Searching for Southeast Asia's incredible wildlife

Searching for Southeast Asia's incredible wildlife

Despite the impact of climate change and human habitation, Southeast Asia is still home to many areas where wildlife can be seen and tropical adventures can be had

Human incursion into the forests of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos has no doubt impacted the wildlife there. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that there are 250 dams planned for the Mekong River for instance, which, "if not properly planned... will lead to the degradation of ecosystem services, reduced fisheries and the irreversible loss of fish species." The timber trade, agriculture and climate change are also hitting wildlife in the area, as it is forced to migrate to friendlier habitats. 

However, much spectacular flora and fauna can still be seen. The WWF says about the Lower Mekong Dry Forests, "While a majority of the land has been cleared for farming, remaining forests provide habitat to support an abundance of large mammals including tigers." 

Here are some of the places in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos where you can still see some of the amazing indigenous wildlife.

Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

Wild ginger flowerWild ginger flowers are commonly seen poking out from the forest floor of Cat Tien National Park.Cat Tien National Park sits mid-way between Saigon, Dalat and Phan Thiet, making it a convenient day trip or weekend holiday. The park’s notoriety comes from its resident Javan rhinoceros -- the last few remaining individuals on mainland Southeast Asia. Unfortunately a poacher recently killed one of them in order to harvest the horn. The park is also home to the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre.

Yuk Don National Park, Vietnam

By allowing Ede tribesman to continue their tradition of elephant training (now for tourism), the government ensures the elephants' survival. Yuk Don is all about elephants. The local Ede tribesmen are legendary elephant trackers who caught and trained them as work animals. Now the Ede lead elephant rides for park visitors and give brief elephant working demonstrations. It’s necessary to take one of the all-day or overnight treks, deep in the park toward the Cambodian border, in order to see any other significant wildlife.

Cat Ba National Park, Vietnam

Cat Ba Island sits west of Ha Long Bay and is likewise composed of towering karsts pierced with innumerable caves. The national park is a popular tourist stop and home to about 100 Cat Ba langurs (leaf monkeys) -- the only ones left on the planet. Only just discovered in 2007, the Cat Ba tiger gecko is also endemic to the island.

Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam

Silver Langur (leaf monkey)A silver langur (leaf monkey). Langurs are threatened not only by habitat loss but also poaching for bush meat and the illegal pet trade.Cuc Phuong is both the oldest nature reserve in the country and the crown jewel of Vietnam’s national park system. The karst landscape, covered in hanging rain forest vegetation, has provided numerous rare dinosaur fossils and evidence of prehistoric human settlement more than 7,500 years old. The highlights of the park are the many species of gibbon and langurs. The Cuc Phuong Endangered Primate Rescue Center is located in the park and works to re-introduce animals confiscated from poachers.

Nui Ong & Kalong Song Mao Nature Reserves, Vietnam

Thach BaThach Ba, or Ba Waterfall.There is precious little infrastructure at either Nui Ong or Kalong Song Mao, located beside each other in Binh Thuan province, and this adds to the charm. Endangered green peafowl were recently discovered here, and locals claim tigers still roam the mountain rainforests. A series of ancient temple ruins were also recently discovered between the parks.

The Mekong River & Tonle Sap, Cambodia

The rare greater adjutant’s primary nesting ground is in the Tonle Sap wetlands area.The Mekong River weaves its way through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It shelters more than 1,200 species of fish, making it one of the richest aquatic systems on the planet in terms of biodiversity. The Tonle Sap, a tributary lake and river system of the Mekong, is the most important breeding ground for aquatic birds in the region. One of the system’s highlights is the Irrawaddy dolphin, best viewed at Kratie (or Kampi, 20 kilometers to the north of Kratie).

Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, Cambodia

The legs of this spider span a whole dinner plate and the web can stretch several meters across forest paths.The Koh Kong Conservation Corridor is a wilderness frontier in western Cambodia that encompasses the Cardamom Mountains, Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Por and Tatai Waterfalls, Koh Kong Island, Southern and Central Cardamoms Protected Forests, and a portion of Botum Sakor National Park. Very little of the area has actually been explored and likely contains many species not yet known to science.

Ream National Park, Cambodia

Macaques are the most common group of monkeys in Southeast Asia.Ream is an inconspicuous national park situated just north of the coastal beach resort of Sihanoukville. It encompasses mangrove forests, the Prek Tuk Sap estuary, two islands, several isolated beaches, and off-shore coral reefs. Macaques, pangolin, sun bears, fishing cats and mouse deer live in the forest.

Xe Pian National Protected Area, Laos

Asiatic Black BearA rare brown-phased Asiatic black bear. Xe Pian is tucked up against the Cambodian border and harbors an overwhelming selection of threatened species, including tiger, elephant, gaur, Banteng, sun bear, Asiatic black bear, yellow-checked crested gibbon and Siamese crocodiles.

The Gibbon Experience (Bokeo Nature Reserve), Laos

White-cheeked GibbonWhite-cheeked gibbons are found only in South Asia.The Gibbon Experience is a conservation program in Bokeo Nature Reserve, allowing small groups of visitors to stay in Robinson Crusoe-style tree-houses, 100 feet up in the air, and tour the forest by zip line. The reserve protects endangered black gibbons, bears, tigers and elephants. Threats to the forest include slash-and-burn agriculture, poaching, and illegal logging.


Adam Bray has contributed to more than 15 guidebooks to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and has written (and in many cases provided photography) for publishers such as DK Eyewitness, Insight Guides, Thomas Cook, ThingsAsian, Berlitz and Time Out. He is fluent in Vietnamese and speaks a smattering of other local languages, including Cham and Khmer.

View Adam's blog

Read more about Adam Bray