From volcanic peaks to muddy rice paddies and luscious rainforests, trekking in Southeast Asia remains as one of the top activity that keeps people coming back for more. Some of these treks not only allow you to witness the spectacular wildlife up close but also experience the native culture; with some offering homestays along the way.
For those who are looking for a more adventurous take for your weekend, this will be your hiking guide in Southeast Asia. Forget the too-popular Kota Kinnabalu, these are some underrated hikes you can start.
1. Virachey National Park, Ratanakiri, Cambodia
Ever wanted to fall asleep in a hammock under the trees and stars after a hearty meal with traditional rice wine? Good news is, you don’t have to be a hiking pro to have such an unforgettable experience. Trekking in Virachey National Park is a blend of cultural immersion and reconnection with the nature. Get treated to panoramic views of agriculture and mixed forests and stay relaxed to the plunging sounds of the cascading waterfalls. You can complete your experience with an overnight stay in indigenous farm houses and a visit to the sacred cemetery.
2. Rice Terraces of Banue, Ifugao, Philippines
Wondered how it feels like to be hiking on your rice staples? The 1500 metres tall rice paddies of Banaue are recognised for its expanse and limitless beauty. The rice paddies are historical evidences of the engineering ingenuity of ancient people. Some 2000 years ago, the ancestors of indigenous Ifugao people carved these rice terraces by hands and primitive stones. Now it is a world heritage site where you can immerse yourself in the land and culture of Ifugao.
3. Mount Rinjani, Lombak, Indonesia
Slowly gaining popularity and recognition by international travellers, Mount Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia, dominating the landscape of Lombok island. East of everyone’s favourite island, Bali, Mount Rinjani standing at 3726 metres is said to be more treacherous than Kota Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Promising not only thrill, Mount Rinjani offers scenic views and is home to many tropical species. Eruptions within the caldera have created a new small cone of volcano called Gunung Baru. It remains as an active volcano, experiencing three eruptions in 2010.
4. Mount Pulag, Luzon, Philippines
Bordering between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva, Mount Pulag is the third highest mountain in the Philippines. Standing at 2922 metres above sea level, the mountain is home to about 528 plant species, some rare and endangered. Although it sports rainfall throughout the year, many climbers have flocked here for an unforgettable climb and intimate experience with the sunrise as clouds envelope their feet.
5. Mount Ophir, Johor, Malaysia
More commonly known by its Malay name “Gunung Ledang”, Mount Ophir has a folklore attached to it. It was believed that a princess with magical powers resided on the mountains rejected the proposal of Sultan in Malacca, causing the collapse of his reign. Believe it or not, the mountain that stands at 1276 metres is popular amongst amateur climbers with its clear trail leading to the peak.
6. Mount Bromo, East Java, Indonesia
Yet another active volcano in East Java, Mount Bromo is 2329 metres tall. Covering a massive area of 800 square kilometres, it is hailed as the best spot for sunrises where streaks of vibrant rays casting shadows over the dramatic landscapes. To experience more than just an adventurous climb, visit in the month of Kasada (September to November) where local Tenggerese will come to Mount Bromo, throwing vegetables, chickens and money into the crater.
7. Ijen, East Java, Indonesia
Standing at 2799 metres, Ijen volcano is among the group of stratovolcanoes in East Java. Located inside the larger 20 kilometres wide Caldera Ijen, you will witness swirling sulfur smog every few steps you take. Ijen has been a relatively quiet volcano these few years but is still active. However, the sulfur activities have not quietened down. Sulfur collectors can be seen along the trek from morning till late noon.
Before you reach the summit, you will be bedazzled by the magnificent turquoise lake that lays 2148 metres above sea level.
8. Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar
Uncontestably one of the best treks in Myanmar, this does not boast the vertical challenge but horizontal exploration. Set away in Southern Myanmar, discover the serenity of Inle lake and lives and traditions of water-living people. The geography proves to be the highlight of this 61 kilometres height, from Kalaw to the base of Inle Lake in the Shan State of Northern Vietnam through the rice paddies and company of cool breezes.
9. Fansipan, Lao Cai, Vietnam
Proudly standing at 3143 metres, Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina region. Only 9 kilometres from Sapa town, it is a must-have on itineraries of many backpackers and adventure seekers. Fansipan features a very basic climb but it takes at least three days to get to the peak, with lots of endurance and strength that is.
10. Doi Intanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Labelled as “Roof of Thailand”, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand with a height of 2565 metres. The hike at Doi Inthanon is different from others as there are no hike or jungle trails to the summit; you will have to walk beside the cars at the pavement. There are many attractions at Doi Inthanon, ranging from hot springs and outdoor camping at the foot, to the ride range of animal species for bird watching, and Chedis dedicated to Their Royal Majesties at the summit. Take a day trip from Chiangmai city and let yourself be surrounded in mist.
11. 100 Waterfalls Trek, Nong Khiaw, Laos
A hidden gem of Northern Laos is the 100 waterfalls trail. Though it has been featured on several international travel publications, it remains as an exclusive adventure. The trip will start with an hour boat trip on the scenic Nam Ou River before you challenge yourself on the exciting trek through the waterfalls. In the midst of exploring the luscious jungle and never-ending waterfall, you will learn about the village life along the way.