South East Asia has become a well travelled destination, and as such truly authentic “off-the-beaten-track” experiences are growing harder to find with each passing year. Luckily, there are still plenty to find for those wanting a deeper experience, and in this article we’ll go through some of the top off-the-beaten-track destinations in the region.
Starting in Vietnam, the Northern Mountains are becoming more popular, but still remain fairly tourist-free and untouched. Ha Giang, known as the “final frontier” of Vietnam, is a prime example of this, with its forested peaks and meandering valleys almost completely unspoiled by human activity.
The North of Vietnam features stunning rock formations and winding roads.
South of Hanoi, Pu Luong National Park is practically devoid of visitors, both local and foreign. This is surprising, as the scenery here is some of the best in the country, and it’s located not far from Hanoi, making it perfect for both day-trips and longer stays.
Perhaps the best kept secret in Vietnamese travel is the Con Dao islands. The archipelago was once used as a prison camp by the French Colonials, but has since then become a prime beach destination that few foreigners ever get to see, if only because they have no idea it exists. If you’re looking to include some time at the beach in your package, but don’t wish to expose your guests to the inevitable crowds of tourists everywhere, Con Dao is the perfect place to go.
The Con Dao Islands are still a well-kept secret rarely visited by foreign travellers.
Over in Laos, there is no shortage of places where you can go off the beaten track. Xam Neua, the capital of Houaphan Province, receives practically no western visitors, being the least visited provincial capital in the entire country. For many travellers, the furthest north they ever get in Laos is Luang Prabang, but there is a wealth of options for off the beaten track travel to be found here. Among them are Luang Namtha and Nong Khiaw, both wonderfully friendly towns with few western visitors featuring great trekking opportunities.
Further south, in Central Laos, Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area represents the best of untouched Laotian nature, and due to the relatively difficult access, is also delightfully free of tourist crowds.
Some of our guests enjoying a traditional lunch in the middle of the jungle.
Surprisingly, the ruins of Champasak also receive few visitors from the wider world. Mostly attended by people from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia making a pilgrimage to the site, your guests can enjoy the mystical atmosphere in peace.
Finally, down in The Four Thousand Islands, most travellers spend their time in Don Det and Don Khon, but the nearby and much bigger Don Khong is more firmly off the beaten path, due to the popularity of its smaller siblings.
Due to its smaller size and flatter landscape, Cambodia has a smaller ion of truly off-the-beaten-track destinations, but if you look hard enough, there are still some to be enjoyed. In the rugged eastern highlands, you can plan some time spent hiking and visiting remote minority villages rarely seen by foreign eyes. Meanwhile, the city of Battambang, despite being the second largest metropolitan area in the country, is wonderfully relaxed and free of tourists. Finally, the most untouched natural beauty anywhere in Cambodia can be found in Kampong Chhnang, near Tonle Sap Lake. This area is remarkably well preserved, and this might be due to the extremely low level of tourists visiting the area.
A local lady on her “floating shop” on Tonle Sap Lake.
In Thailand, Kanchanaburi is a great option for trekking that’s less commonly travelled than the highlands to the north. Not far from Bangkok, and containing famous sites such as the infamous bridge over River Kwai, it’s surprising how few tourists ever travel here, instead favouring the north for their trekking.
While most of Thailand’s many islands and beaches are teeming with tourists, there are some exceptions. First are the coastal town of Tran and the nearby island of Ko Chao, near the Cambodian border. Compared to the mad scramble of Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Samui, this area is a wonderful example of authentic Thai coastal life. Another rarely visited island is Ko Libong. Located near the much more popular Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, it’s an often overlooked gem of coastal Thailand, with a bigger focus on trekking the jungle-covered interior than relaxing on a beach.
Traditional barbeque in the jungle.
In the northeast, Isan is Thailand’s largest region, but despite this receives less than a half a percentage of the total visitors to the country. This means that you can visit here without ever running into other travellers, and gives a great look into the agricultural roots of Thai society. There are many rarely-visited places to see here, including the bizarre statue park of Sala Kaew Ku and Khao Yai National Park, the first National Park and UNESCO site in Thailand. If you’re lucky enough to plan the visit between October and March, your guests can pay a visit to Lake Nong Harn (“Red Lotus Sea”) where a seemingly endless field of red lotus flowers blankets the swamp.
While the destinations presented here by no means represent the entirety of off the beaten track experiences in Indochina, these are the ones with the best combination of attractions and lack of tourists.