Southeast Asia is full of amazing trekking routes that show you the beautiful landscapes in the region. Taking a trek enables you to see natural beauty and enjoy the mountains, trees and countryside. You can also see how local people live outside of the big cities. It offers you a chance to interact with them and learn about their way of life. In this list of fantastic treks in Southeast Asia you will find there are a great variety of experiences to be had. You can look into volcanoes, stay with local hill tribes, explore the jungle and much more. Taking a trek is a really great way to explore somewhere and see new things.
What does a Trek involve?
When you see people such as myself talking about ‘treks’ in Southeast Asia we are referring to a journey done by foot. Usually (but not exclusively) with a guide. They vary in distance and time, anywhere between a few hours to a few days. They are normally tougher than what you would expect from a standard hike. Generally treks are taken as part of larger groups. If you are just one or two people, booking though an agency, you will normally be teamed up with others for the trek. When going overnight your trekking company and guide will have accommodation planned for you. This normally means you will stay in a shared room with your trekking group. At the end of this post I will answer some frequently asked questions about taking a trek in Southeast Asia.
Treks In Southeast Asia
My aim with this list is to show you the great treks that I have done myself in the region. I think there is a great diversity in them and they are a real highlight of any visit to Southeast Asia. What I have written is all based on my own personal experiences and knowledge. In addition I’ve mentioned a few of the other trekking options. Whilst I of course recommend doing the same treks as I have have, potentially there may be an option that works better for you. I hope this list inspires you and helps you decide if you would like to take any of the mentioned treks.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Location: Chaing Mai, Thailand
Up in Northern Thailand, this is a great way to see some of the Thai jungle. The park is named for the mountain here, which is the highest in Thailand. When I visited I took a day trek, which I think is a good ‘beginner’ trek to do in Southeast Asia. There are also options to trek over several days, you will see 2 days, 3 days and 5 days offered. I think if I was to visit again now I would choose a longer trek, but back then it was first one I took, so a day felt great.
The trek I took showed some of the highlights of the area. We explored the jungle and enjoyed some food cooked for us by our guides. We saw a waterfall as well of lots of interesting plants and even tried some fruit. The guides of course showed what was safe to sample. The trek also took in local rice fields and ended in a Karen village. The Karen are a local ethnic group, aka ‘hill tribe’ that live in the area. There are many different groups that live in mountains of Northern Thailand.
Longer trek options include staying the night in a local village or in jungle camp. You can also head up the peak of Doi Inthanon itself. The treks can booked from one of the many offices in Chiang Mai. Discuss with them what you are interested in to find something that suits you. I must urge you though not to book with anyone offering Elephant riding. It is a terrible practise. If you want to see Elephants I instead advise an ethical experience through the Save The Elephant Foundation.
Another Northern Thailand option: Chiang Rai
You can also look at doing treks from Chiang Rai, which is also in Northern Thailand. They are most focused on the mountainous landscape than jungle. Personally I actually did a day tour (by mini van) from there but it’s an option to consider. Certainly I enjoyed seeing the nature here as well as visiting a local hill tribe, in this case the Akha. The tour definitely gave me the impression it would be good place to go trekking.
Kalaw to Inle Lake
This 3 day, 2 night trek takes you across part of central Myanmar. Starting in the hill town of Kalaw in Shan State, you trek across to Inle Lake. There are a range of trekking companies operating in Kalaw. I advise meeting your guide before you commit to a trek. This way you can ensure you have one who is friendly and knowledgeable.
Staying with locals on the way, this trek is just as much about the local populations as it is the natural landscapes. Myanmar is a very ethnically diverse nation and Shan state is no exception. Expect to see many different peoples as you walk the route towards Inle Lake. I certainly was impressed by just how many people we saw on the trek I took. It was fun to stay with local people too and see how they live their lives in their villages.
The route itself takes in some great scenery, including mountains, rice fields and rugged terrain. How much green you will see depends on the time of year you take the trek. I went during April when its very hot and dry, so there was a lot of red earth and less vegetation. But if you go after the rains have been expect to see a lot more greenery.
For me, I think the combination of people and amazing landscapes makes this one of the best treks in Southeast Asia. Ending at the lake is fantastic too, usually a boat will take you to Nyaungshwe Town. This is the town at the northern end of the lake, where you will find all the affordable accommodation options. You can also arrange boat tours of the lake from here. Additionally, whoever you trek with will send your luggage to a location in Nyaungshwe.
Another awesome place to trek in Myanmar is Hsipaw. Its also in Shan State, and again offers the opportunity to combine seeing great landscapes with meeting local people. The town of Hsipaw itself is a great place to take a trek from. There are some good food places here and it’s tourist friendly, with plenty of accommodation. Their are welcoming locals and some good walking routes around the local area. You will find several agencies offering treks so can look around for one that suits you. A 2 day, 1 night trek seems to be the standard here and is what I did. However there are longer options available.
When doing a trek here, your guide will take you to a village where you will stay the night. Whilst most of Myanmar is Buddhist we actually stayed in a Christian minority village. It was interesting to see how they lived their lives as a minority group in Shan State and learn about the challenges they face. We also passed through Buddhist villages and saw how people earn a living, for example we passed through a couple of tea plantations.
