There are some wonderful and very child-friendly eco lodges and camps throughout southern Asia and a growing number of luxury eco-resorts built out of local materials and powered by solar energy. Many of the most environmentally friendly places are based in national parks and offer animal safaris, but there are also a growing number of places built on unspoilt coastlines. Many places were set up as part of on-going charitable efforts to improve the lives of local peoples or to help conserve the land.
The many impressive family-friendly eco accommodation providers in south-east Asia vary from luxury resorts to hammocks on the beach, but this is a region where you need to read the small-print particularly carefully, as ‘eco’ is for some places a label rather than a commitment.
Central Asia is not an easy area to travel in with children and there are very few places that call themselves ‘eco’, but for the adventurous family there are some extraordinary places to stay – and getting there is part of the adventure.
Shergarh Tented Camp, Kanha Tiger Reserve, India
This lovely camp built by fervent ecologists within a tiger reserve has a lodge and six comfy tents, each with hot water and a stone bathroom. Of the low-key but very enjoyable safaris, the highlight is the elephant-back tiger safari, when children can practise being Mowgli. There are also activity packs for kids and educational trips. Everything is composted or recycled here, while the food, usually eaten under the stars or by the lake, is home-grown.
Barefoot at Havelock, Andaman Islands, India
This fabulous, remote retreat was built by a native islander and his friends, who look after 18 cottages and villas (some big enough for families) in 8 acres of tropical garden next to a stunning long white beach. The cottages are made from local bamboo, wood and palms and are supplied by a local spring; the villas are slightly more luxurious. All ages are welcome. Delicious organic dinners follow days of diving, yoga, fishing and swimming with elephants.
Cardamom House, Tamil Nadu, India
A labour of love by a retired British doctor, this small hotel is between a lake and the woods in a lovely tropical garden; bougainvillea smothers the buildings and the garden is full of birds. The doctor is committed to supporting the local community and runs tours; there are also bird-watching and hiking and activities for children. The showers are solar-powered, the dinner made from produce from the organic garden. All ages are welcome: there are two family rooms and eight doubles.
Or try these:
Leti 360, Himalayas, India
The ultimate mountain getaway – four luxurious cottages with 360° views, a 4hr drive north of Delhi. Children 3+ are welcome but it’s best for teens.
Apani Dhani Eco-Lodge, Rajasthan, India
A charming family-friendly lodge with bungalows.
Dune Eco Village & Spa,Tamil Nadu, India
A luxurious eco-village resort with family bungalows and a children’s play area and playhouse; under-5s stay free.
Mihir Gar, Rajasthan, India
A sumptuous, fantasy eco-fort built of mud, wattle and mud in the Thar desert, with a 2-bedroom family suite.
Samakanda, Sri Lanka
Cabins in an inspiring lifestyle centre on a tea plantation, with under-12s staying free and monthly family events.
Wakatobi Dive Resort, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Although quite remote, this special lodge is easy to get to since staff organise your flights from Bali airport. Set on a small island amongst pristine coral reefs, it’s run by committed conservationists who work with local islanders to protect the reefs from foreign fishing vessels. One of those rare places that manage to combine luxury accommodation (cabins on the beach) with ecologically sound practices, it offers superb diving and snorkelling, including packages for beginners and children, plus childcare if you wish to take on more challenging diving.
Sarinbuana Eco-Lodge, Bali, Indonesia
A perfect place for all ages, this lodge on the slopes of Mt Batukaru, surrounded by jungle, isn’t hard to get to but feels miles away from the more touristy areas. Often hosting school groups to educate them about sustainable living, it has organic gardens that supply most of its food, and you can be taken around the cacao, coffee and coconut trees. The lovely huts, made of local wood, have large open verandas where birds often stop for a quick peek, plus enormous beds. Have family dips in the garden’s water-holes, visit orang-utans in the wild, bird-watch with local experts or sign up for any of the bewildering array of workshops led by local villagers, including local medicine, regional cuisine and Balinese dancing. Book the Jungle Family Bungalow high in the trees, with a marble bathroom.
The Atlanta Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
It’s difficult to find somewhere in the Thai capital where you can feel comfortable taking kids, but this charming, quirky place – an institution in Bangkok – jealously guards its wholesome reputation. One of the most photographed hotels in Thailand, with an exquisite Art Deco lobby, it attracts a clientele of ‘eccentric occidentals’ who come for its reasonable rates, two lovely pools (one specially for kids) and shabbily comfortable bedrooms (including family suites for up to 6). A slice of old Bangkok, it’s also taken great strides of late to become more environmentally friendly and is very supportive of its local community.
Or try these:
Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge, Sumatra, Indonesia
Cottages in a national park with rare Sumatran rhinos, elephants and tigers. Children can play football with local kids in the grounds.
Nihiwatu Lodge, Sumba, Indonesia
A family-friendly luxury resort deep in nature, with a child-friendly pool and lots of kids’ activities.
Rimba Lodge, Kalimantan, Indonesia
A wonderful jungle retreat to which to bring your kids to see orangutans in the wild and other natural wonders, accessible only by boat.
Udayana Eco Lodge, Bali, Indonesia
A gentle and peaceful escape from the tourist hordes in a bird and butterfly conservation area, with family suites.
Phanom Bencha Mountain Resort, Krabi, Thailand
A tropical getaway with a natural spring-fed swimming pool and a double bungalow sleeping 4 people.
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Borneo, Malaysia
An extraordinary, ground-breaking lodge running wildlife safaris, some with special tarifs for under-12s.
CHINA & MONGOLIA
North West Yunnan Eco Lodge, China
Part of the North West Yunnan Eco tourism group, which runs fascinating trips to this remote region, the community-run Eco Lodge offers very comfortable lodgings at the foot of Jade Dragon Mountain, with Wenhai Lake lapping at its steps. Almost fully sustainable, it offers trips to the Jade Dragon or remote Yi villages, plus a three-day trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. You eat local vegetarian Naxi food with other intrepid travellers in the dining room, with the astonishing fabled mountain in front of you. All children are welcome but it’s long trip to get here.
Hovsgol Lake Camp, Mongolia
Set in an idyllic spot beside an unspoilt wilderness area, this camp – the first to run on solar power in Mongolia – leaves less than a carbon toe-print. Twenty traditional, comfortable, white gers dot the foreshore of a beautiful lake or there are eight wooden cabins if you’d like something a little more solid, plus a bar and a restaurant, a sauna, and the freshest air, clearest skies and widest horizons imaginable. There’s a wide variety of waters ports, horse-riding and the chance to meet locals, who can advise on fishing and trekking. Food is mostly local fare. This is best for children 10+ of an adventurous nature.
Three Camel Lodge, Gobi Desert, Mongolia
A 90min drive out of Ulan Bator in the desert, this lovely place on the sand under the shadow of a volcanic rock has a large, beautiful Mongolian lodge (made without a single nail, in accordance with the canons of Mongolian Buddhist architecture), or you can stay in a luxurious ger. You can camel-trek, hike in the desert with locals, bird- and animal-watch (there have been sightings of snow leopards) and visit paleontological digs. There’s a 19km hunting ban around the lodge, which serves as a scientific and wildlife monitoring base and is based on sustainable development, using solar and wind power and animal dung stoves and employing only local people. It also supports various initiatives for local children to take part in conservation projects, so visiting children are warmly welcomed to come and take part, although the desert might be too much for younger children.