When you’re anywhere else in the world SE Asia sounds like an exotic and foreign affair, but once you arrive it seems nearly impossible to get away from the crowds and Western influence. Thankfully, the masses tend to flock to the same areas leaving many other places virtually untouched.
If you’re planning a trip to SE Asia and want to see unspoiled beauty, consider the following recommendations.
Camiguin Island, Visayas, Philippines
The best part of traveling in the Philippines is, hands down, getting to know the locals, but in close second is exploring its natural wonders. We found none better than on the island that seemed to have it all… Camiguin. The Lonely Planet compares it to the Hawaiian islands and reports that Camiguin has more volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island in the world. We spent two weeks on the Philippines’ second smallest island and still didn’t see it all.
Among our highlights were bathing in the soda, cold and hot springs and snorkeling at Cantaan Kabila White Beach Giant Clam Sanctuary. The clams ranged in size, but some were up to 3-4 feet long! Remember the scene in Disney animated Peter Pan when he is talking to the mermaids sitting in their shells? That’s the size we’re talking about!
The clams keep their shell slightly open revealing their various neon colors and patterns. Each clam was unique and beautiful. While snorkeling through the sanctuary, Nemo a tiny clown fish even came out to headbutt our friend in the goggles letting her know she was invading his private space. We also tempted an eel to come out of its cavern – the coral was so alive!
Exploring volcanoes and waterfalls by motorbike is a must on the island, but bring strap on sandals and helmets as some of the paths can be a bit treacherous. Most guesthouses have a hand drawn map of the island highlighting the main attractions which was helpful while cruising on the motorbike.
Medewi, Bali, Indonesia
Of all the places people recommended us to visit – Ubud, Kuta/Seminyak/Legion, Sanur – none ranked as high on our list as Medewi. We found it by chance as we took the bus coming directly off the ferry from Java headed Southeast toward Denpasar.
What we found when we arrived was a tiny village with one road going down to the beach with a gentle point break at the end perfect for intermediate+ surfers. At first glance the beach isn’t what I’d call appealing as it is mostly rocks, but walk 5 minutes in either direction and you’ll find yourself on sandy beaches with no one but a few beginner surfers taking advantage of the beach break, local fisherman and cows. That’s right, cows.
The one street is lined with a handful of guesthouses and restaurants, but the vibe is local. With local vibe comes local prices and they are unbeatable in Medewi. In 2011, we paid $7 USD per night for a private room with private bathroom and were eating delicious local cuisine for between $1-3 USD per meal. Our favorite was the nasi campur at a warung run by one woman at the top of the street. We look forward to going back in December and checking out the current rates.
Medewi is also a fabulous place to get $5 USD massages on the beach from the local women who will also sell you the day’s fresh catch. Don’t be deterred by the lack of privacy, after a few minutes of rubdown with fresh coconut oil you’ll forget that the boys at the surfboard rental hut are trying to sneak a peek.
Koh Phayam, Thailand
There’s a reason that more than 16 million people per year visit Thailand; it’s the land of smiles – a special country. It is also overrun by tourism which makes finding hidden gems that much more special. If you’re looking to spend restful days in a hammock on the beach and swimming in turquoise waters away from the hustle and bustle, this Island is the place to get away in Thailand.
Geographically opposite the world famous Koh Samui, Koh Phayam is located in the Andaman Sea just below the border of Myanmar (Burma). It’s opposite from Koh Samui in many other ways as well. For example, it doesn’t have power 24 hours a day or vehicles with more than two wheels. Shopping on the island is limited to a few stalls at the end of Ao Yai Bay and restaurants are few and far between outside of the guesthouses.
I’ll tell you what it does have though; cashew and rubber tree plantations for exploring, slack lines and beach volleyball for getting physical and wild hornbills for watching. We spent the final three weeks of our SE Asia adventure on Koh Phayam sans shoes or worries. Lazy Huts provided us the perfect location to unwind and mentally prepare for heading back to the States.
Gili Meno, Indonesia
Do you love sea turtles, white sand beaches and fresh seafood? So do we, and that’s part of why we loved Gili Meno. The Gili Islands are comprised of three separate islands located between Bali and Lombok and while they are no secret, Gili Meno is still a place where you can get away.
The Gilis are known amongst travelers as the unpoliced Indonesian islands so party seekers make their way out, but they go to Gili Trawangan (Gili T) leaving Gili Meno and Gili Air to the travelers seeking peace, quiet and a little slice of heaven.
We were there during high season and found a bungalow with ocean views and a private bathroom for under $15 USD. Best of all, we practically had the whole place to ourselves.
We spent the days walking around the island exploring and snorkeling at the different beaches and visiting the sea turtle sanctuaries. You can walk around the entire island is an hour, give or take. We recommend keeping your eye out for small restaurants along the way serving up delicious seafood dishes with a great view.
Siquijor Island, Vasayas, Philippines
Known for its witch doctors and mystic traditions, Siquijor is a rustic destination ripe with adventure for all types of travelers. Though we didn’t stay for long, we hit up enough cool spots to get excited about it four years later.
Our top recommendation for things to do/places to visit is Siquijor are:
1. Spelunking in Cantabon Cave
2. Jumping off waterfalls at Cambugahay Falls
3. Cliff jumping at Salagdoon Beach
4. Visit a witch doctor or two
So that’s it folks, the top 5. We’ve got plenty more suggestions for great places to visit, but we’d love to hear what you would recommend. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
If you don’t have any suggestions for places to visit, tell us what you would look for in a getaway destination and help us shape future posts for you. As always if you like this post, please share it.