10 Off The Beaten Path Places in Southeast Asia

10 Places Off The Beaten Path In Southeast Asia

Goat Note: This Article Has Been Published In The January 2013 Edition Of Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine! ENJOY!

It’s not easy to find 10 places off the beaten path in Southeast Asia because it’s just not an off the beaten path destination. Sure, Southeast Asia is a tried and tested traveller’s mecca with thousands of tourists, but there is so much more to Southeast Asia than beach bars and night clubs and if you really look, you can find some amazing, untouched paradises.

We’re going to let you in on our secrets, places that hardly any people know about and names that you won’t hear tossed around the hostel dinner table. These are our favorite places where nobody else goes and they’re all a secret so please don’t tell anyone…

***Note: If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, CLICK HERE FOR FREE TRAVEL GUIDES of our favourite countries!

off the beaten path south east asia

One of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. Enjoyed with a bottle of rum on our deserted island just off of El Nido, Philippines

1. Ko Rong Island, Cambodia: This is hands down the nicest beach in the world (based on what we’ve seen). There are technically two Ko Rong Islands in Cambodia.  One is a dive location for boats leaving Sihanoukville and one is lost out in the sea, left virtually untouched by tourism. When the longtail boat rounds the corner and you see the absolutely stunning stretch of powdery white sand, you can’t help but be amazed. The beach goes on for 8 km and dips into the alluring turquoise sea at the perfect swimming gradient. We’ve seen beaches from Asia to Africa, the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and Ko Rong trumps them all. The stunning jungle backdrop, coral reef and the fact that you’re practically the only person there really just adds to its beauty. It is the best sight in Southeast Asia and is most definitely off the beaten path.

UPDATE 2015: Hey guys, guess what… times change! While Koh Rong still boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it is no longer the big secret that it was in 2008. Don’t worry though, it’s still an amazing place to visit so get here before it’s too late!

off the beaten path in se asia

Koh Rong, Cambodia. The nicest beach in Southeast Asia

2. Hsipaw, Myanmar: Okay so Myanmar may not be the untouched paradise that it once was, but take a trek into the villages around Hsipaw and find some amazing Shan culture within easy reach. When you arrive, don’t be discouraged by the daily tours that leave Hsipaw with 8-10 people/group. Ignore them, ignore the guides and just walk out into the surrounding villages yourself. You’ll be rewarded with waterfalls, farmland, natural hot-springs and genuine local hospitality.  You’ll likely have locals invite you in for meals and you can see their homes and the amazingly laid-back lifestyle in which they live. You may even be able to teach some English, if you come across Hope and her incredible school in Naloy village.

off the beaten path se asia

Hsipaw, truly off the beaten path

3. Sumatra, Indonesia: I know it’s a huge region to list as “off the beaten path” but Sumatra really is an untouched paradise. There are places where you will run into a bunch of backpackers but even in those places you can sneak off and find a place of your own. For the most part though, Sumatra is extremely non-touristed and it boasts some of the most amazing sights in the entire region. Lake Toba and Lake Meninjau have crystal clear fresh water smack dab in the middle of a volcano crater.  If you stay here you will probably have an entire guesthouse to yourself (depending on what side of the lake you stay on).  Definitely don’t miss Sumatra if you’re trying to avoid crowds, it’s one of the best places to be. A stark contrast to Bali.

asia off the beaten path

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra Indonesia

4. Kapas Island Malaysia: How does nobody know about this place? Well some people do, the Malaysians and they keep it all to themselves. Don’t worry though, outside of holiday times you will probably be one of the only people on the island and the beach here is stunning! Stay with the Captain at The Captains Longhouse and meet one of the coolest characters you’ll ever come across on your travels. He’ll take you in, treat you like family and send you on your way with a smile on your face. There’s nowhere quite like Kapas Island.

off the beaten path places in se asia

Kapas Island

5. Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia: Okay don’t confuse this with the tourist trap that they call Kuta in Bali. Kuta, Lombok is a whole different place that puts the Balinese version to shame. It’s a laid back surfing village with just enough to do to keep you entertained for a week or so. Unless you surf, in which case you could probably just pack up and move here. Kuta beach itself is not fully off the beaten path, but rent a motorbike and ride to one of the many secluded coves or distant villages surrounding Kuta and find a little piece of heaven and keep it all to yourself.

