5 Unforgettable Hikes in Southeast Asia
What's more memorable than a remote hike to Inle Lake that passes through indigenous hill tribes regions of Myanmar? Perhaps watching the sunrise from a volcano in Bali, Indonesia. From hikes through the Sapa highlands of Vietnam to a waterfall and zipline trek in the rainforests of Laos, these five spots are the most unforgettable hikes in Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asia is a booming travel destination for voyagers of all ages. While there is of course a contingent of young people party-hopping with the locals in cities, there are also travelers opting for a trek into the virgin beauty of these nations’ wilderness areas. The following are five of the best treks in Southeast Asia—each one brings you face-to-face with wildlife, volcanoes, exotic vegetation, and flaming sunrises.
When to Visit Southeast Asia
When your planning to hike, it’s more important than ever to travel during the right time of year. Spring through Fall brings monsoon rains across much of the country, meaning to November through February is a great time to visit Southeast Asia—cool, dry weather prevails. For more nuanced planning, use this granular look at each country’s best times to visit.
1. Trekking From Kalaw to Inle Lake (Myanmar)
A taste of unspoiled paradise awaits in this rural backdrop. Inle Lake, with its iconic fishermen standing on one leg as they wade in the water, is a mere 60 km from the town of Kalaw. This trek is becoming increasingly popular as the mostly-Buddhist country of Myanmar gradually blossoms in the face of tourism—despite some deep ethical challenges facing the country in some areas, responsible tourism here can still provide needed money to remote communities. This amazing hike in Southeast Asia will bring you through stunning Shan villages, where you can lodge for the night and partake of delicious, nourishing indigenous food. While you can, with a lot of research, make the trek independently, your best bet is to use a local guide who can navigate the tricky signage and help you immerse in the local villages you find along the away.
2. Sunrise Hiking to Mount Rinjani (Lombok, Indonesia)
This trek, which generally takes three or four days, is a strenuous hike up Mount Rinjani, an active volcano alive with lush scenery—it’s also the second-highest volcano in Indonesia. Departure towns for the hike are Senaru or Sembalun. The local Sasak tribe and Hindu people in general revere the volcano as a spiritual site, an energy that you will feel when you hit the summit just in time for a gorgeous sunrise you’ll never forget.
What to bring: A waist pack is all you’ll need for this one-day hike—just enough space for a water bottle and your cell phone.
3. Visiting Indigenous Tribes in the Sapa Highlands (Vietnam)
Located near the Chinese border, Sapa consists of mist-shrouded highlands, with rice terraces sculpted out of the terrain in lush step-like formations. From Hanoi, you can take an overnight train to Lao Cai, and then an hour-long bus ride out to Sapa. With that as your home base, you can spend several days visiting various hill tribes in the area, which includes the Red and Black Hmong, who have yet to be touched by Westernization. Hiking the area is fruitful, with gorgeous vegetation and the occasional waterfall that will entrance and delight your party.
4. Zip Lining Through the Forest Canopy (The Gibbon Experience, Laos)
From treehouses poised precariously high in the verdant trees of the Laotian forest, you get the best possible interactions with the gibbons who live there. Short treks from your treehouse (where you get to sleep!) take you deep into the shaded forest, where placid lakes and tranquil waterfalls enhance your experience. By far the most thrilling experience at The Gibbon Experience is zip lining through the canopy, the wind rushing at your face, the scenery flying by.
What to bring: You’ll definitely want a waist pack for easy access while you’re zip lining.
5. Spotting Wildlife in Malaysian Borneo (Bako National Park, Malaysia)
Bako National Park is both the oldest and the smallest of Malaysian Borneo’s extensive national park system, and the only place in the world where you can spot the proboscis monkey, otherwise known as the “long-nosed monkey” or Dutch monkey. The park can only be reached by boat from Kuching, but once there, there are no less than sixteen hiking trails for you to fully indulge in the beauty of this natural paradise. Unlike other areas of Southeast Asia, the dry season in Borneo runs between March and October and is the best time to visit.
Make a packing plan depending on the time of year you’ll visit—these are the essentials of what to pack for Southeast Asia, and this covers everything you need to travel during the rainy season.
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By Shannon O’Donnell on September 10, 2019
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 and has lived everywhere from Southeast Asia to Barcelona, where she now calls home. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourism along the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for developing communities.