Southeast Asia may not be famous for its hikes, but the region has its fair share of spectacular trails. It’s not that it’s difficult finding good hikes in Southeast Asia, it’s more if they’re worth exploring, given the proximity of Nepal, China and Japan.
As adventure travel and hiking specialists in Asia, we say yes, they definitely are! To give you a taste of the great outdoor experiences that await you in this spectacularly diverse part of the world, we’ve selected the best hikes in Southeast Asia, broken down into categories to suit your hiking style.
Find out which are the most famous, the most breathtakingly beautiful, the most culturally immersive, the most intense and the most remote.
Pack your kit and put your boots on, we’re going on an adventure!
Hike #1 – Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
Altitude: 4,095m (13,435 feet)
Day 1: 5-7 hours
Day 2: 3-5 hours
Difficulty level: Not hard as far as hikes go. General fitness required – very accessible with experienced guides and ropes to hold onto.
Why we love it
- UNESCO World Heritage Site with biodiverse rainforest
- Relatively easy overnight summit climb
- Easily accessible via Kota Kinabalu
- Amazing sunrise views at the top
Probably the most famous, and definitely one of the best hikes in Southeast Asia, the Mount Kinabalu summit climb has “peaked” in popularity in recent years. Some of this is due to the media attention brought by a group of travelers who took a nude photo at the mountain’s sacred summit (and were subsequently fined and deported). An earthquake shortly after the incident (which locals claim was tied to the foreigner’s lewd act), kept the majestic mountain the news.
The hype has since died, but the mountain remains a must for many travelers to Southeast Asia. There are two trails to the Low’s Peak summit – Ranau Trail and Kota Belud Trail – which both take two days and one night. Only 135 climbing permits are issued each day, so booking in advance is essential. Mount Kinabalu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich and diverse ecology, with dense rainforest full of endemic plant and animal species (such as orangutans and stinking corpse flowers). The combination of incredible scenery, lush rainforest and relative accessibility make this one of Southeast Asia’s most famous hikes.
Hike #2 – Mounts Penanjakan and Bromo, Indonesia
Mount Penanjakan: 2,770m
Mount Bromo: 2,392m
Difficulty: Relatively easy and OK for fit beginners. The difficulty lies in hiking in the dark on sandy surfaces.
To Mount Penanjakan from Cemoro Lawang: 2 hours
From Mt Bromo to Cemoro Lawang: 2-3 hours.
Why we love it
- Otherworldly volcanic landscapes
- Sunrise views
- Relatively easy hiking
- It’s a classic!
This famous pair of volcanoes on the island of Java is a must-see for many traveling through Indonesia. A sunrise hike to see dawn break over Mount Bromo and its otherworldly terrain has become an iconic travel experience and is included in any good tour of Java. These trips usually start from Cemoro Lawang around 3am. Many tourists opt to drive to the lookout point, but you have the option to hike to View Point 1 on Mount Penanjakan. If so, you’ll be hiking in the dark over black-grey volcanic ash, in order to reach the summit before the sun rises (and ideally before the crowds arrive, if you want the best viewpoint). You’ll need a torch and some non-slip boots for this bit, plus a jacket to keep you warm in the predawn hours. The hike to the mountain takes around two hours.
After sunrise, you can hike down the ashen caldera (or go by hired bike or jeep) across the Sea of Sand and then ascend Mount Bromo. It takes 45 minutes to climb the stairs to the rim of the crater, over which plumes of white smoke billow, reminding you that you’re standing on the edge of an active volcano! Pair this with an ever-present rumbling coming from deep within the mountain and you suddenly feel very small.
Hike #3 – Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia
Difficulty: Moderate – hikers must be fit and preferably have some experience in overnight hiking
Day 1: 5-6 hours (crater rim)
Day 2: 3 hours (summit) 2-3 hours (lake)
Day 3: 5-6 hours (descend)
Why we love it
- A good overnight hike that’s accessible to fit, enthusiastic beginners
- Can stop at the crater rim, if desired
- Hot springs and beautiful views of the bright-blue crater lake
- Easy to add to a Lombok Island tour
Gunung Rinjani is an active volcano that rises 3,726 meters above sea level on Indonesia’s lovely Lombok Island (the second-tallest volcano in Indonesia). It stands out for its pure-blue crater lake, at 2,000 meters elevation, for its hot springs and for its overall scenic beauty.
There are two routes you can take up the mountain: one from Sembalun and one from Senaru, the Senaru route is steeper and more rocky but is also more shaded and scenic. Senaru takes you through flatter terrain – it’s unshaded, but because it’s easier, you’ll get to the summit in two days, if that is your goal. Or, you can go up one way and come down the other if time permits.
