There’s no doubt that parts of Southeast Asia are idyllic paradises that everyone should tick off their bucket list. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, to name three, are countries that are untouched in places and home to some of the natural wonders of the world. One thing which travelers can’t deny is the globalization of the region. Americans, Britons and Europeans flock to the place on a yearly basis and SE Asia has changed as a result. Phi Phi, for example, was a stunning island with jagged cliff rocks used in the movie “The Beach.” Now, it’s a haven for tourists looking to party and have a good time. To be truthful, it takes away from the experience.
To avoid the region altogether would be madness. From the temples in Chiang Mai and Angkor Wat to Ha Long Bay, there’s plenty to see and visit. The majority of it makes even the most ardent traveler’s story. But, doing “the circuit”, as it is now known, may not appeal, especially if you are an older traveler. With that in mind, below you will find six places off the beaten track. Are you ready? Good, then let’s go!
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Don’t let the name put you off because there is nothing wrong with this island. Located off the coast of Sihanoukville, it’s about a 45 to 60-minute boat ride into the blue. Even though it’s close to one of the most popular hotspots in the country, it is virtually untouched. Okay, some tourists like to have a drink and party into the night, but you are traveling so it’s to be expected! Regarding the scenery, the sand is less golden and more powdery white. The effect is pretty stunning as it makes it look like a Caribbean beach than the ones you tend to find in Southeast Asia. As always, the water is turquoise blue and crystal clear, making it perfect for diving. The dive sites aren’t great, but there’s plenty of snorkeling spots which are amazing for whiling away a day. Then, once you’ve had enough, just jump back on a boat and head to the mainland for $3.50 marlin, salad and fries.
Avid travelers may see this and think “that’s not off the beaten track! I call BS!” wait there a minute; please let this blog blow your mind with a nuanced and well-thought-out explanation. Java is popular because of Jakarta, right? Some people may even go to central to Yogyakarta and the historic temples. Admit it, though; there isn’t much on the hit list after these few places. In fact, plenty of people decide to use the transport links in the capital to head to Bali. The idea of scaling the island and making it all the way to the east is quite original, but east Java is where you will find some hidden gems. Without a doubt, the best secrets are the volcanoes that erupt to this day. Being Indonesia, visitors can walk to the top and descend into the crater like it ain’t no thang. Mount Ijen is fantastic for this reason, plus the sulfur and lava mix to form a blue light which is pretty spectacular.
Indonesia will feature in any list of hidden gems in Southeast Asia because there are hundreds. We’ll focus on Lombok, but the Gilis deserve mention, as does Kalimantan (Borneo), Timor Leste (formerly of Indonesia) and Komodo. The reason Lombok gets the nod above the rest is publicity. Head to Bali and the question you’ll hear is “are you going to Gili Air?” When you ask “why?”, people look at you strange as if you should be sectioned. Yes, these islands are amazing but they have suffered, a lot like Bali itself and the likes of Ko Tao and Phuket. Tourists hit up Lombok, to borrow a phrase from the kids, but they don’t descend on it in their thousands. Tourism is less noticeable and it has left the place less commercialized, which means the atmosphere is chill. The Pink Beach and Mount Rinjani are must-sees, people. LK is an incredible base to see the rest of the islands, too. From there, it’s a short flight to Komodo to wake a sleeping dragon.
Ko Lipe, Thailand
Are you looking for an island that represents the old Thailand? One without the hustle and bustle of westerners trying to get drunk? For those who answer yes, Samui and Pha-ngan are out of the question, as is Phuket, Krabi and pretty much anything else in the vicinity. The only place to find a suitable alternative is deep in the south of the country. Just off the town of Satun in southwest lies Ko Lipe, which, legend has it, is owned by sea gypsies. Whether that’s the politically correct name is neither here nor there once these traveler people drop you off on the beach. Only a small island, there isn’t a great deal to do other than relax, soak up the sun and enjoy the food and drink. In a place as idyllic as this, it’s not a problem because chilling is addictive. Should the need to stretch your legs raise its head, just take a trek to the top of the island and watch the sunset. Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds.
Think of Malaysia and you’ll instantly see Kuala Lumpur in your mind’s eye. Maybe a house for rent Malaysia style and a place to retire in your golden years. Take it one step further and imagine an island and Penang is bound to pop up. After all, it’s a fantastic place full of art, history and culture. Just to its northeast, however, is another bucket list item called Langkawi. You may not have heard of it, but this is the whole point of this list. In fact, Langkawi is only a short boat journey from Satun. And, you don’t need to bother with passports and all that nonsense. Honestly, the “authorities” let you pass through just like a true traveler. When you’re there, be sure to test out the cable car because it offers superb views of the region. The Tanjung Sanctuary is rather special too. The jewel in the crown, though, is Payar Island. That’s right – it’s off the beaten track, off the beaten track! There isn’t a great deal on the rock, but it’s an excellent site for diving, snorkeling and a host of water-based activities.
The Four Thousand Islands, Laos
How on earth are there 4000 islands that are off the beaten track? Well, it’s a good question, and the answer is there aren’t! Sorry about that! Jokes aside, Si Phan Don is an area that is popular with tourists, but there are so many places to see that some are less built up. For example, Don Det is a major player in the tourism industry in this region. Stay there and you’ll see lots of white people with dreadlocks boasting about how good they are at bumming around. Head to Don Khong, on the other hand, and locals are living a simple life and cattle are roaming around without a care in the world. There are paddy fields, or the equivalent, and a river that morphs into rapids and waterfalls and back again. Mainly, there is a level of peace which is difficult to find in today’s culture. A great tip is to rent a push bike and explore the islands one-by-one. Thanks to the new bridges, there is no need to hire a boat.
Do you know of any secret hotspots? Are you willing to divulge the information to the group?