10 places off the beaten path in se asia

Kuta Lombok

6. Koh Kood Thailand: Be warned, this is SO off the beaten path that you may get bored if you stay here longer than a few nights. Koh Kood is absolutely breathtaking. Its jungle-clad interior boasts stunning waterfalls and tourist-free monasteries where you’ll actually meet Thai people who are surprised to see a tourist. A treat you may never find anywhere else in Thailand. The beaches are powdery white perfection and huts are actually very comfortable. There are no real roads on the island, although you can rent a motorbike (at exorbitant prices) and head inland to seek out some seldom visited sights. And we mean seldom. This place is deserted in the peak season especially away from its coast. What a place! If your down for some serious relaxation and privacy, Koh Kood is the place for you.

UPDATE 2015: Good news and bad news… There are roads here now. Take what you want from that statement. Luckily Koh Kood is still relatively undeveloped.

off the beaten path in se asia

Beautiful, Off The Beaten Track Ko Kood, Thailand

7. El Nido, Philippines: Whoah! you say, El Nido is a place that shows up in bold in the front of your Lonely Planet Philippines book. How can it be off the beaten path? Well, El Nido itself is clearly no longer off the beaten path, but some of the islands around El Nido definitely are. Take your pick of one of the deserted 45 islands, pack your sleeping gear and some food and head out! If you’re concerned about how to get there, talk to the friendly people at Cliffside Cottages and ask them to set it up for you. Just make sure you explain that you want to be far away from other tourists and you will find yourself on an island, alone, living out your Robinson Crusoe fantasies.

UPDATE 2015: Some readers have told us that El Nido is becoming more and more touristed and it’s getting harder to find boatmen to take you out on an intrepid solo journey, but fear not… where there’s a will there’s a way!

getting off the beaten path in se asia

our campsite for the night on an island around El Nido

8. Don Kong Island, Laos: This stunning place is actually on the trail, but it’s on the trail that leads to the more popular neighbouring island of Don Det. In Southern Laos, in the 4 Thousand Islands region, Don Kong is a little piece of hidden calm inside a tsunami of tourists that force their way up from Thailand. When everybody else hops on the first boat out to get to the backpacker haven known as Don Det, you should consider staying behind. Rent a bike and head around this tiny island and see a piece of Laos culture that you won’t see again unless you head far North past Luang Prabang. Small villages with kind and inquisitive locals will greet you on your travels and you’ll be able to witness something few other travellers here do, the real Laos.

10 places off the beaten path in se asia

A relaxing way to spend the day away from the crowds. Don Kong

9. Southern Inle Lake, Myanmar: Inle Lake itself definitely shows up on the tourist radar, but most people stick to the boat tours that putter around the northern reaches of the lake. Find a boatman who is willing to take you as far south as you can go, the closer you get to the “Permit Zone” the fewer travellers you will see and the more great experiences you will have. It may cost you a few extra bucks to get down there, but it’s so worth it. The villages are untouched and the monestaries are empty and beautiful. Also, don’t forget to rent a bicycle and bike around the lake yourself; stop off at a winery, meet local fishermen and enjoy watching Myanmar go by.  Most people who come to Inle Lake think it’s a tourist trap because they don’t take the time to find a place for themselves. The Southern part of the lake is a place not to be missed.

off the beaten path in se asia

a local fisherman and his bamboo basket, Inle Lake

10. Sumbawa, Indonesia: This place really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s on the way to the more popular islands like Komodo and Flores, but 99% of people who see this place, see it only from the window of a bus on their way to see the Komodo Dragons. If you’re not a surfer, there’s not a whole lot to do here, but there are some stunning beaches, hidden villages and amazing coral that’s yours alone to discover.

where to get off the beaten path in se asia

Stunning Sumbawa

That’s our list of off-the-beaten-path places. Make sure when you travel to Southeast Asia you attempt to get away from the crowds. We guarantee if you do, you won’t be disappointed.

If you know of some off-the-beaten-path places in SE Asia, comment below and let us know about it! Travel secrets are meant to be shared.

We use and recommend Hostel World for booking cheap and awesome hostels and guesthouses in SE Asia. They’re the “go-to” booking site for travellers, check them out here.

Be Safe!

