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10 Best Islands in Asia

by Travelbag on 04 November 2019, 09:11AM

Asia Islands - Similan Islands

Alex Garland’s 1996 novel, The Beach – and the subsequent film – kick-started our quest to find the perfect Asian island retreat. Across Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, there are thousands of islands to choose from, but Chris Coplans has whittled it down to just 10. From vast country-sized islands to tiny specs of land, these beautiful spots have something for everyone. So if you’re thinking about booking an island escape, one of these is bound to tick all your boxes.

Our only advice would be to check the seasons before you book. The entire region is subject to monsoons but there are in fact two distinct rainy seasons – so, while it might be wet and windy in the Gulf of Thailand, there’ll be glorious sunshine on the Andaman coast. Take a look at the 10 best islands in Asia, and start planning your tropical escape.

 

Thailand

Phuket

The biggest island in Thailand, dubbed the ‘pearl of the Andaman’, is like a country in itself. Popular Phuket may not have the deserted feel of somewhere truly tiny, but makes up for it with the sheer range of activities on offer. Apart from chilling on some of Asia’s most spectacular beaches, you can surf, sail, snorkel, paddle a kayak or play a round of golf – all while exploring protected national parks both on land and at sea. Away from the beach, you can indulge yourself in one of the world-class spas and shop ‘til you drop in the main resort of Patong. And, after dark, you can dip into Patong’s spicy nightlife.

While you’re in Phuket, a day or overnight tour to the fabled Similan Islands should definitely be on your list, as should a tour round Ao Phang-Nga National Marine Park. This stunning place is home to over 40 islands sporting huge vertical cliffs and hidden lagoons surrounded by solid rock walls – a classic Asian travel experience.

 

Koh Lanta

Anchored in the clear waters of the Andaman Sea, Koh Lanta was once the sole preserve of budget-focused backpackers. But Koh Lanta is more flashpack these days. While it’s firmly on the mainstream map – and easily accessed with a flight from Krabi Airport or a stunning ferry ride – this Asian island retains some of its rakish hippy charm. The beaches at the northern end of the island are gorgeous but can be busy. If you want to be close to the action, treat yourself and stay at Layana Resort and Spa on the aptly named Long Beach. Further south, the landscape becomes more rugged with less tourist infrastructure and Pimalai Resort and Spa is sure to seduce you.

Koh Lanta

Koh Phangan

Best known for its high-octane full-moon parties, Koh Phangan is sandwiched between resort-dotted Koh Samui and diving mecca Koh Tao, in the Gulf of Thailand. The legendary full-moon parties continue to rock on Haad Rin Beach, but the island is slowly growing up. The stunning and secluding northern beaches are now home to some serious upmarket resorts, and the vast jungle interior is relatively undiscovered. Although the movie of The Beach was shot on Koh Phi-Phi Lei – where the iconic Maya Bay has since closed to the public – Alex Garland’s inspiration actually came from Ang Thong Marine National Park, just off the coast of Koh Phangan. So, if you want to release your inner backpacker, make sure you visit the forty-odd bewitching islands on an organised day trip.

 

Malaysia

Penang

Rising out of Malacca Strait, tiny Penang is joined to the peninsula of Malaysia, but only by bridge. And it still enjoys an island vibe, thanks to its heritage as an old trading hub. The capital, George Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a charming mix of British colonial architecture, Chinese storefronts and traditional Malay temples. Take it all in from the delightful funicular railway up Penang Hill, which affords a panoramic view of the island, before decamping to the coast. Penang is well served by hotels for every budget, from the three-star Bayview Beach Resort to the full five-star luxury of Shangri La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa. Wherever you choose to stat, you will benefit from the same fine white sand and tranquil, clear waters of the Andaman Sea.

 

Langkawi

Langkawi is actually a cluster of 99 islands, 20 miles off the northern end of Malaysia. The islands are best known for their wildlife, but the nightlife isn’t bad either. Palau Langkawi boasts beautiful beaches, mangroves and a jungle-clad interior, and several five-star resorts offer golf and watersports. Many visitors opt to trek through the pristine rainforest that covers most of Langkawi, or go on a boat tour of the mangroves. A thrilling new cable car ride to the summit of Mount Mat Cincang – Langkawi’s second highest mountain – affords panoramic views of the island. To top it off, Palau Langkawi is served by direct flights and several ferry services.

Langkawi Malaysia

Indonesia

Bali

Known as the Land of the Gods, Bali – with its Hindu-influenced culture and spectacular topography – lives up to all the hype. From the frenetic chaos of Kuta, to the wild volcanic beaches on the northern coast, to the rice terraces and mountains of Ubud, Bali has it all. Most visitors opt for a combination of beach and culture. Bali is blessed with an abundance of low-key hotels and spas, many designed in traditional Balinese style, guaranteed to take the stress out of modern travel. No trip to Bali is complete without a visit to the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, a World Heritage Site since 2012. The lush green paddies cascade in terraces from the volcanic hills, down to the valley below. And did we mention the spectacular sea life? It should be on every scuba diver’s list.

 

Gili Islands

Looking for a sleepy spot with no cars, dazzling white sands and turquoise waters? The three tiny Gili Islands, floating just off Bali’s neighbouring island of Lombok, offer all that. If you need to drop a gear or two, Gili Meno is the quietest of the islands. Just a 20-minute speedboat ride from Senggigi Beach, on the west coast of Lombok, it’s all Crusoe but with millennium comforts. Gili Trawangan is the most popular, but it remains very low key. Your transport options on the island are walking, biking and by Cidomo, a simple horse-drawn carriage. There are superb diving opportunities on all three of these Asian islands and, while they feel remote, the Gilis are just a two-and-a-half hour ferry trip from Bali. But the Gili Islands aren’t your only option – check out other Indonesian islands that offer an alternative to well-trodden Bali.

Gili Trawangan

Vietnam

Phu Quoc

Floating in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is actually closer to Cambodia shoreline than Vietnam. Originally part of Cambodia, it was claimed by Vietnam when Cambodia was liberated from Pol Pot in 1979. The Phu Quoc Prison – now a museum – chronicles the history of the jail, which was used by the French to house detainees during the First Indochina War and later by US forces to detain Viet Cong prisoners.

But most travellers visit Phu Quoc not for the history, but for its powdery beaches, fringed by tropical rainforest. Long Beach, the island’s most developed beach, is peppered with al fresco restaurants and beach bars, but it retains a laid-back ambiance. While there are now several high-end resorts, Phu Quoc’s markets help the island maintain its rustic charm – if you want delicious fresh fish for dinner, make sure you head to Duong Dong Market. You’ll find that many hotels and private charters run boat tours to the nearby An Thoi Islands, stopping at isolated beaches, snorkeling spots and fishing villages. If you need any more persuasion, here are 10 reasons to book a holiday to Vietnam.

 

Start planning your trip to Asia by calling our travel experts or visiting your nearest Travelbag shop.

For more holiday inspiration, flick through the latest edition of our Escape magazine.


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