10 Best Hikes in Southeast Asia

Taman Negara trekking

Jungles, mountains, rice terraces, lakes, volcanoes – the landscape of Southeast Asia is as stunning as it is varied. The best way to enjoy all this natural beauty up close is on foot and luckily, there is no shortage of incredible hikes in Southeast Asia. 

When I’m away from the beach, I’m rarely out of my hiking gear, trekking my way across the region. So, lace up your boots! I’m going to share some of the best hikes in Southeast Asia, from easy half-day hikes to challenging multi-day jungle treks.

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10 Best Hikes in Southeast Asia

1. Cat Cat Village and Ta Van Village Trek

  • Location: Sapa, Vietnam
  • Duration: 1 day
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Guide needed: No

Sapa is well known for its excellent hiking opportunities and the town is a gateway to some of the best countryside views in Vietnam. There are countless guiding companies offering single or multi-day treks in the region (Sapa Sisters come highly recommended), but it’s also possible to undertake some of the hikes independently for free. 

Cat Cat Village 1
The eerie Cat Cat Village on a grey day. Don’t forget a rain jacket!

The route from Sapa down to Ta Van Village is all via road, making it easily navigable and straightforward to complete without a guide. The route passes through Lao Chai Village and offers spectacular views over Muong Hoa Valley, with its rolling green hills and lush rice terraces. 

The villages here are home to minority ethnic groups, including H’mong, Giay and Dao peoples, and a trek in this rural landscape is a great opportunity to learn more about Vietnam’s people and their history.

Ta Van is around 10km from Sapa, but it’s well worth taking a slight detour and adding on a couple of kilometres to visit (touristy but beautiful) Cat Cat Village near the start of the trek. Allow around three hours to reach Ta Van with this detour. 

There are plenty of food options in Ta Van to fuel yourself before the return journey uphill, or you could spend the night in a homestay to really immerse yourself in the culture.

2. Phar Khew Lom 360 Viewpoint

  • Location: Nong Khiaw, Laos
  • Duration: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Guide needed: No

Nong Khiaw in northern Laos is not short of a viewpoint or two. The most well-known, which is often simply referred to as Nong Khiaw Viewpoint, is Pha Daeng. However, for a quieter experience, more challenging hike and unrivalled panoramic views, head to the lesser-visited Phar Khew Lom Viewpoint, sometimes referred to as 360 Viewpoint, thanks to the amazing vistas to be seen in every direction.

Nong Khiaw
The amazing scenery of Nong Khiaw, Laos.

The hike up to the viewpoint takes about two hours and leads you through a beautiful natural landscape offering views over a banana plantation. Bamboo bridges, rickety steps and a fallen tree acting as a bridge over a gorge are a few of the obstacles you’ll traverse on your way to the peak. 

When you reach the top, you’ll be treated to spectacular views all around. If you hike up early in the morning before the mist has lifted, you’ll find yourself above the clouds. Talk about feeling on top of the world!

3. Walk on the Wild Side Trek

  • Location: Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Guide needed: Yes

For an off-the-beaten-path experience, the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia are an adventurer’s playground waiting to be discovered, either by foot, bicycle or boat. 

The small village of Chi Phat is the gateway to the region and its community eco-tourism projects offer fantastic ways to enjoy the area.

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Chi Phat is not a straightforward place to reach, but few of the best places are! Simply arriving is part of the adventure as it is two hours by boat from the main road. Your efforts will be rewarded with a unique experience and a real insight into Cambodian rural life. 

There are hikes for all abilities, from half-day to multi-day treks, with varying levels of stamina required. One of the most immersive and rewarding is the Walk on the Wild Side Trek, a four-day, fairly challenging hike, over 60km. 

The journey will take you deep into the forest where you will explore waterholes and waterfalls, see wildlife and visit mountain communities. You’ll also visit ancient burial jars, remnants of a little-known civilisation, and spend your nights in a hammock surrounded by the sounds of the jungle.

4. Bang Hua Rat Nature Trail

Khao Sok offers some of the most easily accessible and affordable jungle trekking in Southeast Asia. Beginning at the Khao Sok National Park Headquarters, there are a few day-long trails that offer a relatively easy introduction to hiking in the jungle. 

Khao Sok 2
The jungles of Khao Sok National Park.

