12 best national parks in Asia

Asia’s numerous national parks encompass some of the most diverse terrains on Earth. From the scattered islands of Ang Thong to the rolling hills and meadows of Ranthambore tiger reserve and snowcapped mighty Mt Fuji, we've toured the continent to track down the best national parks in Asia.
Elephants in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo: kyslynskahal/Shutterstock
Elephants in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo: kyslynskahal/Shutterstock

Last updated: 16 June 2023

The information in this article is inspired by the Inside Guides books - your essential guides for visiting the world.

1. Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

A trip to Gunung Mulu National Park is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most memorable experiences. Situated in the state of Sarawak, the park is home to a huge variety of flowers, orchids, fungi, mosses and ferns, but Mulu is perhaps best known for its spectacular network of caves. 

Set against a jungle backdrop, these intricate ecosystems are teeming with wildlife, including millions of bats, and include some of the most diverse limestone exteriors in all of Southeast Asia. 

Short boat rides, cliff-hugging pathways and jungle plankwalks lead visitors to caves comprising the magnificent Clearwater Cave system that is nothing short of staggering in its scale and complexity. 

Within its dank confines lies the world’s largest natural cave chamber, allegedly big enough to hold 16 football fields. Only four of the 25 caves so far explored are open to the public, but this is easily enough for visitors to be able to gain an idea of the system’s immensity and to marvel at its well-lit stalagmites, stalactites and monumental limestone formations. 

Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia. Photo: slyellow/Shutterstock

2. Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, China

There are mountains — and then there's Zhangye Danxia National Geoparak in China's Gansu province. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the world's most mesmerising natural jewels, boasting jagged peaks and crumbling hills that you simply cannot find elsewhere, making it certainly one of the best national parks in Asia. 

Here, a unique combination of sandstone and minerals has been dancing delicately for millions of years. The result? Vividly colourful peaks dipped in rare hues of copper and rust. From there, it's almost as if someone took a giant paintbrush and added stripes of gold, deep yellow, and even blue to the mountainsides. 

The vibrant stripes of colour are all at once disorienting and dazzling, and enhanced by the extraordinary ravines, ridges and columns that the elements have sculpted over the centuries. China has no shortage of natural wonder. Take it all in with Insight Guides' Best of China trip.

Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, Gansu province, China. Photo: Ana Flasker/Shutterstock

3. Ang Thong National Marine Park, Thailand

Peppering the turquoise waters around 31km (19 miles) northwest of Ko Samui, the 42 virtually uninhabited islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park make up an archipelago that stretches across 100 sq kms (39 sq miles). This dramatic expanse of land and sea forms a pristine environment that supports a wide diversity of flora and fauna, including macaques, langurs and monitor lizards. 

Tour companies run day trips from Ko Samui featuring kayaking expeditions and visits to the emerald-green salt-water lagoon on Ko Mae Ko encircled by sheer limestone walls covered with vegetation, reached by a trail from the beach. 

On Ko Wua Talab, the largest island in the group, a steep 400-metre (1,300ft) climb leads to the highest point in the national park for unrivalled views of the surrounding waters, with Ko Samui and Ko Phangan in the distance. 

The best diving and snorkelling at Ang Thong can be experienced at the northern tip, around the islet of Ko Yippon where the shallow waters make it easy to view colourful corals, caves and natural arches inhabited by sea snakes, stingrays and abundant tropical fish.

Ang Thong National Marine Park, Thailand. Photo: Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

4. Bach Ma National Park, Vietnam

Around a two-hour drive from the resort city of Hội An, the mountainous terrain of Bach Ma National Park is a treasure trove of flora and fauna, supporting species including macaques, langurs, loris and gibbons. 

The park has a unique climate thanks to its high altitude and is one of the wettest place in Vietnam, with much of its rainfall occurring between September and December – waterproof clothing is necessary if you are visiting during this rainy season.

The park’s numerous hiking routes include the Rhododendron Trail, named after the park’s red rhododendrons that bloom from February to March, which descends 689 steps to a cliffside waterfall that plunges 300 metres (990ft) and eventually feeds the Perfume River in Hue. 

