10 of the Best Beaches in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s paradise and the ideal destination for those on a budget looking to hang back and relax. It’s home to some of the best beaches in the world, that are all cheap and easy to get to. Sadly tourism has transformed many of these beaches into overcrowded tourist traps. Let’s forget Bali and Phuket. I’ve compiled a list of beaches that are pristine, quiet and untouristy. Here’s my list of the best beaches in South East Asia.
Best Beaches in South East Asia
1. Pulau Perhentian Besar
The Perhentian Islands are a small group of beautiful, coral-fringed islands off the coast of northeastern Malaysia in the state of Terengganu, not far from the Thai border. The two main islands are Pulau Perhentian Besar (“Big Perhentian Island”) and Pulau Perhentian Kecil (“Small Perhentian Island”). Kecil attracts more travelers as it has cheaper accommodation, while Besar is a little more expensive and caters more to those who want to avoid the backpacker party scene. I personally prefer Besar.
All the islands belong to a protected marine park, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited. With some of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia, Pulau Perhentian Besar is perfect for both beach-bummers and divers alike. The area is home to many underwater species — you can see baby sharks and turtles even when snorkeling.
How to Get There: Access to the Perhentian Islands is only by ferry from Kuala Besut, which is usually reached from either Kota Bharu or Kuala Terengganu. Foreigners pay RM30 marine fee, locals pay RM5. You can usually take small fiberglass boat and the journey takes 30-45 minutes. It costs around RM70/person.
Where to Stay: Perhentian Island Resort is literally steps from the beach, and the coral reef that’s just 10m away is perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. From the wooden bungalows, you can take in views of the beach and enjoy dinner in the hotels’ restaurant. It’s a bit on the old side, but we still really enjoyed staying here. Check the latest prices here.
2. Pulau Rawa
The secluded Rawa island is just a short boat-ride away from Mersing, a major port off the east coast of Malaysia close to Singapore. Unlike neighboring touristy Tioman, many are surprised to find one of the best beaches in South East Asia so close to civilization. Surrounded by clean blue waters with jungle vegetation struggling for a foothold on the craggy cliffs, the island would have been bypassed by the tourist trade altogether were it not for the soft white sands fringing its western shore.
Owned by the Johor Sultanate, the island has been sensitively developed with just two small resorts. For people seeking a secluded, weekend getaway, you can’t find a more idyllic location than this one. There are plenty of opportunities to dive and snorkel, but sitting on the beach or going for a boat ride are also common daytime activities.
How to Get There: The only way to get to Rawa Island is by boat, normally from Mersing. From Mersing, Rawa island is a 30-min speed boat ride or a 1 hour ferry ride. During the peak season (April-October) there are lot of ferries and speed boats moving between Mersing and Rawa, but during the off season there will be just 1 or 2 rides per day. Check the ferry time in advance and plan the trip accordingly.
Where to Stay: Rawa Island Resort is the best option on the island. It’s very comfortable, with bungalows perched right on the sand. Prices aren’t very cheap, but if you’re looking to get away from it all, then this is the place to go. Check the latest prices here.
Flickr image by Phalinn Ooi
Divers alert! This amazing world heritage site situated in the Malaysian part of Borneo is home to some of the world’s best dive sites. With tornadoes of barracudas, hammerhead sharks and hawksbill turtles, the marine life here is absolutely the finest in Malaysia. The reef wall plunges into great depths just metres away from the beach and it’s truly spectacular not just for marine life but also for underwater landscapes.
Because Sipadan is a highly protected marine park, staying overnight is prohibited. The nearest places to stay are 15km away on the islands of Mabul or Kapalai. Diving is a little expensive at Sipadan, but nearby islands like Mabul and Kapalai also have vibrant marine life and are much cheaper. This is definitely my personal favorite on this list of best beaches in South East Asia.
How to Get There: Getting in requires some effort. Most visitors fly to Tawau from either Kuala Lumpur (3 hr) or Kota Kinabalu (50 min), continue by minivan or taxi to the port town of Semporna (1-2 hr) and from there to Sipadan itself (1 hr by fast boat).
Where to Stay: Mabul Paradise Lodge is a simple budget guesthouse on stilts. It’s relatively clean and pleasant, and the prices are really affordable. It’s located an hour from Semporna Pier and just 25 minutes from Sipadan by boat. You can literally plunge off its deck to go scuba diving. Food is basic, and you won’t have much choices, but it’s not too expensive. Highly recommended! Check the latest prices here.
