Bat Watching in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is known primarily for its colorful bird species, from peafowl to parakeets to birds of paradise, but once the sun goes down, the birds drift off to sleep and the birdwatcher is at a loss. Fortunately, the night skies are hardly empty in this region, and the nature lover has the opportunity to discover the other masters of the sky: the bats.

Though sometimes feared, bats are responsible for the survival of the rainforests. They eat insect pests by the ton—saving agriculture—and they disperse seeds, some of which cannot grow without being digested by a bat. Sadly, mining and illegal hunting have reduced their populations tremendously, so it is well worth the opportunity to view these night hunters before they disappear.

  1. Monfort Bat Cave (Samal Island, Mindanao, Philippines)

    The Guiness Book of World Records lists the Monfort Cave as the largest colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette Fruit Bats in the world, roughly 1.8 million and growing. Entry to the cave is prohibited, but visitors can watch the nightly emergence from the cave’s five entrances or take part in the Babak Bat Festival held annually in the last week of January. The island is accessible by combination of bus and habal-habal (motorcycle).

  2. Gomantong Bat Caves (Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia)

    A prized resource for birds’ nests for Chinese soup, these caves are also home to about a million Wrinkle-lipped Bats. With the necessary precautions for bugs and guano, you will be rewarded with spectacular cathedral-like formations and, of course, a ton of bats. Local tours are available from the nearby town of Sandakan, or you can rent a car and drive.

  3. Subic Bay Flying Fox Colony (Zambales, Subic, Philippines)

    The Philippines are a bat haven with over 26 indigenous species, the largest being the Golden Crowned Flying Fox with a 2-meter wingspan. Over 10,000 of these fruit eaters live on the island of Subic, one of the last large flying fox colonies in the world. These bats roost in the trees around the Subic Bay Freeport and can be observed by taking a hike or looking up when the sun goes down.

  4. Pura Goa Lawah (Kusamba, Bali, Indonesia)

    Pura Goa Lawah means “Bat Cave Temple.” A 2km drive east of the town of Kusamba, it is one of Bali’s most sacred temples, where villagers go to deify the souls of their deceased. It is forbidden for humans to enter the cave, but the thousands of Long-nosed Fruit Bats are clearly visible among the altars at the entrance. At night, they fly forth like spirits from the underworld.

  5. Koh Talu (Mu Ko Samet National Park, Thailand)

    This is arguably the loveliest location to view fruit bats. Koh Talu is a tiny island within Mu Koh Samet National Park, a roughly 30-minute boat ride from the mainland. Here, you can watch the resident flying foxes burst into the sunset while you rest on white sand, sipping some manner of fruit, delicious beverage.