A trek up Mount Rinjani takes you through dense rainforest full of monkeys, with increasing mist (and decreasing temperatures) the higher you go. It takes around 5-6 hours to reach the crater rim, where you’ll typically camp overnight so you can watch sunrise over the lake in the morning. Cue spectacular views and a quick camp breakfast before heading down to the lake itself and its hot springs for a rewarding dip.
While some trekkers are satisfied with a crater-rim climb, others won’t settle for anything less than the summit. If that’s you, you’ll stay overnight at the summit base camp, then wake up pre-dawn the next morning for the remaining 3-hour trek to the top. The last couple hundred meters are the hardest, due to steep, crumbling rocks, but the sunrise views over the summit make it more than worth it.
Hike #4 – Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar
From Kalaw to Inle Lake: 61km
Difficulty: An easy hike for those with moderate fitness.
Day 1: 21 kilometers or 7-8 hours (village homestay)
Day 2: 23 kilometers or 7-8 hours (monastery stay)
Day 3: 17 kilometers – 5 hours (Inle Lake)
Why we love it
- Rich cultural experience
- Beautiful flower fields and rolling mountain landscapes
- Village homestays
- Enjoyable trip for all levels
If you like to mix culture with nature and you’re not exactly the typical trekking type, this hike through Myanmar’s picturesque Shan State is for you. Starting out in the hill town of Kalaw, this journey takes you through rolling mountain landscapes and lots of small villages, where local kids greet travelers with unrelenting enthusiasm. One thing you’ll notice, aside from the fresh mountain air and bucolic views, is that not much seems to have changed in this part of the world for the better part of a century. Buffalo wander around, farmers work rice paddocks and tea plantations by hand and kids play in the streets – and it’s these glimpses of such a simple yet satisfying life that prove as affecting and humbling as any summit climb.
Most hikes from Kalaw to Inle Lake take a 3-day, 2-night route, covering around 17 to 23 kilometers per day. Guided tours will typically arrive at Inle Lake around lunch time on the third day, after which you’ll head to the main local village of Nyaungshwe. Though not a challenging journey, a moderate fitness level is required for walking up and down hills, through canola and chili fields and back and forth across the train lines.
NB. If you’ve arranged for a guided tour, which is recommended due to a completely un-signposted trail, food and accommodation will be included in the price. Also, be cognizant of the season – some months are very hot (April-May), while others are rainy (June – October), so try to do the trip between November and February.
Hike#5 The Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia
Mount Aural: 1,813
Difficulty: Moderately challenging, some previous trekking experience recommended
Time: Treks from 3-6.5 days
Why we love it
- Dense, “untouched” jungles
- Rich habitat for wildlife
- Well off the beaten path
Less than two decades ago, the Cardamom Mountains (Krâvanh Mountains) were literally a battleground as Vietnamese soldiers sought to drive out the Khmer Rouge hiding out there. Today, having just opened to travelers, they’re part of Cambodia’s growing ecotourism industry, and when it comes to getting well off the tourist trail, they offer the best hikes in Southeast Asia. The war and the relative inaccessibility of the range has kept the jungles largely intact – a lush habitat for up to 70 different mammal species including clouded leopards, sun bears, gibbons and elephants.
The highest peak in the range is Phnom Aural, at 1,813 meters, though a summit climb may not be as rewarding as a trek deep into the forest to marvel at its oldest trees. The ‘gateway’ town to trekking the mountains is Chi Phat, from which point numerous walks, hikes and harder treks can be arranged. Some highlights include swimming in waterfalls, visiting bat caves, spotting wildlife and exploring ancient burial sites littered with 500-year-old burial jars.
If you’re set on the summit, you can do it in a 3-day trek from Srae Kan, ascending through thick bamboo forests, through streams and – for the last few hundred metres, up a steep incline – until you get to a small shrine at the top.
Hike #6 – Oudomxay, Laos
Difficulty: Easy – moderate fitness recommended
Time: One day – 5 hours of walking
Why we love it
- Meet different hill tribes
- Hiking mixed with cultural experiences
- Beautiful mountain terrain
Oudomxay Province, in the mountains of far northern Laos, is home to 14 different indigenous ethnic groups. From the capital, Muang La, you can take an easy day-trip into the lush mountain landscape to visit some of these groups in a hike that takes you through spectacular, virtually untouched, wilderness.
A hike to the villages of Huay Ho and Long Ya, just outside Muang La, begins with a short 4WD trip to a forest trailhead. Winding along a mountain trail you’ll soon reach Huay Ho, home to the ethnic Kamu,where you’ll spend time learning about local life, beliefs, work, religious rituals and the general day-to-day before continuing deeper into the forest.
