Trekking. It needs no special equipment, no learnt skill, just a little stamina and a local guide in some of the more off the beaten track areas. The moment you step outside your door in Southeast Asia there are incredible sights waiting to be seen, just a short walk from the main tourist path. Escape the crowds by clambering up mountains, foraging through jungles, peering into volcanic craters and scampering around the waterfalls to get to the local beauty spots – peaceful and deserted!
Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
For those of you looking to bag South East Asia’s highest peak, you may be thinking of heading to Malaysian Borneo to take on Mount Kinabalu? However, despite what people think, Kinabalu (4,094 metres) is actually only the fifth highest mountain in South East Asia, with Burma’s Hkakabo Razi (5,881 metres) clenching the top spot. However, much more accessible is Kinabalu, which can be summitted in two days from the town.
People of all ages take on the mountain each year and there are many tour companies based in Kota Kinabalu that will guide your way up the mountain. Ascending through the clouds looking out over magical landscapes, it is easy to see why mountains have long been thought of as the home of the Gods in many cultures and are the source of myths, legends and spiritual folklore.
Volcano Trekking in Indonesia
One of the most exciting and otherworldly trekking adventures has to be to tackle some of Indonesia’s spectacular volcanoes, their steaming, gurgling crates rising high into the wispy clouds. In a country that holds the title for having the most active volcanoes in the world (129), Indonesia boasts incredible landscapes to explore.
Volcanoes in Java
In East Java, popular climbs start from Yogyakarta and head to the summit of Mount Semeru or Mount Bromo. Holding the title of ‘most photographed active volcano in the world’, Mount Bromo is Indonesia’s most popular volcano and stands about 2,329 metres high. Its name comes from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator God.
Locals believe that throwing offerings into the crater will bring them good luck, despite the danger of such proximity! In January 2011 a 2-kilometre exclusion zone was implemented surrounding Mount Bromo, due to its recent activity. Expect an ash fall if you stay close by!
Volcanoes of Sumatra
In Sumatra, Gunung Sinabung can be climbed from Berestagi, whilst Mount Singgalang and the recently erupted Mount Merapi, can be tackled from Bukittinggi. Treks tend to start in the early hours of the morning so that you reach the peak in perfect time for sunrise to be rewarded with magnificent and dramatic views.
Volcanoes of Bali
Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung on the holiday island of Bali are easier climbs and can be tackled in a day. Ascending through steamy sulphuric moonscapes that offer a glimpse into a pre-historic era, when the earth was being moulded by the fiery, lava-spewing giants makes for a surreal trekking experience.
Volcanoes of Lombok
From the island of Lombok, many travellers attempt the Mount Rinjani Trek to cast eyes on its incredibly blue crater lake from the top. Mt Rinjani (or Gunung Rinjani) is an active volcano that lies at 3,762 metres making it Indonesia’s fifth highest peak. It’s a challenging 2-day, 1-night trek to the summit, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but very rewarding! Check out some tips on booking the trek and what to bring here.
Jungle Trekking & home-stays in Chiang Mai & Pai, Northern Thailand
Another attraction with trekking in South East Asia is the fascinating glimpse into the lives of ethnic hill tribes living in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and many parts of Indonesia. Chiang Mai and Pai in Northern Thailand offer great bases for jungle treks and adventures into the hills and remote villages.
Among others, you will come across Hmong, Karen, Lisu and Lahu tribes, who have been living for hundreds of years since their emigration from countries such as Tibet, China and Mongolia. Many of the trekking tours offer the chance to stay overnight in the local villages so you can catch a glimpse of their traditional way of life.
Only an overnight bus ride away from Bangkok, jungle trekking tours here in Chiang Mai can be combined with white water rafting, traditional bamboo rafting and all kinds of other exciting activities. Pai is just another three hours on a motorbike or coach from Chiang Mai and has gained itself a reputation as a yoga hub as well as offering some fantastic trekking opportunities. Just minutes outside this Bohemian town you’ll find yourself in paradise… from hot springs to waterfalls; Pai is undeniably beautiful.
The Rice Terraces of Banaue, the Philippines
Slightly less well known as a backpacker destination, the Philippines’ sandy white beaches and exquisite underwater life are not all these 7,107 islands have to offer. The 300km drive north from Manila is stunning. Look out for the ‘Stairways to the Gods,’ a seemingly never-ending plateau of incredible rice terraces, which are over 2000 years old. The terraces were cut into the land by the Ifugao tribespeople and are well worth the trek.