Southeast Asia’s Most Idyllic Island Getaways

Thursday 21 December 2023
Southeast Asia’s Most Idyllic Island Getaways

Instead of Boracay, visit… Palawan, the Philippines

With its talc-white sand and sublime sunsets, Boracay is famed the world over as one of the most stunning islands in a country with over 7,000 of them to explore. But overdevelopment has pushed this tiny isle to its limit. Instead, flee the crowds and head off to the Philippines’ final frontier: Palawan.

The Philippines’ biggest province holds plenty to discover, from shipwreck diving in Coron, to the longest underground river in Sabang, to the unspoiled sandbars of Balabac. Join a Tao Philippines expedition and sail the far northern islands of El Nido in a traditional bangka, whose design has been unchanged since pre-colonial times. Sleep under the stars on island camps, eat community-grown organic food from the Tao farm, and enjoy.

Instead of Pulau Tioman, visit… the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Ask locals to recommend a must-visit island in Malaysia, and Pulau Tioman is bound to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But if a quieter and more secluded vibe that you’re after, the less developed, more secluded Perhentian Islands off the eastern coast of Malaysia—with fewer restaurants and sprawling resorts—might be the better bet.

The underwater scenery around the twin isles of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil is generally considered more diverse and abundant than on Tioman, with a teeming variety of marine life and coral reefs to dive into. Climb to Lighthouse Point for bird’s-eye sea views, and snorkel off the islet of Pulau Rawa. Go beach-hopping on the white sandy shores of Long Beach, Coral Bay, and Teluk Dalam, and keep an eye out for sea turtles in their natural habitat. Round off your trip with Perhentian Islands’ delicious local cuisine, especially spicy Malaysian curries and fresh grilled seafood.

Instead of Bali, visit… Raja Ampat, Indonesia

The magnetic mystique of Bali has drawn travelers from around the world for generations. But if you’d rather give the “Eat, Pray, Love” seekers a miss and prefer a more off-the-beaten-path experience, Raja Ampat (the Four Kings) may be the perfect island getaway for you. In addition to its sparkling waters and dramatic limestone cliffs, Raja Ampat is a diver’s paradise with 75 percent of known coral species and nearly 1,500 different species of fish, making it one of the world’s best diving and snorkeling destinations.

Remote Raja Ampat is relatively undiscovered compared to Bali, offering a more authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience with untouched beaches and pristine nature. It is also a conservation area where you can learn about local efforts to protect the environment and preserve the way of life of indigenous communities such as the Papuan people, who have their own unique culture, crafts, music, dances and traditions.

Instead of Phuket, visit… Koh Kood, Thailand

While boatloads of tourists flock to the tried-and-tested beaches of Phuket, may we present Koh Kood for your idyllic island pleasure? Situated 40 kilometers off the mainland, in the Gulf of Thailand near the Cambodian maritime border, Koh Kood offers crystal-clear waters, nearly 200 kilometers of white sandy beaches, and a chill, secluded vibe.

Koh Kood is home to several beautiful beaches, including Ao Klong Hin, Klong Yai Kee, and Ao Ta Pao. The waters around Koh Kood are home to diverse marine life, including colorful coral reefs and tropical fish, so you can fill your days with snorkeling, diving, and island hopping to islets like Koh Mak and Koh Rang. Trek through lush tropical forest to Klong Chao Waterfall, and take a dip in the natural pools at its feet. After a day of exploring, unwind with a traditional Thai massage at a local spa. Utter bliss.

Instead of Jeju Island, visit… Udo, South Korea

Just a short ferry ride from Seoul, Jeju Island is a popular getaway for urbanites escaping the bustling capital. But Udo, just off the eastern coast of Jeju, is overlooked despite its local heritage and natural beauty. This small island offers stunning coastal views, pristine beaches, and unique geological formations, such as the Seobin Baeksa sandbar and the Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak.

Visit the Udo History Museum and the Haenyeo Museum to learn about the traditional culture of the haenyeo—the resilient, often elderly and female divers who make a living diving into the sea for food. Udo Island is also famous for its local delicacies, including seafood dishes made with local fishermen’s catch of the day. Whether you're looking to relax on the beach, hike scenic trails, or immerse yourself in culture, Udo won't disappoint.