You’ll climb higher, tracing a creek upstream from the Nam Pak river, until you reach a beautiful valley – home to Ban Phonsavan, belonging to the Lao Loum people. Typically, a picnic lunch will be taken here, so you can soak up the views and the mountain serenity. After lunch, your hike will take you through farmland to Long Ya Village, where the Yang people reside. After spending some time here, you’ll hike onwards to see a 35-meter-long reclining Buddha statue and a Buddha footprint hidden in the forest at Wat Hoytinphabath.
With a total of 5 walking hours, this is a hike for the outdoorsy anthropologist rather than the aspiring Edmund Hillary – perfect for the start or end of a longer Laos holiday.
Hike #7 – Mae Hong Son hill-tribe hike, Thailand
Difficulty: Easy – moderate fitness recommended
Time: Most tours feature a few hours of hiking per day, interspersed with relaxed village homestays.
Why we love it
- Homestays in various local hill tribes
- Fun cultural experiences
- Easy trekking
- Knowledgeable guide to act as interpreter
The mountains of Northern Thailand offer the best hikes in Southeast Asia if you’re fascinated by hill tribe life. You’ll find a high concentration of diverse ethnic villages in a reasonably small area, allowing you to explore more than one over the course of a few days. There are numerous routes available in Mae Hong Song province, so finding one that suits you should not be difficult.
On a typical Northern Thailand hill tribe trek, you’ll start in the provincial capital, also called Mae Hong Son, and depending on which direction you head in, you may visit Ban Jabo, belonging to the Black Lahu people. To really get a feel for local culture, you can arrange a homestay and be shown around the village to learn about the group’s spiritual beliefs and their symbiotic relationship with nature.
Nearby, there are Shan villages, such as Ban Mae Lana, where you can again arrange a homestay and be shown around by your host family. It’s the best way to learn about local arts and crafts – and as many of these villages are specifically licensed to host foreigners, you can reasonably expect to be treated to a special cultural performance in the evening.
Other hill tribes in the area include the Karen, the Kayan and the Hmong, and certain hikes will take you into the incredibly scenic Nam Tok Surin National Park. It’s important to note that hill tribe hikes should only be done with reputable guides and tour companies to ensure they’re done sensitively to the village communities they visit. Too many travelers can disrupt the harmony of village life and cause communities to break up.
Most Intense Hikes
Hike #8 – Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
Difficulty: High – caving, rock climbing and multi-day trekking experience necessary
Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
Length: 25km jungle trek plus 7km caving
Why we love it
- Virtually unexplored
- Incredible terrain
- The thrill of caving and rainforest hiking
A hike to the largest cave in the world should certainly rouse your inner explorer. Famously, Son Doong Cave in Vietnam was only ‘discovered’ in 1991, adding to its mysterious allure. Its position in dense Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park makes it even more appealing to hikers who like to take the trail less trodden. There’s somewhat of an exclusive vibe to this hike. Permits are expensive and limited, and even though tours are on the pricey side (around USD 4,000 for a 4-day trip), they sell out quickly. It’s easy to see why.
On a four-day subterranean journey you will pass through a 5km cavern wide and high enough for a 747 to fly through. You’ll see stalacmites up to 70 meters high. You’ll see rock formations you never knew existed, such as cave pearls. You’ll walk through underground forests with their own weather system. You’ll have to rope-climb, scramble over boulders and wade through multiple streams, all while adhering to strict safety regulations. It’s an arduous adventure, but one few can say they’ve done, giving it a truly adventurous sheen.
Hike #9 – Batad Rice Terraces, Philippines
Difficulty: Moderate – there are LOTS of stairs, possible rain and high humidity
Duration: 1-3 days
Why we love it
- An amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Stunning green rice terraces
- You have the option to do a shorter or longer tour
- There’s no internet in the valley, so you are forced to disconnect
Batad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its cluster of 2,000-year-old rice terraces make this challenging trek one of the most beautiful hikes in Southeast Asia. Beginning in Banaue, which you can get to via overnight bus from Manila, your actual hike starts at Batad Junction, accessible via bike or jeepney. From there, you need to get to the Batad Saddle, where you then descend through terraced rice fields to get to Batad village, nestled right in the center of them.
Rice terraces are just like giant sets of green stairs running up and down towering mountains, and this ‘hike’ similarly will take you up and down countless stone steps. You’ll be led up to the top tiers for spectacular views over emerald hills as your quads scream out in pain, then down again to see the Tappia waterfall for a break and some cooling mist from the falls, then up again to your guesthouse. If you are taking a multi-day guided tour of Batad Rice Terraces you may make the 20km hike to the remote village of Cambulo, accessible only on foot. Consider ramping up your lunge and squat routine before embarking on a hike to the Batad Rice Terraces.