Guides are required to tackle some of the longer or more challenging routes but Bang Hua Rat Nature Trail, which follows a wide path through the forest, is safe and easy to do independently with a 6km return journey taking around four hours.

There’s plenty of wildlife to keep an eye out for, including monkeys, scorpions and tarantulas. There are a couple of waterfalls accessible by taking a short detour off the main path, but if you decide to veer off, be careful of your footing and take note of your route so you can retrace your steps back to the main trail. 

Once you reach Bang Hua Rat Waterfall you’ll need to turn around and head back the way you came. Free maps are available from the visitor centre and the rangers at HQ will point out the turnaround point for independent hikers. 

5. Kalaw to Inle Lake 

  • Location: Shan State, Myanmar
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Guide needed: Yes

The 60km hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake in Myanmar’s Shan State, while long, is relatively easy. The hike leads you through mountain landscapes, rice fields and pine forests, where the air is fresh and the countryside views are idyllic. However, the real beauty of this journey is the exposure to the rich culture and local life you’ll experience along the way.

The hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake offers a new perspective on this fascinating country.

The path passes through numerous small villages where local children greet travellers excitedly, and farmers work rice fields and tea plantations in a way that has changed little over the past century.

Taking a guided tour is recommended as the trail is not waymarked. A three-day tour, which certainly won’t break the bank, usually involves staying in a homestay on the first night and in a monastery on the second, a unique experience that adds to the cultural appeal of this trek.

6. Keniam Trail

Get back to nature and channel your ancient ancestors on this two-day jungle trek that involves spending the night in a cave! Malaysia’s Taman Negara (literally National Park) is one of the world’s oldest rainforests at 130 million years (by comparison, the Amazon is just 55 million years old). 

Taman Negara cave
Gua Kepayang Besar might provide shelter but it doesn’t promise to be comfortable!

There are several trekking opportunities within the park, from one-day hikes to week-long treks, but one of the most popular is the two-day guided hike along the Keniam Trail.

Not for the faint-hearted, the trek is a challenging, hot and humid 16km romp through thick jungle. It involves climbing over fallen trees, navigating rickety bridges across streams and dealing with leeches, which while unpleasant, aren’t at all harmful. 

After four or five hours on the first day, you’ll reach the resting place, Gua Kepayang Besar (Big Kepayang Cave), which provides shelter but not much comfort for the night. The following day is another 8km hike which is ever so slightly easier, taking around four hours to complete. 

Along the route, your guide will point out plants, animals, tracks and marks, including bear prints, elephant dung and possibly even panther footprints! This is one for the hardcore adventurers! 

If you can’t get enough of trekking in Malaysia, check out our guide to hiking in the Cameron Highlands too!

7. MacRitchie Reservoir Nature Trail

  • Location: Singapore
    4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Guide needed: No

Singapore is known as the ‘Garden City’ and with almost half of the country (47%) covered in green space, it’s easy to see why. Primary rainforest can still be found here and in the centre of the island, you can find a vast network of parks and nature reserves crisscrossed with trails – a great free activity to do in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

MacRitchie Reserve 1
Singapore is home to some stunning green spaces!

There are a number of hiking trails around The MacRitchie Reservoir, and a map of them can be found on the Singapore National Parks website. The Blue Route is a 10km return hike that will take you along the reservoir leading to the TreeTop Walk and Petaling Boardwalk. 

The TreeTop Walk is a 250m-long freestanding suspension bridge between the two highest points in the reserve, from which you will have a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy. The area is home to 1,000 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of animals, so there is plenty of flora and fauna to look out for along the way! 

If you want to extend the walk after the Boardwalk you can join the Yellow Route to complete a full lap of the reservoir.

8. Gunung Bromo

  • Location: Java, Indonesia
  • Duration: 4-6 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • Guide needed: No

Watching the sunrise over an active volcano set in a dramatic landscape is not a moment you’re likely to forget. The hike up to Gunung Bromo (Mount Bromo) is relatively easy and should be on any Indonesian itinerary

Mount Bromo steps
Heading down the steps to Mount Bromo.

Starting in the early hours, you’ll need to set out from Cemoro Lawang in the dark to hike up to the King Kong Hill viewpoint which can be reached in around 1.5-2 hours.

