We found tons of awesome side trips throughout our adventure that we could tackle in less than a day, without a guide. These are simple hikes close to major tourist areas, or sites you can visit by taking public transport or hiring a tuk tuk. We love exploring areas on our own, as it allows us to take our time to see what we want to see, and it often saves a lot of money! There’s also something fulfilling about being able to get to and from somewhere all on our own with limited resources. Definitely set a day or a couple hours aside to visit these awesome places.
- Easily one of our best days in Australia was spent walking the cliffside to the famous Byron Bay Lighthouse. Tons of people visit this great beach town and don’t even know this exists! Get your butt off the sand for a day and throw on some shoes to witness stunning ocean cliff views, dolphins, and the brightest lighthouse in all of Australia. The best part is that it costs absolutely nothing! It’s a 5-10 minute walk up the road from the main beach, and you’ll find many smaller isolated beaches along the way. The whole hike is just under 4km, and if you’re in a rush can be tackled in about 1.5 hours, but we recommend 3-4 hours so you can stop, enjoy the small “private” beaches and take in all the sites. A detailed step-by-step explanation of the hike can be found in our post here.
Kuang Si Waterfall – Luang Prabang, Laos
- Hands down the best waterfall we visited throughout our whole adventure, this day trip is a must while staying in Luang Prabang. You won’t be able to ignore it, as you constantly hear shouts of “Waterfall! Caves!” every time you walk by a tuk tuk driver. From our experience, the waterfall is the better choice. Three of us spent 50,000 kip (8 CAD) each for the tuk tuk round trip (approx 30-45 mins each way) after a long bargaining process, but if you take more people you can lower the price. It also costs 20,000 kip to enter the park. After that prepare to spend the whole day exploring a massive waterfall system, checking out the sun bear sanctuary and swimming in the amazing turquoise blue water. We only spent 2 hours here, but we could’ve easily spent the whole day. You’re able to walk up the side of the waterfall (we recommend walking up the right side and down the left) and check out the feeder stream as well as the view from the top. There’s also an awesome log to jump off of into a pool downstream of the waterfall. Make sure to buy a couple beers and some snacks from the vendors on the way in and make a day of it!
- One of the crowning achievements of our trip was making it the floating market and back without paying exorbitant amounts of money for a tour. We took a minibus to a stop close to the market, bypassed the “scam pier” and were able to explore the market on our own time, before hoards of tourists clogged up the river. The floating market is no longer used by the locals, it’s only maintained as a tourist attraction now. Nonetheless it’s still a cool experience to navigate the waterways to see shops you can only access from a boat. Make sure to get some coconut pancakes for breakfast, and some coconut ice cream with sticky rice. Seeing pad thai made in a boat right beside us was really cool too. We recommend getting a paddled tour as opposed to a motored longtail. It’s cheaper (we managed to get one for 150 baht each, but if we were in a group of 4 it would have been 100 baht each) and more peaceful. Plus you can actually see what’s in the shops and explore instead of just zooming past. Definitely an exciting day trip and a welcome escape from Bangkok. Check out of full step-by-step post on our day here for more detailed info.
Highway 6 – South Island, New Zealand
- We tackled the west coast of South Island in one monster day at the end of our trip and saw some amazing sites! Though we’d recommend elongating this to a two day trip if you can! You can experience a little bit of everything on this drive, and guides aren’t necessary. Starting from Greymouth we made our way south along the amazing scenic Highway 6 and stopped a lot to take pictures. Our first planned stop was Franz Joseph Glacier, which has some awesome hiking trails and you can get a peak at the glacier if you’re lucky. We stopped shortly after at Lake Matheson for another nice hike around a small lake, which when calm and clear provides a crazy reflective view of Mount Cook on the water. We weren’t treated to the famous sight, but the hike was nice anyway! We were going to skip Fox Glacier but ended up being enticed by a sign signifying a viewpoint so we drove up to try our luck. We were able to see more of the glacier than Franz Joseph, so we were pretty happy! Those were the main sights, but we also stopped at Haast River Rapids, Fantail Falls, drove through the Aspiring Mountain range and witnessed some breathtaking views of mountains around Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea before making it to Queenstown. If you have to decide between driving down the west coast or east coast to Queenstown, we definitely recommend the west coast. Check out more about this scenic drive here!
Koh Nang Yuen – Koh Tao, Thailand
- We were in Koh Tao for our diving certs and for some much needed rest after the full moon party, and we were apparently very uninformed about what the island had to offer. Our friend invited us to go to Koh Nang Yuen on our last day on the island, and we were tired so we almost blew her off. We ended up trying to find a longtail to take us there later in the afternoon, and then after hearing their crazy price (he started at 1200 baht for the round trip) we almost ditched the idea again. We found someone farther down the beach who offered us the trip for 600 baht (200 baht each between 3 of us) and decided to go for it. We are sure glad we did, because that island became the cover photo on our home page, and easily one of the top views we saw on our trip. The entrance fee was another 100 baht, then we started exploring the beautiful island. It’s the only group of three islands in the world connected by one stretch of beach, and not only is it unique but the views from the viewpoint are stunning. Make sure to also pack a bathing suit to take advantage of the amazing white sand beaches and turquoise water. An absolute must see when visiting Koh Tao, we don’t know how we almost missed it.
Buddha Caves – Chiang Rai, Thailand
- This was a fun bike ride out by the county side surrounding the small city of Chiang Rai. It’s a 20-30 minute bike ride across Kok River to Tham Tu Pu, the first cave. It’s kind of spooky, and has a large buddha statue inside. Further down the road you’ll find the bigger Buddha Cave in a park beside the river. A monk watches over the cave, and you can go in and walk around to check out all of the cool buddha statues. Walk down to the river and down the path to the left and you’ll find a bridge to a small rock outcrop island with another cool buddha on it! It was a great way to get some excercise and some fresh air! Check out more about the Buddha Caves and Chiang Rai here.
- An amazing full day hike easily reached by public transport just outside of Sydney. You can catch the train at Central Station with your Opal Card, and get to Katoomba Station in about 2 hours. From there you walk through the cute town (or take the bus) and end up at the absolutely stunning Echo Point with views of the famous Three Sisters rock formation. You can stop there if you want, buy a souvenir and snap some pics and head home, or if you’re adventurous like us you can hike the loop down into the valley. Down in the valley amongst the trees you feel like you’re in a whole different country. On the way back up you hike right past a magnificent waterfall, and the walk along the cliffside back to Echo Point provides great views of the valley. Our hike took us about 4 hours, with frequent stops to take pictures and to check out the waterfall. If you’re spending more than two days in Sydney this hike is a must see. The best thing is that the train only costs $15 round trip with an Opal Card! Check out a detailed step-by step explanation of our whole day in our post here.
Bolaven Plateau – Pakse, Laos
- If you end up spending a day in Pakse, make sure to rent a scooter and head out to the Bolaven Plateau. It’s not far out of town, and it’s home to a bunch of awesome waterfalls. Any scooter rental shop will be able to show you them on the map, but if you just head down the main road you’ll find signs along the way. We stopped at Tad Yuang and Tad Cham Pee waterfalls, and both took our breath away. Spending the day hopping from waterfall to waterfall is definitely better spent than a day sitting in Pakse! Check out more about Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau here.