Naturalists don’t much like the word ‘jungle’. Not precise enough, a bit old-fashioned. They’d prefer us to use something like Seasonal Tropical Forest. But if you want to make like Tarzan or Mowgli on your holiday, you don’t immediately think ‘I must go on a seasonal tropical forest adventure’. You want a jungle. And you almost certainly head to Southeast Asia.
So here are some of the region’s most jungly retreats. They cover a range of ecosystems as well as the STFs. But they have some things in common: wild animals, lots of trees and strange unearthly sounds that shatter the tropical
night as you lie cocooned in your Egyptian cotton sheets…
Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, Kota Kinabalu
The northern shores of Malaysian Borneo are expansive, empty and hemmed in by endless hectares of Borneo rainforest. It’s here that you’ll find the five-star and family-friendly Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria, right in the middle of a nature retreat. Jungle credentials? Until last spring, a buffoonery of orangutans were living in the trees within the hotel’s limits.
They’ve since been released back into the Borneo wilderness, but this beachfront mega-resort still offers plenty of chances to encounter our tree-dwelling relatives: the ‘breakfast with a view’ experience involves a hike through the rainforest to a champagne breakfast, surrounded by monkeys and views over the Borneo jungle and the South China Sea.
The Datai, Langkawi
The Datai’s surrounding 10-million-year-old rainforest distinguishes it from other beachside resorts – as does its peaceful location set above Datai Bay, a quiet inlet on Langkawi’s northwestern tip. For the full jungle experience, book into a stilted rainforest villa (and remember mosquito spray). Geckos, indigenous flying lemurs and dusky leaf monkeys are everywhere. The hotel has a resident naturalist – a growing trend in the nature/luxe sector – who takes guests out on morning and evening walks through the rainforest.
Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali
If the Bali jungle means a night out in Kuta or Legian to you, think again. The clifftop Alila Villas Uluwatu is south Bali’s version of jungle: the rich, fertile, volcanic slopes of Uluwatu. This sleek, designery hangout is set on the lush southeastern tip of Bali’s Bukit peninsula. Pool villas are set into the jungly limestone hills, 600 steps above a private beach. Warning: the neighbourhood macaques are occasionally known to visit for a dip in the pool (and help themselves to your fruit bowl if you leave your doors open).
Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
The southern Cambodian coast is a fast-developing tourism hotspot – but Song Saa was here first. A charitable initiative first and foremost, it also has a stunning private island resort of the same name.
Off the coast of Koh Rong in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Song Saa has dedicated jungle villas, tucked away in the island’s green interior. Spend days relaxing in the gorgeous wooden villas, decorated with locally collected driftwood, or diving the surrounding crystal-clear waters.
Sri Panwa, Phuket
Phuket isn’t known for its jungle credentials (more its gorgeous beaches, super-luxe resorts and Peranakan shophouses in Phuket Town). At the boutique hilltop resort Sri Panwa, on the southern tip of the holiday island, you get close to the natural side of Thailand’s largest island. Pool villas and penthouses are studded among lush green forest that tumbles down to a wild beach (on our visit we spotted a monitor lizard creeping back up through the trees). A sunset drink at Baba Nest, its 360-degree bar, is a must.