Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
Perhentian is the pride and joy of Malaysia’s island collection. Just off the north-eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, lie two unspoiled islands amidst exquisitely clear waters. Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar make up Perhentian Island, aptly named after its position as a stop (“henti”) for fishermen in need of a rest or shelter from storms. Beyond its azure blue shores, a lush tropical jungle provides hours of adventure for trekkers wishing to witness flying foxes, long-tailed macaques and monitor lizards, along with the plethora of marine life in a splendid ecosystem made up of fish, stingrays, and corals. Perfect for those who enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving, an added bonus is on the cards if you arrive between June and late August, where it is possible to witness giant green turtles laying eggs along the beach – a sight to behold indeed!
Pulau Rawa, Malaysia
Picture: BasL, Flickr
Nestled in the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea, this paradise island is heaven sent to get away from the stresses and strains of the daily grind. Located off the coast of Johor, Rawa is a popular holiday spot for Singaporeans (for proximity reasons) but has not quite found a solid fan base in its native Malaysia yet. This is good news – a tiny isolated island renowned for its low density makes for the ultimate relaxing destination. Accessible from mainland Johor by boat, step onto the island, while being hypnotised by the sound of the tropical breeze and take in the beautiful white sandy beaches of an area that has magically remained untouched all these years. You won’t regret it.
Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia
Diving enthusiasts, this is your mecca. The only oceanic island in Malaysia, Sipadan is located off the east coast of Sabah, and was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that developed over thousands of years. At the very centre of one of the richest marine habitats in the world, more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species call Sipadan’s waters home, skyrocketing its share price in the world diving destinations stakes. Take a walk on the wild side with big-eye trevallies, thousands of silver jack fishes, giant size parrot fishes, numerous turtles, mantas, eagle rays, scalloped hammerhead sharks, and whale sharks, all within the signature diving points of Barracuda Point, South Point, Turtle Cave and West Ridge.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Despite Phuket and Krabi drawing thousands of (largely Scandinavian) sun worshippers and holiday seekers every year, Koh Lanta remains one of Thailand’s most popular destinations and for good reason too. A short journey from Krabi, this quaint little island is definitely your next Asian beach destination if you are after a quiet escape with a loved one. With resorts providing luxurious accommodation such as individual villas perched atop cliffs overlooking the Andaman Sea, and a host of water activities available, a stay on Koh Lanta promises to be breathtakingly beautiful, superbly calm and all around amazing.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
Thailand is home to a collection of scenic islands, complete with white sand and deep blue waters. Without a doubt, Koh Lipe is Thailand’s secret gem. Dressed in paradise, this sublime island has become a firm favourite with travellers looking for some much-needed downtime after the party spots of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan have worn them out. Tranquility is the order of the day here and you are bound to get plenty of relaxation in the resorts, bungalows and budget accommodation that pepper the island. Easily accessible from Langkawi Island in Malaysia, Koh Lipe’s lost in paradise vibe is only a short boat ride away.
An hour’s flight from Cebu or Manila, Boracay’s reputates precedes itself. A tropical island surrounded by stunning white sand beaches, Boracay has been the island of choice for holiday dwellers in search of sun, sand and the (ahem!) opposite of sobriety. A typical day on Boracay includes tropical cocktails, fruit shakes, tanning, the occasional afternoon beach-volleyball game and, for those wanting to work up a sweat on vacation, just about every conceivable water activity on the planet. Needless to say, if strenuous exercise is not your idea of a fun time, a dip in the cool turquoise waters is enough to wash all your worries away.
Palawan Island (Coron), Philippines
Nothing defines Palawan more than the water around it. With seascapes the equal of any in Southeast Asia and jawdropping aquatic wildlife, the Philippines’ most sparsely populated region is also its most enthralling. Skim along in longboats or kayaks around a maze of uninhabited islands or head to the south where the landscape is more rugged, to explore jungle-clad mountains. Diving, island-hopping and snorkelling trips in the Bacuit archipelago and Calamianes group manage to captivate both adventure seekers and those wishing to unwind.
Hailed as ‘Bali 25 years ago’, Lombok has been attracting a local crowd for years and is finally on the radar of island lovers. Famed for its crystal clear waters and delicious grub, this is definitely a more affordable option for a beach holiday. The epitome of uncomplicated paradise, Lombok’s sandy white beaches are framed by clear aquamarine waters. The island also houses the fabled Gili Islands celebrated for its simplistic charm. Similarly, the resort area of Senggigi is superbly positioned along a stretch of fine sandy beaches and sweeping bays while Sumbawa, in the eastern part of Lombok offers low key tourism and some good surf breaks. The clear standout here is the irresistible Gili Islands, three gems surrounding by deepwater coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam
Picture: Patrik Axelsson, Flickr
Mui Ne Beach has been transformed from an isolated stretch of beautiful white sand to one long row of resorts. While there is still a fishing village forming the eastern side of the beach, it is tourists that make up most of the population. The good news is that the boom in top-end resorts has not killed the chilled-out surfie vibe, paving the way for some of the best waves from the South China Sea. Set on a seductive swathe of sand, Mui Ne is straight up charming. Swaying palm trees, towering dunes paired with a host of water sports showcases its ability to blend action and relaxation to perfection. Less popular than rical beach heavyweight, Nha Trang, Mui Ne does a commendable job of balancing rustic nature with modern development.
Otres Beach, Cambodia
Picture: daisyandtom, Flickr
More known for its ancient ruins and stunning archaeological structures, Cambodia also hides one of the best beaches this side of the equator. Otres Beach is a 4 hour drive from the capital city of Phnom Penh but is an entire world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Otres Beach is definitely for relaxing and unwinding at the sea and discovering how many successive hours can be spent in the same spot sans movement. Cheap massages on the beach, vendors selling fruit salad and barbecued squid, and beach shacks serving happy hour tipple guarantee a blissfully tranquil environment. The highlight of Otres Beach is its sunsets; a cocktail in hand, with nature’s grand finale playing out for your viewing pleasure – life does not get better than this.
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