sign in a cave in Laos

23 August 2008

Liz in article about Wild Asia


Asia in the raw

The first time I checked out the Wildasia website, I thought, “Darn! Whoever created this site beat me to it.” I’d always thought there wasn’t enough information on nature destinations and adventure travels in Asia.

Then, came Wildasia.

The simple homepage, presented in a clear style with nature shots, displays a hotchpotch of articles and facts clumped into different sections. You can browse the guides on natural areas in Malaysia, read travel, adventure and natural history articles, or find out about conservation projects around the region.

Dr Reza Azmi is a biologist who founded the Wildasia website to cater for his interest in nature and travel.
Or, if you’re planning a trip, look up the “travel centre” and get in touch with people who can dole out travel tips or get you in touch with locals in the area. If you’re in a time crunch, you can get a custom-tailored travel itinerary prepared by Wildasia.

Yet, the website is not profit-oriented, as founder Dr Reza Azmi, 34, explained.

“The idea is to get more people outdoors,” said Reza, a conservationist with a background in botany. “We try to get people tuned into the importance of natural areas to help protect and conserve the remaining natural habitats in Asia.”

Wildasia is a platform to share information and help facilitate exploration of these natural areas, he added. The long-term goal is to work closely with the tourism sector, and to develop more responsible tourism principles and practices. For example, the website will back tour operators who support conservation plans that protect the areas they work in.

The site’s history began in 1998. Reza, then based in Sabah, was working on an idea to support small and village-level tourism initiatives.

“At that time, nature tourism in the Kinabatangan area was picking up but the villagers were often left out,” said Reza. “It was a shame as they often made the best nature guides.”

Reza took the initiative to write his own guide to help tourists know more about the Kinabatangan and the villagers who could help visitors with lodging and boat trips. Such information allows tourists to do independent travel and not depend on tour operators, he said.

Setting up a website was a natural progression since it is a cheap platform to disseminate information, Reza said. The website, a prototype named, generated interest worldwide. Reza began putting up information on other areas and this led to in 2002.

In the beginning, Wildasia was a one-man show. In addition to his “real job” as a biologist working on research and conservation projects, Reza spent hours churning out articles for the website.

“I sleep, eat, think Wildasia, it’s a 24-hour thing,” confessed Reza who lives with his wife and two family pets in Kuala Lumpur. “But I’m very lucky as my job involves a great deal of travel. Wildasia is an extension of what I do. I use the travel directory before I go on work assignments.

Today, Wildasia holds one of the largest directories of people and organisations involved in conservation and nature/adventure travel.

Over the years, more than 50 of Reza’s friends and colleagues – a bunch of naturalists, biologists, conservationists and writers – have contributed articles, pictures and shared information through the site.

One of Wildasia’s contributors, Liz Price, a cave and karst specialist and freelance writer based in Kuala Lumpur, finds the site a good source of information on many off-the-beaten-track destinations.

“It’s a useful site for facts on nature and travel,” said Price who checks the site weekly or at least once a month. “When I get questions from overseas visitors, it’s good to refer them to the site.”

Tan Chin Tong, 47, an avid Wildasia reader checks out the site at least once a week.

“I enjoy reading the articles – they’re raw and unpolished, just what nature lovers love to read,” said Tan who is based in Ipoh.

“They’re unlike articles (in mass publications) with content beautifully constructed to whet readers’ appetite but full of disappointments when you make the trip.”

But Tan would like to see more articles on Peninsular Malaysia. “There are many hidden beauties known only to a few,” he added.

From design to content, Wildasia is a voluntary effort.

“The Tourism Malaysia award belongs to all the volunteers who helped build Wildasia to what it is today,” stressed Reza.

Though Wildasia receives more than 10,000 visits a day from readers worldwide, Reza is not satisfied. He constantly thinks of ways to improve the site and sees Wildasia’s development as an evolving process.

“But I hope to see more contributors from different parts of Asia getting involved. That would help us cover more natural areas and bring us closer towards our goal,” Reza summed up.

For now, it’s heartening to see our tourism authorities recognise a non-commercial effort on nature tourism writing in Malaysia.

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