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Why your next luxury safari should be to Asia

Sept. 15, 2022
11 min read
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When you think of going on a safari, Africa — not Asia — is likely the continent that comes to mind. But some types of wildlife, such as snow leopards and tigers, can only be found in Asia. And although you may think of Africa when you hear about elephants and rhinos, you'll also find these animals in select Asian safari destinations.

A safari in Asia also gives you the opportunity to visit the continent's best temples, cities and island destinations before or after your trip. And you'll often find fewer crowds and lower prices when going on safari in Asia instead of Africa.

There are plenty of opportunities to embark on a safari in Asia, although you'll want to do your research to ensure you book a high-quality, ethical safari. In this article, I'll discuss what types of wildlife you can see and what experiences you can have at luxury safari lodges and camps in Asia.

Tigers and snow leopards in India

A Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park. NIMIT VIRDI/GETTY IMAGES

After TPG published a story on where to ethically see tigers in the wild, I decided to visit one of the most highly rated and easily accessible options: Ranthambore National Park outside Jaipur, India. Although I opted for the budget approach of staying at a local resort and going on safaris led by the national park, I researched and considered staying at a luxury safari lodge near the park.

If you want a comfortable experience, staying at a luxury safari lodge like Sher Bagh and Aman-i-Khás that can arrange safaris in their jeeps and with their guides may be worth the splurge. You'll want to book early, though, as the best conservation zones for seeing tigers in Ranthambore sell out quickly (even if you're staying at a luxury lodge). Safari bookings open 365 days in advance, so consider planning this bucket-list trip more than a year in advance.

Relais & Châteaux's Sher Bagh has 12 luxurious tents with air conditioning, brass bathtubs and open-air stone showers. The property offers access to on-site naturalists, a heated pool, jungle cooking classes and meals made from homegrown ingredients. Rates for the base room — a tented jungle suite — start at 49,000 Indian Rupees (about $617) per night, including meals. Safaris are extra (and you must book them in advance), but the Sher Bagh vehicles and guides appeared to be the highest quality I saw while in Ranthambore.

Aman's Aman-i-Khás has 10 air-conditioned, Mughal-inspired tents offering plenty of space and luxury. These massive tents are more than 1,000 square feet and feature double-high ceilings, platform beds, free-standing bathtubs and private sun decks. You can enjoy food from the organic garden, nightly open-air fire pit gatherings and daily yoga and meditation sessions. Prices start at $1,752 per night, including all meals, non-alcoholic beverages and laundry. Like Sher Bagh, Aman-i-Khás offers twice-daily safaris in its vehicles. Top booking methods include direct, Virtuoso and Mr and Mrs Smith (note, you can't earn or redeem IHG points for this stay).

AMAN

Finally, I couldn't mention luxury safaris in India without discussing an expedition-style trip I found from andBeyond that takes you in search of snow leopards. Snow leopards are elusive, well camouflaged and tend to live above the tree line, but you'll also have the opportunity to search for urial, ibex, wolf and Himalayan fox on this remote expedition.

This expedition takes you into the mountainous region of Ulley to live with a Ladakhi family at the Snow Leopard Lodge for seven nights as you and your small group's guides search for wild snow leopards. The Snow Leopard Lodge is relatively basic, but the unique experience, exceptional guiding and the opportunity to see wild snow leopards in what andBeyond says is one of the last frontiers for wildlife tourism make this expedition luxury in my book. This 11-night safari starts at $6,911 per person.

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Related: This 232-year-old fort is part of Hyatt’s luxury Alila brand: Here’s why I loved my stay

Rhinos and tigers in Nepal

Wild rhinos crossing the river at sunrise in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal. JACEK KADAJ/GETTY IMAGES

If you want the opportunity to see wild rhinos and tigers in the same location, Nepal's Chitwan National Park is the right place for you. Chitwan National Park is Nepal's first national park, and is home not only to Bengal tigers but also one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinos, not to mention plenty of other wildlife.

On most dates, you can catch a quick 20-minute flight from Kathmandu to Bharatpur for about $140 per person. If you're looking for a luxury safari to see rhinos, tigers and more in Chitwan National Park, consider staying with Meghauli Serai or Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge.

Meghauli Serai, A Taj Safari, is a 30-room jungle safari resort that offers uninterrupted views of the jungle, a large infinity pool and a well-stocked library. The base room, a Meghauli room with an impressive national park view, features refined furnishings and starts at $300 per night, including breakfast. You can pay for extra activities, including village visits, elephant bathing and feeding, walking safaris and twice-daily safari drives into Chitwan National Park with a trained naturalist and an experienced tracker from the local community.

Meanwhile, Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge offers 12 rooms and nine safari tents that are noticeably more rustic than Meghauli Serai. Rates start at $180 per night for rooms (and at $150 per night for safari tents) and include all of your meals. The lodge offers a variety of safari activities with the lodge's experienced naturalists at an additional cost, and you can also enjoy what Tiger Tops calls "ethical encounters" with the lodge's herd of domestic elephants. Perhaps best of all, you can earn and redeem IHG points on your stay thanks to IHG's partnership with Mr and Mrs Smith (although award nights are extremely limited currently).

