Southeast Asia…a land filled with whimsical wonder and the promise of an adventure unlike any other.
I could literally spend weeks hiking through the rain forests and soaking up the rich, vibrant culture shown from the locals. Since I’ve literally done that, I’ll be using this post to tell you more about which destinations are well worth visiting if you’re traveling to SE Asia and looking for adventure.
Before we get to the good part though, there’s something you need to keep in mind: PACK YOUR GPS.
Why? Well because the local guides are great and a handheld map might help you out a little, but I once got so lost on a biking expedition that I probably would still be stuck there had it not been for the handy tips and tricks (yes, navigational tips) I got from my GPS.
So, with that out of the way, here are my top recommendations for treks worth exploring – whether it’s by mountain biking or hiking – while you’re in Southeast Asia.
- Malaysia – Taman Negara
I visited Taman Negara while I was backpacking through SE Asia. This is one of the world’s oldest rainforests and it offers awesome ‘jungle-style’ accommodation for hikers that wish to have the full, rugged experience. I recommend going on a river cruise or exploring some of the limestone caves here during the day.
- Malaysian Borneo – Mount Kinabalu, Sabah
I figured that while I was around Malaysia, I might as well swing around Malaysian Borneo, which is also when I visited Mount Kinabalu. Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain and requires you to purchase a permit from the Park’s office if you plan on summiting. The hike up the hill is steep so make sure you have a great pair of hikers or trail running shoes or else your back and feet will be killing you. Be prepared to face a rocky ascent if you want to see the sunrise over Kinabalu, but the reward of soothing your body in the Poring Hot Springs once you get down makes it all worthwhile.
- Vietnam – Charity Challenge
The name pretty much says it all: Charity Challenge is a very challenging hike that trails through villages such as Tay, Red Dao, and Black H’mong. You’ll have the opportunity to lodge with local tribes while you’re hiking the trail, but do keep in mind that you’ll have to raise a sponsorship before you head off.
- Thailand – Pooh Eco Treks
Led by guides with their flaming torches, I entered caves filled with billions of bats (well, it felt like it), and then had a blast of a time as I lodged with local villagers in the area. Pooh Eco Treks is a hiking or biking trail that starts off in Chiang Mai, and it offers you the opportunity to learn how to survive in the wilderness, teaching you skills such as foraging for food in the rugged jungle.
- Thailand – Hill Tribe Tours
Based in Chiang Rai, Hill Tribe Tours is an NGO that ensures that backpackers get a full-on cultural experience, and not just a physical workout. You can hike or bike a few hours per day, but the main focus lies on experiencing the lifestyles of tribes such as the Lahu, Akha, and Karen locals.
- Cambodia – Yeak Laom
Covering the Ratanakiri district of northeast Cambodia is the forest of Yeak Laom. I strongly recommend finding and sticking to a reliable guide if you plan to hike or bike your way through the dense area, especially if you’re keen on visiting the remotest of spots. One of my most memorable moments here was seeing the Yeak Laom Lake, which is set in an ancient volcanic crater. The lake is home to 5 Tampuen villages, giving you the opportunity to learn more about the locals and their lifestyles. Pro Tip: You’re also going to want to take a reliable GPS device and if you are mountain biking, take a GPS designed for mountain biking! This is the trail I got incredibly lost on and if it wasn’t for my GPS I’d still be lost… well maybe not really but it sure helped!
- Lombok – Rinjani
A guy simply referred to as “Mr. John” leads trekkers through Mount Rinjani. This experience was surreal as we trekked up the volcano slopes to the lake (which is very sacred) and rested at Segara Anak (translated to the Child of the Sea). The hike is sweaty and tiring, but taking a refreshing dip in the Crater Lake will make all your effort worth the while.
Wrapping It Up
While there are probably thousands of unsurpassed hiking and biking experiences to be had in Southeast Asia, the 7 that I mentioned here blew my mind, as I’m guessing it will do for you as well. I hope that this info has broadened your knowledge a little and given you a few pointers as to which areas are worth visiting in SE Asia if you’re a hiker or avid mountain biker.
About The Author
I’m Eric, and I’m the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics. I’m also an avid adventurer, digital nomad and traveler. I enjoy all types of outdoor sports, a good golf tan, and spontaneous weekend trips. I currently live in Brazil where I can be found frequently hiking the rain forest around my city!