Part of driving overland around the world is to look for hidden gems and visit untouched regions, and destinations. In these lesser-known destinations, the food is more authentic and much cheaper, bush camping everywhere or when near a beach no-one around. Southeast Asia is one of those overland destinations that has all this and thank God no trailer parks like we currently see in Mexico.
Borneo, Malaysia, and Thailand
Island of Borneo; Kalimantan,-Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei
The Southeast Asian Island of Borneo, located on the Equator, is home to some of the world’s most diverse rain forests and Southeast Asia’s last intact forests. Borneo is the world’s third largest island. (After Greenland and New Guinea) The islands’ tropical climate and diverse ecoregions have created habitats that house thousands of unique species and the world’s last remaining, orangutans, Bornean Elephants. Look for the largest flower in the world in the million years old rainforests, bush camp on the unspoilt and untouched white sandy beaches.
This is the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, it covers 75% of the island. the mysterious Dayak villages who retain age-old traditions and way of life, to pure boating thrills along its countless rivers. The legendary jungles of Kalimantan are full of wildlife and the most famous is the Orangutan. Regarded as one of the most intelligent primates, unlike their Sumatran counterpart, Borneo’s Orangutans are relatively larger and have rounder faces. Others are the Proboscis Monkeys Hornbill Birds, Kancil Deer, Wild Boars,
Sarawak and Sabah (Malaysia)
Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia, with an area almost equal to that of mainland Malaysia. Sarawak is bordered by the Malaysian state of Sabah, the Indonesian Kalimantan, and Brunei. Sarawak has lots of lush tropical rainforests, and a wealth of natural wonders such as the prominent cave systems at Gunung Mulu National Park and the Rejang River, the longest river in Malaysia.
Sabah, lush tropical mountains, turquoise water and idyllic beaches, Mount Kinabalu, visit Danum Valley; the wetlands, the Kinabatangan River and Weston River, UNESCO Heritage Site, Kinabalu Park. Meet the locals with about 30 different races of ethnic and culture, around 80 dialects. If you lucky you may sleep with the locals in an authentic longhouse and village away from the tourist, visit Tamu during the weekly market where local traders gather here to sell their crops and produce. Visit Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.
This is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. 60% of Brunei is covered in dense virgin rainforest and another 20% in thick tropical forest. The forest is home to lots of proboscis monkeys, leaf monkeys and hornbills. Numerous species of reptiles, including the large, reticulated python, inhabit the country’s swamps and woodlands. Must visit in Brunei are the beaches in Muara, Ulu Temburong National Park, Sultan Omar Ali Saifudden Mosque, Istana Nurul Iman and the Kampong Ayer
Brunei population is predominantly Sunni Muslim, but the Chinese population usually follow Buddhism, while the indigenous people either are Christian or follow their own religions.
Important: The sale of alcohol and tobacco in Brunei is prohibited. However Non-Muslims over 17 years of age may import a limited amount of alcohol, but must declare it to the customs authorities on arrival, and must consume it in private. This was in 2009 so this may have changed.
The Kingdom of Thailand
Historically known as Siam, Thailand has land borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia and a maritime border with Vietnam. Hence a perfect overland destination. Thailand is a renowned beach destination but also well known for sex Holidays where Europeans, Americans and Australians enjoy themselves. But as we travelled Thailand extensively overland I can assure you it has a lot more to offer. In land you find amazing National parks, Temples, The Bridge of the river Kwai, lots of rich tribal cultures, the street markets of Chang Mai and Chang Rai, sleepy village on the coast where you can watch the local fisherman. Alternative you can visit fast paced and High rise Bangkok, or the tourist towns/areas of Pattaya, Phuket, Koi Samui and Chang Mai. But we as overlanders much more enjoy the endless rice paddies, mountains and the many hill tribes in the more remote areas away from the tourist.
MUST SEE WHEN IN THAILAND
The palaces and floating markets in Bangkok as part of the Bangkok tour. Try a klong tour away from the tourist.
Close to the Border with Myanmar Also called little Switzerland visit the small communities in the area, visiting the Phumanee hill tribes. Stay in one of the villages and see that head-first cultural experience it is a wonderful chance to see how a Thai tribe lives its daily life.
2 days drive North of Bangkok or 1 day from the Laos border. It is Thailands second biggest city (Very Touristy) but few high-rise buildings, We loved the markets and easy to get into the Golden Triangle
Thailands Beaches, we really loved the area around Khao Lak and Ko Lantha great beach camping and no-one around. Krabi Island and the amazing white beaches.
The old capital city of Siam is UNESCO World Heritage and has temples similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You could even do this trip by boat from Bangkok on a converted rice barge.
