The Adventurous South East Asia Itinerary

Each itinerary in this series might take up to six or seven months to complete, but if you’re rushed, you could probably race through it in three or four. We spent eight months in each continent (South America, Asia), and covered off all the places in these itineraries at quite a leisurely pace, so go figure. 

All destinations mentioned here link to our full travel journals, so if you want to find out more detail about these wondrous places, click on the place name to be taken to the detailed portrayals of our adventures…

THAILAND

  • Mae Salong: Far North on the border with Burma, Mae Salong is a haven of hill-tribe trekking and Oolong tea plantations. Stay in a scenic guesthouse (like Akha) overlooking the mountains; eat spicy pork and wonton Yunnanese noodles; take self-guided walks through plantations and villages dotted with streams and water buffalo; eat local famous fried donuts dipped in hot soy milk on the early morning market.
  • Ko Tao: Overall we found Ko Tao far too over-developed and expensive, but it’s a fantastic place to learn to dive. We went during shoulder season, and had an instructor to ourselves for our Open Water, and they even chucked in a private bungalow for free. Despite divers bitching about Ko Tao being rubbish to dive, we saw tons of sealife including spotted rays, moray eels, puffer fish, angel fish, clown (‘Nemo’) fish and loads more!

LAOS

  • Luang Nam Tha Trek: One of our toughest treks, Luang Nam Ha is not for the faint-hearted. It’s truly primary jungle, meaning your guide will machete your way though (there aren’t trails!); you’ll slip and slide your way through muddy jungle, huge trees and leech-filled rivers, but the rewards are worth it. Eating foraged jungle food; sleeping in rice fields; homestays in tiny Akha villages; kayaking wide deserted rivers. Unforgettable!

PHILIPPINES

  • Puerto Princessa to Dumaguette (long ferry): If you’re travelling on a budget and craving an authentic travel experience, this 2 day ferry via beautiful Cuyo island is a great way to experience the reality of slow travel around the archipelago. The sunsets are stunning, the (tiny) boat is sometimes very rocky out at sea, but it was definitely a local immersive experience!
  • Apo Island: What this tiny rocky island lacks in sandy coastline, it more than makes up for in personality and world-class diving. The locals are crazily friendly, and the dive shop guys want to be your best friend. We did our first few dives here post-Open Water and it was a perfect place to take the plunge. You can also snorkel with turtles straight off the bay (they nest here!) and drink rum and catch live music at Mario’s homestay.
  • Moalboal: We weren’t super keen on Moalboal itself – it’s pretty expensive and tourist-saturated- but there are some fantastic dives to be had here, like Pescador Island. It’s also the site of the ‘Sardine Run’ – a natural wonder where millions of sardines gather just off the coast, and you can snorkel or dive with them, darting into mesmerising shapes in front of you.
  • Malapascua Island: Known for it’s thresher shark deep-diving, Malapascua is another dive hot-spot. We unfortunately couldn’t dive here as I got an ear infection (so annoying!) but we chilled here for a few days – the beach is pretty (albeit chocablocked with dive boats), and the village inland retains a ‘normal’ vibe in the face of encroaching dive shops. Go mainly for the dives, and be prepared to go DEEP to see the sharks.

VIETNAM

  • Bac Ha: Famous for its indigenous tribes and lively Sunday market, Bac Ha is a tiny hilltop village near famous hiking hot-spot Sapa. It was too cold to trek when we were here (it was snowing!) but we loved the market, with the pretty Flower Hmong tribeswomen selling their wares, animals on sale, and fresh pho and coffee on offer on the market. Be prepared for extreme weather in the winter!

MALAYSIA

  • Cameron Highlands: cool, scenic Cameron Highlands makes for a good break from sweaty cities. Take a few days to hike in the hills, check out strawberry farms, take afternoon tea in the stunning surrounds of Boh Tea plantation, take pics at lookout Guning Brinchang, and check out colourful Sam Poh buddhist temple. Back in town, relax with local tourists and enjoy the street food (try the satay!)
  • Teman Negara: sleepy, dry (no booze!) jungle town Kuala Tahan is your base for ancient jungle Teman Negara. We slept in a ‘hide’ deep in the jungle to wake to mad jungle chorus. Prepare to sweat and be worked very hard, climbing up and down ropes and across tricky, overgrown terrain! There are pretty rivers and ‘swim holes’ to cool off in, or you can always take the easy canopy tour and see monkeys near the entrance.

