Six Unforgettable Beaches in Southeast Asia

  • 01 of 06

    Koh Phangan, Thailand

    Koh Phangan
    Jim Doberman/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    This island in the Southern Gulf of Thailand was once known primarily as King Chulalongkorn’s favorite vacation getaway. In the past 20 years, the place has developed rather rapidly from “backpacker’s best-kept secret” to “tourist hot spot”.

    The tiny island has plenty to offer: pristine beaches made for swimming and snorkeling; accommodations to suit any budget; fun outdoor activities for adults and kids alike; and, for partygoers, Haad Rin’s notorious “Full Moon Parties”: described elsewhere as “a monthly ‘Burning Man’” with a surfeit of trance music, fire-spinners, drugs, and alcohol.

    To get to Kho Phangan, take a bus from Bangkok; this will take you to the provincial capital of Surat Thani, where you can board a ferry to Thong Sala on Koh Phangan.

    Resorts in Koh Phangan

    Guests in Koh Phangan have plenty of resorts to choose from. A short list of hotels and resorts in Koh Phangan follows below.

    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Bali, Indonesia

    © Brian Michelsen

    In the 15th century, blue-blooded refugees from the besieged Majapahit Empire took refuge in Bali, bringing with them the court’s artists, priests, musicians, and intellectuals. This exodus, the last gasp of a dying monarchy, left an indelible mark on Bali’s character.

    Recent events notwithstanding, Bali is still a prime destination for tourists seeking cheap prices, a rich local culture, beautiful beaches (the surfing in Bali is world-class), raucous nightlife, delicious food, and free-flowing Bintang Beer – all ingredients for a fun, fun time. The Bali away from the beach is interesting, too: visit the Monkey Forest in Ubud or Taman Burung Bali Bird Park to see what we mean.

    You can’t help but be affected by the island’s culture – from the intricate kecak and fire dance in Pura Luhur Uluwatu to the profusion of picturesque temples, Bali’s traditions befit its status as the last remnant of an ancient Hindu empire. The paradox of Bali – its oneness with nature and its traditions, plus its energetic tourist scene – makes the island one of Asia’s most interesting places to visit.

    Bali is serviced by Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai airport, which can be reached from major Indonesian cities, as well as major transport hubs in Asia and Australia.

    If you're like most visitors to Bali, you'll see it first from an airplane touching down at Ngurah Rai international airport (IATA: DPS). Ngurah Rai is reachable from Hong Kong (compare prices), Singapore (compare prices) and the US: Los Angeles (compare prices), San Francisco (compare prices), and New York (compare prices).

    More About Bali

    Read our Introduction to Bali to get your bearings on the island’s geography and culture. There’s a lot to see, from the tourist hotbed of South Bali to the laid-back, artist-y hills of central Bali.

    Find a Bali hotel in your preferred area, then strike out on your own to explore Bali: visit a grandiose statue in the making (Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park), or have a cultural hands-on experience (New Treasure Island in Sanur)

    Sometimes timing can make all the difference - try visiting Bali during Nyepi, the Balinese New Year.

    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Tioman Island, Malaysia

    © Chit Oo

    What it lacks in size, Tioman Island makes up for in beauty: lush jungles, crystal-clear streams, and dazzling white-sand beaches teeming with marine life. You may already have seen Tioman Island without even knowing it – the place stood in for Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific.

    The profusion of white coral reefs around the island makes Tioman a scuba diver’s dream: clear waters to depths of a hundred feet provide an unobstructed view of multi-hued coral and tropical fish.

    Tioman is not as developed as Bali or Phuket – good news for the backpacker looking for something off the beaten track. Juara Bay is as isolated as you can get: a quiet beach on the east coast, braced by three rivers leading to waterfalls in the jungle.

    Accommodations range from Spartan to comfortable – you can rent a hut on the beach for about US$7 a night, or you could spend a bit more for an air-conditioned chalet. Any accommodation may be hard to find during peak season, so it’s prudent to reserve in advance.

