hiking in Asia

Hiking in Asia - What to Know and Where to Go

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hiking trails in Asia

Doing an internship abroad is not just all hard work, which is why in this week’s article we’re introducing you to one adventurous journey perfect to go on during your free time. In between your time spend at work, you should also take the opportunity to explore your surroundings and go on a weekend get-away (or longer) somewhere a bit further away from your internship location. You can do this either by yourself or with friends and do the classical “exploring a new location” by walking around a city/town and visiting the more memorable sightseeing spots, or you could let free your more adventurous site and explore your surroundings from a different perspective. One way of doing this is by going on a hiking trail, which will most likely present you with breath-taking views you would not have seen otherwise.

Asian countries not only differ in culture, but their landscape is very diverse which makes for a great variety of hiking trails. We’ve decided to narrow down the overwhelming list of hiking trails and give you an overview of some of the best hiking trails (and views) across Asia. And because preparing for your hiking tour might be a bit of a challenge, we’ve also compiled a few tips to keep in mind before you head out the door, especially if you’re going to be hiking abroad in a country you’re not at all familiar with and the language barrier makes it even more of a challenge.


Annapurna Circuit – Nepal

Hiking in AsiaAnnapurna circuit is a trek within the Annapurna mountain range of central Nepal and is considered to be one of the best treks in the world. The entire trek takes around 17-21 days from start to finish and the total length of the route varies between 160-230 km (100-145 miles), depending on where motor transportation is used and where the trek is ended. The trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna massif. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass (5,416m / 17,769 ft), touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Most trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, easier, and safer. The start point of the trek can be reached after a six-hour drive from Kathmandu. The trail is moderate to fairly challenging and makes numerous river crossings over steel and wooden suspension bridges. It also passes along paddy fields and into subtropical forests, several waterfalls, gigantic cliffs, and various villages. The trek combines a wide variety of climate zones from tropic to arctic, and cultural variety from Hindu villages to the Tibetan culture. Tea houses and lodges along the circuit are available for meals and accommodations.


Mount Rinjani – Indonesia

hiking in indonesiaThis trek is optimal for anyone interested in hiking over a volcano. Mount Rinjani is the second largest volcano in the Indonesian island of Lombok and is revered as a sacred place for the people in Lombok. During this hike, which takes a couple of days to complete, you’ll climb up to the crater rim of the volcano and down into the crater until you reach the crater lake of Segera Anak. The lower and mid-levels of the mountain are quite heavily forested. Above the tree line though you’ll be walking through volcanic rocks. The trek all the way to the summit of Mount Rinjani is physically demanding and should be hiked only by people with a high level of physical fitness. However, there are plenty of lower level treks through the valleys for anyone wanting to still hike through the national park. Treks normally start in either Senaru or Sembalun Lawang however in the last couple of years some other routes have opened including the Benang Stokel, Timbanuh and Torean routes. The Senaru ascent route is by far the most used one as it allows a (relatively) less strenuous trek to the crater rim only. There is no lodging in the park itself so make sure to prepare accordingly. There are however some simple places to stay in Senaru and Sembalun Lawang. Camping is possible at designated rest shelter areas on the ascent routes and at the crater rim.


Wulingyuan Scenic Area – China

Avatar mountains ChinaMost people have probably heard of the ‘Avatar’ movie at one point or another or even seen the movie. What if we told you that James Cameron got inspired by China’s scenery? We’re talking about the floating mountains. Wulingyuan Scenic Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site 40km from Zhangjiajie City and is home to the famous finger mountains that inspired the scenery in the movie. You can reach Zhangjiajie City from any of the major cities in China like Beijing and Shanghai. The “Hallelujah Mountains” of Wulingyuan are composed of sandstone, a rock that erodes much more quickly over time. Over many thousands of years, strong winds and rain have whittled away at the sides of the mountains creating the unique finger-like projections we come to marvel at today. The scenic area consists of many stone hiking paths and countless thousands of steps, but those who make the physical effort of climbing to the top of the mountain are rewarded with spectacular views. You can still reach the top by taking one of the many cable cars instead of hiking up, although these require a long wait during peak season. Some might argue whether this is an actual hiking spot seeing as you can also just take the lift all the way to the top and pretty much not hike a single metre, but the views from the top make it worth mentioning and are even more rewarding after hiking up the mountains.