Hsipaw is a mountainous area and therefore trekking around here will give you some great views. As with other treks in Southeast Asia there are plenty of rice fields and local farms too. Going up and down the hills here can be tough on the legs but it was definitely worth it.
Location: Northern Vietnam
The town of Sapa in Northern Vietnam is a popular tourist destination. Not far from the Chinese border, its found in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains. To be honest with you, the town itself is nothing special. Its full of hotels and restaurants aimed at tourists. However the surrounding area is beautiful, the rice terraces and the mountains make for some amazing hikes.
I took a 2 day, 1 night trek here. In Sapa it is the women of the local Hmong people who work as trekking guides. They are one of the several ethnic groups living in Northern Vietnam. They will take you though local villages and around the mountain paths. The rice terraces here really are very impressive and you can see some amazing views.
As part of this trek you have will stay in a homestay. Whilst set up for tourists doing treks, they are still a great way to meet some of the local people. Along with some stops you will make along the way they also give you the opportunity to try some of the local food, which is fantastic.
The 2 day, 1 night is pretty standard for hiking around Sapa. If your pressed for time, the trekking guides do offer 1 day treks also. And if your a keen mountain climber, you can join a 3 day trek to climb Fansipan Mountain. Its the highest mountain in Vietnam, as well as being higher than any in neighbouring Laos or Cambodia.
Hiking without a guide?
After the main trek I did as discussed above, I also took a hike with a friend without a guide. It was good to see some of the area that I hadn’t done as part of the trek. We hiked out to Ta Phin village, where we then visited a herbal bath run by the Red Dao people. We actually had to take a taxi back as it was pretty far. But it’s a cool experience and the baths were fun to try out.
To clarify though, I definitely recommend using a guide and doing an overnight trek. Not only are you financially supporting local people but your benefiting from their expertise. This is just an additional option to see some of the area by yourself. If you have the time of course, there is a lot to see in Vietnam! Just make you know the way and have a plan to get back.
Location: Java, Indonesia
Found on the island of Java, Mount Bromo is an active volcano in a very impressive location. It sits in the sea of sand in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. This area has been formed by eruptions and lava flows, creating a sandy but beautiful landscape.
This trek actually takes you first up Mount Penanjakan, from where you can see across to Mount Bromo. There are a couple of differing options for this. I stayed in Probolinggo, from where I took a jeep tour to the volcano. You could also stay in Cemoro Lawang, which is the closest village to Mount Bromo. Either way, you then trek up to a viewpoint without a guide. It takes a couple of hours and can be quite tough in places. Certainly when I did it I found I had to scramble up in a couple of spots. There are several places here to enjoy the sunrise and look out towards Mount Bromo. I recommend finding King Kong Hill viewpoint, better views and less crowds.
The benefit of the jeep tour is that after finishing the trek to see the sunrise, you will be taken to the parking area in the sea of sand. If your doing it by yourself you could of course walk it, thought it would take a long while. Or you could hire a motorbike driver to take you there.
From here you can then walk to Mount Bromo and up to stare into it’s crater. For me this is the most impressive views I’ve ever seen. And I don’t just mean whilst doing treks in Southeast Asia, i’m talking about in my whole life!
Location: Bali, Indonesia
A hike to see the sunrise on top of the Mount Batur volcano is one of the funnest things to do in Bali. Quite it is not, this is undoubtedly one of the most popular treks in Southeast Asia. But its worth the crowds for the amazing views and seeing the volcanic crater. The guides are usually friendly too and generally happy to discuss Balinese culture and customs.
Ubud is an excellent place to base yourself to do this trip. Throughout the town you will find tour agencies offering this excursion and most hostels and hotels should be able to book it for you. You will be picked up around 2am and taken by mini van to the starting point, where you will meet your guide. Usually you are given banana pancakes to make sure you have the energy to hike up the volcano. You could also elect to stay in Kintamani, which is the area local to Mount Batur. You will still need to book the trek with a local guide, you aren’t permitted to hike the volcano without one.
Heading up the volcano is pretty tough on the legs, its quite intense for 2 hours with little rest. But once you are up there you see that its really worth it. Once you’ve seen the sunrise you can explore the summit before heading back down. Look out for the views of Lake Batur and the black lava field. That’s lava from a previous volcanic eruption in 1964.
Location: Peninsular Malaysia
Taman Negara is a huge national park in Malaysia. Its one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, estimated to be at least 130 million years of age. Taking a trek here enables you to explore some of the rainforest and see some wildlife. It can be tough hiking in the heat and humidity of the jungle but its really worth it.
The place to stay here is Kuala Tahan, a small village that acts as a gateway to the national park. I advise taking a boat here from Kampung Tanjung Jelai jetty. Its a great way to enter into the park, and you can spot animals and birds as you sail along the river. You can find many tour agencies in Kuala Lumpur offering this route to get here.