It is always a good idea to have travel insurance before going anywhere. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for backpackers on-the-go. Click here for a quick and easy quote 🙂

If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia, you may also be interested in the links below:




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36 thoughts on “10 Places Off The Beaten Path In Southeast Asia

  1. Sun Seekers

    Hello fellow backpackers! I am wondering about the situation in Ko Rong, and if you know if they have started development yet? I am not certain when this was posted. We plan to travel SE Asia in December for 5 weeks and love your suggestions! Thanks!

    1. Goats On The Road Post author

      Hello Sun Seekers and welcome to Goats On The Road!
      The development thus far has not affected Ko Rong and we believe now is the PERFECT time. We were there in 2008 and were probably a little bit early. There was no electricity or restaurants and only one place to stay. Now you have a couple of options for accommodation but the exotic and rural feel still exists there today and will in December. Make sure you get to the famous 8 km stretch of sand on the south western coast. You’ll never see whiter sand! Enjoy and let us know how it goes!

      Nick & Dariece
      Goats On The Road

  2. GoatsOnTheRoad

    Hello Sun Seekers! Ko Rong is changing quickly but we think that now is the perfect time! When we went there in 2008 there was nothing there at all, but now it may be the perfect balance between off and on the beaten path. You will still feel like you’ve found somewhere exotic. December will be a great time to see it, send us some pics when you go… we’d love to see it again!

  3. laura

    I think I’ll stick to my memories of Burma from 2009…. Inle Lake was definitely not considered a tourist trap, in fact nowhere in Burma was. Best memories of travelling were from Bagan, we had the place to ourselves. I’m very happy for the people of Burma but a tiny bit sad that I can’t revisit that magical land and have it all to myself : )

    1. GoatsOnTheRoad

      Yes it would definitely be hard to keep Burma all to yourself nowadays. With the progress in government and economy comes a burst in tourism and Bagan is packed with tour buses during peak season. Still an amazing place though and aside from the main attractions it’s not too touristy. You’re memories from 09 are priceless but Burma is still an incredible place and will be for a long time to come!

  4. becky hutner

    best list of its kind that i’ve found so far. thanks so much for helping me plan my 6 week honeymoon to southeast asia this fall! i’ve added at least 5 of these items to my wish list!

  5. Kim Ritchie

    My husband and I are wanting to take our kids away for about 3 weeks over Xmas. We are not the type of family that like to hit the tourist hotspots and want to just relax and let the kids play and run free like they should. After looking at your site I must say my breath was taken away by Koh Rong! Would you say that this place is ok to go and relax and swim and hang out with a few kids or not really appropriate? A few people have advised they don’t think Cambodia is a place for kids???? Keeping in mind ‘these’ people are not the adventurous type. Would love your opinion on Kho Rong??? Or, even better somewhere off the beaten track where we can also have a surf.
    Cheers, Kim

    1. Goats On The Road Post author

      Hey Kim!

      Glad to hear that you have an adventurous lifestyle and are willing to travel with your kids! We think that’s amazing 🙂

      I think if you take the proper precautions, then anywhere in this world could be suited for kids. They would be fine in Cambodia, we saw plenty of families there.

      Koh Rong is fantastic. We were there in 2008 and things have changed quite a bit since then…there are more amenities now, which can be a good thing. It’s my understanding that there are quite a few bungalows there now, things are more lively, some restaurants, beach volleyball, etc. So that could be good!

      The Philippines also has some amazing spots that would be child friendly and there is definitely surfing there.

      Also, there are many places in Indonesia that are off the beaten path and have surfing available as well. Lombok would be a good bet for that.

      We loved our time in Cambodia at Koh Rong, but that was in 2008 (I hear good things about it, but haven’t been there recently). We were just in the Philippines last year and had a great time at El Nido – snorkelling, diving, island hopping, etc. and we were in Indonesia in 2009 and went to many islands there.

      All 3 are great! I hope this helps.

      Have an awesome time. Let us know if you have anymore questions.

      Goats On The Road recently posted…It’s My Birthday: Unconventional At 29!My Profile

  6. Harriet

    Hi, I love the look of the island Koh Kud and would love to go there when I next go travelling. I’ve looked it up online but all I can find are expensive hotels, does the place where you stay have a website or contact info? The picture looks like the perfect place to stay!

