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We love finding wild corners of the world. We also know that traveling to a new country often means you want to see the iconic sites - more often than not they're must-see destinations for a reason! So, here's a list of places that you can include in your next adventure to Southeast Asia that are just a hop, skip, and a jump off the main path. You can have the best of both worlds - visit the iconic sites and then take a detour to see parts of the world others have yet to discover.
1. Hsipaw, Myanmar: Myanmar is just opening up to the world and visitors have been busy stamping out a well-trod tourist path. Hsipaw, located in the northeast of Myanmar, lies close enough to Mandalay to be accessible but just far enough away to deter any but the intrepid traveler. This delightful city combines intriguing history (it was once a Shan royal city) with picturesque, otherworldly countryside. Visit one of the largest and best markets in all of Myanmar, bike through the paddy fields, or visit one of the remote monasteries that litter the countryside. Schedule more time here than you think you’ll need, we guarantee you’ll be happy you did.
Long story short: Genuine Northern Shan town, countryside vistas, royal history
Itinerary: Myanmar: Highlights of a Golden Land
2. Gal Oya, Sri Lanka: Gal Oya is like a matryoshka doll – the few who make it to Sri Lanka rarely visit the spectacular east coast and those who do rarely make it to this gem of a national park. The east coast of Sri Lanka was just named one of 52 places to go in 2016 by the NY Times and Gal Oya is one of its stars. Gal Oya boats Sri Lanka’s largest inland body of water which means you can head off on safari by boat or jeep. The park is known for its Asian elephants which you will likely get to see swimming in the lake – a rare spectacle indeed! Gal Oya is also home to the Vedda tribe, Sri Lanka’s aboriginal people who will take you into the forest and show you how to live off of the land.
Long story short: Swimming elephants, Sri Lankan leopards, safaris by boat, jeep, and plane, jungle exploration with the Vedda tribe
Itinerary: Wild Sri Lanka
3. Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia: It’s impossible to visit an ancient city complex and not wonder what it must have been like at the height of its glory.. Angkor Wat, one of the most iconic of these sites, is a must see for everyone. However, if crowds cramp your style consider adding Banteay Chhmar to your itinerary before or after the mighty Angkor. Set in the countryside of Cambodia, Banteay Chhmar is a group of 12th century Khmer temples that have remained relatively untouched and undiscovered for nearly 800 years. Banteay sees few visitors and will offer you the unique chance to wander through inspired Khmer temples completely alone. Let your imagination run wild and know that you’re also helping to contribute to the community based tourism project that runs this area.
Long story short: Stand alone in 12C Khmer temple ruins, experience a friendly community in the countryside of Cambodia, far from the crowds at Angkor
Itinerary: Thailand Cambodia Overland Explorer
4. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand: Thailand is famous for its temples, its pad thai, and its elephants but its spectacular national parks gets less love than they deserve. Khao Sok, located south of Bangkok and north of the islands, is a lowland jungle that is believed to be one of the world’s oldest (160 million years). Explore the waterfalls, massive trees, inland lakes, and dramatic limestone formations through a network of trails that zig-zags this vast terrain. Boat safaris are also available and you can stay within the jungle in luxe style at one of the floating bungalow resorts.
Long story short: Unlimited jungle exploration, kayaking, hiking, floating bungalows
Itinerary: Jungles & Islands of Southern Thailand
5. Bhutan: Bhutan, aka Druk Yul the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a land where nature and culture coexist in harmony. Snow-capped peaks rise above lush green valleys and dzongs and monasteries perch on the hillsides. It’s a nation where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product in an attempt to strike a balance between the spiritual and the material. The Bhutanese pride themselves on a sustainable approach to tourism. Their philosophy is low volume, high value - incredibly important to a nation that so fiercely guards its traditions and natural beauty. It is a unique honor to travel in Bhutan. When you visit Bhutan, you become one of the few that has experienced a modern day Shangri La, where the rice is red, the dancers masked, and the mountains sacred.
