South-East Asian hikes often fly under the radar as hikes that contain some of the best natural beauty available anywhere in the world. The cross between an overall cheaper cost of living and largely untamed nature leads to a very cost-effective but adventurous hiking destination that will have you coming back for more. Here are my top 10 hikes in South-East Asian countries for beginners.
1. Indonesia: Mount Rinjani
The towering peak of the majestic Mount Rinjani, complete with the infamous crater lake, dominates north Lombok, so even when the mountain is closed to visitors, hikes on the lower slopes appealed to me. This is the most amazing South-East Asian trek that I have had the pleasure of travelling. I opted for the 3-day, 2-night trek, and would urge you to do the same. The mountain demands this amount of time to be properly explored. Make sure you stay at Charlie’s Shack while in Lombok.
2. Vietnam: Sapa
Vietnam’s premier hiking destination, Sapa is home to a large network of individual trails. This area appealed to me because I had the ability to build my own sensational hike based on the combination of individual trails that I chose. On top of that, Sapa boasts some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in all of Vietnam, a landscape consisting of terraced rice paddies and wonderful mountain villages.
3. Thailand: Chiang Rai
I chose Chiang Rai because it is Thailand’s second busiest hiking center— after Chiang Mai. Thailand received just under 40 million international visitors in 2019, meaning the ability to construct my own hike and be closer with nature paid off big time, without the crowds. Located in northern Thailand, the Chiang Rai region is synonymous with lush jungles, rice paddies and authentic Thai villages.
4. Phillipines: Mt. Pulag (Benguet)
Mt. Pulag is Luzon’s highest peak at 2,926 meters above sea level and is popular among hikers and trekkers because of its picturesque trails and stunning views. While the mountain is not recommended for beginners, several trails are on offer to accommodate. Ambangeg Trail is the easiest most beginner friendly, while Akiki and Tawangan trails are more challenging.
5. Cambodia: Cardamom Mountains
It has been a life-long dream of mine to conquer the Cardamom Mountains. I first heard about them as they belong to South-East Asia’s largest remaining rainforest. The mountains are full of rare and exotic wildlife. Stretching out over the horizon, the mountains are also home to a variety of terrains complete with waterfalls and vast grasslands. This is an intermediate hike that will see you live on the trail for the duration of the hike. Better pack something warm!
6. Laos: Nong Khiaw
Northern Laos, enveloped in natural beauty, appealed to me immensely – I wanted to get off the beaten track. I opted to embark on a three-hour hike up to the Nong Khiaw viewpoint for spectacular views across the valley and the town below. This gave me my bearings and the ability to jump on any number of other hikes while I spent time in the area. To find the trailhead, get past the bridge on the town-side of the river and you will see signs with arrows pointing you towards the trail.
7. Timor-Leste: Mt Ramelau
Mt Ramelau is on this last as Timor-Leste’s highest mountain. Watching the sun rise over Timor-Leste from the summit is a sight not to be missed, even worth the early morning start in my opinion. The hike is a three-hours steady climb from the mountainous village of Hato Builico. It is recommended you hire a local guide to do the hike, just to help with directions and extra knowledge that could be helpful to you and your group.
8. Malaysia: Broga Hill (Bukit Lalang)
I thought I had better put a short hike into this list just to show you what is possible if you only ever have a couple of spare hours one day while you are travelling in Malaysia. Broga Hill is classed as an easy hike, and at only 3.4km, or 1-2 hours, this hike is also very versatile for people that choose to explore it. The hike itself has three beautiful summit points and it is most famous for its sunrise spot. I started the hike at 5am to see the glorious views at sunrise. I was not disappointed.
9. Myanmar: Inle to Kalaw
For Myanmar, I could not miss the opportunity to include the iconic Inle to Kalaw trek. This is easily the most popular multi-day trek in the country, given the ease in organizing, but also the breath-taking views and topography. The trail will bring you across the villages of the Pa’O people, the Palaung, Taungthu, and Danu. If you are up for the challenge, give the route between Baw Nin Khone and Than Dang a go.
10. Brunei: Wasai Wong Kadir Recreational Park
I chose the Wasai Wong Kadir Recreational Park for Brunei because it represents one of the few hikes in the region that is not commercialized. What I mean is a lot of the other hiking areas are equipped with playgrounds and cafes to keep kids interested, but this truly feels like you are taking a step into untamed nature. I loved it. The main attraction in this park is the Wasai Wong Kadir which takes an hour to hike to from the Teraja Longhouse. At the end, hikers get to experience the beauty of the Wong Kadir and Teraja Waterfalls, a refreshing and peaceful experience.