Nature and wildlife family holidays | The national parks around Asia you need on your travel radar

Jiuzhai Valley National Park in China.
Waterfalls, wildlife, ancient forests and natural wonders: these are the top five national parks in Asia to visit with the kids for a mind-blowing holiday!

Looking for the best nature holidays in Asia to experience with your adventurous kids? Fancy hiking amidst spectacular scenery, spotting some pandas, heading up a volcano or jumping into an emerald-coloured lake? Jiuzhai Valley in China. Hallasan National Park, Korea. Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam. Khao Sok in Thailand. Fuji Hakone Izu, Japan… these are the places you need to add to your travel bucket list, stat.  We all know that Singapore is a hop skip and a jump from beautiful island escapes and buzzing cities to visit for a weekend break, but did you know that this part of the world also has over 1300 National Parks (with 208 of these being in China alone!)? Ranging from mind-blowing mountainous landscapes to tropical wildlife-packed rainforests, if you are looking for a new family adventure and meaningful cultural experiences with your older kiddos, or are in search of a holiday that offers more than sandcastles and palm trees, you need these five spectacular national park holidays in Asia you shouldn’t miss…

JIUZHAI VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CHINA
Why go?
You may be dismissing this one because of the journey. Don’t! Not only is this one of the most visually stunning national parks in the world (pictured top), with its beautiful blue-green lakes and waterfalls, but it is also a hang-out for giant pandas! This spectacular park is spread across the Min Shan mountain range and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It is also home to nine traditional Tibetan villages, over 220 bird species, and a safe haven for a number of endangered plant and animal species. There are officially 27 state-protected species within the park including our elusive favourite, the panda, as well as the golden monkey, black-neck crane, leopards, forest musk deers and otters. And with 70km of eco-friendly trails around the Park for you to explore, you have a good chance of seeing some of this awesome wildlife where it belongs. There are also frequent shuttle buses running through the park for when the kids’ weary legs can’t take another step!

Did you know?
The giant panda is one of the world’s oldest recorded animals still living today? The pandas live wild in very few places these days across China, and numbers are sadly decreasing because of deforestation and poaching. It is estimated that there are around 1500-2000 giant pandas living free today, and their small and dispersed numbers can make it hard for these black-and-white icons to ‘find’ each other! Jiuzhai Valley National Park has been very successful to date in special programmes aimed at not only protecting the pandas’ habitat, but also helping them to find each other through a designated ‘panda corridor’.

Where to stay
If you really want to get into the spirit of the region, then why not try a homestay? Zhuo Ma has opened her home for those who fancy staying in a Tibetan home just 15 minutes from the Jiuzhai Valley National Park (free pick up and drop off to the park is included). Need more convincing? Zhuo Ma’s brother is a trained chef who not only cooks up a delectable storm of Tibetan and Chinese dishes, but is also happy to run cooking classes so that you can learn too!

How to get there
This is not a journey for the fainthearted as you will need to jet over six hours to Beijing and then catch one of only two flights per week (Sunday and Monday at 4.55pm) to Jiuhuang Airport, which is another three hours’ flying time. Jiuzhai Valley National Park is a further 87km taxi ride away. It IS worth it though! Our tip is to break the journey up with a few days checking out Beijing and all it has to offer.

 

Cuc-Phuong-National-Park-Vietnam-Photo-via-Chris-Goldberg1

See the wildlife at Cuc Phong National Park in Vietnam. Photography: Chris Goldberg

CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK, HANOI, VIETNAM
Why go?
The journey to get there may seem rather epic (‘are we there yet?’ may send you over the edge), but once you arrive rest assured that not only are there tons of activities to satisfy the kiddos, but you will all be blown away by the beauty of the park, which happens to be plonked on top of two limestone mountain ranges. The best way to explore the park is by foot or by bike and bicycles are available for rent at reception (yes, there is a reception at this national park!). Mac Lake is a quick 2km trek from the reception area and is the place to head for accommodation and to refuel with food. Another 5km deeper into the park takes you to ‘Cave of Prehistoric Man’, now home to bats. You will also stumble across other cool must-sees around the Park such as a thousand-year-old tree and a fossilised sea reptile that is around 230 million years old! This ancient forest is also home to over 2,200 different plants, 122 species of reptiles, 135 species of mammals (including the clouded leopard and Asian black bear), and 336 bird species!