Long story short: Vibrant Buddhist culture, trekking in the Himalayas, few tourists, living culture, colorful festivals throughout the year
Itinerary: Paro Tsechu Active Adventure
6. Mekong Delta, Vietnam: If you want to see a genuine water-based market, you have to travel to Can Tho, the largest town in the delta of the Mekong River in Vietnam. The bustling town contrasts with the lazy flow of the Mekong and the life and markets that coexist with it. To experience the pulse of delta life, sunrise and sunset trips aboard traditional sampans will show you a side of this water world you could never see any other way. A myriad of canals and vibrant green rice paddies criss-cross the landscape offering seemingly infinite options for exploration. Take this opportunity to float through the mangrove forests which hide countless species of birds, crumbling temples and pagodas, and even Viet Cong bunkers.
Long story short: Floating markets, mangrove forests, Mekong river life
Itinerary: Ultimate Vietnam and Cambodia
7. Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar: The Mergui Archipelago is about as untouched as you can get in this day and age. Located on the southern tip of Myanmar, formerly Burma, this group of 800 islands was only opened to the public in the late 90s. The government is not allowing any construction within the area which means the only way to see this area is by boat. The only people populating the Mergui are the Mokens, a group of sea nomads who have been living off the water and land for centuries. If you’re ready to explore a truly untouched destination, the Mergui is for you!
Long story short: 800 islands untouched by modern day construction, world class snorkeling and sailing, cultural interaction with the Moken sea nomads
Itinerary: Myanmar (extension)
8. Gibbon Experience, Laos: Ready to channel your inner Tarzan? The Gibbon Experience is located in Northern Laos, right across the border from Thailand in the Nam Kan National Park. This NP encompasses 136,000 hectares of pristine Lao forest and is a shelter to rare wildlife and Laos’ largest tree! With the gibbon experience you get to spend 1-2 nights in canopy-level tree houses, perched high above the forest and with one of the best seats from which to observe gibbons, birds, giant squirrels, langurs, loris etc. The treehouses are the highest in the world, constructed up to 40m above the ground and accessed via a series of zip lines. There are currently 15km of lines with some stretching up to 600m! The Gibbon Experience was created to help protect this natural area and they do so with daily park patrols, reforestation, community education and employment, and sustainable agriculture.
Long story short: Highest treehouses in the world, gibbons on your doorstep, ziplines, untouched tropical forest
Itinerary: Traversing the Northern Highlands (extension)
9. Raja Ampat, Indonesia: Raja Ampat sits at the heart of The Coral Triangle and is home to the most diverse, exceptional and plentiful underwater species of coral and marine life in the world. So stunning, it has been dubbed “Heaven on Earth” for its paradisaical beauty. Raja Ampat is without a doubt one of the least visited but most memorable adventure destinations on our planet where there is still tremendous opportunity to for authentic experiences. These aquamarine waters thrive with over 75% of the world’s known coral species and the largest diversity of marine fish life to be found anywhere on the planet. Plus, you get to spend your days exploring this underwater garden from one of our favorite “hotels” in SE Asia, the Ombak Putih
Long story short: 75% of the world’s coral, tropical paradise, floating luxury hotel
Itinerary: Snorkel and Kayak Southern Raja Ampat
10. Si Phan Don and the Bolaven Plateau, Laos: Laos, situated between Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, remains the least visited of these 4 countries. The Mekong delta in the south remains the least visited in Laos even though Si Phan Don, the land of 4,0000 islands, offers some of the most beautiful landscapes and opportunities for exploration in the region. Slip into the sleepy rhythm of southern Laos and kayak or bike along the quiet dirt roads and babbling tributaries. Explore crumbling Angkorian temples, seek out pink dolphins, try out the blossoming coffee scene in the cool Bolaven plateau, or simply relax by the mighty Mekong.
Long story short: 4,0000 islands to explore by kayak and bike, coffee hub of se asia, pink dolphins, deserted ruins
Itinerary: Pearls of Indochina Active Adventure
Your Asia guru,