INDONESIA

  • Ijen Crater: almost definitely illegal, an overnight climb up and over the rim of the Ijen Crater can be a near-death experience (and was for us!) It’s a thrilling clamber, geared up with torches and gas masks, down into the rim, where you can see men mining the sulphur in extreme danger with changes in wind sending the poisonous fumes into you. The sulphur burns bright blue as it ignites and oxidises, which is stunning.
  • Gunung Bromo: a sunrise trip to Bromo is one of the quintessential Indonesia experiences. As such, it’s quite overpriced and overcrowded, but if you can deal with jostling for space (or take an alternative lookout), it’s really quite something. Watching the mist clear over the majestic cone volcano with its surrounding fertile vertical farms is pretty cool. You can also drive nearby and climb the cone, but we opted out.
  • Pulau Bunaken: underwater idyll of Bunaken National Park offers an incredible variety of marine life, meaning that even if you’re just snorkelling you will see TONS from firefish to giant angel fish, clown fish to white tipped sharks. We spent a few chilled days here snorkelling straight off the reef at Lorenzo’s, kicking back with home-cooked food and palm wine-fuelled live music, and of course, doing a couple of mind-blowing dives!
  • Tana Toraja: prepare yourself to enter into the unique world of the Torajans, an indigenous group with truly fascinating belief systems. As a tourist, you’re welcomed into their world, where you can pay respects at days-long funerals that include animal sacrifice; visit caves of ‘tau tau’ (hanging coffins guarded by effigies of the dead); visit (or even stay in) a traditional Tonkian hut; bike or bus around enjoying the beautiful scenery.
  • Komodo National Park: from its absolutely world-class diving (where else can you see mantas and white tipped sharks in one afternoon?) to its tours of the hideous, terrifying komodo dragons themselves, Komodo is unmissable. We wish we’d spent longer here. Snorkel or dive manta point for close-ups of these majestic beauties, and take the 2-day Komodo tour including Rinca, Komodo and a hike up Padma Island.

The Adventurous South America Itinerary

Each itinerary in this series might take up to six or seven months to complete, but if you’re rushed, you could probably race through it in three or four. We spent eight months in each continent (South America, Asia), and covered off all the places in these itineraries at quite a leisurely pace, so go figure. 

All destinations mentioned here link to our full travel journals, so if you want to find out more detail about these wondrous places, click on the place name to be taken to the detailed portrayals of our adventures…

CHILE

  • Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park: This cool outdoorsy town full of micro-breweries and tasty Patagonian lamb is a great place to base yourself before trekking the ‘W’ route in the Torres del Paine park. Stunning glaciers, unreal turquoise lagoons, pebble beaches, bluebell woods and vibrant green mountains await as you scale mountainous peaks, ending with the granite ‘Torres’ spires themselves.
  • Pucon: This tiny town at the foot of huffing Volcan Villarica is a heaven for adventure lovers. Whether you’re kayaking out on the peninsula; trekking and swimming in the lakes of nearby Huerquehue National Park; hydrospeeding down class three rapids or climbing the volcano itself (subject to eruptions!) you’ll have a thrilling time. Check out award-winning Chili Kiwi Hostel for a unique place to sleep and meet new friends.
  • San Pedro de Atacama Desert: Prepare yourself for a desert that’s 2438m above sea level. It’s dry, hot, and (at first) difficult to breathe, but this landscape rewards you in abundance. Numerous brilliant tours – from star gazing; to visiting geysers at dawn as they explode in the sunrise; thermal springs; salt caves and flats; jaw-dropping desert-scapes dotted with alpacas and desert foxes; and stunning Valle de la Luna. Also, eat llama! Delicious.

BOLIVIA

  • Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats): Needing little introduction, Salar de Uyuni is one of the best experiences of South America. Four days spent exploring deserts, stunning lakes of white, green and pink, flamingos flocking and flying, competing with llamas for attention, driving through quinoa fields and staying in hotels made of salt. That’s without mentioning the mesmerising flats themselves, Fisher Island made of cacti, the old railway cemetary, and the crazy fun bond you’ll make with your fellow jeep mates. Unmissable.
  • La Paz & The World’s Most Dangerous Road: We weren’t huge fans of La Paz as it’s quite built-up and polluted, but there’s the Witches’ market for textiles and llama fetuses (!) and a cable car for great views. Our favourite activity here was cycling the ‘Death Road’ – from high altitude to jungle – on death-defying hairpin bends with sheer drops (and no barriers!), under waterfalls, through stunning mountain sides and local farming communities. A truly white-knuckle unforgettable experience!

