Southeast Asia has risen to be one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its tropical climate, rich history and culture, gorgeous beaches, must-try cuisines, fastest-growing economies, and incredibly low prices. But this is far less than everything it offers. This part of the world exhibits an abundance of rainforests, majestic crystal caves, tropical mountains, and volcanic summits, making it irreplaceable on any hiker’s bucket list. Read on to find out more about hiking in Southeast Asia and our well-chosen list of its best hikes.
Why you should go hiking in Southeast Asia
Explore a diversity of natural landscapes
Southeast Asia is surrounded by the areas of China to the north, the subcontinent of India to the west, and the rest is bounded by the Pacific Ocean, embracing diverse geographical features such as tropical mountains, rainforests, estuaries,… (on the mainland) and volcanoes, beaches, bays, gulfs,.. (on the islands). Whilst it is home to some of the world’s most populous countries and the most visited country (Thailand), hiking in Southeast Asia is the perfect way to escape the crowds and to get in touch with tropical wilderness. Whether you’re down for a rest or a test, you can have it all here.
Mainland Southeast Asia, consisting of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, is characterized by mountain ranges in-between major river valleys and deltas. It boasts a collection of majestic waterfalls, endless jungles, and magnificent mountain summits. Insular Southeast Asia consists of part of Malaysia and the archipelagic nations of Indonesia and the Philippines, where volcanic activities like earthquakes and gas emissions are common. Here, you’ll experience up-close some of the world’s most active volcanoes, most arduous island treks as well as distinct volcanic summits.
Watch distinctive wildlife
Southeast Asia offers some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities. Rare birds and plants are abundant around its lakes and rivers. You’re likely to encounter wild elephants, Proboscis monkeys, Komodo dragons and orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia. If lucky, you may even meet the shy Irrawaddy Dolphins on the Mekong River in Laos.
Immerse in rich and unique cultures
Southeast Asia comprises 11 countries blessed with a deep history and unique culture: It has over 20,000 islands scattered through the Pacific and Indian oceans, allowing refuge for a wide variety of cultural groups and local inhabitants; It is home to some of the most impressive temples in the world, including the world’s largest temple, Angkor Wat (Cambodia). Thailand alone boasts 35,000 temples, many of which are located on gorgeous mountain summits.
Hiking in Southeast Asia doesn’t only enable you to see natural beauty but provides authentic local experiences. You can witness local life and even live with local hill tribes like the Polynesian islanders as well as hundreds of other ethnic minorities in the region. This means tasting exotic but delicious food and drink, sleeping in tropical huts, partaking in religious ceremonies…
Go hiking on a budget in absolute safety
Unlike most parts of Europe and America, Southeast Asia is extremely cheap for living and traveling. Even more so for hikers! You can pull off a trip with an average daily budget of 30–40$.
People are nice, friendly and helpful in Southeast Asia. It is, in fact, among the safest regions on the planet. You’re unlikely to face any physical danger caused by humans on your hikes.
When is the best time to hike in Southeast Asia?
All Southeast Asia countries have either tropical or subtropical climates. It is subject to extensive and regular monsoonal weather conditions with notably wet and dry periods in most of the region. Even though there are some regional differences and not all countries in Southeast Asia share the same seasons at the same time, November – February is often considered the best time to visit most places in Southeast Asia due to dry and cool weather.
Rain, not temperature, is the primary concern upon planning your trip. The wet season makes some trails impassable; mosquitoes and leeches flourish on the damp trail. Avoid the rain-soaked months from September to October. If you’re island-bound, April–June offers dry weather for hiking to Indonesia’s volcanic summits. July and August is peak season when many popular treks can get very busy.
Hiking in Southeast Asia covers an awful lot of unique experiences, from adventure walks through monkey-filled rainforests to rocky hikes to volcanic summits. A guide is recommended for any activities that are more ambitious than day-hikes on marked trails. Guides provide you with knowledge of regional laws, wildlife as well as the local environment etiquette.
Beware that the nature of your hike may require suitable clothes and accessories such as long trousers, adequate hiking shoes and socks, gloves and masks… Most summit treks start before dawn, in the chill of the night, so a warm layer is essential. As for jungle trekking, bug spray is your best friend antimalarial measures should be considered. For detailed planning of your trip to Southeast Asia, take a look at our Backpacking Checklist.
The best hikes in Southeast Asia
World-class hikes in Southeast Asia often lead to stunning and unparalleled landscape views. On making this list, we genuinely had a hard time choosing the best hikes amongst what seems like an endless number of hiking trails in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to do it! Check out our unbiased picks of the best hikes in Southeast Asia here!
Featuring a variety of terrains ranging from virgin rainforests to spectacular volcanoes, Southeast Asia is, without a doubt, a paradise for thrill-seekers. The adventure to the recommended hikes above promises to meet your expectations and even beyond.
Let us know your view on our picks and how this post has helped you in the comments down below. Also check out our other web stories for more lists like this!