Mount Kinabalu – Borneo

hiking in Borneo For all those nature enthusiasts out there, Mount Kinabalu is the perfect trekking destination. Located in the Kinabula Park, a World Heritage Site, on the island of Borneo, it is one of the world’s most important biological sites. It is most famous for its huge diversity of botanical and biological species and hikers can choose between two different trails: the Summit trail and the Mesliau trail. No specialized mountain climbing skills are required to ascend it, though the climb is by no means easy and along certain sections on the Summit trail, hikers will need to rely on guide ropes to make the ascent and descent. The trail that most tourists use is described as a 'trek and scramble'. Although it is possible to climb to the top and back in less than four hours, most climbers take two days, with an overnight break at Laban Rata as camping is not permitted on the mountain. The landscape ranges from tropical rainforest to subalpine at near the summit. The Park is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna that changes in nature as your altitude increases. Near the top of the mountain the trees thin out and give way to shrubs, stones and fabulous views.


Yakushima – Japan

hiking in JapanForget Japan's neon reputation. Away from the big cities, Japan is a hiker's wonderland. Due to its isolation, steep terrain and exceptional climate, Yakushima is one of Japan's natural wonders and a registered UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The rocky coastline and the verdant mountains rising sharply in the centre of the island are often spectacular. Wildflowers and blossoms decorate roads and forest. The pink sunrises and blood red sunsets over the Pacific are breath-taking. The island is located north of Okinawa and can also be reached from Japan’s bigger cities like Osaka by plane. There are two different types of hikes. Jomon sugi is the main destination for hikers. To reach this location hikers must be reasonably fit and start before dawn in order to complete the round trip which takes 10-12 hours. However, this steep trail does not go through the most impressive forest on the island. To see the silent, mossy, primeval forest pictured in every tourist brochure, the better destination is the Shiratani Unsuikyo forest. Here you can take a 3-4-hour long hike through the forest, or hike for abound 30 minutes to the magnificent 3000-year-old cedar tree called Yayoi sugi. Longer hikes with overnight stays are also available. These hiking trails are among the most pristine and lonely in Japan. Some of these include hikes to the top of the highest peaks Miyanoura-dake and Nagata-dake, and both have a few mountain huts along the way.


Choose your destination

Before you go on your new adventure, you might want to keep in mind a few essentials. First of all, you need to decide your destination for your hike. If you’re already abroad doing an internship, you might want to consider staying in the same country since some countries might have visa policies with a single-entry such as China. If you’re not limited to a single country but have the freedom to choose between a wider range, deciding on the kind of hike you want to do and the kind of scenery you want to see/experience is a good place to start. Mountains, volcanoes, coastal hikes, national parks… there are many different types to choose from. This is more of a personal decision and varies from person to person.

Once you’ve narrowed down the destination and the type of trail you wish to hike, your next step is to decide whether you wish to hike solo or with friends/family (independent hike), or in a group organized by a tour operator (guided hike). Unless you are an experienced hiker, we advise you to always go on these hiking trails with an experienced hiking tour operator to make sure you not only get the best experience out of your adventure, but to also ensure your safety. By booking one of these tours, an experienced guide will accompany you along the trail, look out for everyone’s safety and usually explain facts about the trail, the land on which your walking or even the country in itself. This provides you with a generally hassle-free tour in which you don’t need to think of every single detail you might miss, but instead have experienced people taking care of them. It’s also a great way of meeting and sharing this experience with like-minded people. Each destination has many different hiking tour operators, some of which offer the exact same trail, others might offer more of a unique trail. If you already have a certain trail in mind, you can directly search for tour operators that offer that trail and compare them. If not, you can browse different trails offered by different tour operators to see what’s out there and then choose a trail.


