Discovering the Beauty of Southeast Asian Mountains
This November, we can't wait to bring you the dreamy mountains of Southeast Asia!
On 15 May 2021, Khoo Swee Chiow, became the first Southeast person to summit Mt. Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Located in Nepal, only about 420 people, not counting the local guides, Sherpas, and other ethnic groups who live in the surrounding area, have successfully reached the top of the mountain beginning in 1955. Mr. Khoo, a professional adventurer who has climbed Mt Everest 3 times, swam across the Malacca strait, and kayaked across the Philippines, has this to say about what it feels like to climb mountains: “[Sometimes] There’s this magical moment [when you climb a mountain] where it’s just you, and everything is still, and you can hear your heartbeat. And those are, what I call, really magical moments.”
Khoo Swee Chiow, left, and his Sherpa, Mingma, atop Makalu on 19 May 2014.
Speaking of magical moments, nothing is as magical as the views from the mountains of Southeast Asia. Imagine the mix of the sun, the warm but fresh air, the amazing feeling of knowing you can keep going one step at a time, the exceptional views you’ll take sight of from the summit, the reminder that you’re just a small part of the world, and the hospitality of the locals you’ll meet on the journey. We agree with Mr. Khoo, these tiny moments are magical.
That’s just some of what’s inside the travel bag of Southeast Asian mountain-climbing experience.
Wondrous Peaks in Southeast Asia
So what exactly is hiding in the region?
Malay Gunung Kinabal in North-Western East Malaysia (North Borneo)
Some of the highest summits can be found in Southeast Asia. Mt. Kinabalu, for one, with a height of 4095m and a rocky peak of granite, is the jewel of Malaysia in North Borneo.
Carstensz Pyramid or Puncak Jaya at Indonesian island of Papua New Guinea
Aside from that, Southeast Asia also has its own representative in the "7 Summits" (i.e., the seven highest mountains in the world, each from the seven continents). More famously known as the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, Puncak Jaya stands tall at 4884m and is the highest point between the Himalayas and the Andes.
Puncak Jaya is located very remotely in the Irian Jaya province, which is why more people have climbed Everest, standing one mountain taller than the Carstensz Pyramid.
But wait! Hold your hiking boots. Before you go climbing the Carstensz Pyramid of Indonesia, you need to learn about what it went through first. Did you know that it used to have one of the few tropical snow caps in the world? Unfortunately, global warming has affected it pretty badly, and now its glaciers have shrunk and are almost gone.
Mt. Santubong in Borneo
Southeast Asia is still the place to go when it comes to low peaks. The region's shorter mountains—like Mt. Santubong in Borneo, Mt. Ophir and Lambak in Peninsular Malaysia, Mt. Popa in Myanmar, and Mt. Bintan near Singapore—are perfect for afternoon picnics. Because these summits are too high to support agriculture, what they have are some of the richest and most beautiful jungles in the world. You can only imagine how breathtaking the sunset is from these green elevations, and how surreal the experience will be when you spend an afternoon here with the people that matter to you.
Doi Chiang Dao in Thailand
Apart from the high peaks and low peaks, there are also middle peaks that rise at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above the surrounding area in the region. Some examples of this are Doi Chiang Dao in Thailand, Mt. Tahan in Malaysia, and Mt. Aural in Cambodia. There are no snow caps in these summits, but you'll find their unique tropical alpine jungles to be just as delightful to be in. Since the elevation in these mountains is ideal for camping, you may camp out with friends to admire the stars at night, and if you get the timing right early in the day, you may even catch sight of their spectacular clouds and mists stepping out from the dark.
Mt. Bromo in Eastern Java
To make your experience more exciting, check out the volcanoes among the summits in the region. Some are usually dormant, while others are sometimes blowing out volcanic smoke in puffs from domes. For instance, Mt. Bromo in Eastern Java, Mt. Apo in the Philippines, and Mt. Merapi on Sumatera do this.