Once in the village you can arrange a trek with a local guide. Tour companies might try to sign you up before you get here, don’t worry about them. You will get a better deal in the village. You generally get presented 2 options, either a 1 day trek or a 2 day. The latter involves a night sleeping in a cave (or at least the options I was given had that). Personally I chose the 1 day option. Overall the trek was about 8 to 9 hours, including a boat ride at the end. It felt like a good length and we covered a lot of ground.
In addition to the trek, a night safari is a fun thing to join. A guide will take you around the local area, showing you some of the wildlife that comes out at night. There are all kinds of creatures, such a scorpions, spiders, frogs and praying mantes.
Without a guide
You don’t need a guide to explore the rainforest here. However, I do really recommend one if your planning to go far. The jungle can be confusing and you can easily get lost. Plus they will be alert to any dangers. The guide that I trekked with told a tale of being stalked by a tiger, and was lucky to survive. Also the local Elephants are known to act to protect their young if they feel threatened by you getting too close. Your extremely unlikely to come across a tiger and Elephant sightings are rare, but there is still a risk. Mainly though its about getting lost. You really don’t want that to happen here.
This doesn’t you mean you shouldn’t do anything by yourself though. The Forest Canopy Walk is signposted from the entrance and easy enough to find. I suggest if offered this as part of a trek you say no and instead visit yourself. More confident hikers can venture out further, just know your way back.
Muang Ngoi Neua
Location: Northern Laos
The small town of Muang Ngoi is an excellent base from which to visit some of the hill tribes that live in Northern Laos. It is found on the banks of the Nam Ou river and is a very relaxed place to stay. Getting here requires a bumpy 4 hour mini van ride from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, and then an hours boat journey up river. Its well set up for visitors with a good amount of accommodating and restaurant options. There are trekking agencies in the town that you can book with. You can discuss lengths of the trek with them. Personally I did a 2 day trek with a group I’d travelled to the town with. It felt like a good amount of time and we saw a lot.
The trek will take you up into the mountains, where you can stay in local villages. This is definitely one of the least well known treks in Southeast Asia. You will see other backpackers doing it, and a steady of stream of them at that. But contrasted to the treks above, such as Mount Batur in Bali, the numbers are nowhere near comparable. There are also less facilities than you may find on the other treks. For example the village I stayed overnight in only had one source of running water, a tap around 100 meters outside the village. There were no toilets, if you need to go then you go in the tree’s!
As well as meeting local people this trek also takes you through some great nature. Trekking through the mist on mountain paths was something I found very cool, even though it got very muddy and wet.
Penang National Park
Location: Penang, Malaysia
The island of Penang off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia has a great compact national park that offers some really fun hiking. It’s easy to get here form George Town, the main city on the island, by bus which takes 45 minutes to an hour. Upon arrival at the entrance the thing to do is arrange a boat pick up with the local tour operators here. You can then hike through the parks jungle to your pick up point, and enjoy a boat ride to other parts of the island and then back to the entrance.
When I visited I elected for a pick up form Pantai Kerachut beach. Fortunately I’d met a couple on their way to the park too so we joined together, not only was it nice to have company but also made the boat pick up cheaper by splitting the costs. The walk through the jungle takes 90 minutes to 2 hours. So as far as treks in Southeast Asia go it is a pretty short one. But I think it’s very rewarding, the jungle was interesting to hike though and it felt like a really great way to experience the park. You do this without a guide, the paths are easy to follow and the map easy to understand.
The beach at the end was really nice to explore and there is a turtle conservation project here, where they look after injured turtles until they recuperate and are able to be released back into the sea. Honestly this is probably the easiest of all the treks listed here but I wanted to include it as it’s a lot of fun.
Treks In Southeast Asia FAQ
You need to make sure you have good footwear and adequate clothing. Be prepared for rain and cold, a hoodie or jacket and a lightweight raincoat should be ok. Ensure you have plenty of water and snacks. Discuss other food with the trekking guides when you book your trek. Meals are normally provided. Inform them of any dietary requirements before you go.
It is of course subjective but I would say none of these treks require anymore than an average fitness level. They can be quite tough and tiring, so its good to have a rest day planned for when you finish.
It is standard practise in Southeast Asia that when you take a trek you can leave your luggage with either the company you are trekking with or the accommodation you booked through.
Yes you should get vaccinations. Its also worth looking into anti-malarial’s particularly for Myanmar and Laos. Check with your doctor/health provider before you travel. I advise using bug spray with at least 50% DEET too (children should use a lesser %, check the bottle).
I recommend booking them a day or two in advance with either your accommodation or at the trekking companies office.
Other than the cases I have already noted, these treks I have listed should be done with a guide. Its important for safety reasons to be with someone who knows the area. It is often frowned upon by locals to go alone, and in some cases they would actively stop you if you don’t have a guide.
Thanks for reading this post about fantastic treks in Southeast Asia!
I enjoyed writing this list and talking about the hikes I took, the people I met and the amazing sights I saw. I hope I can add to this list in the future. In the mean time feel free to recommend any treks you’ve enjoyed in the comments below. Or connect with me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook!
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