Bookmark this page, adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. From trekking in Bali to whale shark diving in Thailand, these are Southeast Asia's must-try adventures
Let’s be real. For many of us, Southeast Asia is a wonderland of quick escapes promising bargain shopping, lush tropical villas and heavenly massages. But here’s what leisure travellers often forget: the region is also an incredible, natural playground for the adventurous. Dotted with colossal caves, mountains and vast oceans of marine life, your thrilling, life-changing adventure is really just a hop, skip and a jump away. From extreme sky diving in Pattaya, Thailand to sand boarding in Mui Ne, Vietnam, we’ve rounded up the 10 best adventures in Southeast Asia.
Spelunking in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
Housing the oldest Karst mountains in Asia, untouched jungles and underground rivers,World Heritage site, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, is one of Southeast Asia’s most jaw-dropping natural wonders. It’s home to hundreds of cave systems, including the world’s largest cave, Son Doong Cave, which boasts magnificent stalactites, colossal stalagmites, its own lush jungles and localised weather system. Regular spelunkers will also delight in the newly opened Hang Va Cave, which features extraordinary stalactite lakes and stalagmites almost submerged in crystalline waters.
Tubing down Mae Ping River, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A far cry from Laos’ now-closed drug-addled, party activity of tubing, Chiang Mai’s edition is about relaxation and taking respite from the region’s action-packed activities. Stock up on snacks and drinks – these will be placed in a cooler that’ll conveniently float alongside you on your trip – and rent the waterproof speakers to blast your fave holiday playlist. Got all your equipment? Settle down in your inflatable tube (complete with a headrest) and recline as you meander down the Mae Ping River. Don’t worry about falling asleep and losing sight of your buddies; you can easily strap your tubes together prior to your journey. Relaxation? Done and dusted.
Sunrise trekking in Mount Agung, Bali
The Island of the Gods isn’t just beaches, luxe villas and exotic cultures – it’s also home to some of the most awe-inspiring mountains in the world, including Mount Agung. We’ll make no bones about this: Agung is a killer climb. Standing at 3,142 metres tall, this mountain is highly recommended for physically fit climbers. Choose between two main climbing routes: Pasar Agung or Bekasih Temple. The former is said to be an easier three- to four-hour climb up a mostly steep pathway with a final trail that ends at a moon-like crater rim with sweeping island views. The latter, on the other hand, is a demanding climb to the summit – the route is estimated to take approximately six to seven hours with the final hour requiring climbers to get down on all fours.
Wreck diving in Coron, Philippines
The wrecks of the WWII Japanese Navy fleet lie at the bottom of stunning Coron Bay in Philippines. Sunk as a result of an air attack by the US Navy, each of the shipwrecks are within manageable diving depth and are still largely intact. In each of the coral-encrusted ships, you’ll find diverse marine communities – big groupers, sea turtles and shoals of tropical fish – as well as well-preserved artefacts. With almost a dozen shipwrecks to explore, everyone from beginner divers to experienced pros can have a go at Coron’s wreck dives.
Sandboarding in Mui Ne, Vietnam
Similar to snowboarding, sandboarding involves your legs being strapped to a board as you cruise down the sand dunes. Located four hours away from Ho Chi Minh, Mui Ne’s sandy paradise encompasses miles and miles of pristine, white sand. Rent your sand boards from the local shops for a small fee, and remember to stay long enough to catch the sunset dipping over the sandy hills.
Quad biking in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Think you’ve been there, done that in the Siem Reap scene? We’re pretty sure you’ve never experienced Cambodia this way. Combining adventure and authentic culture, a quad bike tour allows you to experience Angkor Wat’s rarely visited abandoned temples, remote villages, stilt houses and Buddhist monasteries. You’ll end your day on a spectacular note; catch a breather while watching the sun set spectacularly over the paddy fields.
Whale shark diving in Koh Tao, Thailand
For most divers, wreck diving and crave diving probably rank high on their bucket list, but whale shark diving? That’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Spotting these rare creatures is entirely up to luck – some of the most experienced divers have never seen one, whereas newbies have reported sightings on their first dives. Despite whale sharks’ massive size (up to 12 metres in length), these gentle giants only feed on plankton and small fish. Over in Koh Tao, Thailand, whale sharks are often spotted in the months of March, April, September and October in the areas of Southwest Pinnacle and Chumphon Pinnacle. (Top image: Shutterstock)
Sky diving in Pattaya Thailand
The Land of Smiles is about to give you another reason to grin. In Pattaya, SEA’s only full-time skydiving drop-zone, your hair-rising free fall takes place from a height of 9,000-13,500 feet. The good news? You’ll be attached to an experienced instructor, so you’re in mostly safe hands. The bad news? Well, aside from the obvious dangers, there are none. Try to relax – once you’ve gained your composure and breath, you’ll be able to enjoy panoramic views of Pattaya’s gorgeous beaches on your canopy ride for the next five to seven minutes.
Hot air ballooning in Bagan, Myanmar
Add this to your #basketlist, pronto. You can stop pining over Cappadocia’s magical hot balloon rides – Southeast Asia has its own equivalent, and it’s no less swoon-worthy than its Mediterranean counterpart. Soak in the Buddhist zen of Myanmar’s beautiful Bagan with lofty views of the golden pagoda-studded landscape, villages and sprawling countryside from the comfort of a soothing hot air balloon ride. Flights usually take place during sunrise or sunset, so prepare to whip out your cam if you’re hell-bent on capturing the first ray of light over the majestic city. Pro tip: To make the most of your time in Myanmar, go with FLYMYA – these guys not only handle flights, but care hire and activities as well.
Subwinging in Gili Islands
Reinvent the way you explore the ocean. Take a flight through Gili’s sparkling blue waters on the back of underwater wings. Called the Subwing, the relatively new sport simulates the feeling of flying through water, through total freedom of movement from two separate wings connected with a rotatable swivel. How it works is simple; whilst being towed by a boat, riders simply have to pull upwards to resurface, push to dive, and simply pull one wing up and push the other one down to spin. Words won’t do this exhilarating sport justice – check out the video above for a closer look!