Asia offers a multitude of exciting and diverse opportunities for active travellers to get their sweat on - and not just because of the tropical climate. Whether you want to feel far away from civilisation in a remote countryside, climb an active volcano, turn into a mermaid or train for the Tour de France, Asia’s options are endless.
However, with so many choices, deciding on one destination can be hard. Thanks to relatively cheap and convenient travel connections, it is now easier than ever to combine different highlights into one fantastic tailor-made, multi-country adventure. Search for the best views from Southeast Asia’s most challenging summits; cycle across borders; witness diverse landscapes on a trekking holiday; or spice it up with a mix of activities that will get the heart pumping. To help you plan your multi-country adventure, we have brought together some of the best active travel destinations in Asia, which can easily be mixed and matched into one amazing trip.
Hiking is one of the best ways to get off-the-beaten track, spend time in nature and experience authentic local cultures in a more rural environment. Known for its rugged mountain ranges, lush rainforests and remote hill tribes, Northern Thailand offers numerous hiking adventures, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Besides the popular hub of Chiang Mai, the less-visited Mae Hong Son province offers hikes through misty mountains and forest-covered hills, whilst boasting spectacular views of nearby Myanmar. Known for its gorgeous riverside landscape, hill tribe villages and the kingdom’s third highest peak, laid-back Chiang Dao district is a great base for hikes, ranging from easy day strolls to more strenuous multiple-day treks. And, thanks to a picturesque boat connection between Chiang Rai (in Northern Thailand) and Luang Prabang (in Laos), hiking in this region can easily be turned into a multi-country adventure.
The Oudomxay region is home to several natural attractions, including caves and waterfalls, and is dotted with ethnic villages providing the perfect active escape in Northern Laos. One of Myanmar’s most popular treks – and for good reason – is the three-day hike between Inle Lake and Kalaw. Leading across remote hills and through sleepy villages, you’ll feel like you have the whole country to yourself. Alternatively, spend a day exploring off-the-beaten-track Pindaya - famous for its limestone caves, attractive lakeside setting and hilltribe villages. Due to its stunning landscapes of rice terraces, today Sapa is northern Vietnam’s premier hiking base, attracting hordes of tourists each year. However, if you want to miss the crowds but not the scenery, take a trip further for a trekking adventure in Vietnam's remote north and get ready to be blown away by the spectacular limestone pinnacles and cascading paddy fields of Ha Giang Province.
For more dramatic scenery, why not combine it with a trip to Yunnan Province’s Tiger Leaping Gorge in southern China. One of the deepest canyons in the world, follow the uncrowded trail along the Yangtze River and soak up the awe-inspiring views. The Great Wall of China might not be immediately associated with a trekking adventure, however, the less-visited Jiankou section is an ideal place for adventurous hikers, offering a steep and winding path through the scenic countryside. One example for a fantastic multi-country trip is to follow the ‘Chinese Dragon’; embark on a southern China adventure with a hike along the stunning ‘Dragon’s Backbone’ Rice Terraces in Longji before taking the high-speed bullet train to Hong Kong and following the paths of the city’s popular Dragon’s Back trek.
Trek back in time along Japan’s historic Nakasendo Trail. Also known as the “Road through the Central Mountains”, this 500-kilometre long trail used to be an important “highway”, linking Kyoto and Tokyo. The picturesque path is dotted with idyllic, well-preserved towns and, whilst the most touristy stretch is between the villages of Magome and Tsumago, the patch between Narai to Yabuhara is quieter.
From ancient towns to ancient jungles, outdoor enthusiasts will love a cultural hike through the dense rainforest of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia’s sacred mountain. The trail leads past 900-year-old ‘lingas’ carved in the river bed, hidden temples, a giant reclining Buddha and a waterfall, featured in Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider. Southwest of the national park, the Cardamom Mountains remains one of the region’s most pristine areas of wilderness. Once a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, this wild landscape consists of untouched rainforests, mountain ranges, plains and rivers and is home to a variety of endangered animal species – if you’re lucky you might spot a wild elephant or sun bear.
If it’s wildlife you’re after, there’s hardly a better place to spot orangutans and sambars than Borneo’s Danum Valley Conservation Area. Walking along the 26-metre high canopy walk, allows hikers to get even closer to the jungle’s residents. For wildlife lovers who want to escape civilisation’s modern comforts, there’s nothing that compares to Malaysian Borneo’s Maliau Basin Conservation Area. The area boasts virgin rainforest and is vastly unexplored by humans - a true “into the wild” trekking destination. With such a range of landscapes and hiking opportunities only a flight, train ride, bus journey or even boat trip away, Asia is the ideal destination for trekkers and wanderers to organise a multi-country adventure.
