South-East Asia has more to offer than you can possibly see in your life. There are countries and places that many people visit, activities that ‘everybody’ does and pictures that pop up now and then on your friends Facebook pages. Let me give you some must sees in South-East Asia which you might have never heard off! Mostly it’s not easy to get to those places. There are not a lot (or no) ATM’s, no souvenir shops and no convenience stores – so be prepared! Let’s say; ‘adventure begins when comfort has left you’! Here are some hidden gems for you to discover!
1. Sukau: Wildlife river cruises in Borneo!
Have you ever dreamed of seeing wildlife in their natural habitat? Borneo is the place to be! Go to Sukau, a little town in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo). From here you can take amazing river cruises to see the wildlife of Borneo! Proboscis monkeys, orangutans, wild elephants, crocodiles and many bird species are there for you to spot around the Kinabatangan river. Either early morning or sunset cruises will give you the best chances because then the animals are most active.
2. Banaue: Hiking through rice terraces in The Philippines!
Banaue is famous for the Ifugao rice terraces with UNESCO heritage recognition. Take one, two or multiple days hike through the rice terraces with a guide and enjoy hot springs, waterfalls, overnight stays at guest-houses right in the rice fields. Try the rice wine and discover how things are organized differently. You will not just have beautiful views over the rice terraces from the mountains, you will also walk right through them on little brick paths (that might be smaller than your shoes) with steep walls right next to it. Terraces with nothing to hold, bricks that are loose and unequal, etc. The locals will just run over these paths and overtake each other along the way. Be careful when it rains and use a walking stick! Bring some good hiking shoes and check the weather forecast properly. Charging electronic devices will cost money in town and don’t be surprised if your hotel room doesn’t have any plugs… Banaue is located in Luzon, around 10 hours driving from the capital Manilla. By public transport you can only take a (cramped) night bus from a slum-like neighbourhood of Manilla with the air conditioning on full power, be prepared!
3. Koh Kradan: Relaxing on a private beach!
Thailand has always been one of my favorite travel destinations; the people, the culture and the food are amazing! Many places are well known and well visited, but Koh Kradan you might have never heard off and it is well worth visiting! Koh Kradan is one of the Trang Islands, hidden in the Andaman Sea. The Islands are small and less developed. During low season there are no ferries either, so no crowds. A true tropical paradise, very romantic. Koh Kradan only holds a few resorts on the beach side of the Island, the sun rise here is amazing. Besides a few resorts lined up at the water front there is nothing more than beach and forest with limestone cliffs on the inland. Just relax, read a book or snorkel/kayak to find a private beach. For a real ‘back to basic’ experience you can rent a bamboo hut which almost feels like sleeping out in the open.
4. Mabul: Coral reef and cultural experiences!
Especially if you like SCUBA diving, this small Island with many resorts at the waterfront with water bungalows offer a perfect tropical destination. In the heart of the Island you will find the opposite; local people living with homestays on offer and children playing with plastic garbage. There are no paved roads, just sandy paths crawling around houses and little shops offering all the same, mainly junk food like crisps, candies and sodas. Before you know it, you’ll be walking through somebodies ‘garden’ and wake up grandma. Wonder about the large amount of local children, it seems to be over 75% of the local population. Well, there’s not a lot to do anyway… Stroll around the Island and have sunset drinks at the north-eastern side where there’s a nice beach strip. Expect power cuts (electricity) during the day if you’re not in a high-end resort, it is scheduled.
5. Koh Rong: Bring on the rum and coconuts!
White sandy beaches, reggae-style bars and wooden bungalows can be found on Koh Rong in Cambodia. While Koh Rong actually contains two Islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloen, this is a paradise-like place in Cambodia. This is a backpackers paradise with hammocks and swing stairs all around while local children play in the sand. Relax, have a BBQ on the beach and enjoy the vibe of these laidback tropical Islands. There is an interesting growing focus on protecting the environment and education. It seems like these Islands are slowly getting ready for big changes in tourism, more developed and more upscale accommodations which will attract a different kind of tourists. Go before it’s too late!
