Best Asian Destinations for Green Tourists

  • whale shark diving visayas cebu philippines
    Donsol, Philippines, has ecotourism ventures to conserve whale sharks, and excellent diving options.
Masa shares several excellent recommendations for green vacations:

The first few days of 2016 have been quite busy for our family. We just got home from celebrating an amazing New Year’s Eve at the Maldives. The kids had to be almost dragged out of our beach resort. On the first day of the New Year, we did what we usually do as a family and made a list of places we wanted to visit this year (it has to do with working in the travel industry, really). I expected to hear grandiose ideas (like the desperate plea last year to holiday at a Rajastani maharaja castle). But I was surprised to hear very little of over-the-top vacation ideas, and more about “going green.”

Green tourism has been something we have been trying to incorporate into our tour itineraries. It’s something most of our clients are interested in, and as a company, we strive to be environmentally friendly. However, pitching grand ideals during team meetings is easy, but I’ve found out that achieving a green goal is much more difficult. The problem is that we offer tours at Asian countries that are just beginning to grasp the meaning of sustainable tourism. Greenwashing is abundant. We often receive sales pitches for eco-resorts that are only eco in the name.

Regardless, environmental activism has pushed genuine eco-tourism ventures at popular Asian destinations. These may be few at the moment, but the numbers are rapidly rising. For those of you who may already be wondering where to go next year without having to worry about contributing to habitat destruction, here are several useful suggestions:

Satwa Elephant Ecolodge, Indonesia

Located by the jaw-dropping Kambas National Park on the Satwa island in Indonesia, this ecolodge is quite striking. Kambas is famous as a refuge for critically endangered species like the Sumatran tiger and rhino. In addition to these amazing creatures, there’s plenty of easy-to-spot wildlife like gibbons, monkeys and exotics birds. Designed keeping nature lovers in mind, this lodge got its eco designation for sustainable energy practices that I find quite admirable. The rooms in the lodge are all solar powered. The lodge also promotes environmental conservation in the area. It’s an excellent place for eco-minded to tourists to have a great time without increasing one’s carbon footprint.

kambas elephants

Elephants at Kambas National Park.
(Photo credit:

Popham’s Arboretum, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

Dambulla in Sri Lanka is famous for tourist sites like the magnificent cave temple. Unfortunately, mass tourism has greatly contributed to garbage dumps and other issues in the city. So imagine my relief when I heard about a small space of green haven called Popham’s Arboretum. It’s a bit off the main road. The best part is, despite the throngs of local and foreign tourists who arrive in the area, very few know about this place. The arboretum was created by a British expat who named it after himself. Popham wanted to save the endemic trees and plants of the area that often got destroyed by slash-and-burn farming. Begun as a small garden, now it’s a fully-fledged conservation effort. Tourists are welcome to come and take a stroll among the lush and shady trees.  Do visit, as it helps the arboretum continue, and also because it’s such a relaxing place to enjoy. I actually liked it better than the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, simply because it was less crowded and much more tranquil.


Entrance to Popham’s arboretum.
(Photo credit:

Tatai River, Cambodia

The Koh Rong area is the ecotourism capital of Cambodia. The Tatai river flows through the verdant rural landscapes, which for a long time were isolated and closed off to tourists due to Cambodia’s political troubles. That means the area remains pristine and untouched. Last year, I got an unexpected chance to cruise down the Tatai and stay overnight at a floating tent on the river. It was definitely one of my best vacation experiences. On the sides of the river was a lush stretch of virgin rainforest, one of the largest in Southeast Asia. There are gibbons and fireflies on the riverbank, and in the water itself, Siamese crocodiles (or so we were told. I didn’t see any.) The overwater tents we stayed at were comfortable and quite luxurious. Nearby, there were resorts on land running on solar power. If you stay for a couple of days, you can enjoy guided hikes in the forest or kayak to Tatai waterfall.

4 rivers floating villa tents

Floating tents on Tatai River.

Eravikulam National Park, Kerala, India

Kerala perhaps is India’s foremost destination for nature lovers. I’ve heard much praise for this particular Indian state from friends who’ve enjoyed the famous Kerala backwaters, Thommankuthu waterfalls and adventure activities in Thenmala. I also have to mention Periyar National Park, a great place to see elephants, and if you are patient, Bengal tigers. For ecotourists, however, I highly recommend the national park in Eravikulam, which sees fewer visitors than popular Periyar. Eravikulam is dedicated to the conservation of the engangered Nilgiri Tahr species of deer. Therefore, the park is well regulated. There are lots more exotic fauna for wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy and amazing cascades for adventurous visitors to trek to.

nilgiritragus hylocrius

Nilgiri Tahr deer at Eravikulam National Park.
(Photo credit: Navaneeth Kishor/Wikipedia)

Donsol, Philippines

Donsol is practically synonymous with whale sharks, the world’s largest living fish, which tend to gather in huge numbers at Tico Pass area here from January to July. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) made this area a biodiversity reserve to converse whale sharks threatened by commercial fishing. This community-based ecotourism program protects the habitats, migration routes and feeding grounds of manta rays and sea turtles as well. This admirable effort costs money, and it’s mainly supported by the registration fees tourists pay for various activities offered in the area. So if you are a diving, snorkeling or watersports enthusiast concerned about the environment, Donsol is the place to be. You will be captivated by the breathtaking scenery, and you’ll get to enjoy a vacation with real meaning.

whale shark diving visayas cebu philippines

Whale shark at Donsol.

The above are only a few that we have tried and tested at the agency. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments section below!