Trekkers who want to get up high will find many challenging summits to conquer in Asia. As one of the highest summits in the region, Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is definitely a bucket list goal, whilst the smaller Mount Tahan, the highest peak on the Malaysian peninsula, is an equally tough peak to scale.
With over 130 volcanoes, Indonesia is a true paradise for mountaineers; Mount Rinjani, an active volcano dominating the island of Lombok, is the country’s second highest peak and a steep three-day ascent to the top. Further west, on the Indonesian island of Java, Mount Ijen can be climbed in single day and rewards travellers with the mesmerising sight of its sulphurous, turquoise crater lake. Sitting amidst the “Sea of Sand”, Mount Bromo is a fairly easy trek, yet the view of it from the top of Mount Penanjakan can only be described as otherworldly.
Nicknamed the "Roof of Indochina”, Mount Fansipan in Northern Vietnam is, at 3,143 metres, the highest peak in Indochina and offers wonderful panoramas of the surrounding mountain ranges from its summit. However, when it comes to views, China’s Mount Huangshan (the sacred Yellow Mountain), is unrivalled. The sight of weirdly shaped rock formations and pine trees rising out of sea of clouds is incredible and has inspired many paintings and poems.
Similarly, Japan’s prominent Mount Fuji, with its iconic snow-capped top, has served as the source of many artist’s inspiration and, as the country’s highest peak, its ascent is a dream to many trekkers. The official climbing season is July and August, which, coincidentally, is also the best time to ascend Mount Kinabalu – two bucket list goals in one multi-country adventure.
Multi-country cycling adventures
If it wasn’t before, Tour de France’s inaugural “L’Etape Thailand” event in 2018 put Southern Thailand’s Phang Nga on the world’s cycling map. Located between Phuket and Krabi, this hilly province offers challenging mountain roads and thrilling off-road jungle trails whilst rewarding cyclists with picturesque seascape views. Besides the tropical south, bike enthusiasts will also find the rolling terrain of the country’s north an ideal cycling destination. Pedal past paddy fields, across mountains and through lush valleys, and turn it into a multi-country adventure by cycling across the border all the way to Luang Prabang in Laos. For a proper cycling adventure, tour the grand Laos Loop and visit many of the country’s prominent sites along the way, including the turquoise Kuang Si Waterfalls and the mysterious Plain of Jars.
One of the most iconic trails in the region is Vietnam’s National Highway 1; connecting Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the 2,300-kilometre route is the ultimate cycling adventure and allows cyclists a unique insight into the country. Another cyclist’s paradise is a multi-country tour along the mighty Mekong River, travelling all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh by bike and boat. In Cambodia, a must-do for anybody who enjoys riding bicycles is to explore the grand temples of Angkor. For shorter cycling trips infused with a bit of culture, bike on top of China’s Xi’an’s city walls or take a peek into Singapore’s past with a cycling journey to Pulau Ubin Island.
Thanks to colourful reefs, an abundance of marine life and crystal-clear waters, the region is home to some supreme diving and snorkelling spots, making an underwater trip a must on your multi-country adventure in Asia. Among the top diving destinations are Sipadan Island and nearby Mabul Island. Situated off Malaysian Borneo’s east coast, the limited number of daily diving permits protects the future sustainability of this world-class diving spot and ensures that the high concentration of hawksbill turtles and herds of parrotfish are left relatively undisturbed.
Among Indonesia’s bountiful snorkelling and diving spots, the Raja Ampat archipelago on the eastern-most point of the country, enjoys a similar fame thanks its pristine reefs and rich biodiversity. If you’re looking for a more accessible diving experience, explore the underwater life of Menjangan Island, off Bali’s northwest coast, or swim with turtles at the famous Gili Islands, a set of three picturesque islets in-between Bali and Lombok.
In Thailand, the crystal-clear waters of the protected Similan Islands teem with a wide array of marine life, while along the coasts of the Surin Island National Marine Park divers will find untouched coral reefs, inhabited by barracudas, white tip reef sharks and various other species. One of Asia’s best kept diving secrets is the tropical paradise of Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago. Boasting a variety of excellent and little-explored diving spots, these stunning islands can also easily be reached on a boat trip from Thailand’s southern town of Ranong – perfect for a multi-country adventure!