6. Phetchaburi: Impressive cave temple and monkeys!
Petchaburi offers one of the most amazing temples I’ve ever seen, Tham Khao Luang! This Buddhist temple is built inside a cave with many en-carvings and Buddha statues hidden in the dark. It’s a spacious drafty area that will take your breath away. Holes in the cave give the temple natural light accompanied with some artificial lights. There can be an impressive light show when the sun shines right through the center of the cave. Wat Mahathat Worawihan is another must see in town, especially the white stupa is beautiful. Be careful with all the monkeys around the cultural sights, they can get really aggressive to get some food! This town has many high-schools and universities which obviously sets out many Thai students. Some will have the courage to practive their English with you.
7. Malapasqua: Thresher sharks and street mazes!
While this little Island is famous for having Thresher sharks in the water (below 30 meters, don’t worry!), this is the perfect place to relax and read a book with your feet in the sand. The Island has hills and beautiful white sand beaches. There are a lot of Western-style restaurants and bars are located at Bounty Beach (love that name) and you can have beautiful sunset drinks here. In the middle of the Island it is a maze of narrow streets, resort, houses with gardens and local shops. There are some sort of main walking paths around the Island, all sandy, but you’ll have to wind and twist around. You can easily get lost so bring your smart phone with GPS. If you hear loud karaoke, follow the sound and watch the families sing at their houses. Don’t forget to bring enough cash, there are no ATM’s on the Island or at the harbor area on Cebu (Maya).
8. Mae Salong: Chinese mountain village in Thailand!
Mae Salong is an old Chinese tea plantation village on top of a mountain right in the Golden Triangle area (Thailand, Laos, Myanmar). One of the roads to get there, the 1089, is supposed to be one of the most beautiful roads of Thailand. Follow the hairpin curves right up the mountains and enjoy the stunning views along the way until you reach this little village. It looks like you arrive in ancient China! Visit the Tea Market and taste all the different teas that are on offer. People wear hill tribe clothes and try to make some money by selling self-made jeweleries and colorful bags, some more aggresive than others. Go see the breath taking views over the tea plantations at ‘My Place Restaurant’ and have diner in one of the many Chinese restaurants around (not a Western-Chinese taste). Try ‘mantou’ a Chinese steamed little bread or a fresh tea leaves salad.
9. George Town: Street art and delicious street food!
In the Andaman Sea, laying North-West from the Malaysian Peninsula, Penang Island offers an incredible mixture of mainly Malay, Chinese and Indian influences. Especially George Town is famous for its street food, street art and Chinese influences. This makes George Town a colorful UNESCO Heritage town you must visit! Beautifully decorated houses and Chinese temples are there for you to discover. It’s easy to cycle around the historical area of George Town to discover the street art in the small streets and at funny places! For the best street food head to Lorong Baru or Gurney Drive. Tempt your taste buts at the countless hawker stalls. Try the char kway teow noodles and ice kacang of cendol desert with shaved ice, rice pasta, beans, corn and coconut milk. Don’t skip Little India to have some good original Indian food as well! It’s easy and cheap to get around with Uber, but public transport or renting a car/scooter are good options too.
10. Mekong Delta:
In the Southern part of Vietnam, the Mekong river splits up in many little rivers. The water can be as green as the land which makes it a beautiful lush scenery. It’s nice to cycle or scooter along the river beds over the tiny dirt roads. You’ll have to look or ask (with hand signals) around for the ‘local’ roads which will lead you through back gardens and trading places. Hire a guide or try to find it yourself with Google Maps. English is rarely spoken when you’re out of mid-size towns. The Mekong Delta is also famous for the floating markets. Seeing the trade going on over the water is amazing. Selling fruits, vegetables, rice and other food with boats bumping in to each other. The trade starts really early and finishes around 8-9 am. If it’s hot, try to arrange a boat with a rooftop or buy a typical Vietnamese hat and make sure you’re not stuck in some sort of commission deal with a long stop at a certain restaurant.
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