In the latest of a series of guest posts from Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com, Matt tell us of the different places you can go to in Southeast Asia that haven’t succumbed to mass tourism. Instead, here you might even find a beach to yourself. To keep up-to-date with Matt you can follow him on Twitter and like his page on Facebook.
In Southeast Asia, you’ll find a heavily trodden tourist trail with many things to do, places to see and parties to attend. Since the hippies first made their way through here in the 1970s, Southeast Asia has been a mecca for budget travellers and backpackers alike. With its warm weather, good food, gorgeous beaches and relative cheapness, there’s a reason why the place has remained a travel mainstay for over 40 years.
But most travellers stick to the beaten path, never leaving to explore the quieter, more exciting and more exotic locations of Southeast Asia. If you really want to escape the crowds and learn about the local culture, here are some suggestions to take you off the well-worn trail.
Chill out in Kep, Cambodia
This quiet French colonial town is a nice alternative to Sihanoukville, the fast-paced party capital of Cambodia. Kep’s beaches are equally as nice but you won’t find as many people here. You can get to Kep by detouring in Kampot instead of going right to Sihanoukville. This quiet town sees fewer tourists and is generally ‘more Cambodian’ than Sihanoukville. Make sure you also take time out to visit nearby Rabbit Island, a virtually deserted island paradise.
Visit a national park in Vietnam
Most people travel to Vietnam and take the typical nature tours of Halong Bay, Sapa and the Mekong Delta. However, Vietnam has a plethora of national parks that allow each traveller to see what I think is the best part of Vietnam – its natural beauty. Most of the parks go unvisited by tourists who stick to the more popular destinations. They offer rewarding scenery, excellent trails, hidden gems and a little bit of solitude from the masses.
Take the train through central Thailand
Very few travellers take the day train that runs through central Thailand. Instead, they opt for the night train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok and while this saves time, you miss out on a lot of the natural beauty of your surroundings. Take the train up through the countryside, stopping at Thailand’s three historic capitals – Sukhothai, Ayytthuya, and Lopburi. On the train, enjoy the jungle as you fly past it and dine on delicious and cheap Thai food that’s sold between stops.
Bike the Mekong Delta in Vietnam
The flat area of the Mekong Delta is perfect for multi-day (or single day) bike trips. You can escape out of Ho Chi Minh and bike all the way up to the Cambodian border. Numerous companies offer bike tours but if you’re more comfortable on a bike, I’d recommend going alone. You get to go at your own pace and explore whatever you want. I may not be a huge fan of Vietnam, but I loved biking the delta.
Visit Northeast Thailand
Sometimes referred to as the Isaan, this area is mostly rice paddies and dusty towns. Most people don’t speak English here and there are few major attractions. The roads are less frequently paved, the towns have fewer services and you won’t find luxury hotels here but if you really want to see life in Thailand outside the big cities, this where you need to visit. It’s a look into Thai culture few people bother to see.
Find a random Thai island
Ko Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Phuket, Ko Chang, Ko Tao – you’ve heard the names. They are all amazing islands – but they are also some of the busiest in Thailand. Secluded beach life is hard to come by here. You may find it, but only for a fleeting moment. If you really want peace and quiet, find a random island. Beach paradise is out there, it just takes a little searching to discover it. But that’s what getting off the path requires. Some good recommendations are: Koh Jum, Koh Ravi, Koh Maak, Koh Taratao.
Meander through Southern Laos
Most people tend to skip through Laos, hitting only the major destinations on their way to Vietnam or before looping back into Thailand. They see Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Luang Prabang – the major sites. There isn’t much to do in Laos and the road is pretty rough, so most people neglect the really exciting part – the south. Laos is a rugged land but the south is even more rugged. Don’t miss a chance to check out this area, especially the amazing Si Phan Don, a large river delta with over 4,000 islands to see.
Leave Bali and the Gilis behind in Indonesia
Most travellers go to Indonesia and visit Bali before heading to the Gili islands to party and scuba dive. But there’s more to Indonesia than these places. Head to the islands of Lombok and Flores and avoid the majority of crowds in Indonesia. Sulawesi and Sumatra are also far off the tourist trail and offer a far better view of the diversity in Indonesian society than the famous Kuta Beach!
Southeast Asia covers a vast region of the world yet travellers tend to stick to only a few locations, leaving tons of opportunities for you to leave the crowds behind, get off the tourist trail and see something truly unique. The Full Moon Party will always be there. Angkor Wat will be there. Khao San Road has been full of backpackers for 40 years. Get off the beaten path and get better stories!Photos courtesy of Phil Blackburn, Lars Olsen and omefrans. All images used under the Creative Commons license.