    1. Goats On The Road Post author

      Hi Harriet!

      I’m so sorry for the delayed reply. Your comment got lost somehow…

      Anyways, for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the bungalows we stayed at! However, here is a list of many (if not all) of the bungalows on Koh Kud (Koh Kut).


      I hope you can find a great bungalow here! Enjoy your stay.

      Cheers 🙂
      Goats On The Road recently posted…The Day When…We Got Scammed At The Tanzanian BorderMy Profile

  7. joel

    It’s alright if you run into a backpacker when you’re traveling..you don’t need to feel that since there another backpacker there, that area is now corrupted and you now need to run off and find somewhere else to go. That’s an incredibly arrogant attitude. You two could not be more smug and arrogant

    1. Goats On The Road Post author

      We’re sorry you feel that way Joel.

      The article is about finding a little slice of paradise for yourself (and a few others) away from the crowds. There’s nothing wrong with having other travellers around, but sometimes it’s nice to find a place of your own, you know?

      It seems strange that you would click on this article if you aren’t interested in finding places off the beaten path.

      Thank you for the edit.

      Happy Travels!
      Goats On The Road recently posted…Exploring Maya Culture Through Outdoor Theater & DanceMy Profile

  8. Choup

    Thanks a lot for the tips.
    I would love to go to Koh Rong this Dec for 4 days only.
    However it seems that it is quite the journey to go there: 4/5 hours bus from Phnom Penh plus 2h boat. Am I correct?
    No plane goes closer that PP it seems…Any shorter way?

    To share tips on awesome secluded beaches: check out the Caramoans Island in the Philippines. Went there in January last year, did not see a tourist and the beaches are fabulous (not for diving though…)

    Thanks a lot

  9. Mike

    Do you guys remember the name of the beach you visited on Koh Rong?

    Also was the island Koh Rong Sanloem (the one just south of the other Koh Rong island)?

  10. martha

    i am a local indonesian, love traveling mostly in southeast asia, thanks for this info (will definitely add these places next time i travel). My recommendation for Indonesia’s off the beaten track (they are not really off the beaten tracks, but less popular among tourist):
    1.island lovers (i would recommend Weh Island in Aceh, Lembeh Island in north Sulawesi, Ora Beach in Maluku province is also a must visited place),
    2.for surfers (i still recommend mentawai because it has some friendly spots for beginners. Pacitan in east java if you look for a small surfing village with small number of tourists, great for beginners and advanced surfers. Lombok is the ONLY place if you want to surf with less crowd, but still provide tourist facilities such as international restaurant, yoga studio, night clubs, etc. There are hundreds of surf spots in Indo, but not much for beginners. i would suggest beginners to travel around Java to find more empty spots that suit their skill -in case they dislike tourist central like Bali),
    3. jungle/national park/wildlife (bukit lawang in north sumatera, i also recommend ujung kulon national park in western Java, near krakatoa volcano and has wonderful wildlife on Land and underwater (better be going with a local tour operator to take care the entrance permission and accommodation -no hotel FYI), Baluran national park in situbondo, east Java is my fave place for safari adventure,
    4. cultural (trowulan in Mojokerto, East Java. (there are ruins of majapahit palace and temples (majapahit was the largest ancient kingdom in Indo), visit one of my favorite cultural islands: Madura. I like it when they hold traditional cow race competition -it is an annual event-, the locals are also known as batik and wooden furniture producers. This island has a lot of beautiful beaches, but i must say that i admire their culture and crafts as well. OR try any tribal communities encounter -many of them in indonesia-, expensive but worth visiting are either Dani (in baliem valley) or Asmat tribe (in Agats district) in Western Papua) (just email me at [email protected] if you have any question about traveling to Indonesia)

  11. Justine

    Great post! I’ve been luck enough to visit some of these and I agree off the beaten track places are much more special. There’s one little known island in Thailand (probably the only one left these days!) that hardly anyone seems to know about called Koh Kradan. It only has a few accommodation options, no roads but the most amazing white beaches and isn’t that difficult to get to. You should definitely pay it a visit if you can. I’ve written a post about it and thought I’d share it incase it’s useful to your readers on how to get there and where to stay etc: http://www.justinewharton.com/2015/03/18/koh-kradan-thailands-secret-island-paradise/


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