‘Off the Beaten Path’ in South East Asia
1) Son Doong Cave – Quang Binh Province, Vietnam
Imagine trekking straight into the depths of the world’s largest cave! Be prepared… This trek is not for the weak!
There is currently only one tour operator that is permitted to take you into this cave : Oxalis Tours. A 5 day/4 night trek will cost you $3,000 USD. They operate from February to August with 10 travelers maximum per group.
2) El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines
Until recently, the Philippines was often skipped over by travelers to South East Asia. However, in the last 5-8 years, this country, especially Palawan Island, has seen a huge surge in tourism, so it’s not really as ‘off the beaten path’ as it used to be. Nonetheless, the Philippines is still not a typical ‘vacation’ spot for many. Most prefer the more popular islands in Thailand and Indonesia, but by overlooking these islands, they are missing out!
El Nido is at the tip of Palawan Island and has a large archipelago surrounding it. While topographically similar to the islands in Thailand, the reefs and islands around El Nido are in much better condition in comparison.
One of the most popular excursions while in El Nido is going beach camping on one of the deserted islands in the surrounding archipelago.
I went in 2007, but have heard there has been an influx in recent years. I really like the Philippines and think it is sadly underrated, but maybe that is what has kept it in its pristine condition?!
3) Koh Rong Samloem Island, Cambodia
Koh Rong Samloem is a deserted island paradise; so deserted that the show ‘Survivor’ filmed 2 seasons here and has a permanent base camp on the island for the production team to stay in.
If you had gone to this island 10 years ago, you would have only had one choice in accommodation and very limited amenities. With each passing year, more and more bungalows are popping up, making the most of what is essentially a ‘deserted island paradise.’
Unfortunately, the future of Koh Rong Salmoem is not looking too bright. The island has been leased out for 99 years to the Royal Group, who plans to push out the bungalows on the island and build Asia’s first environmentally-planned resort. I am guessing that to stay at this soon-to-be resort will cost quite a pretty penny. Now is the time to go before the development starts!
The island is not hooked into an electrical grid with most bungalows only offering electricity for 4-5 hours a day, usually between 6-11 pm. However, there are a few bungalows now that offer electricity 24 hours a day. Hot water is in only at one or two ‘hotels’ on the island and there are no ATMs, no vehicles, no medical clinics and very limited Wifi. Who needs wifi when you’re in paradise!
If you are looking for places to stay, I suggest Saracen Bay Resort.
Saracen Bay Resort does have 24 hour electricity, but no hot water and only has fans. The restaurant on the premises is probably the best on the island and the rooms are really well-equipped compared to most other bungalows with basic amenities and are geared more toward backpackers.
If you’re interested, we run a trip to Vietnam/Cambodia and we spend 3 days on this island at the Saracen Bay Resort. Click HERE for more information.
4) Phu Chi Fa, Thailand
Phu Chi Fa is located in the Northeast of Thailand and is rarely visited by foreign tourists, but is a popular vacation spot for local Thai people. Many of the local Thai’s have never experienced cold weather nor have they seen a large mountain range, so many of them come here to get their first dose of both. They usually camp inside the national park. Their excitement is clearly visible while they wrap scarves around their necks and put on mittens for the first time!
The main attraction here is to hike to the peak of the mountain to watch the sunrise. It may seem like a treacherous hike, but it is relatively low in physical exertion. In the morning there are minivans that will take you into the national park and to the base; from there it is only a 30 minute hike. The hike has a moderate incline on a wide dirt path with plenty of places to sit to the side and take a rest if you’re feeling tired.
Although it is an early start, it is well worth the early wake up call as you look out over the sea of clouds and mist enveloping the mountains.
Both locals and foreigners alike embark to Phu Chi Fa from the northern city of Chiang Rai, but if you are up for more of an adventure, you can take a scooter or motorcycle here.
Actually, you will see a lot of motorcycle tours go through this town as this is almost always a stop on their tour. If you’re interested in scooter/motorbike trips, we do a 10-day scooter tour in the North of Thailand and we stop here as well. The below picture is what the roads look like. Click HERE if you want to check out the details.
5) Loikaw (Kayah State), Myanmar
The Kayah state is the smallest in Myanmar and is one of the least visited regions making for a truly unique visit. It takes about 8 hours by car to get here from Inle Lake.
Loikaw is hill tribe central. In Loikaw, foreigners are few and far between and the hill tribes are not inundated with tourists swooping in and flashing cameras in their faces, which makes this is an ideal spot to see and interact with the people of the hill tribes.
Loikaw itself is a small town and the main attraction is the Taung Kwe Pagoda. This pagoda is well worth a visit. The region is also known for its liquor production.
If you want to visit the hill tribes, you’ll need to head out to the country side. You will also need to hire a guide who will provide you with the necessary permits to visit them.
The Kayah state was one of the states that was involved in a recent bloody civil war with the Burmese military. There was a recent ceasefire, but tensions still run high.
Many people visit the ‘long neck villages’ while in Thailand, but this tribe is originally from this state as well as the surrounding areas. If you want to read more about the Padaung people and the long neck villages in Thailand, click HERE. There is a lot of controversy surrounding visits to these ‘human zoos’, so you can click on the link to learn more.
We recommend that if you go, you try to be respectful of the people there and avoid taking a million photos. These are people and they are not just there for your amusement.
6) Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Khao Sok is not really ‘off the beaten path’ per se, but it is skipped over quite a bit during tours to Thailand. Khao Sok is in close proximity to both the islands in the south and in the east and is approximately a 2 hour drive.
It is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world and is said to be over 160 million years old, which would make it the second oldest jungle in the world.
One of the highlights of the area is to stay inside the national park on a floating lake house.
Although the lake houses lack a bit in comfort, the views make up for it. You might even consider it akin to camping, but in a floating “tent”.
My favorite accommodation in Khao Sok is at ‘Our Jungle House’. It is one of the very first eco-hotels in the area. We stay here on our tour and many have said it is one of their favorite stops on the trip!
Khao Sok is one of my favorite places ever and the rainforest is absolutely amazing! Other activities you can do are tubing, canoeing, bathing hot springs, night trekking through the jungle and so much more. If you want to get more info about trips there, you can click HERE.
7) Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia
When most people think of secluded exotic diving and snorkeling in Indonesia, Raja Ampat comes to mind. However, Cenderwasih, which is to the east of Raja Ampat, is slowly growing in popularity and it is due to mainly one aspect : whalesharks.
Getting here is no easy task, but those who embark on the journey will be rewarded with a truly secluded part of the world that few ever see.
When diving and snorkeling here, you are almost guaranteed to see the majestic and giant whale sharks who stick around because of the fishermen throw the leftover bait fish into the water. It also is said to have the most pristine hard coral gardens in Indonesia.
It is always fun to get off the beaten path so go ahead and give one a try!