country and continue to challenge adventurous climbers. In 1932 Edward Shackleton, the famous explorer, was the first European to reach Mount Mulu's summit. Today, climbers require stamina and several days of rigorous trekking.
The park's interpretation display is detailed and describes all the park's features. Visitors will learn that the park supports 170 orchid species along with ten varieties of pitcher plants, numerous animals and eight species of hornbills.
Deer Cave is home to millions of bats and swiftlets and on fine days, the sight of three million bats emerging at dusk in search of food is quite amazing and lasts for hours.
Nearby, Lang Cave features impressive limestone formations like rock curtains, totem poles and multi-tiered cascades. Lang Cave was first discovered in 1997 by a local guide and is the smallest of Mulu's four accessible caves.
The pool at the Royal Mulu Resort is a welcoming sight at the end of an afternoon's walk to the two caves. The resort also organises other adventurous activities like mountain biking, kayaking, river cruises and jungle trekking.
On the second day, most guests visit another series of caves that requires a river journey through tall overhanging trees. Wind Cave contains some excellent stalactites and stalagmites, especially in the majestic King's Room and the cool breeze whistling through the caves.
Clearwater Cave, further along the Melinau River, is accessed via a short trek along a raised walkway. Inside the cave a deep labyrinth of fast-flowing streams extends for over 100 kilometres.
Adventure cavers can explore additional caves including the Sarawak Chamber at 600 metres long, 415 metres wide with a roof span of 300 metres.
There are direct flights from Kota Kinabalu and Miri to Mulu National Park.
The Andaman, Langkawi
All but three of the 99 Langkawi Islands are settled. Steep limestone cliffs looming from the turquoise waters are covered in vegetation and when viewed from arriving planes, look like an emerald carpet.
The Andaman is one of Malaysia's most luxurious resorts that has won many awards for service and environmental excellence.
From the waters of Datai Bay, it's difficult to see the resort as every effort has been made to preserve forests dating back 250 million years. When the resort was built there must have been a temptation to remove the trees to open up beach views. However, the vegetation remains untouched and guests have forest scenes from their balconies rather than coastal vistas.
Isolation and seclusion are the resort's biggest attractions. Apart from the neighbouring Datai Resort, there are few signs of civilisation.
While nature walks and bird watching with experienced guides help guests "open their eyes" to the forest beauty, a journey through the island's mangroves presents one of Malaysia's best ecotourism experiences.
These forests are essential for protecting the coastline and various inlets here served as a backdrop for the movie, Anna and the King. Hundreds of Brahminy Kites and Sea Eagles feed upon schools of fish and the feeding frenzy is a popular attraction with scores of small tourist boats lining the waters of Sungai Kisap Mangrove Forest Reserve.
These forests are home to many animals with Long-tailed Macaques being more commonly seen that the shier Dusky Leaf Monkeys. One of the island's more unusual observations is the Colugo or Flying Lemur that glides using a skin membrane.
While the mangroves provide a rewarding encounter with nature the superb facilities at The Andaman await. The pool is enveloped in forests that are home to a variety of wildlife - enjoy the show from your deckchair. Alternatively, relax in the Balinese-inspired spa or dine in Gulai House - a restaurant within the forest. Nothing beats a sunset walk to the restaurant through the coastal rainforest or along the beach.
There are direct flights from London, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Langkawi.
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David has earned his reputation as being a respected travel writer, and takes in my mind, some very stunning photographs This is what he says about himself: "I started off in Australia (I didn't have much say in this as this is where my folks lived). I studied environmental management and geography ... more inside »