Updated November 30th, 2017.
Southeast Asia is a region that is constantly changing. What was once an empty beach might be covered in hotels and resorts on your return visit, and that little village you discovered may be swarming with tourists the next time around. But don’t fear! Finding a slice of paradise all to yourself, and having off-track experiences in this popular part of Asia is still possible…you just have to look a little bit harder.
1. Travel on Two Wheels – Vietnam
By far, the best way to see Vietnam is on your own steam! You can either rent or purchase a motorbike, or you can cycle. Imagine riding along the coastline, or through thick jungle with the wind blowing in your hair and no one around. The roads in some areas are really good, but if you want to get off the beaten path (recommended), you’ll find some muddy, epic trails to conquer. The country is perfect for this kind of travel as the people are friendly, the scenery is stunning and purchasing or renting a bike is very affordable. If you don’t want to buy a motorbike, definitely try to rent one in each city that you visit so you can get away from the crowds and explore the surrounding villages and sights. Trust us, this is something we did and the experiences we had with the local people, and the random situations we found ourselves in will stay in our memories forever. For more on travelling Vietnam by motorbike, check out Nomadasaurus. For info on travelling the country by bicycle, check out A Cruising Couple.
You never know who you’ll meet on the road!
2. Volunteer Teaching English – Myanmar, Laos, Anywhere
Being able to give back to a country that has given you so much is a great feeling. There are many kids and adults that are interested in learning the English language so they can break into the tourism market. Also, some want to learn so they can travel or move to western countries. Whatever their reasoning is for learning a new language, if you can help them out, go for it! Many people who visit Myanmar go to the village of Hsipaw to do some trekking in the surrounding mountains. But, what if you hung-back while everyone took off hiking, and instead visited the nearby village of Naloy? The children in this village are very keen on learning to speak English. In fact, a woman from Taiwan actually set up a make-shift school here, and she invites tourists to come by and volunteer their time teaching the students. We spent a week teaching these sweet children and learning about village life in Burma. If you spend just a few hours with these kids, you’ll never want to leave. In Luang Prabang, Laos, you can drop in to Big Brother Mouse and volunteer just an hour or so of your time to speak one-on-one with some of the eager students. This program is great! The best way to learn how to speak English is to speak to a native speaker (or someone fluent).
A sad goodbye after a week of teaching in Naloy Village
3. Camp On An Island – Philippines or Anywhere With a Deserted Beach!
It’s one thing to visit a deserted island during the day, but it’s another to actually spend the night camping under the stars. Sleeping on the sand under nothing more than a mosquito net is a quintessential island experience. Our island of choice was a tiny speck off of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. It was totally deserted and made for the perfect place to live out our Robinson Crusoe fantasy! Speak to one of the tour agencies in whichever coastal city you’re in and see if they know a fishermen (or if they have a boat) that would be willing to take you out to your dream destination. You’ll have to pay a fee for the ride, but if you gather up a few friends, it will make the journey more affordable. Ask the boat man to drop you off and return the following evening, or later! Having a bonfire on the beach, snorkelling, fishing, drinking beers and cooking dinner while watching sun set will be a very memorable experience.
Paradise under a mosquito net
4. Explore Sumbawa Island – Indonesia
Most people pass right through this tiny island jewel on their way to see the Komodo Dragons, but this place is worth staying for a couple of nights. We stopped at this off the beaten path, surfing destination and saw only one other tourist the whole time! You’ll meet and eat with local people who will be surprised to see a foreign face that’s not driving by on a bus, and you’ll have the pristine beaches to yourself. With just a few bungalows and hotels and the right amount of restaurants, this is somewhere you may want to consider stopping for a while on your way to see the prehistoric lizards.
One of the many empty, stunning beaches on Sumbawa Island
5. Get Under the Water – Sipadan Island, Borneo, Malaysia
The calm waters around Southeast Asia are home to colourful coral and beautiful marine animals. Many people get their PADI Open Water Certification on Koh Tao, Thailand, which is a great spot to learn to scuba dive. Once you’re certified, make sure to venture over to Borneo to experience the world-class diving around Sipadan Island, which Nick says is the best dive site on earth! (Note: You will need to get your advanced diver certification + 20 dives before diving Sipadan) You’ll see dozens of turtles, sharks and rays, thousands of fish, and loads of very healthy coral. The number of divers per day are limited, so make sure to book in advance. If you’re not a diver, you can still see the wonderful marine life by snorkelling around.
Diving in Sipadan is a must!
To Sum Up…
There are many incredible, off-the-beaten-path experiences waiting to be had in Southeast Asia. All you need is an adventurous spirit and perhaps a couple of friends to share the moments with. Taking the time to veer off the well trodden path is something we suggest everyone tries to do at least once during their travels. Try blazing the trail rather than just following it, you might be surprised at what you find.
About The Authors:
Written by South East Asia Backpacker Ambassadors Nick and Dariece, the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to show others how to turn their travels into a lifestyle. They’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth. They’re also full-time contributors at Travel Pulse and Credit Walk where they share their expertise of long-term travel. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.
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