Khao Sok National Park
Not far from Khao Lak and when asking nice you are allowed to park your truck overnight in the jungle next to the tented camps set up for tourist. (This was 2012). You are in the heart of the park, and close to some of the best beaches in Thailand. While camping in the wild you will see Elephants in their natural habitat. While in the park don’t forget to visit the small floating village
Khao Yai National Park,
Thailand’s first national park, it is the third largest national park in Thailand. Wild elephants, gibbons, mouse deer and wild boar visited our camp site while in the park. We looked out for the world largest Bovine but never saw one.
The golden Triangle
This is the area in the far North of Thailand where Myanmar-Laos and Thailand converge. Standing on the banks of the Mekong river in Thailand you can see Laos, and Myanmar. From here you could book a trip to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam
The Bridge over the river Kwai
Originally the Bridge was called bridge 277 of the Burma Siam Railway. Later it became the death railway due to the 100000 people who had died, while working on the railway in the 16 months it took to build in 1942 and 1943. Today it is known as the Bridge over the River Kwai. Other must do’s walk through Hellfire pass, walk across the bridge and part of the railway, visit the Memorial, visit Kanchanaburi War cemetery where mostly Australian, Dutch and British are buried.
The area around Kanchanaburi is also worthwhile to do a few more days exploring. One place to visit is busy Erawan National park, You can camp overnight near the Erawan waterfalls near the visitor centre. It is touristy and can get quite busy with day trippers (Erawan Falls are one of the most popular in Thailand) There are also several long caves within the park, most are deep in the park but some not far from the main road.
Say Yok close to the border with Myanmar is also known for waterfalls, caves, historical sites and raft houses along its main river the Khwae Noi. You will also find the remains of the Burma to Siam railway (Death Railway) Being a lot less visited it is also a great place to stay overnight.
Thailand has so much to offer to the overlander and you will never have enough time to do it all
Located just North of the equator. Malaysia is divided in 2 regions West Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia) and East Malaysia located on the island of Borneo. (Sarawak and Sabah) Malaysia has land borders with Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia (Kalimantan province with Sarawak) The middle of Peninsular Malaysia is covered in thick rainforest and mountains. Malaysia is touristy (Its slogan is TRULY ASIA) and offers beautiful beaches, Idyllic Islands, amazing national parks with thick rainforest and lots of wildlife.
It appears that in Malaysia, Muslims, Hindu, Different Chinese religions, and the indigenous all can live together each with their own language, culture and many festivals.
Kuala Lumpur the capital city is modern with high rises mega shopping malls but mixed with traditional colonial shops and markets. (mostly catering for the tourist and expats) Same applies for the tourist mecca’s of Penang, and the UNESCO listed towns of Malacca and Georgetown.
We enjoyed the Mountains, Rainforest and traditional villages and towns a lot more in particular the more relaxed East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia
MUST DO/SEE when overlanding in Malaysia.
The Royal Belum State Park, near border with Thailand amazing park with some of the oldest rainforest in the world
The Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre, Very touristy close to Kuala Lumpur via the expressway and managed by the Malaysian dept of wildlife here many orphaned elephants are raised and protected. However we prefer and recommend you visit Sungai Ketlar instead
The Sungai Ketlar Elephant Conservation Centre, in a remote location north of Lake Kenyir in Tasik Kenyir hence it will never be as popular as the sanctuary near Kuala Lumpur. The sanctuary is located in the western part of the lake
Negara National Park (State of Terengganu) We were told this park has the oldest rainforest in the world at 130 million years old. However we believe it is the Daintree Forest where we live in Australia which we are told is 135 to 180 million years old?
Lake Kenyir (largest manmade lake in Asia) during our visit we were told that the area has over 8000 types of flowers, 2500 types of plants and trees, 8000 orchids and nearly 400 types of birds
Island of Penang (very touristy) Also called Pinang, Pulau Pinang or Penang Island. A island in the strait of Malacca connected via a bridge with mainland Malaysia . It has become prime tourist destination with luxury hotels and a large Expat population mixed with Chinese, Indians, Sumatrans, and people from Myanmar.
Cameron Highlands (very touristy) here you can combine 5 star luxury, casinos, shopping with visiting Tea plantations in a perfect cool climate, don’t miss the Mossy Forest (or Cloud Forest) covered in white mist early in the morning.
Kota Bahru, close to the border with Thailand here the muslim culture rules daily life. Be aware this is a very conservative town.
The State of Terengganu, visit remote beaches, the capital Kuala Terengganu, China town, the central markets and the sultans palace.
Endau Rompin National park, Like Taman Negara and Royal Belum State Park it has some of the oldest rainforest in the world, lots of nice waterfalls and the amazing Orang Asli Tribe. This is a great Off-Road destination.
Kuala Selangor, famous for its fireflies along the Selangor River. We were told this is the largest firefly colony in the world.
Malacca, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia, great food and the best Satay we had in Malaysia, don’t forget the night market. We camped at the beachfront graveyard just out of town
Guning Panti Recreational Forest, Easy driving along okay tracks look out for elephants and Tapirs enjoy the scenery and birdlife. Busy on the weekends.
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