Toba Lake, Sumatra, Indonesia Photo courtesy of Alya Akhmetgareeva
Southeast Asia may be better known to travelers for its chaos, but its quieter corners deserve some attention too: places are where locals go for a walk or to enjoy some quiet moments.
When the metropolitan bustle becomes too much to bear, locals and passing travelers alike take refuge in the quietness and placidity of nearby lakes. We asked six well-traveled individuals to share their personal experiences with the most scenic lakes in Southeast Asia.
Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines. Photo courtesy of Jona Branzuela Bering
Basking in Tranquility around the Philippines' Lake Sebu
Traveling teaches one that a place holds no single story. Take Mindanao, the biggest island in the Philippines – its terrain is too big, too diverse to be pinned down to one single narrative.
Jona Branzuela Bering of Backpacking with a Book found this to be true about peaceful Lake Sebu in Mindanao's South Cotabato province. “My days in Lake Sebu were as calm as quiet as the massive lake I saw from the resort balcony,” she tells us.
“Egrets perching on the tree took flight before the morning rays touched the lake’s skin,” she recalls. “The fishermen’s canoes knifed through the lake to check their tilapia farms. Lotus bloomed as slowly as silently as the new day’s arrival.”
Taunghthaman Lake in Mandalay, Myanmar Photo courtesy of Nancy of enSquaredAired
Unexpectedly Falling for Myanmar's Taunghthaman Lake
Nancy Nguyen, the blogger behind enSquaredAired, admitted she wasn't expecting much when she visited the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura—Myanmar's ancient capital and now a township in Mandalay.
“The photos I saw online of the teakwood bridge set across the Taungthaman Lake was not impressive to me,” she tells us. “But, given that this 1,200-meter bridge was recommended in every Myanmar guide that I read, I figured U Bein Bridge is worth visiting.
“I'm so glad I did, especially during sunset. Not only was the sunset stunning, but the atmosphere was an incredible experience. Fishermen were still catching fish while monks, locals, and tourists came together to walk along the bridge.
“My favourite moment that evening was when I came across this beautiful tree that grew in the middle of the water.”
Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand. Photo courtesy of Lena Tarasyuk
Experiencing a Different Thailand in Cheow Lan Lake
Thailand is known all over the world as a tropical beach destination, but Lena Tarasyuk of Travel Monkey enjoyed a different, far more tranquil take on the country.
“Right in the middle of the country’s tail and just a few hours drive from Krabi, there is a gigantic Khao Sok National Park that includes a marvelous Cheow Lan Lake,” Lena explains. “Though artificially created, it has some of the most breathtaking scenes of rainforest, dramatic limestone cliffs and variety of wildlife who made this lake their home [like] birds, snakes, and many monkey species.
“The floating bungalows on Cheow Lan Lake only add to its advantages of a great holiday destination,” she continues. “You get an exceptional experience of living on the water and waking up to an unbelievable beauty every morning. Can you think of any other great escape from Thai humidity other than taking a dip in a freshwater lake right from your house porch?”
Toba Lake in Sumatra, Indonesia Photo courtesy of Alya Akhmetgareeva
Finding serenity in Indonesia's Lake Toba
“Toba Lake on Sumatra island was one of the most beautiful places I visited in Indonesia,” Alya Akhmetgareeva of Stingy Nomad proclaims. The massive lake – the caldera of what used to be the world's largest volcano lake, is still one of the world's deepest, and the area retains plenty of mysteries that reveal themselves to the visitor.
“The best way to explore and experience Toba is to stay on Samosir island, a real piece of tranquility—a big contrast against busy Indonesian cities and towns,” Alya says. “The island is quite big – dedicate some couple of hours to drive around with a motorbike, which you can rent from locals.
Alya's top suggestion for Toba Lake visitors: “Take your time,” she says. “Drive around stop in small villages. Explore hidden beaches. Chill in crystal clear water. Try local food.
“With nobody rushing around, the days here feel languid and long. It is an ideal place to sit on a deck in the morning with a cup of coffee, enjoying the stunning Toba sunrise.”
Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam Photo courtesy of Madhurima Chakraborty
Loving the Old in Vietnam's Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Madhurima Chakraborty of Orange Wayfarer had long dreamed of seeing the tranquil waters of Vietnam's Hoàn Kiếm Lake; its associated legends, for one, fascinated her.
“Locals associate [Hoan Kiem Lake] with a wise turtle totem legend,” she tells us – it's said that one of Vietnam's first kings returned his magic sword to a turtle in its waters. Today's Hoan Kiem Lake retains plenty of magic, particularly on the weekends: “There are brightly lit neon lights everywhere, music and children cheering by the side, weary travellers aiming for the perfect long exposure shot.”
To catch the local color at its best, Madhurima recommends that you visit early in the morning. “Amid the healthy citizens and morning aerobics, the lake takes up a serene appearance and rejuvenates your soul and mind,” she says. “Once sated with living in history, you may want to venture out to explore the rest of the city.”
MacRitchie Reservoir Park from the air. Image courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board.
Few people think of Singapore as a place for expansive nature scenery: they're in for a surprise, says Mike Aquino of Southeast Asia Time Traveler.
“Singapore has four historic reservoirs that contain most of the island's drinking water – and also serve as centerpieces for their large nature reserves,” Mike tells us. “The MacRitchie Reservoir is Singapore's very first reservoir, and one of the country's favorites.”
On the water itself, tourists can rent kayaks and paddle to their heart's content. But the Reservoir Park's best feature is far from the water, Mike says. “The Park's Tree Top Walk connects the two highest points of the reservoir, giving travelers a panoramic view of the rainforest and the Upper Peirce Reservoir,” Mike tells us. “From this vantage point, hikers can see the animals living up in the heights – from flying lemurs to some 80 species of birds that call the MacRitchie Reservoir Park home.”