Enjoy these notes about Great Day Hikes in Asia, then listen to the episode, which includes additional details and witty banter from your hosts Scott Coates and Trevor Ranges. For a Google Map of the hikes which you can follow, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Traveling by foot is perhaps the best way to see a new area. On this episode, we share our favorite day hikes in Asia. In recent months we’ve had guests on to talk about trekking in the Himalayas and we’ve told a few stories that involve trekking, including some great hikes in New Zealand. Literally traveling at ‘street level’, you meet people along the way, see key sites, can try local foods, and get some good exercise while exploring. On this episode we’ll share some of our favorite day hikes in Asia that are ideal for you to try while traveling. These can be done in a few hours, provide great views, interaction with locals, and are a ton of fun.
Being based in a big city like Bangkok as your hosts are, getting out into the forest for a nature hike isn’t something we get to do every day, so we’ve got a few actually out in nature hikes and then a couple that are in or around urban centers. The point of this episode – use your feet – get out there and walk! These hikes are in many instances actually walks and can all be conquered in a few hours with a decent pair of shoes for people in moderate shape.
Thanks to our sponsor Beervana, importers of fine craft beers in to Asia. At the moment they import into Thailand, Jakarta and Bali is next on their list. If you’re looking for some tasty craft beers, look for beervana online at: www.beervana.asia
Great Wall of China
Trevor: We both did different versions of this epic walk as part of our APLP GIST (with Hawaii’s East West Center) and got to walk on parts of the wall generally off limits to visitors. Now the wall is a bit of a drive from Beijing: 2 to 3 hours, though we may have driven a bit further. I guess the farther you drive the less touristy perhaps, but without access to more remote areas, including some of the unrestored areas of the wall, I think the Great Wall can be quite touristy (there were lots of people on the wall once we got on the public area). So I think this one is recommended if you can get access to the less touristy bits. We were even able to do some abseiling off one of the towers. If you’re interested in this one, you should PM us and we’ll try to find out who runs the outfit we went with. I think like Bill Gates and/or Warren Buffet even did the abseiling with them.
Doi Mae Salong, Thailand
Scott: In northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, there is a mainly Yunnanese town of Doi Mae Salong. Fascinating culture here with Yunnanese forming the majority of the population along with various hilltribe groups, Ahka being the main one. There are terraced tea plantations which abound, along with growing of spinach, some coffee (you’re at about 900m), corn, and other crops. You can complete a very nice 10km round-trip loop through hilltribe communities and fields, walking mainly on single track with fantastic views the entire way.
On this hike, you basically walk across and down one mountain, looking at the one on the other side of the valley, then walk up that hillside coming back. While it’s handy to have a guide, it can be done on it’s own as you can always see the main hilltop temple which dominates the town. To start, walk up to the elementary school and down the dirt road behind it, then follow the top of the mountain, along and down it, staying on top of the hill until you hit a paved road. Turn left to the bottom, across the stream, up a few hundred meters, then to the left and down and up into a pomelo farm. From here, gradually walk up and across and through tea fields and you’ll eventually come out at the police station, behind Mae Salong Villa (hotel). This will take about 3-4 hours and is incredible. Take 2-3 liters of water depending on time of year and temperature.
Railay Beach Lookout, Krabi, Thailand
Trevor: The nicest of the beaches on Krabi’s Railay peninsula is “Princess Cave Beach” which is accessible by a trail that runs behind the Rayavadee resort and through some caves that lead to the beach. Along the way you pass a rope hanging down from a steep incline, which looks daunting, and isn’t without any need for fitness or daring, but is really only difficult/dangerous for the first 5 minutes or so.
Krabi is famous for its rock climbing and this hike is near one of the popular climbing walls. So, when I asked friends about this hike this week (most of whom were climbers) they didn’t even know about the hike, which surprised me. The climb, at first, is somewhere in between climbing and hiking, so I think non-climbers are scared to go up because they think it’s a climbing thing, and climbers just go to Railay to climb and don’t notice the trail.
Either way, it’s a great little hike that leads to an amazing view of West Railay beach from above the cliff where the climbers climb. From the top you can even go down another way to an inland lake of sorts called Princess Lagoon–more of a giant tide pool really– but that bit is a bit more dangerous and I don’t think it’s really necessary. It’s cool just to walk to where you can see the unique formation.
Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia
Scott: I never get tired of visiting the Angkor Historical park and there’s something about circumnavigating temple walls that really appeals to me. This walk is just that. For the most part you’re on your own and looking at Angkor Wat from the far outside, while the second part is atop an old fortifying wall. It’s a neat opportunity to connect with nature, while marveling at the scale and scope of the monuments.
This walk can start at the east gate to Angkor Wat on the outside of Angkor Wat’s moat, then walk north to the corner, then head west to the NW corner. From there, walk out to the road, then head north to the southern gate of Angkor Thom (16km)
Trevor: I like this one, in large part because the Angkor Archeological Park is one of few areas in Cambodia that still has forest. But, as an immensely popular tourist attraction, the park is full of visitors and it’s nice to get away from the hordes and enjoy the quiet of nature. The wall around Angkor Thom is a very accessible one that very few people walk. Others in the area are the walk from Pre Rup to Ta Nei, and the trail to Kbal Spean. This latter trek is a nice break from the exploration of the Angkor temples. In addition to ‘the river of 1000 lingas’ being a unique attraction in the area, the forest trail that leads up the carvings in the Siem Reap river is a pleasant, natural excursion.
