A Guide to Rafting Southeast Asia


©istockphoto/simonkrWhen you think of some of the world’s premier whitewater rafting locations, your mind probably doesn’t go to Southeast Asia. Recent excursions over the past few years might just change that. It turns out that one of the cheapest places to visit in the world also has some pretty thrilling rapids.

Mae Taeng River, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The North of Thailand is making a name for itself in the world of whitewater. Between the months of July and October the rainy season kicks into high gear and turns the typically peaceful Mae Taeng River into a roaring beast of class III and IV rapids. Half the fun is winding your way through the various hill tribes of the Karen, Lisu and Meow people as you go. Once you’ve conquered the Mae Taeng you can move on to quieter rapids on the Nam Wa and Mae Kok.

Pai River, Thailand
Nestled up against the Myanmar border lies the Pai River. During the rainy season the rapids reach class IV and carry you swiftly along hot springs, gorges and waterfalls in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. There are plenty of guides willing to help you make your way down the river for a small fee or you can choose to go it alone. If you take a guide, you’ll have an easier time conversing with the long neck tribes you come across on your trip.

Ranoyapo River, Indonesia
The Ranoyapo River is home to more than 60 rapids ranging from class II to V+ that’ll take two days to traverse. It barrels down through the jungle full of coconut trees and wildlife you can’t find anywhere else in the world. There are numerous 10 to 20 meter gradients along enormous river boulders to contend with so it’s not for the inexperienced rafter.

Nimanga River, Indonesia
The Nimanga is the slightly shorter brother of the Ranoyapo and a great introduction to the types of rapids you’ll find throughout Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. The rapids range from class III up to V but there are plenty of flat stretches in which to cool off. All in all there are 25 rapids along the route and plenty of stop offs to experience the rich wildlife if you’re interested—the area is full of rare black macaque and tarsiers.

Sungai Selangor, Malaysia
The Sungai Selangor river in Malaysia is one of, if not the most, popular rafting rivers in Southeast Asia. During the slow season, rapids here range from between class II and IV, but when the rain picks up, they easily crank into high gear and reach V+. It’s a bit on the short side for most adventurers, at 5km and lasting roughly only two hours and only 10 rapids. Still, it’s an enjoyable getaway only and hour outside of Kuala Lumpar and a great starting point for your trip.

Mayhka River, Myanmar
A few days into this beast and you’ll understand why it’s nicknamed The Impossible River. The Mayhka River starts out easily enough with class III and IV rapids but after the third day, Mother Nature changes plans and sends you barreling down class V and VI rapids at high-speed. All told, the river will take you across 238km with 17 days on the water if you want to traverse the entire length. There are roughly 250 rapids along the way.