Outside of the Park
Head just outside the park gates to check out the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC), before swinging by to visit the 170 monkeys and apes at the Endangered Primate Rescue.

If you can…
Take an overnight organised trek to the Village of Khanh, home to the Muong people, or to the villages in Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Nature Reserve and Pu Luong Nature Reserve. Once you have made it to your destination you will be rewarded with a night or two’s homestay with a local family. Become a village resident by living with and learning about the local culture of the area (no wifi kids!) for an education that your kids won’t get in the classroom. Family downtime village style? Bamboo rafting on the nearby river!

Where to stay
Take your weary feet over to eco-friendly Cuc Phuong Resort and Spa, where you will have natural hot spring water delivered directly to your bath tub to sooth those aching limbs! This ‘magic’ hot mineral water is also in the indoor and outdoor pools at the resort, plus the littlies will love the mud baths and fossil garden too. Dad might be pleased to hear that there is a golf course…

How to get there
Silk Air, Singapore Airlines and Tiger Air offer daily flights to get you to Hanoi in just under 3.5 hours. Cuc Phuong National Park lies a further 120km south of Hanoi and the quickest option (speed is generally the name of the game when you have kids in tow) is by private taxi, which can be booked for you through Cuc Phuong Tourism (pop them an email at vqgcucphuong@gmail.com). If you are feeling adventurous, and the kids fancy a more back-to-basics kinda holiday, then you can also jump on a bus from Hanoi’s Southern Bus Station.

The world’s oldest evergreen forest! Photography: Kent Wang via Flickr

KHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK, THAILAND
Why go?

Khao Sok National Park has proven to be even more ancient than the Amazon, and is the world’s oldest evergreen forest! It is home to cool creatures such as wild tigers, Asian elephants and tapirs, and the breathtaking scenery flanks either side of the Khlong Saeng River. It is also home to the world’s largest flower, the rafflesia. Take a peg for your nose though: apparently this giant bloom smells like rotten meat when fully flowered! Limestone mountains, waterfalls and caves galore, plus hidden lakes seal the deal for this super-cool National Park destination (don’t forget to put Cheow Lan Lake on your must-see list where you can check out the floating raft houses).

If you can…
Hire a kayak and float through the jungle with some binoculars (and some mozzie spray!) for a glimpse of local wildlife. Expect (or hope) to see a menagerie of creatures such as wild elephants, hornbills, macaques and spectacled langur monkeys.

 

Elephant Hills thailand Honeykids Asia Singapore

Enjoy a respectful animal encounter at Elephant Hills. Photography: Elephant Hills


Where to stay
We can’t trumpet loudly enough our praise for Thailand’s first luxury (and ethically minded) tented jungle camp, Elephant Hills. Its two camps, The Elephant Camp and the floating Rainforest Camp are hidden amongst the green and certainly blow-away any kind of jungle camping expectations!  Book a two to four day adventure tour, and hang out at camp enjoying some respectful encounters with the resident herd of 12 elephants (rescued from the logging industry). Elephant rides are not offered by the camp: these guys won the Thailand Green Excellence Award for Animal Welfare for the past two years in light of its ongoing efforts to keep its elephants free from exploit. Elephant Hills can also take the sting out of the tail of that transfer journey by arranging pick up for you (by mini-bus, not by elephant!) from Phuket airport. 

If camping, even as luxuriously as at Elephant Hills, isn’t your thing then have a look at Khao Sok Las Orquideas Resort. This small resort is just 600m from the park gates and accommodation is Thai-style bungalows surrounded by tropical gardens with a small swimming pool. Jungle trekking (and massages!) can also be arranged through the hotel.

How to get there
Get yourself to Phuket (which is pretty easy from Singapore with it being such a tried and tested fave) and then either hire a car for the 130km drive or organise a taxi/mini bus to get you to your destination. Public bus is also an option, but be warned that it is likely to take around six hours (that is a lot of potential whinging time from the kids). Alternatively take a flight from Singapore to Krabi and head 150km overland from there.

 

For hiking enthusiasts: Hallasan National Park, Korea.

For hiking enthusiasts: Hallasan National Park, Korea.


