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South East Asia’s best island destinations

beach romantic
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Miles of virgin sand, crystal clear waters, and reefs teeming with marine life, here’s a list of places that have all this and more

nightlife / diving

Gilis

Bali

Encircled by coral reefs, Gilis is one of the world’s most colourful diving spots. The waters are clear and you can swim with Manta Rays floating above your head. Diving and snorkelling courses are available along the coast. At Tirawangan, you can even try free-diving—going underwater by simply holding your breath, with no assistance from oxygen tanks. The evenings bring in old-school trance parties that evoke the euphoria of the ’90s.

history / beach / diving

Coron

Palawan, Philippines

Coron is the place straight out of a dream. The waters are azure and there are miles of spotless sand. Coron is also home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The former is a coral-rich spread with a pristine lagoon and a rock face 100 metres tall. The latter is a unique limestone landscape where an underground river opens into the sea, creating a vivid, distinct biodiversity spot.

beach / diving

Havelock Islands

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have acres of virgin beaches, though very few of these are open to tourists. Beach No. 7, also called the Radha Nagar beach, is the jewel in the accessible parts of this crown. Here, you spend your time on a white beach, under green palms that sway against a spectacular blue sky. If you’re staying at Barefoot on Havelock, you can dive with their famous resident elephant, Rajan.

culture / adventure / beach / surfing

Sumba Island

Indonesia

Compared to the volcanic islands in northern Indonesia, Sumba Island looks remarkably different. It has long, wide beaches, and further up on the mainland, acres of sweeping grasslands. The grasslands make Sumba one of Indonesia’s leading horse-breeding highlands. But its calling card is the giant waves that arrive at the beach all year round. Indonesia’s little-known secret is fast becoming one of the world’s leading surfing destinations.

beach / romance

North Ari and North Male Atolls

Maldives

There is a very legitimate reason why most honeymooning couples hone in on the Maldives. It’s not just the proximity, or the hassle free visa process. The biggest clincher is the fact that no matter where you go, you can find yourself a people-free gorgeous beach. The atolls also have some of the world’s most indulgent resorts. Each hotel seems to have its own private island, and some of the villas even have their own private stretch of sea!

adventure / kids / beach

Koh Samui

Thailand

Koh Samui is the land that has everything. Want to party all night? There’s trance thumping somewhere on the beach. Need to indulge? Head to any of the luxury villas along the shore. Family vacation? Koh Samui has options for that too. You can ride on elephant back, visit butterfly parks, bathe under waterfalls, or sun yourself at the beach. Hotels here love kids and some have activities like fish feeding and towel origami to keep them busy.

adventure / beach

Wijaya Beach

Sri Lanka

Places with a history always feel magical. As you go down the streets of Galle towards Wijaya Beach, look past the plastic chairs and sarongs at the 90-acre Dutch Harbour Fort, and the surrounding temples. Twenty minutes from the city is Wijaya Beach, a small but perfect slice of heaven. Beach bars are few in number, and only those looking for peace end up here. It’s a relaxed and laidback picnic in the mornings, while the nights draw people with good music and great food.

kids / beach / surfing / diving

Banda Beach

Indonesia

The Banda Sea has been called the marine superhighway by many. It’s where fish migrate down from the Mariana Trench to feed along the coral reefs. Needless to say, it makes a spectacular diving spot. Lam Pu'uk Beach is a lovely spot to surf at, or laze in, thanks to the breathtaking cliffs that fall straight into translucent waters. The Ujông Batèë Beach, on the other hand, has calmer waters and is great for kids. Plus, the black sand is Instagram fodder.

adventure / beach

Sihanoukville

Cambodia

The latest addition to the roster of great beaches in South-East Asia is Sihanoukville, once known as Kompong Som. It’s still relatively unexplored, but already has quite a few luxury villas and backpacker hideouts. Occheuteal Beach, with an impressive number of beach bars, is a great stretch for food and drink. If it’s privacy you want, head to the Sokha Beach Hotel, Cambodia’s first five-star beach hotel, which has its own private stretches of sand.

adventure / beach

Koh Pha Ngan

Thailand

Subwoofers? Check. Fisherman pants? Check. Full-moon parties? Check. Koh Pha Ngan’s reputation is now changing from beach bum paradise to a luxury getaway. You can dive, surf, wakeboard, practise yoga, pass out in a spa, and then gear up for crazy whisky-bucket fuelled action on the beach. Despite the revellers, you can easily find unbroken miles of secluded beaches at Koh Pha Ngan.