    Tioman is accessible via ferry from Mersing on the mainland, or from Singapore. Berjaya Air provides flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. More information on the island and its attractions can be found here.

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Mui Ne, Vietnam

    © Rasheel Karmacharya

    A few hours from Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne is quickly gaining a name for itself as Southeast Asia’s next big beach destination, a reputation being underscored by the growing number of boutique resorts and facilities in the vicinity.

    Development only came to the area in the 90s, but Mui Ne is catching up fast. Sports enthusiasts can test their kite surfing and windsurfing skills along the beach – if green is more your color, you can tee off at the Ocean Dunes Golf Club on a Nick Faldo-designed course.

    Alternatively, you can rent a jeep and explore Lotus Lake nearby and the fascinating Mui Ne sand dunes surrounding it. (Don’t leave until you’ve tried dune-sledding down the sandy slopes.)

    The weather is perfect for beach-lovers, as Mui Ne enjoys the lowest annual rainfall in Vietnam. While you won’t be able to grab a latte at a Starbucks in these parts, you can visit the Mui Ne Village Markets for cheap clothing, or venture into Phan Thiet City itself to indulge your craving for traditional Vietnamese crafts.

    Travelers can reach Phan Thiet by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. More travel information is available here: How to Get to the Mui Ne Sand Dunes.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Boracay, Philippines

    © Carter Pino

    The laid-back atmosphere of Boracay Island, Philippines can be quite a change for beachcombers used to Bali’s frenetic pace, but it still draws the crowds nonetheless.

    Located in Aklan province 200 miles south of Manila, Boracay’s beach scene is dominated by the two-mile stretch of sparkling sand that makes up White Beach, claimed by some to rival the beaches of the Caribbean. The water is shallow, the sand is powder-fine, and the facilities adjoining the beach cater to every need and budget.

    On the other side of the island, Bulabog Beach caters to watersports enthusiasts – windsurfers and kiteboarders take advantage of the beach’s relatively calm waters and​ a more laid-back environment. Both beaches are quite close to each other, as the island is only 1km wide at its waist.

    Beach activities in Boracay and nightlife aside, you can look for adventure further inland, like horseback riding from the island’s Horse Riding Stables, or meeting fruit bats face to face at the Bat Cave on the western end of the island.

    Hotels and resorts in Boracay come in all sizes and rates, from budget and mid-range accommodations for regular folk to luxury hotels & resorts for the well-heeled.

    Boracay can be reached by air from Manila via Caticlan (10-20 minutes away by ferry) or via Kalibo (almost 2 hours away by bus and ferry). For more specifics, read our article on Boracay Island transportation.

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Phuket, Thailand

    © Kok Leng Yeo

    Perhaps the region’s most popular beach destination, this island – the largest in Thailand – offers plenty of fun within its varied terrain.

    Its watersports activities are top-notch, befitting an island with some of the world’s finest beaches. Patong Beach is perhaps the island’s most popular tourist haunt, owing to its easily-accessible beachfront, raucous nightlife, and cheap shopping. (Patong is also the first stop for tourists seeking, er, earthier pleasures: Bangla Road, in particular, is known for its go-go bars.)

    The influx of tourists has meant greater development for the island, and more activities as well: you can play golf at the island’s world-class golfing facilities, watch a muay thai (kickboxing) match; ride elephants; or enjoy a fine meal at one of the island’s many restaurants. While progress seems to be a fact of life for Phuket’s immediate future, some corners of the island are still blissfully underdeveloped; if you want to see fewer people and less development, head on down to quieter beaches like Laem Ka or Naithon.

    Phuket is best visited from November to February – the weather cooperates to give you stunning blue skies and clear waters. From May to October, the monsoon season means daily rain and dangerously strong currents. The island is accessible through its own airport, the second-largest hub in Thailand.

    To get started on your Phuket adventure, consult Jamie Monk’s Phuket blog, seen from the point of view of a farang (foreigner) who arrived and never left.