Speaking of which… there are lots of good waterfall hikes all around the region. To a large degree these are kind of a mish-mash amalgamated memory of lots of different hikes. Basically, there are waterfalls all over Southeast Asia and there is pretty much always a trail that leads to the top of the falls or to a series of upper falls. Notable ones I can remember are a few different ones on Koh Samui, Thailand, and one of the falls around Luang Prabang Laos. Pretty much anywhere you go, if there is a river nearby, there is usually a waterfall, and I would ask around about that. Not only are they nice nature walks, but they are usually local hang outs. Waterfalls are a great way to meet some local people in a fun atmosphere: swimming, maybe drinking some beers on ice, learning some local language, etc.
Scott: Like the waterfall hike, every island seems to have a trek to the summit or a trek to the other side. Similar to the trek you mentioned on Railay Beach, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao in Thailand are fine examples.
Trevor: One that was really a challenging hike with a good rewards was on Koh Rong, Cambodia: the trek to Broken Heart’s Beach. Not sure if it’s developed a lot from the thousands of visitors who visit the island nowadays. When we did it years ago, it was barely a trail and one that you wouldn’t want to do in the rain or the dark.
(Scott and Trevor then share some tips on safety and preparing for emergencies: snakes, getting lost, watching the weather and the time, bringing ample water and a first aid kit of sorts, etc.)
Scott: Singapore is really modern city with a futuristic skyline which this hike provides great angles of from various vantage points. This city hike starts and ends at the Clarke Quay MRT station. From here, walk east along the southern bank of the
Singapore RIver, towards the Fullerton Hotel, then cross the footbridge to the northern side of the river, and walk east to the Singapore Flyer. From here continue following the paved path which will head past the F1 Track, under the large ECP bridge, then the next bridge is Merdeka Bridge. Here take the stairs up, cross the bridge and come back down on the other side and walk to the Indoor Stadium, past it, then across the footbridge on the southern edge, then turn right and follow the path along the water. You’ll pass some residential then back under the ECP bridge. Continue on the path for a couple more km, then you’ll be at the end and have to cross the walkway at the Marina Barrage. From here, walk to Gardens by the Bay, to the Marina Bay Sands, turn left and follow the path along the water, which will loop around and eventually to the Merlion. From here, cross back over the river, turn left and walk along the north end of the river, heading west and pick any of the bridges back over to the MRT. (10km)
Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Trevor: The hike up to the pointy peak of Mt. Kinabalu is one of the most famous hikes in Malaysia or Borneo, the island upon which it is located. At nearly 4100m and almost completely exposed towards the top, it can be a relatively challenging hike (Scott says he’s heard that, besides the summit, it’s not that interesting for the most part). But, for even those who are not interested in going to the top, there are some great nature trails around the lodges at “base camp”/park headquarters, which are located in a forested area at around 1500m.
Borneo is famed for its jungles and wildlife, and even these smaller treks around the park headquarters offer some great flora and fauna. You aren’t going to see orangutan, flying lemurs, and the super exotic Borneo wildlife here–for that you have to head to the center of the island a bit more–but the park is a day-trip from Kota Kinabalu, where the airport is located. Ideally though, I think you should spend a night in the park, where they have cabins.
Scott: Shivapuri National Park is on the northern edge of Kathmandu and very accessible as a day hike. There is a very nice hike to the summit, which you can do right from the bottom at the park gates, or drive up part way to the army base, which will reduce the hike by an hour and a half or so. You’re looking at a minimum of 6 hours, more likely 8 if you start from the bottom. You pass through a number of different types of forests, will encounter a number of ethnic groups, notably Tamang, and potentially see some wildlife such as deer (15km). You need a guide for this one. While there are concrete stairs on much of the hike, having a guide will allow you to take some dirt trails, through forests and they can of course share information about the environment, animals, local people, and take you through a village, to meet locals, etc. There’s about 1,000m of vertical on this hike so ensure you’re reasonably fit, wear good footwear and take a jacket and such as the weather can change, especially with altitude.
Hua Hin, Thailand
Scott: I really enjoy walking on two long beaches just south of Hua Hin at low tide: Tha Kieb and Khao Tao. I’m a sundown guy, but there’s something really soothing for the soul about strolling in your bare feet for a long distance along a beach. And it’s worth noting that the sand is soft enough here that you can run and walk in bare feet. It’s pretty clean. The surface is ideal for running as well as the beach is long in width to the water, very level, and quite firm – a perfect running surface.
If you head out and do a return trip these come in at 11 – 12.5km. For Tha Kieb – start at the beach in front of the Hilton and walk sound, all the way to the rocky point with a Buddha image on it at Khao Tha Kieb and turn around. Very nice, you’ll see some pony rides, locals out enjoying, etc. Sundown is ideal.
An even quieter one is the next beach south at Khao Tao beach. Park at the north end of the beach near the little beachside shops, then walk just over 6km to the small fishing village at the hill of Khao Tao. There and back is about 12.5km and a very nice, super quiet outing.
To learn more about Scott & Trevor:
- Follow Scott on Twitter: @scottcoates73
- Trevor’s Blog
- Scott’s Blog
- Groovy Map Seoul
- National Geographic Cambodia
- National Geographic Thailand
- Follow Talk Travel Asia on Twitter
- Follow us on Facebook
- Follow us on Instagram
- Follow us on Vine
- Theme Music by Jamie Ruben
Our Sponsor: Beervana
Rogue, Stone, Anderson Valley, DeSchuttes, Prarie, Kagua, Tuatara, Baird and more. Available throughout Thailand, and soon in Vietnam and Indonesia. To find a craft beer location near you visit Beervana.asia