Southeast Asia: steamy rainforests, sleepy rice paddies, endless beaches – and crowds of backpackers, hawkers and tourists?
Southeast Asia may have some of the most blissful destinations in the world but it also has some of the planet’s most frenetic cities, its most popular backpacker haunts and some seriously crowded sands. We've been far off the beaten track to find the most remote places in Southeast Asia. Here are a few of our favourites.
Mindat is known worldwide as the home of the tattoo-faced ladies of the Chin tribes, but few tourists make it out to this remote village in the shadow of Mount Victoria. Those who do are rewarded with fresh mountain air, a fascinating Christian culture and some of the friendliest people in Southeast Asia – not to mention superb trekking. If you want to visit, be sure to read up on how this kind of community-based tourism can be done ethically here.
How to get there: Mindat is a 6–8 hour car journey from Bagan along a very narrow winding road.
Life on Saluag is all about fishing, seaweed farming and boat making. There’s little to do here on the Philippines’ southernmost isle besides chilling out, and watching sea eagles soar above the soft waves.
How to get there: fly from Zamboang City to Bongao on Tawi-Tawi, hire a tricycle to Chinese Pier and take the ferry to Barangay Tandubanak on Sibutu. From here take a motorcycle taxi 30 minutes south to Barangay Tandu-owak where the boat leaves for Saluag, 40 minutes away.
Thousands of birds populate this isolated isle and there’s just one place to stay, the Koh Thmei Resort. Nothing spoils the sea view from your wooden bungalow at the water’s edge and wildlife-spotting is a breeze with some 150 types of feathery friend – plus dolphins and sea eagles. The island is part of Ream national park, but several long leases have been granted to developers in recent years; go now.
How to get there: take the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, getting out at Ou Chamnar. Hire a moto taxi to Koh Kchhang Fishing Village, where the boat departs for the resort. The crossing is one hour.
Get the reef sharks more or less to yourself at this idyllic campsite on Ko Surin Nuea, where a small coral reef teems with marine life and the sandy beach sees few visitors. This area is part of Mu Ko Surin National Park and the water is some of the clearest in Southeast Asia. Whale sharks are often sighted in the waters north of the island.
There are plenty of people in Phongsali, but we still doubt you’ll see another tourist. Northern Laos’ provincial capital is the ideal base for trekking to even more remote villages. Few places in Southeast Asia are better for meeting the locals and understand rural Vietnamese life – or just watching the world go by from a noodle stand.
How to get there: it takes a full day to travel here, either on the rough road from Udomxai by bus or from Muang Khua by boat. The only trekking provider is the local tourist office.
Fancy being castaway? And we mean really castaway, with no electricity, no fresh water and no food except what you can catch for yourself. Siroktabe is a true escape, offering isolated camping and the chance to fish for your supper. A guide is available to ferry you from island to island and help with fishing and cooking, though you can ask to be left completely alone if you're brave enough.
How to get there: you’ll need to book through Docastaways, who provide transfers from the local airport by car and then canoe to the island, which is in a secret location.
These remote highlands on the island of Borneo are ideal for trekkers seeking to seriously get away from it all. Head out into the Pulong Tao National Park from Bario, hiking through the jungle from longhouse to longhouse, past waterfalls along the way. You might spot monkeys, the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia, and even the Sumatran rhinoceros.
How to get there: There are daily Twin Otter flights from Miri to Bario with MASwings, taking one hour. This is far preferable to going by road, which is fastest from Lawas on the coast to Ba Kelelan, taking around four to five hours along extremely bumpy old logging roads. Suntravel Borneo can arrange treks here.
Top image: Mu Koh Surin National Park, Thailand © Jamoo/Shutterstock