Related: Is Nepal a family-friendly destination?

Elephants and leopards in Sri Lanka

Yala National Park is one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka and has an excellent variety of wildlife. KANWAL SANDHU/GETTY IMAGES

Yala National Park is the top national park for wildlife sightings in Sri Lanka. Specifically, Yala National Park is an excellent place to see leopards, elephants, sloth bears, water buffalos and fishing cats.

I loved my trip to Sri Lanka a few years back, visiting Colombo, Kandy and Galle. On my next trip, I'd look to visit Yala National Park, though. Tourists often overcrowded the park before the pandemic and unrest within the country slashed tourism. Tourism has yet to fully return to the park, so overcrowding isn't currently a concern. After researching the park and its lodging options, three luxury lodges near Yala National Park stand out.

My top choice for a luxury stay would be Wild Coast Tented Lodge, which enjoys an unfenced border with Yala National Park. This lodge offers 28 cocoon-like tents with air-conditioning and outdoor viewing decks overlooking a watering hole. You can also choose a suite with a private plunge pool, and there are eight family cocoons that includes a separate "urchin" tent with two twin beds. Rates start at $706 per night and are all-inclusive, including all meals and one guided game drive per night. Top booking methods include direct, through Relais & Châteaux and through IHG One Rewards (thanks to IHG's partnership with Mr and Mrs Smith).

Wild Coast Tented Lodge borders the Yala National Park. DEVAKA SENEVIRATNE/RESPLENDENT CEYLON

Another appealing option is Uga Chena Huts. This luxury lodge offers 14 luxurious guest cabins, each with a climate-controlled interior and a deck with a private plunge pool. The cabins — and the entire property — appear comfortable and private. Rates start at $830 for double occupancy and are all-inclusive, including meals, select drinks, morning and evening game drives and a daily laundry allotment. Thanks to IHG's partnership with Mr and Mrs Smith, you can book Uga Chena Huts through IHG One Rewards to earn or redeem IHG points on your stay. Just note that award nights are very limited and the property offers some promotions for booking directly instead of through IHG.

Finally, Leopard Safaris by KK Collection is more of a luxury campsite than a lodge. Each glamping tent offers a jungle-view living area, four-poster bed and ensuite bathroom (there's no mention of air conditioning, though). Prices start at $624 per night for double occupancy, including all meals, local spirits and once-a-day naturalist-led safaris in Yala using the resort's jeeps.

However, remember that Sri Lanka is facing a political and economic crisis. You'll likely want to opt for fully refundable plans in case you need to cancel or change your trip as your departure date nears.

Related: You can now redeem Alaska miles on SriLankan — and it’s a great deal

Luxury safaris in the Cambodian jungle

CARDAMOM TENTED CAMP

Finally, suppose you're looking for something more adventurous yet luxurious in Cambodia. In that case, you should consider Cardamom Tented Camp or Shinta Mani Wild near Kirirom, Bokor Sakor and Cardamom National Parks.

Cardamon Tented Camp has nine safari-style tents in Botum Sakor National Park -- known for its biodiversity and Asian elephants, fishing cats, pangolins and sun bears. The camp offers conservation-focused activities, including a chance to go on patrol with rangers in the national park. The tents don't have air conditioning but offer standing fans and ensuite bathrooms with hot water. You can book a two-night package starting at $269 per person (or a three-night package starting at $399 per person) that includes meals and some activities. Note that getting to the camp will require a long bus, van or car ride followed by a 30-minute boat ride up the Preak Tachan river (which the resort operates once each afternoon and is part of the experience).

SHINTA MANI WILD

Or, if you're looking for an over-the-top, nature-focused luxury experience, consider Shinta Mani Wild and its 15 luxury tents (including some perched over waterfalls). This property opened in late 2018 to offer "a radical new fusion of world-class design, all-inclusive hospitality and conservation," according to the resort. Rates start at $1,900 per couple per night with a minimum three-night stay, but include everything — including spa treatments, meals, drinks and even private transfers from and to Phnom Penh. As for activities, you can go ziplining into the resort, join an anti-poaching patrol, take a foraging and cooking class and much more — all with the assistance of an "adventure butler" who will do everything from accompanying you on a boat exploration to unpacking your bags.

Related: The pandemic’s devastating effect on wildlife and conservation efforts

Bottom line

Many of the lodges, camps and safaris discussed in this guide aren't exactly easy to get to. And although they each offer luxury, it's often a different form of luxury than you'd find at popular luxury hotels in major cities.

But, as Park Hyatt's tagline states: Luxury is personal. And as I learned at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives, luxury can still be the overarching theme even if a resort also focuses on conservation, community outreach and wildlife preservation. As I chose resorts for this article, I included many resorts and camps that focus on both luxury and conservation.

Writing this article got me excited to visit some of these properties. Luckily, some of the starting rates for these properties may be within reach even if you don't have a massive travel budget. For example, Cardamon Tented Camp in Cambodia and Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge in Nepal are definitely on my list of places to visit now.

Featured image by GUENTERGUNI/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more