10 Great Island Beaches

  • Havelock Island.

    Havelock Island.

  • A path to the beach at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.

    A path to the beach at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.

  • Overlooking Nihiwatu Beach and its eponymous resort on Sumba.

    Overlooking Nihiwatu Beach and its eponymous resort on Sumba.

  • Siargao Beach.

    Siargao Beach.

  • A Bathroom With a View at The Berjaya Redang Beach Resort.

    A Bathroom With a View at The Berjaya Redang Beach Resort.

  • The infinity pool at Amanwella.

    The infinity pool at Amanwella.

  • Seaside Serenity on Koh Lipe.

    Seaside Serenity on Koh Lipe.

  • Phu Quoc’s Bai Sao beach.

    Phu Quoc’s Bai Sao beach.

  • A Bedroom Just Steps From The Sand at The Idyllic Concept Resort on Koh Lipe.

    A Bedroom Just Steps From The Sand at The Idyllic Concept Resort on Koh Lipe.

  • Kenting Beach, Taiwan.

    Kenting Beach, Taiwan.

  • Hainan Island.

    Hainan Island.

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Above: Island With an Edge Bai Sao is a Sweeping Arc of Palm-Fringed Sand on Phu Quoc Island.

For that ultimate tropical idyll,nothing beats a ravishing stretch of sand—particularly when the beach in question is located on an equally serene isle. After a considerable amount of island-hopping around the region, our writers have identified 10 such strands that are among the best in Asia. Some of these picturesque shores are remote and undeveloped, while others pamper visitors with luxurious lodgings.But all share that most elusive quality: paradise from Malaysia to the Maldives, Asia has its fair share of exotic islands, fabled archipelagos, and legendary beaches. The fact that many come with abundant offshore attractions and luxury lodgings makes a visit even more appealing. Here, we travel to 10 countries to profile the region’s hottest island shores—endless stretches of sand fringed by rain forest and coral reefs—looking at when to go, what to do, where to be pampered, and the best places to eat and sleep when you arrive.

1. Bai Sao Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Getting to Bai Sao, known locally as Star Beach, requires patience, but you’ll be well rewarded for your effort. Set on the southeast coast of Phu Quoc—Vietnam’s largest island, 50 kilometers from the mainland in the Gulf of Thailand—Bai Sao’s gentle arc of powdery sand sweeps down to shallow, turquoise waters that are warm year-round.

Where to Stay

Save for the occasional beach shack, Bai Sao is as yet undeveloped. But comfortable lodgings are close at hand. On Phu Quoc’s west-coast Duong Dong Beach, La Veranda (84-77/398-2988; laverandaresort.com; doubles from US$135), is only four kilometers from Bai Sao, easily accessed by bicycle or taxi. Rooms come with private balconies, paddle fans, and handmade decorative tiles, while the resort’s main wing is home to a breezy restaurant with ocean views.

What to Do

Feast on barbecued seafood at the small restaurants along Bai Sao in between dips in the bathwater-warm water. For something more active, hire a bike and pedal to the village of Ham Ninh, where you can pick up pearls and the island’s famed fish sauce. You don’t need scuba tanks to explore the shallow reefs, but there are several dive outfits on the island, and bamboo shark sightings are common offshore.

When to Go

The monsoons strike the island between June and November. Avoid the rain and visit in the dry season, when temperatures hover around 30°C.

2. Godellawela Bay Sri Lanka

Set at the southernmost tip of the country, Godellawela Bay earned its local nickname, Dream Beach, for a reason. The long stretch of soft white sand is lapped by gently curling waves, and crystal-clear waters extend as far as the eye can see. The bay is hemmed by soaring coconut palms and rocky bluffs, making it one of the most secluded shores on the island.

 

 

 

 

Where to Stay

Postcard-perfect views are afforded by the 30 rooms at Amanwella (65/6887-3337; amanwella.com; doubles from US$325). Linger on daybeds on your private terrace before retreating to your suite—think classic Aman sleekness accented with floor-to-ceiling windows and fantail coconut-wood furniture. The resort’s restaurant dishes up the catch of the day above  a 47-meter-long infinity pool.

What to Do

Time seems to lose meaning at Amanwella, where daybeds and hammocks pepper the path to the beach. Once you do finally make it to the shore, you might be rewarded with sightings of baby leatherback turtles—hatchings occur here every spring. Farther afield, spot elephants, exotic birds, and free-roaming tigers at Uda Walawe National Park.

When to Go

Sri Lanka’s sun shines brightest from November to April.

3. Kenting Beach Taiwan

Nestled at the southern tip of Taiwan and surrounded by national parkland—fields of sugar cane, banana and coconut groves, and rain forest —Kenting Beach is a popular holiday spot. But if you time your visit right, you might have this strip of sand to yourself.

Where to Stay

The Kenting Chateau Beach Resort (886-8/886-2345; ktchateau.com.tw; doubles from US$182) features three themed guest wings; rooms in the Marbella Hall and Italian-style Positano Hall come with ocean views and private balconies. Seafood stars at the resort’s four restaurants; the Barbados Beach Bar is just meters from the sand and is great place to catch a dazzling sunset.

What to Do

From bird- watching to banana boating, there’s never a dull moment on Kenting Beach. Ornithologists will want to head inland to the Kenting National Park on the banks of Lungruan Lake. On any given day in October, thousands of migrating gray-faced buzzard eagles and Chinese sparrow hawks pass through here. If you’re feeling restless, try your hand at paragliding, mountain biking, or snorkeling.