Mt. Semeru in Java, on the other hand, is one of the active ones that regularly has lava flowing from them. Although it technically erupts every 15 minutes to half an hour, a great number of people still choose it for their hike.
There are also volcanoes in Southeast Asia that once had phenomenal activities and whose remains have become beautiful sites and attractions. For example, take Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, or Mt. Rinjani on Lombok Island. The hike in these summits is definitely a challenge but the view of these crater lakes is definitely worth it.
Mt. Rinjani on Lombok Island
Climate Crisis: Forest Loss in Southeast Asian Mountains -- Why should we care?
Whether you have a preference for the heights, for the middle peaks, or the shorter summits, the selection of these mountains will always reward you with a breathtaking view and an exceptional experience.
But those are not the only things the mountains of Southeast Asia are good for. Even without the tourists and the people to witness their beauty, these mountains will remain beautiful, home to a tremendous diversity of species that are exclusive to their jungles, and they will still be a good source of natural resources that we should conserve.
Regretful to say, there is a current climate crisis slowly wiping out Southeast Asia's nature in the mountains. For one, about 189,000 square kilometers of highland forest in the region have been turned into farmland in the last two decades. This means bad news for locals who are directly depending on forest resources. To make it worse, the continuing destruction of higher-elevation forests makes it harder to achieve international climate goals because they contain more carbon than lowland forests.
How serious is this matter, you ask? Know that Southeast Asia contains approximately half of the world’s tropical mountain forests. If the destruction of these forests carries on, imagine how that would affect us, even those from outside the region.
The devastation of these tropical mountain forests is caused not only by their conversion into cropland and other human activities. Some damages are caused by destructive weather brought by climate change, which, essentially, is also influenced by our actions.
The aforementioned Carstensz Pyramid, for instance, is slowly losing its snowy caps to global warming. Other mountains, on the other hand, are slowly being exploited by mining companies for their minerals.
What can we do?
How can you help save the mountains so that many more aspiring hikers may climb them?
- Be prepared
- Being fully prepared for any accident or unwanted event will prevent you from compromising the mountain's health.
- Sometimes you have to descend from your climb even when you’re almost to the top. Your life is more important and the mountain is there for you to attempt to summit again at another time. Who will rejoice when you’re not there to bask in your accomplishment?
- Be a responsible hiker
- Discipline is important when hiking, not just because of the possible strenuousness of the activity but also because you must leave your environment better than you found it. “Take Only Picutres, Leave Only Footprints,” is just some of the slogans you need to be aware of when visiting nature. This is an encouragement to not leave any trash (and to pick up any trash you come across) and to not disturb natural ecosystems by taking parts of it as a souvenir.
- Stick to the path! While it may seem like a good idea to create your own route, the established routes are in place for a reason. Pathways carved by organizations, the indigenous groups, past hikers, and even by nature, are there to protect fragile ecosystems.
- If locals don’t climb, follow their lead. Responsibility also means not doing what you think you can do and instead following the lead of those whose actions have caused little to no harm.
- Plant trees
- Tree-planting activities can be just as enjoyable as climbing mountains. This will help manage climate change, which in turn may prevent destructive weather from damaging tropical mountain forests.
- Of course, the responsibility in this climate crisis is a shared one, and we cannot do anything on our own if others continue a destructive lifestyle. To make our impacts bigger, we must let more people know about our cause, and convince them to join in it as well. Sharing the word can be as easy as sharing links of articles to your social media, or it could be through a simple conversation with a friend. No act of this can be too small because one person's words can reach a limitless number of others.
- If you have the means, you can donate to organizations on the frontlines to help them do the work in battling this climate crisis. There are countless of these organizations, but one of them is https://www.savethemountains.ca/
- Keep up with Indigenous groups and donate to organizations, such as Liyang Network, that give back to the first defenders of our lands.
Tuk Tuk Box, as always, hopes to provide education and insight into the history and culture of our ancestors' homeland, and we encourage you to support and explore more alongside us!