Hiking a mountain does not always appeal to most people: hours or days of trekking, lack of basic amenities, no fancy food, not enough sleep — the list just never ends! Yet, for many of us, hiking means something beyond that. We hike to experience the feeling of accomplishment upon completing the trek, to cherish the friendships born along the journey, to be grateful for the pristine nature, and of course, to witness the magical sunrise that makes it worth the while. The good news is you don’t have to travel far to experience all of the above! Southeast Asia has so many incredible mountains that you can hike for a magical sunrise.
Mountain Sunrises To Check Off Your Bucket List
Doi Inthanon, Thailand
Located just around 50km away from Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest peak. Rent a car from the town to discover as many trails, waterfalls, mountain points, and temples scattered around this national park.
You don’t have to hike to reach the famous Royal Twin Pagodas as they are accessible by car, making Doi Inthanon a family-friendly destination! Having said that, the sunrise at the summit point is unquestionably gorgeous and is not something I will want to miss!
Sunrise from Thailand’s highest peak. Photo Credit / @Berry J
Chiang Mai’s tiny size is an advantage as you can conquer the town by foot. Pick an accommodation close to the centre of its old town, such as Phoothawee House. Besides its reasonable price, comfort and luxury, Phoothawee House is within walking distance to every tourist site within the old city. That saves you a lot of time and energy!
Mount Kinabalu is Malaysia’s highest peak and is located around 80km west to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah. Kinabalu rises to more than 4,000m high, and although can be completed in 2-day, no one should underestimate this mountain. Prepare yourself from a few weeks before the hike by getting enough rest, doing light exercise and having proper meals to boost your stamina for the climb. Trust me, you don’t want to give up halfway through the journey because you will be rewarded with a magical sunrise at the peak!
Borneo island’s highest point and its gorgeous sunrise. Photo Credit / @Adi Prabowo
Mount Kinabalu is also the highest peak in Borneo Island, which consists of 3 countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Many public transportations serve the route from town to Mount Kinabalu’s Timpohon gate, the starting point of the hike. Else, many travellers pre-arranged transports or self-drive from Kota Kinabalu to save the hassle of waiting.
The peculiar outcropping of Kinabalu. Photo Credit: @HK Colin
Make sure to book the package a few months in advance as there are only a limited number of permits issued every day. It is no surprise that the accommodation options nearby are fully booked most of the time! Don’t forget to pack your items properly — bring extra or thick clothing to keep yourself warm during the hike.
Pulag, The Philippines
Mount Pulag is the third highest mountain in the Philippines at 2,922 meters high, and the highest in Luzon island. The nearest town to fly to would be Baguio, a hill station 5 hours north of Manila.
Engulfed by the sea of clouds. Photo Credit / @Jojo Nicdao
The hike from the starting point Badabak Ranger Station and back can be completed in 2 days. The mountain is not that challenging to climb, so you should be able to reach the summit with ease to watch a sea of fluffy clouds floating around during sunrise.
The golden ball of fire on the horizon. Photo Credit / @Arthur Nielsen
From Baguio, take a van that will bring you to a junction near the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (around 2 hours ride). The national park is within walking distance from this intersection.
Kelimutu is a small volcano in Flores Island (East Nusa Tenggara province) famous for its three eccentric craters — each has a different colour that changes significantly over time. Although the hike is relatively easy (around 30 minutes from the car park), I had never seen such a magical sunrise before, where a soufflé of clouds, the warm ray of the sun and three-colour lakes conspire to show nature’s grandeur.
Most people visiting Kelimutu National Park stay in a small village called Moni, which is 3 hours away from Ende, the biggest town in Flores Island. For convenience, try to arrange the transportation for the entire trip of Ende – Moni – Kelimutu in Ende, especially if you are tight on time.
The local people believe that the volcano (and its lakes) serves as a sacred resting place for the departed souls who will go to a particular lake according to their merits in life. Meanwhile, the changing colours reflect the changing mood of these spirits.
Stay at least a night at Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge, located close to Mount Kelimutu, to enjoy the serene nature far from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Sapa is located in Vietnam’s northwest mountainous area near the Chinese border. Also known as “the Tonkinese Alps”, Sapa region is host to many native hill tribes and Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan. Many travellers take an overnight train or bus from Hanoi to Sapa as Sapa has no airport.
Although it doesn’t require extensive hiking, trekking in Sapa region is a breathtaking experience. It offers a lovely mixture of local culture, impressive nature and pleasant weather, not to forget a majestic sunrise along the journey.
The hills of Sapa welcoming the morning light
If you are up for a challenge, hike up Mount Fansipan! Fansipan’s title as the highest peak in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos may scare you, but most people actually find Fansipan relatively easy to ‘summit’. If you prefer something more laid back, enjoy the beautiful French colonial architecture at Sapa town, or immerse yourself in the local culture by staying with a host family.
Nat Ma Taung, Myanmar
Located close to India’s border, Nat Ma Taung soars to more than 3,000m and here lies Mount Victoria, the highest mountain in the Chin state of Western Myanmar. The nearest town to this national park would be Kanpetlet, while the nearest airport, Bagan Nyaung U, is 8-hour drive away. Public transport to this region is somewhat challenging, so I recommend you sign up with a tour group from Bagan.
A pagoda on top of the mountain. Photo Credit: @Lionslayer
The hike from Kanpetlet to the summit only takes 5 hours, but why don’t you stay overnight? That way, you can catch the gorgeous sunrise and extend your trekking trip to Mindat, a neighbouring town larger than Kanpetlet. In Mindat, you can find members of the native Dai, Upu and Ya tribes whose older women sport traditional facial tattoos.
There are just too many mountains with beautiful sunrise views in Southeast Asia, but these mountains are ideal for all, regardless of the level of experience. Make sure you have no existing medical condition that makes hiking dangerous for you, plan your trip well, and always look out for the latest news of potential eruption or mountain activity around the region. So, ready to embark your journey in catching the sunrise on a mountain?