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…
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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