Choose your hiking tour operator

When choosing your hiking tour operator, you might want to consider a few different criteria. Some hiking tour operators might require you to have a certain level of experience in hiking so make sure to check out that you meet them, and you should also make sure that the level of physical activity matches your ability. Logistics is also an important factor you should consider when choosing. Some will have transportation included to and from the start of the hiking trail, others won’t. If the length of your hike is more than a day, you should also look into the type of accommodation included in the tour and how you’ll reach these accommodations. Usually, you’ll want to go for the tour in which you have minimal indoor time and less time spend on transportation to maximize your outdoor adventure time. Also, some tours will be planed to the very last detail leaving you very little free time in case you wish to do something independently, whereas others will include some free time build into the itinerary. Same applies to food and beverage. Some tours will provide them for you, whereas others will expect you to bring them yourself, and you need to decide whether you’d rather have them arrange it for you or if you prefer to bring your own food and drinks (this might especially apply to people with some kind of allergy or intolerance).

Having some kind of insurance that will cover you during the hike is a must. However, this is another factor that can affect which tour operator you end up choosing. Some tours will have insurance included (always check to see what the insurance in itself includes) or give you the option to additionally book it through them, whereas others will expect you to get your own insurance. Some people might already have an insurance they acquired before going abroad that also cover these kind of things, others might have an insurance, but without such an extended coverage. For these people it might be easier if the tour operator provides some kind of insurance for the trail or the possibility to book it through them. This means you have to buy the insurance provided, which might not necessarily be adequate for you. Thus, others might prefer to look at different insurance types for themselves and then choose the one that best fits their needs.

Some other things to take into consideration are the maximum number of people allowed in the hiking group (do you prefer to hike in smaller or larger groups?), the cancellation and refund policy to be prepared for the unexpected, and what exactly is included in the tour and what you need to pay in addition to the given price (meals, transport, accommodation…).

At last, but by no means less important, you might also want to look at the tour company itself. Make sure the company is an established, credible provider (background, reviews) and has a positive local presence (local experts, money going into local communities…), and look into the guides that lead the tour themselves as these can be a defining element of the experience. Especially if the language barrier could become an issue, you should make sure that the tour guide will speak a language (most likely English) that you’ll be able to understand.


More research

Also keep in mind that hiking abroad means not only adjusting to different weather, altitude or terrain conditions. Cultural conditions should also be kept into consideration and researching a bit about the country in which your hiking and its culture will ensure for an even better hiking experience, especially if your trail passes through local communities or local historical sites. You should also make a small health and safety research before you embark on this adventure and take into account vaccinations or medications you might need, the current cultural, political and economic situation, the altitude of your trail, and other general safety suggestions.

hiking in AsiaPreparing your equipment is also an essential step in which you might want to spend some time to thoroughly decide what you should bring with you. Every trail is different, so we recommend you research what essentials you need to bring with you as this will vary depending on the type of trail, the length of your trail, whether you’re going as part of an organized hiking tour and, if so, which operator you end up choosing. Weather conditions need to be taken into account to know what clothes and shoes you will need, what the path on which you will be walking is like will determine the type of footwear you need. The length of the entire trip will determine whether you need sleeping equipment and the type of sleeping equipment will vary depending on your sleeping arrangements. Food and beverage will depend on whether you go on an independent or guided hike, and whether they are included in your guided hike if you went for the latter option.

Hiking abroad often means leaving your comfort zone. But if you do your research beforehand and prepare yourself accordingly, hiking abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. No matter where you end up hiking, always keep into consideration the environment, the people, and the culture of your destination, appreciate and embrace the differences and similarities and, not matter what, always keep your eyes wide open and take in as much as you can of this unforgettable experience.

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