National Parks of East Asia
When we envision going to exotic, far-off getaway spots with breathtaking scenery, East Asia typically isn’t what we have in mind. No, countries like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan are better known for things like technological savvy, densely populated megacities and strange-looking cuisine. But the region has its own national parks, full of stunning vistas, fascinating geographical features and hidden treasures. Here are some of the best resources the Web has to offer on national parks of the Far East. Rest assured — all of the links are to pages written in English.
World Wildlife Adventures is a comprehensive directory featuring information on more than 300 national parks in Asia alone. The information is sortable by country, wildlife, and even recreational activity and fully searchable — a respectable attempt at being a one-stop resource for those interested in any park.
The Asia Parks Guide at the Great Outdoor Recreation Pages follows a similar model as World Wildlife Adventures, but what it lacks in sheer information, it makes up for in its attractive interactive maps and slide shows made in Flash and its easy-to-use interface. Their photo galleries are definitely worth a look, too.
The Guidelines for Tourism in Parks and Protected Areas of East Asia is for those more interested in bona fide academic research. Published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the PDF document is a report on the state of national parks, park tourism, and other protected areas in the region and gives recommendations for “developing sustainable tourism” in different environments going forward.
The East Asia Travel Guide at iGuide, the Interactive Travel Guide, has a plethora of valuable information for travelers, especially those who have never visited the country in question. While it doesn’t specialize in national parks, it goes into surprising detail on even more obscure topics like natural hazards, public safety, homestaying and racial discrimination.
TravelDojo, the Asia Travel Guide, is an oft-updated site focusing on China and all of the countries of what is conventionally known as Southeast Asia, from Myanmar in the northwest to East Timor in the southeast. It features basic travel tips and recommendations on the best activities and sights to see.
While many may scoff at drawing information from a mainstream news site like USAToday.com, their International Travel | Travel Tips has surprisingly good information on scenic locations around the world, especially South Korea and Japan. It’s a good place to start out when planning a trip.
The Asia section of Parks.it, a “portal about parks in Italy” maintained by some 200 authors, is also an unlikely source for an abundance of information about national parks in East Asia. Though it doesn’t feature much in the way of graphics or images, it has a helpful directory with links to major national parks in every country (it’s even sorted by province or region).
Country- and Region-Specific Links
The official National Parks of Japan site, maintained by the Ministry of the Environment (kankyō-shō), has some basic information on the country’s 29 national parks, areas that feature “fields of alpine flora…serene lakes…island chains in the evening sun…[and] snow-covered lofty peaks” to get you started.
The National Parks section of the National Parks Foundation site, a private non-profit organization (NPO) based in Tokyo, is a more detailed (and probably more helpful) guide to Japan’s national parks, featuring attractive pictures, maps of specific regions, and detailed descriptions.
The Live Images of National Parks and Wildlife section of the Internet Nature Information System is an unusual endeavor: it’s an aggregator of images of all of the live cameras set up at national parks and other scenic locations across the country. It’s worth checking out, even if all you happen to see is two ducks happily wading across a pond.
The Japan National Tourism Organization site has a National Parks section with their own ranking of all 29 national parks—while short on images, it has value as a basic guide to those looking to visit the country.
The popular AsiaHotels.com Travel Blog recently published an article called 6 Spectacular National Parks in Hokkaido, Japan, focusing on the northernmost—and arguably the most breathtaking—of the four main islands that comprise the Japanese archipelago. While temperatures in Hokkaido can be absolutely frigid in the winters, the region is known for its beautiful peaks, rivers, lakes, and grassy fields.
And lastly, Frommer’s, a dedicated travel site, has its own The Best National Parks rankings in its Destinations section. PlanetWare has an excellent map of all of the major national parks in Japan for those feeling overwhelmed by all of the unfamiliar names of parks and regions.
South Korea (Republic of Korea)
The Korea National Park Service is a fantastic guide to South Korea’s 20 national parks and perhaps the best government-run national parks site in the entire region. Its user interface is intuitive, its graphics are visually appealing, and it features up-to-date information on the park, its “flagship species”, its history, recreational activities, and even volunteer services.
10 Magazine, an English Web magazine on all things related to Korea, has an informative Korea’s National Parks, Mountains, and Trails page with descriptions of some the most popular national parks. Most are mountainous and will be particularly appealing to avid hikers.
Korea in the Clouds: A Guide to Hiking Korea’s Mountains is a blog created by an American named Alex Zuccarelli charting his travels as he went from park to park in fall 2007. While no longer updated, the site is an excellent resource for those even remotely interested in mountainous sites and hiking trails, complete with photos, maps (both new and old), and even bus timetables.
While the site’s layout can be somewhat cluttered, the 20 National Parks page in the Sights section of the Korea Tourism Organization Web site is also an excellent resource for those looking for basic information, with a plethora of images and links to related activities and services.
National and Provincial Parks on Life in Korea is a simple database of all of the national and provincial parks in the country with user-submitted images accompanying the description on each page. It’s somewhat difficult to navigate for those completely unfamiliar with Korean geography, though.
Taiwan (Republic of China)
The official National Parks of Taiwan site has all of the news, visitor information, and expert advice you’d ever want about the island nation’s eight national parks, from Yangmingshan to Kenting, and a gorgeous layout to boot. Their photo gallery is worth a look even for those with no plans to visit in the immediate future.
The National Parks section on the Tourism Bureau of the Republic of China (Taiwan) site has a slick-looking Flash applet with photos and information on each park’s unique geographical features and wildlife. The rest of the site is sure to be a valuable resource for those visiting Taiwan, too.