Highland Rainforest

The best known rainforest in tropical Asia is the hot and wet lowland tropical rainforest. In prehistoric times, this was also the most extensive. However, much of this has been cleared outside of protected areas, while some of the less accessible rainforest on ridges, valleys and mountains remains more intact. This cooler subtropical rainforest is found at higher elevations across tropical Asia, including northern Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and in northern Borneo; the latter where the highest of all peaks of tropical south-east Asia are found.

While the canopy is dominated by tall trees, there is a diversity of smaller flowering plants in the understory and edge. While gingers of the family Zingiberaceae are spread throughout the rainforests of the world, they have their centre of diversity in tropical Asia.


One of the most fascinating groups of plants are the carnivorous 'Asian Pitcher' plants of the family Nepenthaceae. At 1.5 metres, the tallest species is Nepenthes attenboroughii, rare and endemic to highland forest of Palawan in the Philppines. But the largest species in volume is the 'Rajah Pitcher' plant, endemic to the highland rainforest around Kinabalu in northern Borneo.

mesilauNepenthes'Rajah Pitcher Plant', (Mesilau, Malaysia).

In the family Ericaceae are the Rhododendrons. Many species in this genus have large red flowers. They are mostly found in the higher altitude forests of Asia.


rhododendron-aboreum'Ceylon Rhododendron', (Horton Plains)
KinabaluHQrhododendronRhododendron (Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia)

Arachnids include spiders, scorpions, whip scorpions, harvestmen and other eight legged creatures. The 'Harvestmen' of the order Opiliones are delicate creatures that are not often noticed, but are quite common on the floor of the Asian rainforest.

nature-lodge-harvestmen(Nature Lodge, Sen Monoron, Cambodia)

The true spiders vary in size in the Asian jungle. The 'Spiny-back Spiders' are small but usually colourful spiders with variously shaped ornate spines. They are not dangerous. The highest diversity of these spiders is in tropical Asia. Nephila sp. 'Golden Orb-Web Weavers'. The largest spiders seen in a web on the planet. It is the female that is the large spider in the middle of the web; the males are tiny. Distributed throughout the tropics of the world.

Butterflies and moths

jigme-butterfly-big-black'Scarlet Mormon', 'Red Mormon' (Jigme Dorji, Bhutan).

One of the biggest groups of reptiles in the Asian rainforest are the 'dragons' of the family Agamidae.

'Rhino Horned Lizard' (Horton Plains, Sri Lanka).

The pigeons and doves of the family Columbidae are found all over the world, but there is a centre of diversity in the forests of tropical Asia.

bhutan-green-pigeonWedge-tailed Green Pigeon' (Lampelri Gardens, Bhutan)

Asian Barbets of the family Megalamidae include some of the most colourful species in the forest. Below is the 'Golden-throated Barbet', Psilopogon franklinii.

barbet-golden-throated-bhutan(Golden-throated Barbet, Bhutan)

The family Picidae comprises all the Woodpeckers. Below is Dendrocopos hyperythrus, 'Rufous-bellied Woodpecker', a species found in a range of forests, but particularly the higher altitude mixed forest, across mainland south-east Asia, from Himalayas, north to China.


One of the most sought after groups of birds are the 'Babblers'. This name covers various related but very different babblers, including Scimitar Babblers, Tit-Babblers, Ground Babbler and Laughing Thrush. Many of the species are also found in higher altitude temperate forests of Asia.

jigme-scimitar-babbler'Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler' (Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan).
jigme-laughing-thrush-striated'Striated Laughing Thrush', (Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan).

(Bar-throated Siva)
DoiInthannonShibiaDarkBacked'Dark-backed Sibia', (Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand).

The family Nectariniidae includes the 'Sunbirds'. Found throughout the old world tropics of Africa, Asia and Australasia, the group includes many colourful species in the Asia rainforest. Sunbirds are one of the most beautiful groups of birds in the world (and I think my own favourite). They have evolved to feed mainly on nectar from flowers, using their long curved bills. The rainforests of tropical Asia, particularly the higher altitudes, are one of the best places in the world to appreciate their diversity. Some species are also quite common on the forest edge and in gardens throughout tropical Asia, and can thus be easily seen and photographed. 

Sunbird-temmincks-kota-kinabalu'Temminck's Sunbird' (Kota Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia).
bhutan-sunbird-throated-2'Black-throated Sunbird' (Bhutan).

The 'tree shrews' make up their own order. They were once lumped in with the Insectivora, and they look like a squirrel, but they are now considered more closely related to primates, and are not a type of shrew. They have been found to have the highest brain-to-body ratio of any mammal; however this may not mean they are super smart, but that they are just super small. Tree Shrews are found only in the forests of tropical south-east Asia. At first glance, Tree Shrews look superficially like the unrelated squirrels that often live in the same Asian rainforest habitat. However, when seen from the side, Tree Shrews have more pointed and less cute heads, with naked lips and ears. 


There are various hoofed animals in the Asian rainforest...

horton-plains-sambar'Sambar' (Horton Plains, Sri Lanka).

The Langurs and Leaf Monkeys are the most diverse group in tropical Asian forests.

horton-plains-purple-face-monkey'Purple-faced Langur/Leaf Monkey', (Horton Plains, Sri Lanka)

Places to experience the Asian subtropical rainforest

There are many lodges and nationals parks to see the subtropical rainforest of the higher altitudes parts of Asia. In Sri Lanka, there is: Horton Plains for some highland rainforest of Sri Lanka. In Thailand there is: Doi Inthanon National Park. In Malaysian Borneo there is: Kinabalu National Park HQ and Mesilau.

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