Eco-resorts in Southeast Asia: Best environmentally-friendly resorts and hotels for sustainable tourism

Travel with a difference – give back to the environment and local communities by checking into these best eco-resorts in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and more

If you haven’t jumped on the eco bandwagon yet, this might just change your mind. Sustainable fashion, makeup and cars aside, we’ve got a soft spot for eco-travel – there’s nothing quite like a vacation that’s light on our conscience. Whether you’re a no-frills backpacker or a luxury hotel connoisseur, Southeast Asia’s got plenty of eco-resorts to cater to everyone. While these range from rainforest treehouses to spectacular over-water villas on a private island, almost all of them have these in common: they were built with recycled materials, and are committed to sustainability goals for the environment through various measures like water conservation, energy management or recycling. Below, we’ve picked the 10 best eco-resorts in Southeast Asia.

Song Saa Private Islands

A luxe sanctuary for the well-heeled, Song Saa Private Islands remain untouched, resulting in lush rainforests, gorgeous reefs and pristine beaches. This resort haven sets the bar for eco-luxury resorts in Southeast Asia – it was created with sustainability in mind and the proof is everywhere you turn. Each villa – which offers unhindered sea views, private pools and oversized sunken bath tubs – is constructed from recycled timber, and furnished with only organic and sustainable materials. Its core foundation is also deeply committed to sustainable development, with projects dedicated to protecting ocean habitats and rainforests, as well as employment opportunities for local communities.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge, Tatai, Cambodia

No exaggeration: 4 Rivers Floating Lodge is the ultimate outdoor hideaway. Made up of 12 double and twin-bedded tented villas, the lodge is decked out in top-quality furnishings and modern features, and boasts killer views of the lush Cardamon forest. Creature comforts aside, the lodge takes sustainability seriously – it’s built entirely of eco-friendly materials, uses a water treatment system to prevent water wastage, and protects the forest through limited use wood.

Soneva Kiri Koh Kood, Thailand

When thinking of Thailand, what usually comes to mind (aside from cheap shopping and Chang beers) are the droves of crowds in markets and beaches. So to hear of a locale which touts itself as “Thailand as it was years ago” is thoroughly refreshing. With its untamed forestry, untouched beaches and lively fishermen trade, Koh Kood is reminiscent of ancient Siam. Located only an hour away from busy Bangkok, the Soneva Kiri Koh Kood resort offers 14 sumptuous accommodation types created with environmentally-friendly design – these range from secluded one-bedroom pool villas with beach access to sprawling six-bedroom reserves. Soneva also priorities recycling of its waste, and energy management through the use of solar power and natural ventilation.

Permai Rainforest Resort, Borneo

An eco-resort nestled in the pristine rainforest of Borneo, this is the ultimate nature retreat for hardcore urbanites. With only 10 units (can we say exclusivity?), the Treehouses are built 20 feet above ground, placing you high within the forest canopy. Air-conditioned with ensuite bathrooms, the leafy abodes (from $115) will have you feeling like a whole new person as you wake to nothing but chirping birds and crashing waves. The resort’s commitment to conservation doesn’t just stick to the usual mantra of “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle”; it composts all of its food waste to avoid disrupting food chains around the resort, uses energy-saving lights and sources furniture only from sustainable forests, recycled timber or sawmill offcuts.

JapaMala Resort, Tioman Island, Malaysia

A popular spot for beginner divers, the unspoiled Tioman Island is a haven for both aquatic lovers and budget travellers. But if luxury’s what you’re after, you’re in luck. Two words: JapaMala Resort. Designed and built around the island’s natural landscape, accommodation here includes treetop and seacliff chalets (yup, it’s exactly as magical as it sounds), as well as rustic two-bedroom villas. Utmost precision was in place to ensure that the plants, animals and land were disturbed as little as possible when building the resort – no rocks were moved and no trees were cut down. Timber – the most used material in the resort – was salvaged from old kampung (village) houses around the country, while bamboo and other naturally sourced materials were purchased from Orang Asli: the indigenous tribes of Malaysia.

Sharma Springs, Bali

Located within a valley along Ayung River, the six-storey bamboo house is part of Green Village, a community made up of 18 dramatically hand-constructed bamboo properties. Sharma Springs is the latest addition – the jaw-dropping six-storey landmark is a forest-fantasy escape. It’s made entirely out of bamboo, and boasts custom-made furniture, four double rooms, a private pool and sunset views over the Ayung river valley and Green Village.

Gayana Marine Resort

Located off the coast of Borneo, Gayana Marine Resort is home to 52 over-water villas which offer striking sea or forest views – its highest-tiered Palm Villa features a glass floor for you to directly look into the waters below, and a stairway which directly leads into the site. Also on its grounds is a Marine Ecology Research Centre which champions the protection of the island’s environment and its inhabitants, including endangered giant clams and coral reefs. Guests can even do their part for marine conservation by taking part in the Reef Regeneration Programme, which lets you replant corals in the reef while getting up close with seahorses and bamboo sharks.

El Nido Resorts

If you’re looking for an eco-stay in the Philippines, it’s easy as pie thanks to El Nido Resorts. Made up of four beach havens in Apulit Island, Miniloc Island, Lagen Island and Pangulasian Island, each resort caters to different crowds with adventure, discovery, sanctuary and luxury as the respective islands’ primary focus. Little wonder why they’re described as Philippine’s greatest: Each resort emphasises sustainable menus, the use of renewable materials, water conservation, eco-friendly design and low-impact, nature-based activities which don’t disturb the environment.

The Gibbon Experience, Laos

For eco-warriors, The Gibbon Experience is heaven on earth. The retreat aims to respect the Bokeo Forest by upholding sustainability – ancient trees are revered and preserved while both commercial (on farmer’s land for sustainable logging purposes) and non-commercial (restoring the National Park’s degraded parts) reforestation schemes are in place. Treehouses here are said to be the highest in the world – these include ones suspended on wires and set on wooden consoles. Pick from three packages – the classic, waterfall, or express – which include treks, and long ziplines from hill to hill.

The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Located in the heart of an ancient rainforest, this socially-conscious resort offers breathtaking views of the Andaman Sea. Choose from three accommodation categories – canopy, rainforest or beach – and pick a stay at the villas, suites or deluxe rooms. Special care was given to maintain the forest’s magnificence – some of the walls were made from black shale so moss and creepers could freely cover the surface. Eco-friendly materials also played a huge role in the resort’s construction, with large tree trunks turned into columns for The Pavillion, an exquisite dining space which floats high above the untouched rainforest.