Updated May 23rd, 2018.
Raft the Rivers of South East Asia!
Guaranteed to make your heart pound as you race downstream faster than you could ever have imagined, these two watersports are best enjoyed in the rainy season when the rivers are at their highest and the rocks are at their deepest. Whether you’re a nervous beginner or an extreme-sports fanatic, South East Asia’s rivers have the ‘white’ water for you!
Where are the best places to kayak and raft in South East Asia?
Padas River in Borneo, Malaysia
With rapids by the name of ‘Scooby Doo Rapid’ and ‘Merry-Go-Round Rapid’, the Padas River in Sabah is the ultimate white-water fanatic’s playground. It’s rapids vary from grade three to four and the waves reach a staggering two metres high! The scenery is spectacular as the Padas River runs through Kota Kinabalu National Park and a ride on a vintage train is the only way to reach this remote destination.
Best Seasons to Raft in Borneo: If you’re a novice or slightly less brave, hit the water during the dry season (from April to October) to get in some white water rafting practice. You could even try your hand at traditional bamboo rafting, a method of transport used for centuries in Malaysia. However if you’re more of a daredevil, then brave the rapids during wet season (November to March) for a truly exhilarating ride.
An Idea of Prices: The more people you can gather, the cheaper this group activity gets. For a one day rafting trip on the Padas River, expect to pay around 220 Malaysian Nett. This could reduce by up to 20 Nett if you can find fifteen other thrill-seekers to join you!
Traditional bamboo rafting
Rafting on the Pai River, Thailand
Regarded amongst backpackers as one of the most chilled places in South East Asia, Pai has grown in popularity over the past few years. Just North of Chiang Mai, Pai is a somewhat isolated hill tribe town deep within the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province. It’s river, aptly named The Pai River, is at it’s best just after monsoon rains when it’s size swells. On your way down the river watch out for the natural hot springs which provide the perfect spot to relax and let your arms recover! This is a white water experience (which averages grade four) not to be missed.
Best Seasons to Raft in Thailand: Due to it’s Northern location and mountain setting, Pai has a cooler climate than many other parts of South East Asia. Pai itself is arguably at it’s best during the rainy season, when the dense tropical surroundings are lush and green. This is also the best time to white water raft, particularly if you’re brave!
An Idea of Prices: The best way to experience the Pai River is to take a two day, overnight trip. These will set you back around 2,500 Baht but the night’s stay in either a bamboo hut or under a tarpaulin on the river banks is well worth shelling out for.
Top Tip: You will want to take your camera to capture the gorgeous setting, but be sure to invest in a good waterproof case or dry bag.
A thorough briefing before you set off…
White Water rapids along the Ayung River in Bali, Indonesia
More mild rapids are aplenty here in Bali, where you can find 13 kilometers of rapids surrounded by rice paddies and wild Indonesian countryside. The deep canyon provides the perfect training ground for any newcomers who want in on the action. But be warned, either way there is a tough climb up and out of the Canyon when you reach the end of your watery road!
Best Seasons to Raft in Bali: Whatever the time of year, Bali’s Ayung River is sure to thrill. Visit in the rainy season from November until March though and the grade increases to an intense four.
An Idea of Prices: We’ve found that white water rafting trips are cheaper when booked online here in Bali. Have a good search around to spot the special deals on offer, but bear in mind that off-peak is undoubtedly cheaper. Afternoon tours are also marginally less pricey. However, at approximately $50 for a couple of hours, Bali is a more expensive place to hit the rapids.
Kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
For more peaceful kayaking, head North to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Renowned for it’s water sports, the Bay is home to thousands of karsts and hundreds of islands, with crystal clear turquoise seas. Take a dry bag packed with a picnic (not forgetting your swimsuit!) and find yourself a secluded beach on which to dine. Suitable for all, whether you’ve kayaked before or not, Ha Long Bay is the perfect place to play at action hero.
Best Seasons to Kayak in Vietnam: All year round.
An Idea of Prices: There are a huge number of options here. Firstly, decide whether you want a work out or a chill out. If you’re an experienced kayaker, then perhaps a three day tour is for you. For the novices amongst us, just hire a kayak for a couple of hours and do your own thing in the calm bay.
Paddle to a white sandy beach in Halong Bay
Nam Ha, Laos
Laos is criss-crossed with rivers, the most famous amongst the backpackers being the Nam Song, known for it’s zip wires, trapeze swings, death slides and the ability to float down it in a rubber tube. However, travel further North than Vang Vieng (the home of tubing) and you will reach the Nam Ha River with it’s variety of white water thrills and more calm spots, perfect for both rafting and kayaking. Consider yourself warned though, the mini bus ride up north is not for the faint-hearted… nor the travel sick!
Best Seasons to Raft in Laos: Before October this river is pretty tame and graded as a two. When the monsoon rains arrive in October, the rapids pick up so this is the best time to go.
Let’s hope your raft doesn’t encounter any waterfalls like this!
Cagayan de Oro, The Philippines
Rafting the Cagayan de Oro River on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines is becoming more and more popular amongst Filipino tourists over recent years and was recently been promoted by the Tourism Department. White water rafting, kayaking and even river trekking are challenging activities here for the adventurous and you will certainly not be crowded by other backpackers here! Around a 30-minute drive from the city of Cagayan de Oro, the jump-off point of the river begins at Barangay Mambuaya. From beginner rapids 1-2 to more advanced 3-4, there are adventure companies who can take you out on the river and guide your trip.
Best Seasons to raft in Cagayan de Oro: January to June is dry Season in Mindano, so the weather is hot and the water is low and clear. For rafting trips, this means that the journey can be more technical and interesting. From July to December, Mindanao experiences the rainy season, with showers mostly occurring in the afternoons. Water levels are high and more challenging!
Make sure you are covered before you embark upon adventure! Check out our recommendation for the best, most flexible travel insurance for backpacking South East Asia.
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