‘Ecotourism’ is an emerging trend in the travel industry. Ecotourism can simply mean visit a fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed place where nature — or ecology — is the main attraction. Also, it means becoming more attuned to the environmental impact of tourism and be more responsible for conserving the environment and improving the wellbeing of the local people.
So, are you an ecotourist? If you are one, you’ll love the many spectacular natural wonders that Malaysia has to offer. Not only does it have a great equatorial climate, abundant natural resources and multifaceted attractions, but it also has some of the world’s best ecotourism destinations. Here are 5 ecotourism destinations you never knew in Malaysia; see what made the cut, plus our recommendations of what to do in each eco-friendly locale.
1. Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Pahang
Located in the lush tropical jungles of Lanchang, 160km away from Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary offers the most idyllic sanctuary for endangered and orphaned elephants that have been rescued from all over the Malaysian Peninsula.
The elephant sanctuary was established in 1989 within the Krau Wildlife Reserve and is managed by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The sanctuary is a tranquil home for many orphaned elephants and shelter for raising these majestic beasts. It promotes public awareness of the elephants’ plight in Malaysia and also educates the public on the significance of habitat and environmental protection. There's also a chance to observe the elephants care for their young, bathing and feeding them at the centre.
2. Cameron Highlands, Pahang
Set within the lush, biodiverse rainforest of Banjaran Titiwangsa is Cameron Highlands, a collection of quaint townships perched 1500 meters high on a nest of serene mountains. The sea of tranquillity, beautiful landscapes and cold climate of Cameron Highlands impart a unique experience upon a great number of eco-tourists each year, complemented by a perpetual mist that only adds to its mystique.
With amazing vistas and rolling hills of tea plantations, mossy forest, peaceful strawberry farms, fresh and crisp air that is several degrees lower than the more urban settlements of Malaysia, Cameron Highlands is definitely a great destination for ecotourism. Besides marvel at the beautiful landscape, while taking a stroll through the tea plantation, you can also learn about the local tea production here.
3. The Royal Belum State Park, Perak
In Perak’s Grik lies the Royal Belum State Park, a rainforest gazetted in 2007 to protect a rich menagerie of wild Asiatic elephants, sun bears, cloud leopards, tapirs, tigers and panthers, as well as the Sumatran rhino – though the latter is now believed extinct in Malaysia. The rainforest also populated by nearly 10,000 indigenous people from 18 different tribes, each with their own distinct language and culture.
Royal Belum State Park is part of the even bigger Belum-Temengor Forest Complex encompassing 1175-sq-km of tropical jungle and a dam-created Lake Temengor. Together with Taman Negara National Park, it is one of the oldest rainforest in the world, dating back to 130 million years ago, making it older than the Amazon and the Congo.
And yet for all its breathtaking beauty and serenity, it’s an area that’s seen little in the way of tourism. Often overlooked in favour of other easily-accessed ecotourism destinations dotting the country, its remote location doesn’t help either — a five-hour drive north of Kuala Lumpur, no airports and the only way to get around the forest is via boats. Despite the inconvenience, there's much to see and do around the Royal Belum State Park. Nature Lovers will have the most joy: numerous jungle trails and river cruises, the Pulau Tujuh waterfalls, the panoramic view from the Pulau Talikail Lookout Tower, in search for the Rafflesia, trek to the salt licks with the chance to spot wildlife.
4. Santubong and Buntal, Sarawak
We have all heard of the elusive and rare Irrawaddy dolphins in Myanmar but little is known about the dolphin population in Sarawak. In fact, Sarawak is one of the hotspots for Irrawaddy dolphins.
These dolphins normally travel in groups of 2 to 6 individuals, but in Sarawak, groups of about 10 individuals are often sighted around the Santubong and Buntal coastal areas. The record shown gatherings of as many as 30 individuals have been sighted before in the area due to the congregation of different pods around the river estuary. Therefore, the Santubong and Buntal coastal areas are the best location to view these critically endangered dolphins.
Dolphin-watching tours in the Santubong-Buntal peninsula run from April to November, which can be combined with a mangrove cruise where you can see other rare wildlife, such as Borneo’s proboscis monkey.
5. The Perhentians, Terengganu
The small archipelago called the Perhentians, located in the South China Sea off the coast of Terengganu features as one of the most beautiful ecotourism destinations to visit in Malaysia. The Perhentians might not be easy to get to, but the Perhentians have achieved iconic status on the ecotourism trail. And for good reason — waters are so clean that you can snorkel right off the beach and still see a diverse array of aquatic life.
The coast of the Perhentians is home to some of Malaysia’s most spectacular scuba diving and snorkelling sites. Blessed with a tropical climate all year round and unparalleled natural beauty both on land and underwater, a list of ecotourism destinations in Malaysia just wouldn't be complete without these amazing islands.
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