Between all of Asia’s mesmerizing cities and urban hubs, a vast majority of the region remains fascinatingly remote and untainted. For the adventurous, that vast and unspoilt wilderness promises a sense of discovery that can sometimes be hard to find along the tourist trail. Tropical rainforests, tiny minority villages, towering mountains and rumbling volcanoes – if there is one word to describe Asia beyond the beaten track, it is most certainly “wild”. With so much out there waiting to be explored, it’s almost a sin to leave Asia without at least getting a taste of its natural wonder.
With so much wilderness to explore, where do you start? We rounded up our top 8 ultimate treks from our team of travel experts – each with something unique and special that makes them truly bucket-list-worthy. These are the trails worth conquering in some of our most astounding destinations.
Mount Bromo, Indonesia
Why: Two words – active volcano
It really shouldn’t take much to convince you that a volcano is probably the most awe-inspiring and heart-racing place to trek (except perhaps, a sheer cliff face). When it comes to bizarre, fascinating scenery, there are few places more martian-like than Mount Bromo in Indonesia – a vast and mesmerizing region where its namesake volcano is still active (how’s that for an adrenaline rush?).
Most that reach the summit here have a hard time describing the feeling of looking out over mist-wreathed volcanic scenery – and for adventurous travellers headed to Bali, there’s no better place to reconnect with that oft-forgotten excitement of true discovery than standing on what feels like the top of the world.
Kalaw, Myanmar (to Inle Lake)
Why: The best rural villages a pair of trekking boots can find
Ask anyone who’s been – if there’s one thing that makes Myanmar a truly fascinating place to visit, it’s the people. While those spectacular vistas overlooking ancient temples in Bagan are certainly high atop many travel bucket lists, seeing how locals in the country actually live is the key to connecting with this mysterious country. So, while the scenery along a trek in Kalaw might not be as breathtaking as the tiered rice paddies in Sapa or the vast panoramas atop Kinabalu, the up-close and personal experience within traditional villages along the way is truly special.
Many of the hill tribe villages you pass through along the way feel nothing short of timeless, as if they’ve largely have had limited contact with external forces for centuries. Many, too, are home to ethnic minority communities, which often practice entirely different religions, speak different languages and wear different clothes than the Burmese you’ll meet in the cities. When visiting these communities, however, make sure you’re maintaining a respectful relationship with the locals here, especially in regards to photos. We have a helpful responsible travel photography guide on how to take photos of and with locals the right way.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Why: Bragging rights for scaling southeast Asia’s highest peak
For many, the promise of scaling the highest peak in southeast Asia is enough to send them scrambling for a spot in the many groups who embark on the journey. That said, the mountain’s record holding status shouldn’t be the only reason to conquer the summit – the journey in itself is a spectacular firsthand look at Malaysia’s most astounding natural scenery.
Though not for the faint of heart (reaching the top does require a fair amount of physical fitness) the climb opens up to endless views across the jungles here. Plus – since the climb doesn’t require any specialised climbing skills to get to the top – this is the novice climber’s opportunity to get a taste of true mountain climbing without tons of experience. Just prepare for a fair bit of acrophobia, since this is one of the best birdseye views in Asia.
Why: To discover why Sapa was once – and still is – the most charming frontier town in Asia
You’ll rarely meet anyone who visited Vietnam’s magical mountain outpost without taking a few days to trek into its glorious scenery. As home to some of Vietnam’s most colourful ethnic minorities, people that come here are more enchanted by the tiered rice paddy fields tended to by villagers in tiny ethnic communities. Since these communities are so often deep within valleys or atop hills, they require a good pair of trekking boots and an adventurous spirit to visit them.
Some villages in Sapa are more challenging to reach – while others can be visited after a gentle walk along well-trodden pathways – but nearly all of them take trekkers through some pretty astounding mountain scenery along the way. The best part? If you go just before harvest season (called Golden Season by those in-the-know) you’ll likely be greeted by a tapestry of greens and golds. That’s because the rice grown here is at its highest before being harvested, with a vivid yellow glow. While you’re in Sapa, make the most of your time here with a homestay at a local H’mong home – sometimes, swapping a homestay for a hotel is a great way to experience local culture firsthand.
Batang Ai National Park, Borneo
Why: Meet some of Asia’s cutest ginger-haired locals
Wildlife lovers can look forward to some truly unforgettable experiences within Batang Ai National Park, mainly because of its ginger-haired resident – the orangutan. This densely-forested national park is home to some of Borneo’s last remaining population of orangutans, and one of the largest trans-national conservation areas in Asia.
But this rainforest isn’t home only to orangutans. Batang Ai is also home to a collection of tiny villages where locals have concocted some truly remarkable methods for living within this dense jungle foliage. Depending on the route you take through the park, you’re like to stumble upon traditional 10-door longhouses, created to house an entire village under a single roof!
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Why: For a mesmerizing blend of natural and man-made
While Malaysia is certainly not short on incredible jungles to explore, the Cameron Highlands are famous mostly for its combination of jungles, mountains and tea plantations – not to mention a cool, breezy climate you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Malaysia. For particularly adventurous, heading up to the summit of Mount Brinchang – the highest summit in the highlands – is a great way to challenge yourself here.
Otherwise, nearly all of the trails winding through this fascinating area passes through endless tea plantations where locals continue tending to their fields in much the same way as they have for centuries. At the Boh Tea Factory, visitors can get a taste of the tea grown here, and get a firsthand look at how these plantations fuel a thriving tea industry in Malaysia and other parts of Asia.
Why: This is what 400 years of history under your feet feels like
This magnificent destination isn’t known as the “Dragon’s Backbone” for no reason – these misty hills roll and dip in a fashion that certainly makes them look like China’s most fearsome mythical creature. The real draw of this magical destination, though, are the collection of rice terraces that follow the mountain scenery and lend the hills a certain geometric beauty. Though China is full of man-made wonder, these hill terraces took over 400 years to create, and stand apart as perhaps one of China’s most breathtaking wonders.
Similar to its Vietnamese cousin, Sapa, Longsheng is home to many of China’s ethnic minorities. These communities continue living as they have for centuries, but with tourism on the rise here, the local customs and traditional dress are certainly threatened with the influx of Western influence. This is certainly a destination worth exploring now, and not later – since it’s not clear how long these communities will remain untainted.
Kulen Mountain, Cambodia
Why: Stand in the very spot where the Angkor Empire was born
While Cambodia’s Angkor Wat certainly gets some well-earned attention from visitors to the country, the former home of the mighty Khmer Empire is home to hundreds of ancient temples – many of which are well-away from the tourism behemoths of Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. One of the most spiritual places in Cambodia is Kulen Mountain – often considered the very birthplace of the ancient Angkor civilization – a vast expanse that’s home to a collection of the country’s lesser-visited temples.
Here, visitors will find Preah Ang Thom, an incredible structure that houses an 8-meter reclining Buddha – and the Terrace of Sdach Kamlung, a ruined temple that was covered in lava for hundreds of years. Those fascinated with Angkorian history will find this area one of the most magical in Siem Reap, since it lies far enough away that many never visit.
Ready to book your off-the-beaten-track adventure? Contact the Buffalo team to create a customised adventure itinerary to your bucket-list destinations in Asia!