Want to find yourself exploring the hottest destinations in Southeast Asia this year?
Step off the beaten track and find out why Wild Travel Story named these the best places to discover in 2017.
What makes Myanmar’s most extravagant temple site one of the hottest destinations in Southeast Asia for 2017? Jump aboard a slow boat on the Ayeyarwaddy River, float above this vast religious landscape in a hot air balloon, or bike off the map into a sea of 1000-year-old gilded stupas and stuccoed temples: Burma is bound to woo you.
With more than 3000 temples scattered across Bagan’s endless, ancient plains, exploring can be overwhelming. Getting lost is way easier so put your phone back in your pocket, shake off the crowds and discover rarely-visited payas, squeezing and stooping through impossibly narrow archways that open into airy alcoves with intricate murals.
Dare yourself into monastic cells stuffed with treasured Buddhist artefacts, meet local hawkers and artists keen for a chat and sit cross-legged with faithful pilgrims in an utterly authentic day (somewhere) in Bagan.
What to do next?
Climb Bupedi at dawn (a secret sunrise spot that elevates early risers above the plains to watch hot air balloons drifting slowly across the sky rising and falling in a deeply meditative dance).
Jump aboard a horse cart and let a local horseman guide you off the beaten track (it’s slow travel at its best and kids will love it!).
Get templed-out on Bagan’s iconic sites – see Upali ̈Thein for its surprising frescos, Mingalazedi Paya adorned with beautiful glazed Jataka tiles, the perfectly intriguing Sulamani Pahto, and the tiny temple beside über popular Shwesandaw Paya where local kids light candles to illuminate the impossibly narrow staircase that takes you to the top for sunset views of the gorgeous Shwesandaw Paya itself.
GREEN CANYON, Indonesia
It’s one of the best thrills you can have on Java’s southwest coast without a surfboard and it all takes place at the head of this impossibly green, jungle-clad canyon.
Local boatman push upstream as far as they can go before a waterfall seduces swimmers deeper into the canyon, pulling themselves hand-over-hand along a knotted rope and disappearing into Green Canyon’s sculpted twist of stone. Minutes later, when they can travel no further, those swimmers shoot back out again, rushing back past skinny stone walls on an exhilarating ride.
It’s one of the best thrills you can have on Java’s southwest coast without a surfboard
Green Canyon lies off the beaten track just west of Pangandaran and within riding distance of a top surf break at Batu Karas, famed as the ultimate chill-out zone in this remote Javan coastline.
Out of the surf, the most taxing thing you can do all day at Batu Karas is to stroll between your beachfront bungalow and a swaying hammock to grab another chilled Bintang beer. To amp things up considerably in 2017, hire a bike and ride out to Green Canyon (60 minutes max) for a deep green thrill.
If you want to be wooed by a truly impressive Himalayan panorama without tackling a mountain trek in 2017, Nagarkot will thrill you with it’s jaw-dropping panorama that stretches from Dhaulagiri in the Annapurna region all the way east to Mt Everest, past Ganesh Himal (7406m), Langtang Lirung (7246m) and Shisha Pangma (8012m) to name but a few.
Sublime views aside, it’s the journey to this hilltop station that makes Nagarkot memorable. My recommended route: take a taxi to Sankhu on the outskirts of Kathmandu and then continue on foot, climbing gently past farmland and forest, stopping for marsala tea and epic mountain views at Kattike before reaching Nagarkot by mid-afternoon. After thrilling sunrise views from the Mahakali Temple, jump aboard a local bus to Telkot and stroll the gentle ridge through Telkot Forest down
Changu Narayan – the oldest living Hindu temple site in Kathmandu Valley (about 2 hours). Perched on the very end of a knife-edge ridgeline, its location couldn’t be more mind-blowing, and its world heritage status and thorough post-earthquake restorations make it a thoroughly stop en route to the ancient kingdom of Bhaktapur where you can overnight in the old walled city.
SRI LANKA’S SOUTH COAST
Strung out in swaying hammocks, fresh frangipani buds and rum coconuts in hand, travellers while away the hours before dinner, exhausted from long days spent surfing, boating with blue whales or simply lazing around on yet another secret strip of sand.
The blissed-out beachfront experiences that lure sea-lovers to Sri Lanka’s famously gorgeous South Coast are the undoing of many a motivated traveller, all of whom eventually succumb to the slow, easy pace of living, eating and sleeping within arm’s reach of the sea.
Strung out in swaying hammocks, fresh frangipani buds and rum coconuts in hand
A mere two hours of slow bus travel separates the small town of Tangalla and World Heritage-listed Galle, famous for its spectacular fort, but most travellers manage to stretch time, leapfrogging between small seaside villages to discover Polhena’s green turtles, the crocodile at Star Fort and joining Buddhist pilgrims crossing the sea to Matara’s “Rock in the Water”.
Finally smartening up upon reaching Galle, shake off the sand and get set to explore Sri Lankan’s oldest, occupied city, delving into this thriving sanctuary for 2017’s most cutting edge Sri Lankan art, design and food.
KHAO OK THALU, Thailand
This rugged limestone outcrop, fringed by forest and tamed by a steep, concrete staircase of some 1000 steps, adds some serious ‘Wow factor’ to the otherwise sleepy town of Phattalung in Southern Thailand.
Plenty of limestone spires pierce the horizon around Phattalung, but Khao Ok Thalu turns the most heads. It’s named for a gaping hole near the mountain’s 250-metre-high summit that frames a view of town and its steamy summit climb is truly breathtaking (check out the ‘Madame Tussaud’ monks that reside over the summit – spookily life-like!).
A second, less taxing stairway winds across the range, past a Buddhist mediation hall hidden in a forested saddle and higher still, a stunning golden Buddha seated in the Subduing Mara posture keeps watch, guarding the entrance to a tranquil sanctuary for some of the happiest Buddhist nuns in existence.
Located inland from the island-gateway of Trang. Phattalung sees very few tourists, which will guarantee you a rare and authentic slice of Thailand if you visit in 2017.