The Five Lakes Cascade Trail follows a series of waterfalls and pristine swimming pools, while the Summit Trail is one of Vietnam’s most spectacular spots for watching the sunrise and sunset, with stunning views of the surrounding landscape, islands and coastline.

Bach Ma National Park, Vietnam. Photo: bee-eater/Shutterstock

5. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan

The crowning jewel of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is hidden in the name: Mt Fuji. Sweeping up from the Pacific to form a nearly perfect symmetrical cone, its majestic peak reaches 12,388 feet (3,776 metres) into the sky, and is snowcapped even during the summer months (Jun-Aug). 

In spring (Mar-May), the base of the volcano is a vibrant explosion of gorgeous pink moss that looks more like a landscape from a Monet painting than a real place. 

Although climbers are known to set out to challenge the mountain throughout the year, the ‘official’ climbing season for Fuji-san begins on 1 July and ends on 31 August. The mountain huts and services found along the trails to the top are open only during this period. Expect crowds and a distinctly commercial atmosphere, not only around the facilities but along the entire trail to the top.

Fuji Go-ko (Fuji Five Lakes) skirts the northern base of Fuji-san as a year-round resort. From east to west, the lakes are Yamanaka, Kawaguchi, Sai, Shoji and Motosu. 

Yamanaka-ko, which is the largest in the group, and the picturesque Kawaguchi-ko are the most visited of the five, but some of the best spots are hidden near the smaller and more secluded Motosu-ko, Shoji-ko and Sai-ko. Recommended visits nearby include the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, both of which were formed during one of Fuji’s early eruptions.

Mountain Fuji and Lake Ashi with Hakone temple and sightseeing boat in autumn. Photo: Shutterstock

Mountain Fuji and Lake Ashi with Hakone temple and sightseeing boat in autumn. Photo: jiratto/Shutterstock

6. Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

With a total of 22 parks in the country, Sri Lanka is a nature lover's dream. Topping the list of the nation’s finest reserves is definitely Yala National Park, which occupies vast swathes of forest and grasslands in the southeast of the island and is the longest established in Sri Lanka

Yala is best known for its leopards – the park supports the densest population of these big cats anywhere in the world – although it is also a great destination for spotting elephants and sloth bears, as well as a wonderful array of birdlife. 

Although leopards are famously elusive, the odds of seeing one in the park are reasonably high if you spend time there under the guidance of a reliable nature tour operator.

 Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

7. Ranthambore National Park, India - one of the best National Parks in Asia for witnessing tigers

East of Tonk, to the south of Jaipur in Rajasthan, the ruined fortress of Rao Hamir overlooks Ranthambore National Park. The reserve is famous for its tigers, which can often be viewed prowling among the medieval ruins or in the shallows of the lake.

The lure of such exotic wildlife has ensured that Ranthambore has become India’s most visited national park – in spite of the fact its fragile tiger population is in decline, with only an estimated 48 animals surviving. Tickets for safaris, which happen either early morning or late evening, are strictly limited, although you should be able to get hold of some through your hotel. 

Touring the park takes place either in a jeep or in a ‘canter’ open-top bus. In addition to the big cats (there are also leopards), the park supports blackbuck, hyena and antelope. Ranthambore is also something of a hotspot for birding, with hundreds of species having been recorded. 

Ranthambore National Park - one of the best National Parks in Asia for witnessing tigers. Photo: Sourabh Bharti/Shutterstock

8. Komodo National Park, Indonesia

A Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the best National Parks in Indonesia, Komodo National Park lies in the strait between Sumbawa and Flores and is the habitat of the world’s largest lizard, Varanus komodoensis, the Komodo dragon. Although there are dragons on two other nearby islands, to protect wild populations visitors are only allowed on Komodo and Rinca. 

Most will couple Komodo dragon-spotting with snorkelling and diving while in the park. At Pantai Merah (Red Beach), near Komodo, reefs teeming with colourful fish are very near the shoreline. Komodo Island is also home to several human settlements, including its largest village, Kampung Komodo.

