1. Mount Rinjani, Indonesia
In the year 1257 on the Island of Lombok – the one to the East of Bali – Mount Rinjani suddenly exploded. It left a hole the size of Manhattan, smote Lombok, covered Bali with a few inches of rocks and ash, and ejected enough sulfur in the atmosphere to cause a chilly winter in Europe. Rinjani has been regularly erupting ever since.
Today, despite being a highly active volcano, around 100,000 climb it every year. They are likely drawn for the verdant jungle trails, the azure crater lake, and to see Rinjani’s ongoing volcanic rumblings. But it also offers the strange thrill of knowing that it could blow again at any moment.
2. Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand
Doi Chiang Dao is a 230-250 million year old limestone bluff, not in the least bit volcanic, known to locals as Piang Dao, meaning “at the level of the stars”. What once was seabed is now 2,175 metres in the air, and makes for a cool respite from Thailand’s hot season.
It is Thailand’s most popular hike for good reasons: With the area being designated as a wilderness preserve, it has unspoilt natural beauty that is uncommon for Thailand. Travellers also come to see and learn about the local tribes, which maintain distinct cultures, languages, and beliefs form the rest of Thailand. Finally, the climate is mild enough to spend a chilly night camping out under the stars, and taking in either sunset or sunrise at the summit.
3. Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
There’s no better climb for women hikers in Southeast Asia than Mount Kinabalu. It combines an intense physical challenge with incredible natural beauty and surreal alpine landscapes, but with accessibility, safety, and a (relatively) comfortable basecamp.
At 4,095 metres high, and a 2,200 metre climbing height, it’s no pushover. Unless you’re an athlete, or exceedingly short of time or respect for your body, you’ll want to spend a night at basecamp before and/or after summiting.
What is so great about Kinabalu: The foot of the mountain is easy reach from Kota Kinabalu and its airport. The hike is absolutely gorgeous – initially taking you through swaying bamboo forests and old tropical rainforests before reaching the basecamp. The basecamp is well kitted out – offering dorm beds and a simple restaurant, which means you can pack light and get a good rest before summiting. The final ascent is through unique tropical alpine forests, before crossing the treeline into a surreal granite moonscape all the way up to the summit. Yet it doesn’t get so cold that you need more than a light sweater.
4. Mount Tahan, Malaysia
Mount Tahan is not all that high, but is popular jungle trek for Malaysians and foreigners who like to test their stamina – Tahan being the Malay word for ‘endurance’. The trail is over 60 km though ancient trees, rivers, and pristine ecosystems of the Taman Negara National Park in the centre of Peninsular Malaysia. It takes a few days of intense hiking and camping in hot and humid conditions, potentially with tropical downpours. Locals believe an ancient Sultan ordered his men to recover ‘magic stones’ from the summit, but they didn’t make it back.
But despite the hardships, the rainforests of Mount Tahan are among the oldest in the world. It is also among the last remaining tropical rainforests on Peninsular Malaysia, with most now chopped down to make way for the scourge of palm oil plantations. Best climb it before it’s too late.
5. Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya), Indonesia
Carstensz Pyramid, or Puncak Jaya, is considered one of the world’s “Seven Summits” – a must-climb for alpinist and mountaineers of the ‘peak bagger’ variety. At 4,884 metres, it is the highest point between the Himalayas and the Andes.
Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to climb, but mainly because it is difficult to get to. It is found in a remote corner of Indonesia, which you can only get through after at least a few flights and a fair amount of jungle trekking. It is for this reason that more people have climbed Everest than Pucak Jaya.
Carstensz Pyramid was first conquered in 1962 by an expedition led by Henrich Harrer – the Geman who famously spent “Seven Years In Tibet” after escaping a British internment camp in India during WWII, and also was the first to harrowingly climb the North Face of Elger. Harrer was joined by a Dutch geologist, Jean Jaques Dozy, who spotted an oddly dark and green-tinged peak while climbing. He realised that was actually a mountain of gold and copper ore, which has since been removed and turned into one of the world’s largest and highest open-cut mine.
To learn more about climbing mountains in Southeast Asia, go to Summits.com – a new website aimed at making mountaineering in Asia more accessible to amateur climbers, and to women.