4. Gili Meno
Located off Lombok, the Gili Islands (or just the Gilis) came to the attention of the wider world as a backpacker mecca in the 1980s and 1990s. This is still true to some extent, but the islands are still very relaxed and laid-back, and relatively quiet and undisturbed as compared to mainland Indonesia. Best of all, there are no cars or motorbikes to disturb the peace. With a population of just 400, Gili Meno is the mellowest of the three islands.
I wouldn’t recommend the other two islands as they are way too overcrowded with tourists these days. The beaches are also much nicer on Gili Meno than on Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. A coastal path leads all the way around the island, and can be covered at a very leisurely pace in 90 minutes. Most of the tourist facilities, including the boat arrival and departure point, are on the southern part of the east coast. Taking a day trip here is definitely one of the best things to do in Bali.
How to Get There: Several boat companies operate from Bali and Lombok. Amed Sea Express operates twice daily high-speed boat service to Gili Meno from Amed on the East coast of Bali, and it takes around an hour. From Lombok, public boats depart from Bangsal three times a day and the voyage takes about 30 min.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Kura Kura Resort, a luxurious and modern resort in the center of town, also equipped with a swimming pool and seafront restaurant. It’s especially great for families. Check the latest prices here.
The Island Houses Gili Meno is a dreamy villa perched on the sand, that houses up to 8 people and is perfect for a big group. The property has a gorgeous swimming pool next to the beach, air-conditioned bedrooms, free WiFi and a fully equipped kitchen. Check the latest prices here.
5. Raja Ampat
Located in West Papua on the far eastern end of Indonesia (sharing the same island as Papua New Guinea), the Raja Ampat islands are a mecca for scuba divers who are looking for under-explored parts of the world. The biological diversity here is outstanding and the amazing marine landscape makes it one of the most sought-after location for underwater photographers. However with Raja Ampat’s natural conditions, high endemic level of land, sea biodiversity, coastal ecology, and local culture & tradition the islands offer more than just amazing landscapes to photograph.
How to Get There: Because of its remote location, the best way is to fly from Jakarta or Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manado. Most diving resorts offer pick up from Sorong by private speedboat. If not, visitors going to North Raja Ampat can take the ferry from Sorong to Waisai (the capital city of Raja Ampat).
From Waisai, visitors will be picked up by their resort’s diving boats. Make sure to contact your resort before arriving to Waisai. Before going to a dive spot, divers need to obtain a permit from the local Papua police station. Guests need to bring their passport and three copies of the passport page with the Indonesian Visa.
Where to Stay: Most divers visit Raja Ampat on liveaboards that leave from Sorong and spend the week diving around Raja Ampat. I recommend staying at The Luxio Hotel and Resort in Sorong, which is an affordable but comfortable and modern hotel just a 15-minute drive from the ferry harbour where you can take a 2-hour boat ride to Raja Ampat Islands. All rooms are fully air-conditioned, and tastefully fitted with warm lighting and artworks. Check the latest prices here.
6. Komodo National Park
One of the best beaches in South east Asia has to be Pink Beach, an iconic stretch of white powdered sand beach with out-of-this-world pink water. Located in Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara, the beach is one of the seven beaches with pink sand around the world.
According to scientists, the light pink sand gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs. While still stunning, this hot spot is not as pink as it once was because people like to take the sand.
How to Get There: It is only possible to visit the Komodo National Park with an official guide and a park ranger. You’ll need to book a tour operator to organize a boat trip from Labuan Bajo, the main gateway into the national park. There are many tour companies in Labuan Bajo, so you can easily book a trip upon arrival.
Where to Stay: Pink Beach is quite isolated with no infrastructure. Most people visit on a day trip from Labuan Bajo. I recommend staying at the Bintang Flores Hotel, a high-end hotel with rooms for just $50/night. Sitting on a private beach, Bintang Flores Hotel features a beachfront pool and a diving counter and it’s just 2 km from Flores Harbour. Check the latest prices here.
7. Koh Rong
Located off the coast of Sihanoukville, Koh Rong is the perfect place to go if you’re sick of the crowds in Thailand. Though the island has become more popular in recent years mainly by waves of backpackers, it is still a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Cambodia’s mainland.