The highlight of a visit to the national park is seeing the dragons in their natural habitat. On Komodo, the most popular trek is a 2km (1.2 mile) walk to Banunggulung. Shorter walks are also possible from the ranger station at Loh Liang (where basic tourist accommodation is available) to Kampung Komodo. 

Trekkers must be accompanied by a park ranger. Keep your distance from all wild animals, the dragons can move very quickly if disturbed. They are dangerous creatures and medical attention is far away.

Explore Indonesian islands with this Inside Guides trip to Culture, Volcanoes and Dragons - Bali, Flores & Komodo.Komodo National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

9. Chitwan National Park, Nepal

The Chitwan National Park boasts over five hundred rhinos, with sightings pretty much guaranteed. The park authorities have felt confident enough to relocate some to Bardia National Park. Tiger conservation has also proved very successful recently, and there are now thought to be significantly more than the 120 tigers counted in the park in 2013. 

Altogether, 68 mammalian species are found in the park, including sloth bear, leopard, langur and four kinds of deer. Chitwan is Nepal’s most important sanctuary for birds, with 544 species recorded. The park also has to two types of crocodiles and more than 150 types of butterflies.

Discover a combination of history, culture and nature with Inside Guides trip to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Nepal.Rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

10. Kinabalu National Park, Borneo

Sabah holds no more impressive sight than Gunung Kinabalu (Mount Kinabalu), 85km northeast of KK and plainly visible from the west coast. Revered as “aki nabalu” (home of the spirits of the dead) by the Kadazan/Dusun, it’s 4095m high and dominates the 750 square kilometres of Kinabulu National Park, a World Heritage Site renowned for its ecology, flora and geology. 

Although there are other hikes within the park, the prospect of reaching the summit fires the imagination of Malaysian and foreign tourists alike. If you dash headlong up and down Gunung Kinabalu and then depart, as many visitors do, you’ll miss out on many of the national park’s riches.

Combine the culture and traditions on this Inside Guides trip to Traditional Malaysia & Wild Borneo.

Mount Kinabalu. Photo: Shutterstock

11. Koh Sok National Park, Thailand

Most of the Andaman coast’s highlights are, unsurprisingly, along the shoreline, but the stunning jungle-clad karsts of Koh Sok National Park are well worth heading inland for. 

Located about halfway between the southern peninsula’s two coasts and easily accessible from Khao Lak, Phuket and Surat Thani, the park has become a popular stop on the travellers’ route, offering a number of easy trails, a bit of amateur spelunking and some scenic rafthouse accommodation on Cheow Lan Lake. 

Much of the park, which protects the watershed of the Sok River and rises to a peak of nearly 1000m, is carpeted in impenetrable rainforest, home to gaurs, leopard cats and tigers among others – and up to 155 species of bird. 

The limestone crags that dominate almost every vista both on and away from the lake are breathtaking, never more so than in the early morning: waking up to the sound of hooting gibbons and the sight of thick white mist curling around the karst formations is an experience not quickly forgotten.

Dreaming of a trip that allows you to spend time in the jungle and on the beach? This Inside Guides trip to Thailands nature and beaches takes you to down south by overnight train, to explore the jungle in Khao Sok and stunning beaches in Krabi.

Koh Sok National Park, Thailand

12. Naejangsan National Park, South Korea

Shaped like a soft volcano, this national park’s ring of peaks provides the country’s most mesmerising displays of autumn foliage.

Naejangsan National Park is one of Korea’s most popular parks, its circle of peaks flaring up like a gas ring in the autumn. Maple trees are the stars of the show in this annual incandescence, with squads of elm, ash and hornbeam adding their hues to the mix.

The many trails and peaks across the park keep hikers happy year-round, though most visitors head to the amphitheatre-shaped mountain circle in the northeast, where the nearby tourist village has plenty of accommodation and places to eat.

Byeongnyeonam temple at Naejangsan National Park in Republic of Korea. Photo: Shutterstock

Ready to take a trip to National Parks in Asia?

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Updated 25 September, 2019