Off the Beaten Path in South East Asia
Discover some of the best off the beaten path locations in south east Asia! Find out where to go, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful information for off-beat adventures in south East Asia. Avoid the crowds and travel somewhere adventurous in Asia today!
Guest Blogger: Caden Allison, The Wandering Westerner
The secrets out, south east Asia is a popular tourist destination. With thousands of visitors heading to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia every month, you may think it impossible to find destinations that are off the beaten path in south east Asia – but you would be wrong! For the intrepid traveller, adventure is everywhere in Asia, and for those wanting to have a truly unique experience there are a few top spots that are still devoid of tourists and large tour groups (I know, awesome right!). Whether you are looking for cultural experiences, love outdoor adventure, or simply want to relax during your trip – you can have it all in south east Asia (if you know where to look)! So, what are you waiting for, ditch the desk, fire up the old camera, lace up those hiking boots and travel somewhere adventures on your next trip. Here are some of the best off the beaten path locations in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma)!
6 of the Best off the beaten path destinations in south east Asia
For lovers of pine-scented mountainous air, beautiful vistas, addictive coffee and non-stop adventure, Sagada in northern Luzon is the place for you!
Located above the clouds in the central cordillera of the Philippines biggest island (Luzon) this sleepy hillside town boasts, lush green terraced rice fields, powerful waterfalls, underground caves, high altitude lakes and vast limestone valleys.
Mountain biking, village trekking, camping, climbing and caving are just a few of the activities available for the outdoorsman.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a more 'chilled-out' and relaxing time then you can spend your days walking to breath taking waterfalls, dining at cosy cafes with spectacular vistas, or sampling as many local dishes as humanly possible!
You should know: The local indigenous people of Sagada are known as the Igrot people. They are incredibly friendly are immensely proud of their heritage and still practice their burial tradition of hanging the deceased from the walls of Echo Valley!
• Bus from Manila to Banaue (10-hours overnight). Banaue - Sagada (3-4 hours)
• Bus from Baguio to Sagada (7-hours)
Close to: Banaue - UNESCO World Heritage town that is larger and more popular compared to Sagada.
Where to stay: Residential Lodge (inexpensive private rooms)- Book it now!
Well of the beaten path in Occidental Mindoro, the charming coastal town of Sablayan will show you a side of the Philippines that you didn’t know existed! Made up of vast rural areas, Occidental Mindoro supplies nearly all of the Philippines with salt, corn and rice! But don't let its agricultural nature fool you. Occidental Mindoro is going to be the next 'must visit' destination in the Philippines – and Sablayan is perfectly located to take advantage of this! Today however, it is a region devoid of both local and western tourism, meaning you can have the place (and its adventures) all to yourself.
You can take a boat trip to the nearby nature sanctuary of Pandan Island where you can swim with turtles, choose to hike the impressive Mount Iglit, explore the surrounding farmland and nature reserves, or take a diving trip to Apo reef, which has some of the best diving in the Philippines (some say worldwide).
Alternatively, you can simply relax on the dark volcanic sands of the Sablayan coastline, wander through the bustling town and even go zip-lining between islands!
You should know: The infrastructure of the region is quite unreliable. It is slowly being improved upon, however, roads aren't the best and transport options are few and far between - be prepared for lengthy waits!
• From Puerto Galera (Oriental Mindoro): Take a ferry from Balatero to Abra. Then take a bus to Sablayan (2-3 hours).
• From San Jose: Take a local bus to Sablayan (2-3 hours)
Close to: San Jose – The capital of Occidental Mindoro is a busy, yet small coastal city, which you can use as a base to explore the Magsaysay Caves, hike Devils Mountain or take a ferry to Coron!
Where to stay: Gustav's Place (private beachside bungalow) – Book it now!
Although Ipoh is considered a popular city amongst local tourist, it is still well of the tourist trail in peninsula Malaysia. Most head straight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, but if you are looking for delicious inexpensive food, interesting attractions and incredible street art, Ipoh is the place for you. A quieter version of the bustling George Town, the old town in Ipoh has a rustic charm that is matched by few! Wander around the old town streets in search of pieces of street art, delve into the local markets and street food stalls at Tong Sui Kai night Markets, visit the incredible Sam Poh Tong temple or the Tambum Lost World Adventure Park!
Make sure you have a meal at Sri Ananda Bahwan (Indian food) in old town and try the famous Old Town White Coffee.
