Whether you want to spend days hiking through dense rainforest up to misty mountain summits, or simply a couple of hours exploring the untamed local scenery, the Far East provides a rich wealth of opportunities. As well as boasting some of the world’s most splendid scenery, many of the continent’s more remote regions are also home to small indigenous communities, so hiking offers a fine chance to get off the beaten track and learn a little more about the local culture.
Trekking is also a fantastic way to get up close and interact with the locale in an environmentally-friendly way, doing a bit of wildlife spotting as you go. We’ve pulled together five stunning regions from across Asia that are often favourites with hikers.
Northern Fairy Tale
Situated in the north-eastern corner of South Korea, Seoraksan National Park is one of the country’s most stunning regions of natural beauty – particularly during autumn when the trees that blanket the mountains burn in fiery golds and reds. The park is divided into three sections – Outer Seoraksan, South Seoraksan and Inner Seoraksan. The majority of visitors gravitate towards Outer Seoraksan as it is home to Ulsanbawi – a dramatic, craggy formation of rocks, the peak of which provides an excellent viewing platform for the park’s highest peak, Daecheongbong. The path to the top of Ulsanbawi meanders gently across bridges and through temples for the first 2.2 kilometres, before it starts to slope more steeply for the last 1.1 kilometre towards the peak. Like many of Korea’s other trekking paths, the route to the top of Ulsanbawi is fairly developed, and there are winding wooden staircases that hikers can use for some of the way. Once you reach the top, you’re greeted by incredible vistas looking out towards Daecheongbong, the East Sea and the Haksapyeong Reservoir. The journey to the top will take little more than a few hours, but remember to factor in some time so you can soak up the magnificent views once you reach the top.
A Test of Endurance
Sapa has long-enjoyed a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s top spots for hikers, and for good reason. The town itself lies near Vietnam’s border with China, and at 1,500 metres above sea level you can see why the rugged mountainous area has become a mecca amongst keen trekkers. The town is also rich in cultural diversity and offer travellers a fine chance to interact with some of Vietnam’s indigenous communities. Winding through craggy mountains and dense, slippery jungle, some of the region’s most breath-taking hiking routes can be quite challenging, so it’s always worth hiring a local guide or booking onto an organised tour once you arrive in Sapa. The journey to Vietnam’s loftiest peak, Mount Fansipan (3,143 metres tall), is one of the most popular amongst visitors – although you will need a good level of fitness to conquer this. The peak is around 19 kilometres on foot from Sapa, and the round trip will generally take about three days. Expect to scramble across rough terrain before reaching your prize – stunning views of northern Vietnam’s lonesome, wild beauty.
Lombok’s Mighty Challenge
While this Indonesian island gem might be more well-known for its blissful white sand beaches, hiking to the peak of the active Rinjani volcano is one of Lombok’s top tourist draws. Standing tall at 3,726 metres, the summit of Mt Rinjani is a splendid vantage point to enjoy sunrise and sunset – although only those in peak physical fitness tend to make it all the way to the top. Many embark on the shorter two-day hike to the edge of the volcanic crater, where views across the sapphire-blue lake and out towards the Gili Islands are simply dazzling. If your sense of adventure is tempting you to make the journey to Mt Rinjani, your ascent will begin with a fairly challenging hike through dense rainforest. It won’t be long before you find yourself in the clouds and looking down at the ocean and all the way out to Bali from above a soft layer of white.
From Sapa to Sabah
Situated in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Mount Kinabalu is Borneo’s highest mountain – and a tantalising challenge for many hikers exploring the natural delights of Southeast Asia. A reasonable level of fitness is required to make the ascent to the mountain’s summit, which is described by some visitors as a “trek and scramble” to the top. Locals with a high level of physical fitness have been known to climb to the top of Low’s Peak and back down again in as little as four hours, although the majority of hiking tours take two days with an overnight break at Laban Rata. The scenery is diverse and evolves every few hundred metres, from dense jungle to craggy granite-coloured rock face. For those that do make it to the top, the reward is being able to watch the sunrise from above the clouds – a truly unforgettable sight to cap your sense of achievement.
Of all the hiking trails in our collection, the tunnel-like path that leads around the edge of Cambodia’s Yak Loum Lake is the least physically challenging. Situated in Ratanakiri – a north-eastern pocket of Cambodia – Yak Loum sits within a magnificent volcanic crater, and the bracing trek around its edge takes approximately 30 minutes. To make the most of the region’s untamed, lonesome beauty, head there for the sunrise at around 6am. The advantage of arriving so early is that you’ll also beat the crowds of local families who head down here for picnics and swimming. At the break of dawn, the glass-like surface of the lake casts an eerie reflection of the dense forest surrounding it, and the only sound to disturb the magical stillness is that of your own shoes crunching across the leaves and twigs on the jungle path.
- If you’re heading to Korea’s Seoraksan National Park, aim to arrive as early as possible. The outer region of the park attracts plenty of visitors, and queues leading up the steps leading to the summit of the Ulsanbawi rock formation can form quickly. Peak business tends to hit at around noon, so if you can arrive for 8am and beat the crowds you’re likely to have a much more enjoyable experience.
- Hiking can often be hard physical work, so it’s wise to pack plenty of snacks in order to keep your body’s energy levels topped up as you go along. Organised group excursions will often have your main meals included in the price, but a few high-protein snacks could provide the energy boost you need to make it to your destination.
- If you’re going to be hiking at altitude – even in tropical destinations such as Lombok and Borneo – bear in mind that the temperatures will drop significantly the higher you go. If you’re going to be camping overnight, bring a supply of warm clothes to ensure that you remain comfortable in your tent. It’s also wise to keep moving – any heat you build up as a result of the physical exertion of the hike can dissipate in as little as five minutes if you stop to rest for too long.
- Pre-empt altitude sickness by arriving in the region of your hike a day early so you can acclimatise to the conditions. If you do start to feel any of the nausea or headaches that can accompany altitude sickness whilst on your hike, the best thing to do is to remain standing to see if the symptoms wear off.