PANDA SPOTTING, CHINA
Zoo pandas are cute, but encountering these rare and elusive creatures in the wild is a major thrill. The only place the public can track wild pandas is in Foping National Nature Reserve in central China's Qinling Mountains. See ecotours.com.
Combine the adrenaline of paragliding and up-close encounters with Egyptian vultures (they aren't hawks, despite the sport's name) in the Pokhara Valley, where the birds of prey are lured to your arm with buffalo meat, and mark your way to rising thermals. See parahawking.com.
DIVING WITH WHALE SHARKS, MYANMAR
The uninhabited Mergui Archipelago is way beyond usual scuba-diving haunts and teems with reef sharks, barracuda, dogtooth tuna and many more large fish species. But when whale sharks come within arm's reach, you know you're somewhere special. See divetheworldburma.com.
TIGER SAFARI, INDIA
Of several places to spy tigers in India, Bandhavgarh National Park has a particularly high density of the striped predators. A 4WD safari – or more unnervingly, guided walk – through grassland and woods provides close encounters with the big cats. See abercrombiekent.com.au.
BIRD SPOTTING, SINGAPORE
The world's biggest walk-in aviary at Jurong Bird Park houses 365 species, full-size trees and a waterfall, and gets you closer to our feathered friends than you'd ever be in the wild. Mandarin ducks, macaws, penguins, flamingos and ostriches are among the attractions. See birdpark.com.sg.
ORANG-UTAN ENCOUNTERS, MALAYSIA
It's a magic moment when an orang-utan approaches through the tree canopy and you're face to face with this endearing – and endangered – creature. Semenggoh Orang-utan Centre is just one of several Borneo reserves for semi-wild orang-utans and their babies. See sarawaktourism.com.
SNOW MONKEYS, JAPAN
The Japan Alps near Nagano ski resort is home to Japanese macaques. The world's most northerly non-human primates spend much of the winter wallowing in hot springs. With their red faces and spiky hair, the cute factor is off the charts. See hakubatourism.com.
KOMODO DRAGONS, INDONESIA
Just the opposite of cute yet strangely compelling, the world's largest lizard inhabits just a small group of islands, including Komodo. The fierce predator has poisonous saliva and can kill a water buffalo. Very impressive, and a bit revolting. See komodonationalpark.org.
SCUBA DIVING, MALDIVES
Who says animal encounters mean sacrificing luxury? In the Maldives you can combine resort living with fantastic scuba-diving and snorkelling, and easily spot manta rays, giant trevally and abundant coral and tropical fish in waters with 40-metre visibility at times. See visitmaldives.com.
SNOW LEOPARD TRACKING, INDIA
The attempt to see one of the world's most elusive animals high in the Himalayas of India's remote Ladakh region isn't always successful, but the chase is a thrill – and the combination of alpine scenery and Buddhist temples is stunning. See intrepidtravel.com.