11 top spots off the beaten track in Asia

Asia is a mesmerising continent. A true treat for all the senses, from the incredible views to colourful markets, spiritual richness and more spices than you could dream of. Countries such as Thailand and Cambodia are a travellers mecca, with the beautiful beaches and nightlife drawing in thousands of tourists every year.

The tourist trail is there for a reason and the hotspots do have a lot to offer but… if you are looking for adventure and to see the true Asia then you need to go in search of hidden gems. Here are some of the top spots off the beaten track in Asia not to miss.

Sanur, Bali

gap year in Bali
Sanur, the oldest town in Bali, offers a relaxed, seaside vibe that is truly blissful. It’s a lot quieter than other towns in Bali, such as Kuta, therefore offers a much more local experience. The beaches aren’t crowded, the local food is delicious and the sunrises are to die for. Sanur is the place to relax, unwind and explore.

Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

gap year in Cambodia
Cambodia is very much on the tourist trail but if you head away from the cities you’ll find gems such as the Cardamom mountains. These mountains were a stronghold for Khmer Rouge fighters but, just 17 years on they are a wildlife-rich rainforest haven. The area is a conservation success story. With over 2-million trees planted the area is a biodiversity hotspot and one of the last remaining wild elephant corridors in the region. A fantastic place to take a few days to hike, explore and relax away from the city buzz.

Koh Tonsay, Cambodia


Roughly 30 minutes off the coast of Cambodia, Koh Tonsay is fairly hidden from tourist eyes. Here you will find true bliss. There are no roads or WiFi and electricity only during the necessary hours of the day. Prepare to switch off, unplug and truly detox whilst swinging in a hammock with spectacular beach views. Make sure you get there whilst Koh Tonsay is still an untouched paradise.

Get more out of your visit to Cambodia?

Yes please…

Mt Pinatubo, Philippines

gap year in the Philippines
The Philippines is composed of more than 7,000 islands therefore hidden gems are all around however Mt Pinatubo stands head and shoulders about the rest… literally. Following it’s eruption back in 1991 the top is now a beautiful crater lake. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bit or a trek up but it’s worth the effort for the spectacular views and local, indigenous communities.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

gap year in Vietnam
Vietnam is a gem in itself and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of its best pearls. The 885 square kilometre park is a UNSECO World Heritage Site and not to be missed. The 400 million year old karst landscape is littered with caves and underground rivers, including Hang Son Doong. This is the largest cave in the world, measuring 200m high, 150m wide, and 5km long! You definitely need to set several days aside to properly explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang.

Ke Ga, Vietnam

gap year in Asia
Also hidden in Vietnam, Ke Ga is guaranteed not to disappoint. This small seaside village offers the tranquillity and crystal clear waters without the hustle and bustle of the tourist trail. Ke Ga has beautiful beaches, rice paddies, delicious fresh seafood and provides a true insight into traditional Vietnamese culture. You can also hire a boat and head across to Ke Ga Island, home to a French colonial lighthouse. This is the tallest of its kind in the country.

Lake Toba, Sumatra

gap year in Singapore
Sumatra is the world’s sixth largest island, however, one of the least explored islands of Indonesia. The island contains many gems including Gunung Leuser National Park, but the one not to miss is Lake Toba. The lake was formed by a supervolcanic eruption, the largest known eruption on Earth in the last 25-million years. Lake Toba has an island in the middle the size of Singapore which is definitely worth a visit.

Havelock Island, India

gap year in India
Of the 600 or so islands that make up India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, only 9 are open to international travellers. Havelock Island is one of these. It’s hard to rival the snow-white sand, clear blue water and vibrant marine life. There is also a large amount of forest on the island which is home to exotic birds including the Andaman serpent eagle. You will find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with none of the tourists to crowd them.

Bua Thong, Thailand

Thailand Gap Year
Not featured in any guidebooks, Bua Thong, also known as the Sticky Waterfalls are a hidden gem for any traveller in Thailand. They get their name from a mineral deposit on the rocks which provides good grip. This allows you to climb up the waterfall into the stream of water! Set in Sri Lanna National Forest you also have stunning scenery surrounding you, from enchanting butterflies to beautiful flower carpets. They are located about an hour and a half north of Chaing Mai and the entrance is free, ideal.

Bagan, Myanmar

gap year in Myanmar
Myanmar, as a country is still relatively off the tourist trail. Bagan is one of the main attractions in the country but comparatively it is still hidden. Bagan is an ancient city, during the 11th and 13th centuries over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on the Bagan plains alone. Today you can still see the remains of over 2,200 temples. As a country Myanmar is not that geared up for tourists so prepare for authentic charm and a back-to-basics experience.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Gap year in Loas
Luang Prabang lies at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and is the spiritual epicentre of Laos. The city is known for its well-preserved Buddhist temples and monasteries but without the mass tourism seen in places such as Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. There are plenty of hiking, biking and kayaking opportunities and one of the main draws is the Alms Giving Ceremony, also known as ‘Tak Bat’. Every morning hundreds of monks proceed through the streets collecting food from both local residents and visitors to feed the poor.

Should you be on the next flight out to Asia?

Asia gap year
Well… yes. From beach parties to untouched paradise, Asia really has it all. These spots off the beaten track won’t stay that way for long, so make sure you head over and explore them whilst they’re still unspoilt. While you’re there why not do some volunteering, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in culture and community whilst giving something back. Start the planning now!

Alice Baker
Alice Baker
Alice joined The Leap team in 2017 to give expert gap year travel advice. She previously spent a couple of years living in Madagascar and ran The Leap project out there. Alice will be one of the people you get through to if you get in touch with us about our programs.
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