Aside from Southeast Asia, Japan’s Kerama Island is among the best diving destinations in Asia. Located off the southern tip of Okinawa, the archipelago is home to a wealth of tropical fish and marine mammals, and is renowned for its crystal-clear ocean water with visibility sometimes exceeding thirty metres.
Riding the waves and currents
Whilst the underwater world unveils a whole new universe ready to be explored, staying on top of the waves can be just as thrilling. Thanks to its thousands of islands, Indonesia is without a doubt the region’s surf capital. Blessed with some of the best waves, Bali offers numerous fantastic surf spots, suitable for both beginners and experienced riders and attracts flocks of international surfers. Alternatively, Bali’s next-door neighbour, Lombok, enjoys great surf breaks without the crowds. Among the country’s many other places to catch the waves, serious surfers should make their way to the Mentaway Islands. Located off Sumatra’s western coast, the chain of islands and islets is a true surfer’s paradise, with some of the most consistent breaks, pristine landscape and azure blue waters.
Though not as impressive, surfing in Thailand is possible. Phuket’s West Coast offers moderate waves, whilst the coastal town of Hua Hin has made a name for itself as a premier destination for kitesurfing. Swap beach waves for river currents and jazz up your multi-country adventure with an invigorating white-water rafting tour. Thrill seekers will find plenty of opportunities to prove their courage along the turbulent rivers in Northern Thailand; try Pai River in the eponymous town and Mae Taeng River in Chiang Mai province. Bali’s Telaga Waja River offers some exhilarating rapids and plunges, whilst the Padas River on Malaysian Borneo can be as challenging as Grade Five during rainy season. Serious rafters, however, will find Myanmar’s Maykha River the ultimate adventure. Located in the country’s far north, it has been dubbed as the “Everest of Rivers” and is known as one of the most extreme rafting experiences in the region.
With its unique landscape of jagged limestone mountain cliffs, Asia is a haven for outdoor rock climbers. One of the best and most expansive destinations in the region is Thakhek in Southern Laos. Thanks to its large diversity of crags and several hundred routes, it should make every serious climber’s bucket list.
Besides housing the famous Hindu Temples, Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves also make for a fantastic rock-climbing spot in Malaysia, whilst Krabi’s soaring cliffs, set against the picturesque backdrop of white sanded Ton Sai Beach, attracts climbers from all over the world to Thailand.
In addition, Northern Vietnam’s Cat Ba Island and its striking landscape of karsts rising out of the blue sea as well as Yangshuo’s fairy-tale setting of 70,000 limestone hills, both secure a spot in the list of most scenic climbing destinations in Asia.
Besides more “traditional” activities, Asia doesn’t lack in fun and unique forms of exercise to compliment your multi-country adventure. Whilst Japan is renowned as a skiing destination in the winter months – check out the slopes at Hakuba Valley in the Japanese alps – a Taiko class will also get you moving. A combination of exercise and music, playing the traditional Japanese drum requires great energy and teamwork.
What’s more, many countries in the region have their respective forms of combat sport; from Thailand’s Muay Thai to the Chinese martial arts of Tai Chi and Kung Fu, a training session is not only a fun and effective workout, but also provides a valuable insight into the destination’s traditions.
Whilst most of the above-mentioned activities and destinations can be mixed and matched to your preferences, there are several things to keep in mind when planning a multi-country adventure:
- Weather; as the climate differs across the region – even parts of Southeast Asia get cool days in winter months – it’s important to read up before planning a trip. Whilst July is a great month to visit Borneo, it’s the monsoon season in Thailand.
- Visa; find out before if you need a visa as requirements differ from country to county. Whilst most nationalities get a 30-day visa exemption in Thailand, Vietnam requires visitors to organise a visa before arrival.
- Border crossings; when combining different destinations, one of the most crucial parts in the planning process is to find out where you can cross easily into another country and where it’s best to fly.
- National holidays and festivals; find out before special holidays in respective destinations. Whilst Thailand and many other Buddhist countries celebrate the New Year in mid-April with a large-scale water festival, Vietnam and China bring in the New Year around February.
We hope this list has sparked your inspiration to plan an active multi-country adventure in Asia. Combining different highlights can really make your trip special; however, it also takes slightly more planning. Reach out to Buffalo Tours and let us help plan your tailor-made multi-country trip in Asia. We take care of all the organising, from transport and safety measures, and provide professional English-speaking guides, so that you can enjoy exploring the world.