HALLASAN NATIONAL PARK, JEJU, SOUTH KOREA
Why go?
This UNESCO World Heritage Sites is located on the island of Jeju across mountainous, volcanic terrain full of mind-boggling flora and fauna. The diverse climate of the island ranges from sub-tropical to icy cold (pack a bikini AND some winter woolies!) so the park has its own unique eco-system as a consequence. And if you like your scenery with a bit of drama then you certainly won’t be disappointed when you check out the volcanic crater lakes! Hikers amongst you will love the well-developed trails, and for those feeling especially energetic, the hike to the peak of Mount Hallasan takes around 4.5 hours (but you MUST be back down before sunset). Check out the vertical ecosystem along your way and count off the 368 parasitic volcanoes that have sprung up from Hallasan itself.

Did you know?
Mount Hallasan is also known as Mount Yeongjusan which literally translates to “mountain high enough to pull the galaxy”, and is considered one of three sacred mountains in South Korea.

 

Kensington Jeju Hotel Honeykids Asia Singapore

Wind down at the Kensington Jeju Hotel.

Where to stay
We fancy packing our bags and heading to the Kensington Jeju Hotel, which is just a 10 minute stroll to nearby Jungmun Beach, and a 30 minute drive out to the National Park. For novelty value the kids will love, book a family room themed around Korea’s famous Paw-in-Paw character; kiddos even get toiletries featuring cartoon characters. This smoke-free hotel is also well known for its fab spa, amazing views and great food. Book us in!

How to get there
Flight time to Seoul is around six hours and 20 minutes, and from there you will need to hop on a one hour internal flight to Jeju Island (there are over 110 flights a day on this route so you won’t be kicking your heels for long waiting for a transfer!).

 

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

The whole family will love the interactive fun at the Hakone Open Air Museum in Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Photography: SteFou via Flickr

FUJI HAKONE IZU NATIONAL PARK, JAPAN
Why go?

The whopping great Mount Fuji is reason alone to make the journey: who doesn’t want a photo of that as their new Facebook cover photo? But aside from the obvious beauty of Fuji (which you can climb if you are feeling fit in around five to seven hours), there is a ton of stuff to do and see in the area.

The park is divided into four general areas: Hakone area, Mount Fuji area, Izu Peninsula and Izu Islands. Head to Hakone for the stunning sight of Lake Ashi, and to Mount Kintoki for your fill of ancient ruins and shrines. Don’t forget to also catch a ride on the Hakone Tozan Railway, which is the only mountain railway in Japan. The quaint mountain train will take you 555m above sea level to Gora Station, and once you have taken in the views why not hop on the Hakone Ropeway cable cars for some seriously fabulous scenery selfies? Hop off at the Chokoku-no-Mori station on the Hakone Tozan Railway route for the kids to check out some fun interactive displays at the Hakone Open Air Museum

Fuji Hakone Izu National Park Honeykids Asia Singapore

Head to Fuji Hakone Izu National Park for your fill of breathtaking scenery, ancient ruins and those oh-so-relaxing natural hot spas.

Did you know?
Mount Fuji is actually a volcano (don’t worry folks: it hasn’t erupted since 1708!). As such the surrounding areas have an abundance of toasty hot springs that serve the onsens in nearby Hakone.

Where to stay
Our top pick would be an apartment, house or traditional ryokan in the area through Airbnb (Bonus! If sign up via www.airbnb.com/honeycombers you will save yourself $29 off of your first stay). But if it is hot springs on tap that takes your fancy then why not try Yamanochaya where its four traditional baths are continuously bubbling with water from the famous Tonosawa Hot Spring, which run 300m below the hotel.

How to get there
Flight time to Tokyo is just under seven hours, and with 14 flights a day to choose from Japan is easier to get to than you might think! Once you are in the bright lights of Tokyo (and our tip would be to stay in this fabulous city for a few nights if you can!), then you have several options to get you over to the National Park (which is around 100km away). Either take the Odakyu Railway from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station which will take around 85 minutes, or alternatively take the famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Shinawaga Station to Odawara (30 speedy minutes) where you will then need to transfer from there to Hakone either on a less speedy train or by bus for the remaining short journey. There are also buses leaving Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station which take around two hours to reach your destination (depending on traffic).

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