Tropical rainforests cover the Amazon Basin, much of Central America, the Congo and parts of Central Africa, northeastern Madagascar, northeastern Australia, parts of India and much of Southeast Asia. All told, rainforests account for around 6 percent of the world’s surface and harbor unusual animals and plants. In Asia, rainforests are places of solemn wonder, compared to natural cathedrals by dazzled travel writers.
This entire island is a rainforest, with the interior still containing hamlets of Dayak people living in traditional longhouses. The long-ago tradition of head-hunting in Borneo captured the imagination of travel writers, including Redmond O’Hanlon, who penned the classic “Into the Heart of Borneo” in 1994. Politically three nations lay claim to the island: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
You can take a boat trips up the navigable parts of the island’s major rivers, such as the Mahakam, to view traditional life. Reaching more remote villages in the Apo Kayan, in the highlands of Indonesian Borneo, require chartering a helicopter or making arrangements with small aviation companies for scarce seats. Look for hornbill birds riding thermals if you fly upcountry and for monitor lizards on sandbanks if you go by river. Thunderous overnight rains typically dry out as sunny mornings progress, a good combination for robust forest growth seen in hilly and mountainous areas that haven’t been affected by logging.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
If you cross the South China Sea to peninsular Malaysia, you can visit the Cameron Highlands, north of Kuala Lumpur. This plateau at 2,000 feet features the hill station of Tanah Rata, dating from colonial times with its tea plantations and the base for exploration. The altitude and density of the jungle canopy make hiking this area more comfortable than in humid lowland rainforests. Pitcher plants, which capture and consume insects, can be seen on rainforest walks. Elusive denizens of the highlands include tigers, panthers, the clouded leopard and the Malaysian sun bear.
Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Sumatra
Crossing the Malacca Strait brings you to Sumatra, an island part of Indonesia politically. The World Wildlife Fund ranks Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a stand of lowland rainforest, as one of the planet’s most outstanding habitats, as it provides a home for Sumatra rhinos, tigers and elephants. This fragmented area of rainforest faces pressures from squatters who cultivate coffee. You still have a chance of seeing endemic bird species and nesting sea turtles.
Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Head north to Thailand for a look at rainforest dating back 160 million years old, said to be the oldest on Earth. Khao Sok National Park features the distinctive karst limestone formations found in Southern Thailand, China and Vietnam, looking like upended sharks’ teeth. Cloud leopards, barking deer, kingfishers, gibbons and macaques populate scenery out of Jurassic Park, in the words of guidebook writer China Williams in Lonely Planet’s “Thailand” guide.