Places to get fun
Southeast Asia is the quintessential backpacker destination – all noodle stands, grungy hostels and full moon parties, right? Not necessarily. There are still plenty of authentic Southeast Asian escapes. You just need to know where to find them. Start here.
1. Trek the path less followed in Umphang, Thailand
Want to trek Thailand in peace? Head to Umphang, a spectacular drive south of Mae Sot, and spend a few days walking around the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, spotting gibbons and giant lizards. The highlight is a dip in Tee Lor Su waterfall, a three-tiered thunderer that is at its best in November, just after the rainy season. There’s accommodation atUmphang Hill Resort, who can also take you trekking and rafting.
2. See dolphins in colonial Kratie, Cambodia
Tiny Kratie (pronounced kra-cheh) was largely unscathed by war and retains its appealing mix of French colonial and traditional Khmer buildings, strung along the Mekong river. It is also the best place to see not only some of Cambodia’s beautiful watery sunsets, but also the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. A pod lives upriver at Kampi and sightings are more or less guaranteed if you take a boat trip. Take a dip afterwards at the nearby Kampi rapids.
Few tourists stop in Quy Nhon, where the main industry remains fishing and the long sandy beaches remain (largely) the preserve of the Vietnamese. During Cham rule this was an important commercial centre (and during the American War a US supply centre) and evidence of this remains in the imposing Banh It towers on a hilltop just north of town. Head up here by xe om (motorcycle taxi) for sweeping views over the unspoiled countryside before returning to town for a seafood supper.
4. See spell-binding Khmer ruins in Champasak, Laos
Champasak may be sleepy now but it was once the capital of a Lao kingdom that stretched as far as Thailand. Grand colonial-style palaces share the streets with traditional wooden houses – and even the odd buffalo. From the town’s central fountain it’s just a few miles to Wat Phou, the most bewitching Khmer ruin complex you’ll find outside Cambodia. Little restoration has taken place here, and the half-buried ruins that fill this lush river valley are an unbeatably romantic backdrop to a stroll.