You should know: The old town is best explored during the day, as all the stores, cafes and restaurants shut at around 5pm.
How to get there: Bus from Penang or Kuala Lumpur (2-hours)
Close to: Cameron Highlands: A perfect mountainous getaway for outdoor adventure and tea plantation hiking!
Where to stay: 1981 Guest house (dormitory rooms) - Book it now!
The perfect stop off on your way north to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, Phitsanulok has something for everyone. You can spend you day exploring the sleepy town, visiting museums, and unique temples (one even had a sauna and exercise area) before visiting (in my opinion) the best night market in the whole of Thailand for dinner! Also you should head just out of town and find the temple complex where there was a vegetarian buffet, which costs as much as you are willing to pay (no joke)! Google maps doesn't show it but I'm sure most locals know of its existence! Wat Phra Sorn Kaew is just a short bus ride away and is home to an intricately designed temple, and the incredible five seated Buddha statue, which is perched on top of the mountain.
On your way back to Phitsanulok, stop off at some of the refreshing waterfalls in the surrounding national parks or head up to Ban Kaeng Wa and spend the afternoon relaxing on the lake (beer in hand of course)!
Day trips to Sukhothai, Sri Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet Historical Parks can also be made from Phitsanulok. Simply catch a bus from Phitsanulok to Sukhothai, and then onwards to your chosen historical park.
You should know: If you have always wanted to try hitch-hiking, now's the time! Hitching is very popular in the area and is a great way to meet some locals and save some coin!
• Train from Bangkok: 7 hours
• Bus from Bangkok: 5-6 hours
Close to: The ancient city of Sukhothai (1.5 hours by bus) great for a day trip or a more length stay, it has a similar atmosphere as Phitsanulok!
Where to stay: Karma Hostel (dorm rooms only) – Book it now!
Located in the Shan state of north east Myanamar, this region is famous for breath-taking scenery, delicious tea, incredible hiking and mouthwatering burmese dishes! Home to only a handful of hotels, Hsipaw is well off the beaten path, and although tourism is present, you will definitely get those isolated mountainous village feels. You can hike through farmlands to Nam Tuk waterfall, visit the world peace pagoda, explore the surrounding indigenous villages, or learn about the history of the price of Hsipawat the Shan Palace. Don't miss trying famous dishes like Shan Noodle Salad and Laphet Toke, which are made fresh top order and were some of the biggest servings I had during my time here - Yuan Yuan Restaurant / Mr Shake's is a must! You should know: The train ride from Pyin Ool Win to Hsipaw is a must. It travels through incredible mountainous scenery and lush green farmland, stopping at small villages and passes over a massive canyon on a seemingly 'rickety' bridge – an adventure in itself! Getting there: • Train from Mandalay to Hsipaw (10 -hours) • Bus form Mandalay to Pyin Ool Win (2 hours) then train to Hsipaw (6 hours) • Bus mandaly to Hsipaw – 10 hours Close to: Lashio – The capital of the Shan state! Where to Stay: Mr Charles Guest House (private and dormitory style rooms with a great breakfast) - Book it now!
Located just 5 hours from Thailand in southern Myanamr, Hpa-an is a must visit when crossing the land border into Burma! With a landscape similar to that of Vang Vieng in Laos, this region is perfectly primed to take explode onto the tourist scene in the coming years.
Bustling markets, delicious local foods, friendly locals, and stunning sunsets are just a few of the attractions of Hpa-an. You can hike the ominous Zwegabin Mountain to visit the monastry on its peak, visit the incredible Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda and cave temples of Saddan and Kawgun Caves, relax by the Yae Ta Khon swimming pool and waterfall, all before hiking the smaller Hpa-Pu hill for sunset. You should know: Hpa-an is a university town, as so is filled with great cafes, restaurants and local hangouts perfect to chill out and take a few selfies with locals at! Getting there: • Bus from the Myawaddy border crossing (5-hours) • Bus from Yangon (6-7 hours) Close to: Bago – An city of rare beauty, Bago is filled with amazing pagodas, temples and a palace all worth visiting! Where to Stay: Soe Brothers 2 Guest House (private rooms) - Book it now!
Hopefully this list of the best off the beaten path locations in south east Asia has inspired you to travel somewhere different during your next holiday!
Our Guest Travel Blogger Caden Allison is an Adventerous Off the Beaten Path Traveller from Australia, who do a lot of travel in Asia. Follow him on Instagram for more Adventure Travel Off the Beaten Track and Travel Inspiration.