South east Asia has been a permanent fixture in the gap year industry and backpacker trail for decades, and for good reason. Places like Bangkok, Bali and Singapore are some of the worlds finest destinations with some major attractions that draw travellers from all over the world, but even in these touristy meccas you can find some real off the beaten path destinations that few travellers and even fewer tourists get to. Here are the top off the beaten path destinations in south east Asia.
South east Asia is filled with tourists and travellers and it is really hard to find somewhere not filled with them, especially as time goes on even the once off the beaten track places eventually get filled up! I remember in the mid or late noughties being one of only a very small number of backpackers on Koh Rong in Cambodia and now it is really built up! But if you know where to go there are still a lot of places that you can escape the crowds and let you explore on your own terms beyond the obvious!
Here are the best, off the beaten track destinations in south east Asia from a traveller who has been exploring the region for twenty years!Tweet
Palau Tioman, Malaysia.
When you think of tropical islands in south east Asia, Malaysia is already a little off the beaten track as most travellers head to the far more famous and popular neighbouring Thai islands to the north, but even in Malaysia the Perhentian islands and Palau Langkawi are world renowned as absolute tourist paradises, and are full of travellers as a result. My favourite island in Malaysia though is Palau Tioman, further down south and nearer to the border of Singapore than Thailand. You still get the usual backpackers there but it is far less crowded and far more laid back than its northern counterparts and if you take the trouble to get over to Juara beach in the off season you are quite likely to be pretty secluded!
Koh Kood, Thailand.
Koh Kood, sometimes called Koh Kut, is not exactly off the beaten path because it does have a strong backpacker scene here but for now it has zero tourists and backpackers are still relatively few and far between, which by Thai island standards is relatively deserted! There are some great beach huts and guesthouses here and the interior has some great waterfall and temple trails where you aren’t likely to meet anyone on the way other than the occasional local monk!
When you think of northern Thailand most people think of Chiang Mai or Rai, those once backpacker friendly hangouts and now gentrified digital nomad meccas, but very few travellers head over to the lesser known town of Nan. Once an autonomous kingdom in its own right and has a rich heritage for anyone with enough adventurous spirit to find it. It is an extremely laid back and well priced place to hang your hat for a while as you explore the multiple temples and surrounding national parks.
This isn’t really off the beaten track anymore as more and more travellers are discovering its charms, but for the moment at least most travellers who make the jump to Malaysian Borneo head over to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on the eastern side of the island, bypassing Kuching entirely which is a huge mistake! A unique destination in and of itself, the laid back and gentrified cat city is an amazing base to explore the jungles and national parks of Sarawak as well as the nearby Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
Located right on the southern coast of Myanmar and just over the border from Thailand’s Kanchanaburi, the capital of the Tanintharyi region is a truly hidden jewel in the Andaman sea. Unlike the extremely popular and very touristy Andaman coast in Thailand, Dawei has the same stretch of coat but with pristine, empty beaches, stunning mangrove estuaries and colonial era buildings in a small city that feels like a pristine, gentrified town. Imagine the Andaman island beaches without the crowds and the hiked prices!
The Philippines are a firm favourite on the backpacker trail, but almost everyone heads immediately to the islands. Take your time and explore the inland a little too however, and you will find the province of Albay and its capital, Legazpi. It isn’t completely bereft of travellers, with activities ranging from kayaking, trekking, ATV riding and volcano hiking to name just a few, a huge range of active exploits and daredevil activities are springing up around the near perfect cone of Mount Mayon, an active volcano along the infamous ring of fire, but it is still relatively untouched by the package tourism industry which is still rare enough in the Philippines to get it on this list!
Loei Province, Thailand.
Loei province in Thailand’s north eastern Isaan region is still an area of Thailand very few travellers get to. Nestled right along the Mekong river and bordering Laos, the mixture of mountains, rice paddies and untouched countryside means that travellers can really get away from the more touristy side of Thailand and still enjoy some of the most beautiful national parks in the north.
Banda Neira, Indonesia.
Imagine a small settlement almost unchanged from its days as an East India Company colonial trading post, surrounded by jungle and shaded by an active (well, technically active) volcano, and you have Banda Neira in Indonesia. Located in Maluku’s southern Banda archipelago, it is pretty hard to reach which is a blessing and a curse, backpackers love this place for its sheer remoteness, uncrowded dive site and smattering of small cafes and backpacker friendly guesthouses. This is what backpacking felt like in south east Asia in the late nineties!
It is not often you get to include a whole country on an off the beaten track list, but Brunei really is a small country that most travellers tend to ignore entirely! It does have a reputation for being boring, and a less than stellar political reputation which keeps some people away, but it really is a country with a rich heritage to explore, a ton of amazing food, and some amazing national parks to discover.
Labuan Bajo, Indonesia.
Labuan Bajo is a perfectly laid back fishing village and a true taste of pure, rural Indonesia. There is some backpacker infrastructure here as this is the main jumping off point for the even more off the beaten path Komodo islands (where you will really feel like you have hit the end of the world), but you can also spend an extra week or so here and explore the surrounding countryside and the stunning caves, waterfalls and volcano lakes.
The more popular destinations in south east Asia are popular for a reason and are always worth visiting, but make sure you get away from the crowds and go exploring on your own terms at least once! Part of the fun of travel is independent adventure!