Southeast Asia offers some wonderful treks, allowing you to spend days walking through dense rainforests, spotting spectacular wildlife, learning about the cultures of the many different tribes who live in the remoter areas, and often staying with them in their homes and sharing their meals. The following ten treks are highly recommended, and also ensure that any communities visited benefit from your presence.
Taman Negara, Malaysia
There are six observation hides in Taman Negara – one of the oldest rainforests on earth and pictured above – where you can stay the night and experience the jungle in all its noisy nocturnal glory. During the day, you can go on river cruises, explore limestone caves with ancient wall-drawings or climb up to the canopy trail for a closer look at the wildlife. Get more info at www.taman-negara.com.
Charity Challenge, Vietnam
This challenging hike through the hills of northern Vietnam takes you between villages of Black H’mong, Red Dao and Tay minorities, with some nights spent in the homes of tribes and others camping. You have to raise a minimum sponsorship before you go, but because everyone is doing it for the charity of their choice, it creates a real bond among the group, with everyone supporting each other to achieve their aims. Find out more at www.charitychallenge.com.
Intrepid Travel, Thailand
This three-day trek, visiting the hospitable Karen people who live in the hills around Chiang Mai, forms the middle part of a week-long trip starting and ending with visits to some of the highlights of Bangkok, making it ideal for those on limited time. The walking is only three or so hours each day through thick forest, which leaves you plenty of time to explore the villages where you’ll stop off for the night. .
Khammouane Ecoguides, Laos
Escorted by a guide from the local community, this two-day journey in Phou Hin Poun explores some of the vast caves and churning rapids for which this area of forested limestone hills is famous. Bring your torch, as the biggest cave – the stalactite-filled Kong Lor – is 7km long.
Pooh Eco Treks, Thailand
Setting off from Chiang Mai, your guides Mr Pooh and his Karen associate Mr Tee will lead you with flaming torches deep into bat-filled caves and help you get the most of a stay with Karen villagers whom they have known for twenty years. By the end of your trek, they will also have taught you how to forage for food in the jungle. Discover more at www.pooh-ecotrekking.com.
Hill Tribe Tours, Thailand
Run by an NGO based in Chiang Rai, the focus of these trips is more on cultural exchange than physical endurance. As you walk only a couple of hours a day, most of your time is spent experiencing the rhythms of daily life with members of the Lahu, Akha and Karen tribes – perhaps preparing meals on the bamboo floor of your host’s home, helping in the fields or volunteering in the local school. Visit themirrorfoundation.org for more.
Yeak Laom, Cambodia
The dense forests covering the Ratanakiri district in northeast Cambodia are not easy to negotiate alone, so you’ll be glad to have a knowledgeable guide who can lead you to the most remote areas. One of these is the stunning Yeak Laom Lake – which fills a disused volcanic crater – and its surrounding five Tampuen villages, where you’ll learn about traditional handicrafts, customs and beliefs.
As the first man ever to take trekkers to Mount Rinjani over twenty years ago, no-one knows the area and its people better than self-styled “Mr John”. As part of the “John’s Adventures” programme, he will take you on a three-day trek up the slopes of the volcano to the sacred lake that fills it crater, known as Segara Anak (“child of the sea”). After a sweaty hike, you’ll be ready for a refreshing swim.
Green Discoveries, Laos
In between tramping through the forests around Luang Namtha in northern Laos, gathering forest vegetables for dinner, you’ll get to meet the Akha people. You’ll sleep in the villagers’ homes, and there’s time to watch or join in with their lively songs and dances, and have a go on some of the instruments they use. Visit www.greendiscoverylaos.com for more.
Mount Kinabulu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
It is just one day’s steep uphill trek and a pre-dawn climb up a rocky ascent to see the sun rise at the summit of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. To tackle it you must buy a permit for at Kinabalu Park’s headquarters. After the hike, soothe your muscles in the geothermally heated Poring Hot Springs.