PERU

  • Cañon de Colca Trek: When we heard about the Colca Canyon, I imagined dusty rocks and a gravel path, but this couldn’t be more different. Verdant green mountains snake around trails, with buzzing wildlife, springs to bathe in, cacti and tiny villages where you can eat local delicacies like alpaca and sleep in huts. We even gained a little furry trekking buddy in the form of Perro, a stray dog, who walked with us for three days!
  • Machu Picchu: Undeniably a highlight of South America, this ancient Inka site is a true marvel, perched high above Peru seemingly floating, surrounded by incredibly advanced irrigated farming. There’s many ways to do it, but we conquered the trek independently for £45, walking through jungle, rivers and train tracks, stopping at little guesthouses en route. We even built in time for hot springs! You can usually buy entrance tickets the night before you want to go in nearby Aguas Calientes. Download offline maps (maps.me) and go for it!
  • Huacachina: A surreal little oasis in the desert, Huacachina is essentially a tiny cluster of hotels around a lagoon, surrounded by vast desert! It’s the epicentre of sandboarding, which is SUPER fun. Dune buggies drive you up and down the HUGE slopes, and you board down on your stomach on narrow boards. A thrilling experience! Also a cool place to kick back by a pool and lap up some rays.
  • Huaraz & The Santa Cruz Trek: Huaraz is a pretty traditional town where you can try ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) and base yourself treks in the Cordillera Blanca high mountain range. We did the Santa Cruz trek, which was testing but rewarding – beautiful snow top mountains, turquoise lagoons, camping under the stars, and natural thermal springs, but also quite muddy, cold, and hard to breathe on the (very) high peaks!
  • The Ayahuasca Experience: A truly life-changing experience, a course of Ayahuasca ceremonies could be equated to years of counselling. Not for the feint-hearted, the Ayahuasca is transformative and intense, causing both visual hallucinations and personal epiphanies, through 6-8 hour trances. We chose to go with a trusted ‘medical’ shaman and completed our ceremonies alongside regular Iquito locals, rather than forking out thousands of pounds for a touristy Ayahuasca resort, and it was excellent. See our blog article for details.

ECUADOR

  • The Quilatoa Loop: Stunning 2-3 day walk that takes you through tiny indigenous towns, from stunning turquoise Quilatoa crater lake, through endless miles of pretty patchwork farmland, down sandy steep maze-like canyons, through hamlets dotted with bulls and sheep, via unbelievable lookouts. For the last stretch, you can also ride on the back of a local milk truck, which was super fun. The best thing in Ecuador after Galapagos.
  • The Galapagos Islands: Words truly escape me. Even if you think you can’t afford it, go. We did it independently and it was surprisingly affordable. The park entrance and any day tours are the main costs, but you can 100% do it easily without a cruise. Snorkel with sealions and giant Galapagos turtles; swim with a pyramid of golden stingrays and nurse sharks; meet the Northern-most penguin and tiny seahorses; see Sally Lightfoot crabs with their galaxy-patterned shells and pink lakes of flamingos; gawp at gnarly marine iguanas and unique blue-footed boobies; spend days on the beautiful sands and in the clear blue seas; go to the great free museums like the Darwin Centre and the Interpretation Centre; snorkel lakes with volcanic cores. This is only half of it! See our blog articles for full details. Oh, and be prepared for sea-sickness!

COLOMBIA

  • Sapzurro & Capurgana: A bit of a trek from Colombia, these tiny islands on the border with Panama offer a slice of hidden paradise for those who can brave the rocky boat to reach them. Avoid rainy season as it’s unrelenting, but otherwise these isles offer crystal clear water, white bays and hammock-hanging locals, and it’s easy to lose a few days here.
  • Cartagena: Colourful touristico Cartagena is made up of cobbly, pretty colonial streets, great restaurants, buzzy plazas on which to drink beer, museums, and a city wall dotted with canons. Nearby Volcan de Lodo el Totumo (an organic mud ‘volcano’) is fun to bathe in and escape the heat; Playa Blanca is a pretty (if over-developed) nearby beach. Town itself is great fun – at day, or to party at night. A good intro to Colombia!
  • San Gil: Gorgeous colonial town San Gil is a great place to base yourself for a few days of outdoor adventuring. Wild swim with ducks in Pescadito lake; raft down the terrifying class three rapids of the Rio Fonzo; daytrip on cheap local buses to the falls of Cascadas de Juan and sunbathe at the top with brave locals; relax in town and enjoy the great food markets, cheap lunch menus and people watching on the town square.