The five best treks in Asia, from high mountains to lush jungle and sacred paths
A pilgrimage along Japan’s Kumano Kodo, a cultural journey in northern Vietnam, a challenging adventure in the snows of Bhutan, and more – our pick of the best walking holidays in Asia
Asia may be known for its beaches, but it’s also home to some amazing hikes, with an increasing number of new ones popping up around the region. Not only is it healthier than lounging by the pool, spending your holiday walking allows you to see a different side of a country, often meeting local communities along the way.
Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal
2016 is an excellent time to head to Nepal. After the damage caused by the recent earthquake there, money from tourism can make a massive impact to rebuilding the country and people’s lives. The Annapurna mountains in Nepal are an absolute classic and a favourite with outdoor lovers around the world, rightly topping many bucket lists. This is a fantastic Himalayan trek through high mountain scenery, exploring the spectacular Annapurna Sanctuary and Machapuchare and Annapurna base camps, staying in upmarket lodges and tea houses en route. The trip concludes with a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu.
Cultural Trek, Vietnam
A village-to-village trek through some of northern Vietnam’s most unspoiled, biodiverse and culturally interesting areas, from Mai Chau to Pu Luong. Mai Chau is famous for its beautiful mountains and valleys that are home to Thai people, while Pu Luong is an important example of a lowland limestone forest ecosystem, covered by rich tropical forest. This is a challenging trek and a jungle adventure, but one that gives real insight into the daily life in remote villages, with accommodation in homestays with local families. Operates year round but best months to go are September to April.
Snowman Trek, Bhutan
One of the hardest Himalayan routes, Bhutan’s Snowman Trek follows the spine of the Himalaya between Bhutan and Tibet, from Paro in the west to Trongsa in the east. During the course of this 25-day trek, hikers cross 11 passes in excess of 4,500 metres, including five over 5,000 metres, and visit the mountain kingdom of Lunana, one of the remotest inhabited valleys on the planet. Along the way, there’s time to look around fabled villages such as Laya and Tanza, walk beneath 6,000- and 7000-metre peaks, including Chomolhari, the astounding Jitsu Drake and the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum, as well as visits to the cliff-face Takstang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) and the picturesque Punakha Dzong.
Hill-tribe Trek, Myanmar (Burma)
Following the success of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party the National League for Democracy in Myanmar’s recent elections, interest in the country is rising, with new treks launching that go beyond the well-covered hot spots. This new trek starts in the small town of Pindaya, near Heho in the north, stopping to explore the Pindaya Caves, which contain more than 8,000 images of Buddha, before hiking through lush jungle, working farmland, vibrant rice paddies, coffee plantations and bamboo forest. En route, travellers can meet the local people and marvel at the Inle Lake fishermen, whose unique method of using one leg to row while catching fish has become one of Myanmar’s iconic sights. The trek finishes in the temple city of Bagan.
Kumano Kodo, Japan
Alongside Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago, Japan’s Kumano Kodo trail is the only pilgrimage route in the world to be designated Unesco World Heritage status. The network of ancient pathways is more than 1,000 years old, covering the mountains, villages and temples in the Kii Peninsula on the island of Honshu. Today, people still walk the routes paying their respect to the Kumano “Sanzan” three main shrines of Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha. The trails also link the region to Mt Koya (the founding place of Shingon Buddhism), Ise (Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine) and Yoshino (the home of mountain worship). The trails largely remain true to how they were 1,000 years ago with pilgrims staying at traditional “ryokan” guest houses and “Shukubo” temple lodgings en route.