Our Favorite Hikes
Hike #10 – Wildlife hiking in Bako National Park, Malaysian Borneo
Bukit Gondol: 2,660m
Lintang (loop trail): 3-4 hours
Telok Limau (beach hike): 6-7 hours
Telok Sibur (long-beach hike): full day
Difficulty: from easy to moderately challenging
Why we love it
- Bako has hikes for all ages and abilities
- Plenty of wildlife that is accustomed to humans
- Easy to combine with a city tour of Kuching
Who wouldn’t love a hike where you get to see proboscis monkeys, otters and bearded pigs doing their thing in the wild? There are myriad ways to see the wildlife of Borneo, but our favorite is via a family-friendly hike through Bako National Park in Sabah, Malaysia. Bako is the smallest national park in Malaysian Borneo and therefore easiest to navigate. It offers 16 color-coded jungle trails that range in difficulty, from full-day and overnight hikes to leisurely jungle walks the whole family can enjoy.
The park has trails recommended just for spotting its resident proboscis monkeys. There are others that loop through all the different types of vegetation in the park. There’s one that leads up the highest point in the park, Bukit Gondol (2,660m). And there’s a full-day hike that takes you through dense jungles and mangroves to a long, white-sand beach.
Bako offers the best hikes in Southeast Asia for spotting not only proboscis monkeys but other animal species such as silver leaf-monkeys, wild boar and mouse deer. Long-tailed macaques are also a common sight, often seen ransacking unattended bags for food.
NB. Your best chance to see wildlife is around dawn and dusk, when the animals are most active.
Hike #11 – Sapa, Vietnam
Half-day tour: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Easy, provided you are moderately fit and appropriately attired
One of our favorite ways to experience the lush, green northern mountains of Vietnam is via a Sapa rice terrace hike. While it’s possible to do a summit climb to the ‘rooftop of Indochina’, Mount Fansipan (3,143m), for a more leisurely experience of this pristine environment, we prefer a hike of 3 or 4 hours while enjoying views of Fansipan in the distance. A shorter day-hike can be easily integrated into a longer Vietnam tour for those who want to keep their energy for more traveling.
Much like the Batad rice terraces, the lush, emerald-colored paddies of Sapa are truly a sight for sore eyes. Coupled with the vibrant hues of the Black Hmong people’s embroidered clothing and you have some of Vietnam’s most breathtaking scenery. From the town of Sapa you can embark on a half-day hike through the rice terraces to visit various ethnic villages, such as Cat Cat village and the townships of the Red Dzao and Giay people. If you want to explore farther into the valleys, there are longer overnight hikes or 2 and 3 days where you can arrange homestays.
As a former hilltown of the French, Sapa is an interesting place to explore in its own right, with a bustling local market where all the local ethnic groups congregate.
NB. Even if you’re only doing a short hike, it’s recommended that you wear hiking boots or sturdy trainers. The terrain in slippery, muddy, rocky, uneven and crumbling, so you’ll need all the foot support you can get. Also strongly consider bringing wet-weather gear.
Hike #12 – Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Hikes: from full-day to multi-day
Difficulty: mostly easy for moderately fit people
Why we love it
- Untamed wilderness
- Stunning lake and mountain scenery
- Can visit an elephant camp
- Good for all ages
- Can stay close to the park, so it’s easily accessible
Khao Sok is one of Thailand’s most incredible national parks, with a total area of more than 4,000kmsq. It’s simply massive. Due to its size and its protected status, it’s home to legitimately “wild” wilderness, with immense limestone cliffs, a mountain lake, towering bamboo forests, giant flowers, elephants and tangled jungle trails. With such a rich environment, it offers the best hikes in Southeast Asia if you like to mix your hiking with kayaking, waterfall swimming, night safaris and sailing amid limestone karst formations.
Khao Sok also gives you options for hiking. There are well-marked beginner trails and organized tours that include overnight stays at an elephant camp with Asian elephants and their mahouts. Then there are more challenging hikes that involve rappelling down waterfalls and using only a riverbed as a trail. For harder hikes, a guided tour is naturally recommended, as parts of the “trails” may not be blazed or marked in any way.
Khao Sok is a destination in its own right, and worth a couple days of exploration if you have the time. Stay in an iconic overwater cabin, see troops of monkeys on a regular basis, go tubing along the river – there’s plenty to do here when you’re taking a rest between hikes.
Did we mention your favorite hike in Southeast Asia? Got a favorite trail you’d like to share with us? Give us your picks, tricks and tips in the comments.