As we head further into the 21st century, more and more of the world is becoming as developed as everywhere else. Cities boast high-rise skyscrapers, large public transport systems, and office jobs for everyone. The roads are paved with concrete, and everywhere you look the only green you can find is that of trees planted in precise locations to look the best that they can. Yet this is not the same everywhere, travel east and you’ll find incredible places to visit and immerse yourself in South East Asia’s hidden cultures.There are countless numbers of these cultures hiding throughout South East Asia.
Each of them is linked strongly to its own past. Their traditions, beliefs, and ways of living are different than those you’ll see just next door. To give you a little bit of help in finding some of the best-hidden cultures, we’ve put together a list of the top 4. Below you’ll find where they are, what makes them unique, and how to get to them.
Loei province, Thailand
Whilst Loei is actually an entire province in Thailand, it is the most sparsely populated one. This is due to a range of factors, including the prevalence of mountains in the region, vast rice paddies, and meadows filled with flowers. As a result, the area has developed a unique culture, one which shares some attributes with the rest of Thailand, but which also has many differences. As a traveler, expect to be greeted with open arms and launched straight into any festivities taking place.
And that’s the best time to visit: during festivities. The most popular of which in the region is Phi Ta Kon. This ghostly festival takes place during the first week after the sixth full moon, every year. On the Gregorian calendar, this is around June or July. Locals dance and give celebration towards the spirits, asking for protection and enough rainfall for their rice paddies to flourish.
Of course, as with any culture, the food is entirely unique. Make sure to spend a little bit of time exploring the Isaan food. A culinary delight from one of South East Asia’s hidden cultures, which combines Thai and Laos influences.
Kratié town, Cambodia
For some reason, few venture into the East of Cambodia. It may be the lack of road surfacing past Kampong Cham or possibly the fact that travel out there isn’t as developed as in other areas. It’s a shame because Eastern Cambodia boasts some incredible areas, untouched by the influences of the modern world. One of those places, home to one of South East Asia’s hidden cultures, is Kratié town.
Heading into the town, you should make sure to visit the local community office. Here, they advertise homestays with local families. Meaning you’ll be able to experience the local culture properly. You’ll be introduced to local food, where the locals work on the rice paddies and customs. A group of Vietnamese live just off the island and are known as an ethnic minority. They also come to town sometimes and have formed a unique friendship with the local Cambodians.
The best way to get here is from Stung Treng. A bus from the local bus station will take you 3 hours, depending on the quality of the road. At the time of writing, the road quality was good, but it can be damaged by local weather.
Bengkala Village, Bali
The village of the deaf. Yes, you read that right. The people here are very much alive, they just won’t be able to hear you. Bengkala one of the most unique and interesting of South East Asia’s hidden cultures. The people here have adapted to a way of life which doesn’t involve the outside world. They have their own customs, their own beliefs, and their own form of language. That language is known as Kata Kolok, and it’s a language which has never been spoken.
For whatever reason, the village has a higher than normal prevalence of deafness. For the past seven generations, the people of Bengkala village have suffered from this unfortunate (what some believe to be) hereditary trait. The villagers themselves believe that the deafness was caused by a curse, one which started long ago. Of course, the whole village is not deaf. However, even those who are not deaf have adapted their lifestyle towards those who are. The whole village has adopted the unique form of sign language to communicate with each other.
If you’re thinking of visit this incomparable destination, then you’ll have to head to the North of Bali in the Singaraja District. Make sure that you’re respectful of the people here, though. The society and culture are not used to the world outside of it, so follow what they do and don’t disrespect anyone.
Mangyan Village, Philippines
Built to preserve the culture of the local Iraya-Mangyan Tribe, that is exactly what Mangyan Village has been doing since the 1990s. The village was originally founded with the help of a philanthropist known as Jaime Zobel de Ayala, and his wife Donya Bea. Together, they noticed that the local culture of the Iraya-Mangyan Tribe was starting to succumb to the increasing tourism to the Philippines. Realizing that the culture needed to be preserved, they invested in developing the area as a sanctuary from modernity.
Spending time in the village itself is completely free. The locals are warm and welcoming and used to both Filipino and foreign guests looking around. They will usually spend their days developing and creating handicrafts, which they sell to those who come to visit. They are especially famous for their basket weaving, which is known as some of the most intricate in the Philippines.
Located next to Puerto Galera, this location is not short of incredible beaches and your typical Philippines holiday experiences either. You’re able to combine both a look at one of South East Asia’s hidden cultures with beach relaxing or any other tropical activities you can think of. Moreover, because Puerto Galera isn’t as well-known as larger holiday destinations in the Philippines (Boracay), you’ll find yourself paying much less for any activities you do choose to do.