South-East Asia conjures up visions of golden temples, cheeky monkeys and lots of street food. But there is more to this cultural continent than meets the eye. From canyoning down waterfalls to zip-lining through the jungles of Laos, this place is an adventure-junkies paradise! Even if you’re not usually into extreme sports, you might yet get hooked into some of these thrills.
1. Zip-lining in the Bokeo Reserve, Northern Laos
How would you like to go flying through the jungle on zip lines and wake up each morning in a treehouse, listening to the sound of Gibbons? The Gibbon Experience is a sustainable tour company that takes you into the heart of the Bokeo Reserve (Northern Laos) on a 2 – 3 day trek. There’s a lot of hiking involved, but just as many zip lines, some stretching as far as 600 metres. This tour is not for the faint hearted – you will be high in the air, travelling at a tremendous speed. But it is pretty special to wake up in amongst the trees, to the sounds of birds and gibbons. Taste traditional Laos cuisine, explore the jungle and swim under the waterfalls.
2. Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam
Dangling off the edge of a 25 metre waterfall might have you wondering how you ended up there! But this is an opportunity not to be missed. In the heart of the Vietnamese highlands, you will be transported by mini bus into the forest. After abseiling a few practice rock-faces, you will graduate to higher waterfalls, with various challenges. Jump of a 11 metre cliff, slide down rapids backwards and abseil into the infamous Washing Machine! Make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes (they will get wet) and prepare to push yourself out of your comfort zone! Du Lich Da- Lat Highland Sport Travel offer tours from around $30 US. Not a bad deal for a whole day of adventure.
3. Easy Rider Tours, Vietnam
Strap your luggage onto the back of a motorbike and follow your tour guide as you weave down the winding roads, through the Vietnamese countryside. Learn about the local industry, dine on traditional cuisine and spend nights in home-stays in remote villages. You can book tours from Dalat through your hostel, or chat to the locals for a better deal. The standard cost is about $100 per day, keeping in mind this is a private tour, including all accommodation, food, fuel and invaluable local knowledge, from dawn till dusk.
4. Kayaking with the Irrawaddy Dolphins, Si Phan Don, Southern Laos
Also known as the Four thousand islands, Si Phan Don is situated in the far south of Laos. Stay in a bungalow on Don Det, a relaxed party island, where most tourists spend hours lounging around on the floor cushions at restaurants, watching movies, drinking banana shakes and taking it easy in the tropical heat. Hire tubes to float down the river or, if you’re feeling energetic, take a kayaking tour to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins. Be careful you don’t capsize down the rapids or you’ll miss the Irrawaddy dolphins diving in the lake. Don’t miss the stunning waterfalls before paddling back to your accommodation.
5. Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
There are a couple of options for tubing here. Firstly, you can hire a tube, jump in a Tuk-Tuk and get dropped off at the top of the river. Enjoy a cocktail in the bar before jumping in your tube and floating down to the next one. The water flows quite fast, so make sure you look out for the man on the side who will throw you a rope and pull you to shore. Witness some mud wrestling, enjoy some shots and then, back in your tube. There are several bars along the river and all day to enjoy them! A second option is to take a tour into the countryside where you can tube through an underground river cave – make sure your flashlight is working and don’t worry, there is a rope to guide you through.
6. Motorbiking The Loop, Southern Laos
The Loop is a 500 kilometre motorbike trip that starts in Tha Khaek and takes you through remote villages, spectacular scenery and magical caves. It typically takes 3-5 days and you can choose where to stop along the way. Tha Lang is a great stop for the first night, before carrying on the next day to Na Hin. Nearby, you can take a boat through the immense Konglor Cave, which stretches on for 8km in the dark! This can be done super-cheap if you find a good rental price on your bike. Just be aware of your fuel consumption – there are some remote stretches of road so you need to make sure you top up at each village.
7. Trekking with the Hill-Tribe Ladies in Sapa, North Vietnam
As you drive into the far-Northern Vietnamese town of Sapa, hundreds of hill tribe ladies in their colourful traditional dress will be there ready to sell you a trek into the mountains. You can book through a tour agent or just wing it when you arrive. Either way, be prepared for some serious hiking, steep slopes, hot days and cold nights. Most tours will involve a homestay, which means you will be staying with the locals, drinking rice wine, sharing in their meals and helping feed the pigs and chickens. You may even get to watch a live chicken become the evening meal!
8. Diving on Koh Tao, Thailand
This tropical paradise is diving heaven – you can easily spend a week here, either snorkelling around the nearby islands or getting your PADI or SSI. Stay here long enough and you might even come out a Dive Master! The water life is magical, but make sure you get a chance to explore the island as well. Hire 4×4’s to get up some of those steep hills and enjoy tropical views or simply relax on the beach with a cocktail in hand.
9. Deep Water Solo Rock-Climbing in Phi Phi, Thailand
Crazy as this might look, you can be assured it is lots of fun! Deep water solo rock-climbing involves climbing up a cliff face in the picturesque tropical paradise of Koh Phi Phi and, when you’re high enough (and brave enough), taking a giant leap into the ocean. Make sure you’re fit, strong and willing. Once you climb up, there is really no other option but to jump down again. Some of the locals leap from crazy heights – know your limits!
10. Rock-Climbing in Krabi, Thailand
With plenty of companies to choose from, hire a guide and get out into nature. The challenge is more fun outside, with beautiful locations and challenging rock faces. Make sure you are reasonably fit before attempting some of these climbs. It’s harder than it looks!
11. Hiking through caves in Kao Sok National Park, Thailand
Venture into this rich and diverse National Park, kayak on the serene lakes and sleep inside floating raft houses overnight. If you wake up early and take a boat out, you are guaranteed to see some of the wild life – I was lucky enough to witness several gibbons, swinging through the trees. There are even a number of caves to hike through – bring a strong flashlight and maybe some back up batteries – and prepare to get your feet wet. You will be walking (and swimming) through the river at some points. I remember stepping in what I thought was a small puddle, only to find out that it was a deep hole. It covered me in water, right up to my neck!
Even if you do not plan anything in advance, tripping around South-East Asia is always an adventure. What activities did you get up to on your travels around the tropics? Surfing in Indonesia is next on my list!