After enjoying the sunrise, crossing the Sea of Sand will lead you to the base of Gunung Bromo, which sits within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park and is subject to an entrance fee. 

The final part of the hike is ascending 250 steps up the side of the volcano which will bring you to the edge of the caldera. The short climb is rewarded with fantastic views across the volcano from the crater rim, complete with billowing plumes of smoke rising from the depths. 

This, coupled with the rumbling emitted from the bowels of the earth makes for a dramatic scene, and is worth the early start!

9. Mount Kinabalu

If the idea of conquering one of the highest peaks in Southeast Asia is appealing, then the hike to Mount Kinabalu’s summit could be for you. 

Mount Kinabalu Kota Kinabalu
Trekking at high altitude is a whole other ball game.

Often erroneously cited as the tallest peak in the region (that accolade actually belongs to Myanmar’s Hkakabo Razi), it’s certainly the highest in Malaysia and at 4,095m, its altitude is not to be sniffed at. The climb to the summit, Low’s Peak, takes two days, requiring an overnight stay at one of the accommodation options along the route.

The trek is easily accessible but not the cheapest, as you’ll need to pay for climbing permits, the Kinabalu National Park entrance fee, accommodation, a guide (mandatory), and a porter (optional), which will set you back a few hundred US dollars. 

This, however, seems a small price to pay for the thrill of the experience and the views of Borneo from the summit. The 17km return hike can be tackled by anyone of reasonable fitness but it’s the altitude that makes this one of the tougher treks on our list. Beware of the  2,300m elevation gain over two days! 

Keeping well hydrated and taking it slow to allow your body to acclimatise will give you the best chance of reaching the summit.

10. Batad Rice Terraces

In the centre of the island of Luzon, and a nine-hour bus ride away from Manila, you’ll find the beautiful Batad Rice Terraces. The Terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are estimated to be around 2,000 years old! 

Rice Terraces Batad Sagada
The Batad Rice Terraces have been awarded UNESCO status.

Generation after generation has handed down the knowledge that goes into creating this stunning landscape, where rice fields follow the contours of the mountains and ancient traditions live on.

Get up close and personal with this slice of history and enjoy the harmony of humankind and nature, with a walk through the terraces. You can easily take in the beauty of the place in a half-day 4.8km trail which can be found on AllTrails

The route begins near Banaue, which leads to Tappiya Falls and loops back, offering up amazing views over the rice terraces. If you want to push yourself and spend longer among the incredible emerald fields you can try the two-day 20km trek to the village of Cambulo, which is only accessible by foot. Be prepared for lots and lots of steps and an undulating path.

Hiking in Southeast Asia FAQs 

What’s the best time of year to go hiking in Southeast Asia?

The dry, cool season is the best time for hiking, but bear in mind this varies from country to country – the good news is that there will always be somewhere to trek in the region. 
November to February is the best time to hike in most of mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar), however, to see the rice terraces of Vietnam and the Philippines at their most impressive, northern hemisphere autumn is best (September/October and October/November respectively). 
From the Malay Peninsular southwards, March to September are good times.

How safe is hiking in Southeast Asia?

Hiking in Southeast Asia is very safe as long as you follow sensible precautions – wear appropriate clothing, take plenty of water and keep to the trails. If you’re going deep into the jungle, it’s best to take a guide. Remember this environment is home to wild animals and a guide will know where to hike safely.

What to wear hiking in Southeast Asia?

Lightweight and quick-dry clothing is best for hiking, and trousers and long sleeves are recommended to protect against mosquitos. Good walking shoes are essential; hiking boots are best but sneakers will suffice for all but the most challenging routes.

From short scenic nature trails to multi-day jungle adventures, the choices for enjoying the region’s natural wonders are bountiful. 

Whatever your level of fitness and whichever landscape you want to walk amongst, be it the heights of mountains or depths of the rainforest, there is a hike in Southeast Asia to suit you. 

So pull on your trekking trousers and lace up those hiking boots – it’s time to hit the trails!

Lisa Barham author pic
Lisa Barham

Having always dreamt of travelling the world, Lisa finally decided to follow that dream in her mid-thirties when she left her nine-to-five in London for life on the road. After trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and learning to surf in Sri Lanka, she headed for wondrous Southeast Asia, where she can currently be found solo backpacking, navigating through life and unfamiliar streets.

Follow her on: Instagram

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