With 23 white sand beaches to choose from Koh Rong has plenty to see and do. For the adventurous there’s plenty of trekking to be done through the relatively untouched jungle. Diving and snorkelling is excellent both off the beach and at sites nearby. But above all the best attraction is the phosphorescent water which sparkles when disturbed like twinkling stars. Best seen in around 4 feet of water and on a dark part of the beach.
How to Get There: From Sihanoukville, there are two ferry options. The slow boat leaves 2-3 times daily and takes 2 1/2 hours. The fast boat takes 40 minutes-1 hour and leaves about twice daily. Two of the fast boat companies are Speedferrycambodia and Sea Cambodia, the websites have up to date information on destinations and timetables.
Where to Stay: Most visitors stay in guesthouses and bungalows situated along the beach at Koh Tuich Village (Tui Beach). There are also other private resorts on other parts of the island. Reef on the Beach is a rustic yet clean and well-kept guesthouse with wooden bungalows right on the beach. Located right on 4K (Longset) Beach, it’s much quieter than the options on Koh Tuich. Check the latest prices here.
Flickr image by Nick Ribaudo
Not every island or beach on Thailand is packed with tourists! Krabi is an excellent alternative to Phuket. With waterfalls and hiking trails, it has so much more to offer than Phuket’s pumping music and party crowd. West Railay Beach is the best beach in Krabi, in my opinion. It’s filled with stark limestone crags adorned with rock climbing aficionados bordering the sparkling blue ocean. Rent a jeep to drive inland, and kayak through the limestone caves.
How to Get There: As Railay is a peninsula surrounded by ocean and mountains, you can only get there by boat. Long-tails depart from Ao Nang (10 minutes) and Krabi (30 minutes) on demand. It’s also possible to access Railay via regular ferries that run between Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, and Phuket Town (from Rassada Pier).
Where to Stay: Railay Village Resort has the best review in Krabi and it’s easy to see why. The resort is entirely surrounded by limestone cliffs, and it’s just a 15 minutes’ boat ride from the busier Ao Nang. It has a beautiful outdoor spa and rooms are designed in the traditional Thai style. Check out the latest prices.
Flickr image by Mike Behnken
9. Koh Lanta
Despite its close proximity to Phuket and Krabi (around 3 to 4 hours by bus or ferry), Koh Lanta is a lot quieter than its neighoring party islands. Koh Lanta allows you to step away from the tourist trail and find some peace and tranquility on empty beaches and wild jungles.
The tourists here are much calmer than on other islands, and it’s a great place to get some rest and relaxation from the buzz of other areas in Thailand. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet for your honeymoon or vacation, then Koh Lanta is the perfect island for you. Just be sure to choose the right time of year to visit, or you’ll run into bad weather!
How to Get There: The nearest airports are Krabi, Trang and Phuket. Krabi has direct road and boat connections to Ko Lanta, and is the best option to get to the island. Both boat and car transfer from Krabi to Koh Lanta take around two hours. As an alternative to Bangkok, there are daily flights to Krabi directly to and from Singapore, as well as Kuala Lumpur.
Where to Stay: Andaman Lanta Resort is a cheap and comfortable resort with a nice swimming pool. Don’t expect four-star luxury here, but the rooms are definitely good value for money. Located on Klong Dao Beach, Andaman Lanta Resort offers free private parking, spacious rooms with views of the sea or forest, an outdoor pool and a restaurant. Check the latest prices.
10. Koh Tao
As most of the Thai beaches have been commercialised and dominated by resorts and tourists, Koh Tao provides a breathe of fresh air being relatively quiet and pristine. It’s ideal for those seeking adventure as it plays host to outdoor activities such as rock climbing, diving, and snorkeling.
In contrast to the nearby party islands of Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Samui, Koh Tao is more geared towards diving tourists than party backpackers. It is fairly easy to reach – just hop on a ferry from Chumphon and it’s the first stop. This island has excellent dive sites as well as marked hiking trails that lead up to the hilltops away from the beaches.
How to Get There: The nearest airports are in Chumphon Airport and Ko Samui Airport. Both offer onward high speed ferry connections to Koh Tao. Taking the Chumphon option is faster and generally much less expensive than via Samui Airport.
Where to Stay: Koh Tao Heights Boutique Villas is a truly spectacular place just a 10-minute walk from town and the beach. The spacious villas tastefully combine traditional Thai design with modern interiors. Nestled in a lush tropical jungle and coconut trees, each private villa has a kitchen, living area and a 52-inch flat-screen satellite TV. Check the latest prices here.
Any other suggestions? Please feel free to share.
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