When you think of Southeast Asia, paradisiacal beaches, glittering temples, out-of-this-world street food, and (ethical) elephant experiences sprint to mind. What you might not think about is hiking, in spite of the lush mountains that make up much of the region’s topography – there’s so much to explore!
Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
They say travel is about the journey and not the destination, but when your destination is Indonesia’s ‘blue fire’ volcano Kawah Ijen, the journey might seem irrelevant, but you’ll need to begin ascending just after midnight if you want to see its blue flames (which occur due to sulfur deposits inside the volcano) before the sun rises.
As you hike, remain mindful and respectful of workers in the volcano’s sulfur mine, who are walking the same treacherous route as you, but with a backbreaking weight burden and for very little pay.
100 Waterfalls Hike, Laos
Waterfalls are far from a rare sight in Southeast Asia, particularly in Laos – the emerald mountains are positively overflowing with them. While no one can say for sure how many waterfalls you’ll encounter on the seven-mile trek from the town of Nong Khiaw (a short journey from tourism hub Luang Prabang), you’ll probably lose track yourself as hike through the lush jungle, taking breaks in aquamarine pools, and greeting local villages during your sojourn.
It’s perfectly safe if you stay on the main trail, but pay careful attention to your guide’s directions – Laos is home to the world’s largest number of un-exploded land minds.
Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia
If you’re truly looking to challenge yourself, considering a climb (yes, we said "climb") up Malaysia’s Mt. Kinabalu. Rising above the city of Kota Kinabalu in the eastern reaches of Borneo island, Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, with a height of more than 13,000 feet.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu requires a minimum two-day time investment, and a certain level of fearlessness, since you’ll need to gain much of your final elevation with only the light of a headlamp to guide you. Trust us – the sunrise from the top is worth it!
Ta’al Volcano, Philippines
Southeast Asia has no shortage of volcanoes (we’ve already mentioned them twice!), but hiking Ta’al Volcano, which is located less than two-hours south of the Philippine capital Manila by car or bus, is a decidedly different experience than Kawah Ijen and its blue fire. After a short boat ride, you begin trekking up the outer wall of Ta’al, which is something of a geological matryoshka doll — a lake inside a volcano inside a lake.
The Ta’al Volcano hike is easily doable on a day trip from Manila, if you choose not to stay overnight in one of the historical homes in nearby Ta’al Town.
Railay Bay Viewpoint, Thailand
When you see the sign saying the ‘Viewpoint’ trail has begun, walking southward from the main stretch of Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand toward Phra Nang cave, you might feel puzzled. After all, there’s no trail, or at least not an obvious one. That’s because your trek toward the panorama view point over stunning Railay Bay is almost completely vertical.
The good news is that while your angle of ascent remains relatively similar until almost the very end, it’s unlikely to take you longer than 30-minutes. And that’s a good thing, considering that you’ll want to spend as long as possible at the summit before night begins to fall.
Cao Bang, Vietnam
Just as one can never have too many volcanoes, so too are waterfalls something of which no traveler should ever tire. Ban Gioc Falls is stunning from ground level, where its majesty makes plain the reason this natural formation has served as an effective border between Vietnam and China for as long as it has. Hiking up one of the dozens of hiking trails that begin in the town, however, allows you to see the falls in the context of the karstic mountains that rise around them, which puts them in breathtaking perspective.
Speaking of which, we’re feeling a little winded just thinking about all these awesome hikes — what about you?
By Robert SchraderAsia