Looking for somewhere a little different to explore in Southeast Asia this year? Check out the following spots, from three different nations. Fair warning: they all require an adventurous spirit and a bit of hiking to get the most out of them.
Photo credit: National Geographic
Feeling adventurous and up for a major hike and a little caving? Chart your way to Hang Son Doong—thought to be the largest cave in the world. Discovered just 10 years ago, and nestled in central Vietnam's Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, it’s about halfway between capital city, Hanoi and popular resort destination, Da Nang.
The cave is over three miles long, and has several chambers large enough to hold an entire city block of very tall buildings. It also hosts many larger-than-life rock formations, including the 200-foot “Hand of the Dog.” This is possibly the world’s largest stalagmite.
Son Doong also has two large “dolines,” or areas where the ceiling of the cave collapsed. This is unique as they let in light, create conditions for ancient flora to grow inside, and give a much more subtle entrance to the depths below.
Oxalis Adventure tours currently holds the cave’s only tourism permit as the country looks to preserve the area against unbridled bands of over-eager tourists, and tour operators.
Photo credit: unkle_sam, via Flickr
Already ticked Phang Nga Bay off the list? Check out this gem. Iconic limestone hills jut from the Cheow Lan Lake, flanked by dense rainforest chock full of local flora and fauna. The park is one of the country’s best kept secrets, far from the crowds of Bangkok and Phuket.
Back in the day you couldn’t find accommodations outside your basic bamboo raft house, but now there are several modern resorts from which to choose. While you’re there check out Elephant Hills, an ethical elephant sanctuary. The park is about a 3-hour drive north from Phuket, or you can fly in to Surat Thani airport and book in advance for a spot on a scenic train.
Photo credit: Trip Advisor
On the outskirts of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, about an hour and 15-minute flight from Bali, this UNESCO listed, 9th century Buddhist temple is the largest in the world.
Flanked by 4 volcanoes (only one of which is dormant), the huge temple consists of four main platforms with one large stupa at the top. (Stupas are mound-like structures with relics inside). At each level, buddhas sit comfortably inside circular rings.
With spectacular views, it makes a sunrise hike a thing of wonder.
Mount Batur is part of a UNESCO Global Geopark. It includes two volcanic calderas (volcanic features formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself) and presents a complete volcanic landscape with caldera walls, cones and craters, a lake, and other other geothermal phenomena.
Two eruptions that happened roughly 29,000 and 20,000 years ago created its unique landscape with an outer- and inner-caldera. Between 1804 and 2000, Mt. Batur erupted at least 22 times, is one of 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia, and a part of the Pacific “ring of fire”. The phenomenon of double-calderas with a crescent-shaped 7km long lake makes it one of the most unique in the world.
Popular activities include a sunrise hike to the summit, or a van up the mountain to take in the view pictured above, and bicycles down the mountain, taking you through small indigenous villages, rice paddies and past abundant local flora and fauna.
Sound like fun?
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