When to Go

Surfers will not want to miss the awesome curls that roll in between November and March. With the monsoon season past, these months are also good for diving and snorkeling—the waters are crystal clear, and the crowds have subsided. Avoid summer, when temperatures can soar and the beach becomes overrun with vacationers from Taipei and Kaohsiung.

4. Landaa Giraavaru Beach Baa Atoll, Maldives

Clownfish and Oriental sweetlips add color to the azure waters that surround this 18-hectare isle in the Baa Atoll, a 45-minute seaplane flight north of the international airport. Of the Maldives’ 1,190 coral islands, Landaa Giraavaru boasts one of the most romantic sandbanks—it changes hue and shape from sunrise to sunset.

Where to Stay

Guests at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives Landaa Giraavaru (960/660-0888; fourseasons.com; doubles from US$800), the island’s only accommodations, can watch fish swim into view from the massage beds inside Landaa Spa’s glass-bottomed suites. Waves lap against Sri Lankan architect Ismail Murad’s striking overwater villas, while at Al Barakat, the open-air restaurant, underwater lights keep guests entertained while they dine on aromatic mezzes and succulent chicken couscous with cinnamon, chickpeas, and raisins.

What to Do

Take an offshore tour with one of the resort’s six resident marine biologists, who oversee endeavors like the 200-plus coral propagation trays that enhance the island’s lagoon. Snorkel deeper into the Indian Ocean in search of butterfly fish and white-tail unicorn fish, or strap on a tank and dive with mantas and sharks.

When to Go

The best time to view underwater life is between December and April, when the sea is calm and clear. Manta rays and whale sharks are seen in their highest numbers from July to November.

 

5. Luhuitou Bay Hainan Island, China

Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, may be best known for its Yalong Bay resorts, but nearby Luhuitou Bay has won us over for its crowd-free strip of white sand. Backed by foothills, the beach borders calm, clear waters that offer some of the best diving on the island.

Where to Stay

Opened in 2008, the Banyan Tree Sanya Resort & Spa (86-898/8860-9988; banyantree.com; doubles from US$249) offers 49 villas, each with private plunge pools, landscaped gardens, and outdoor bathtubs. The decor is smart and minimal, with an earthy palette offsetting the tropical surrounds. Four open-air restaurants and bars look out to the South China Sea, where fishing boats ply the waters in search of your next meal.

What to Do

It may not have its own dive center, but the Banyan Tree can arrange scuba expeditions in a jiffy. On dry land, make the most of the resort’s village tours, or tee off at the nearby Sanya Luhuitou Golf Course. Recuperate at the Banyan Tree’s sprawling spa, where traditional Chinese medicine is paired with state-of-the-art hydrothermal facilities.

When to Go

The rainy season hits the island between May and October and can turn the sand into sludge. The best time to visit is between November and March, when temperatures are in the mid-20s.

6. Nihiwatu Beach Sumba, Indonesia

Around 400 kilometers east of Bali on the southwest coast of Sumba Island, this pristine strand is a popular pilgrimage site for surfers, who come to ride an infamous reef break known as “God’s Left.” But when they pack up their boards come evening, you’ll have the entire 2.5-kilometer-long stretch of sand to yourself.

Where to Stay

The Nihiwatu (62-361/757-149; nihiwatu.com; doubles from US$490) resort’s sea-facing villas include a sprawling three-bedroom hilltop chalet with private pool overlooking the Indian Ocean. The thatched-roof rooms are outfitted with Sumbanese textiles and a host of modern amenities.

What to Do

In the interest of surfer safety, a strict policy limits wave riders to nine at a time, but there is plenty to keep you entertained otherwise. The resort  organizes activities like fishing trips (the area is famed for its Spanish mackerel, wahoo, and trevally), snorkeling and scuba diving, and boat excursions to the three seashell-strewn coves of Konda Maloba Bay, an hour’s journey to the south. At low tide, staff leads tours to nearby villages, where you chat with locals and pick up beautiful handicrafts.

When to Go

The best tubes occur between April and December, after which the monsoon season descends. The Nihiwatu resort is closed from January 10 to February 28.

7. Radhanagar Beach Havelock Island, India

One of only a handful of India’s far-flung Andaman Islands where tourism has a toehold, Havelock fulfills the pristine-beach dreams of no more than 10,000 visitors a year. Those who make the journey will be rewarded with a stunning two-kilometer ribbon of footprint-free sand along Havelock’s west coast. Radhanagar, unofficially known as Beach No. 7, backs onto dense rain forest, where coconut palms reach out from a thick mesh of ferns and cast shadows over the translucent, sandy-bottomed cove.

Where to Stay

The island’s best digs, Barefoot at Havelock (91-319/228-2151; barefootindia.com; doubles from US$80) is a rustic, low-impact resort with 18 thatched-roof cottages built from bamboo and palm fronds. Some come with air-conditioning, but a better way to cool down is with an Iyengar yoga class by the water. Even the most jaded globetrotters will fork over the considerable fee to have their photo taken underwater with Rajan, the resort’s 58-year-old swimming elephant—his trunk is his snorkel.

What to Do

Lionfish and Napoleon wrasse abound in the 15 dive sites off Radhanagar. Snorkelers will be enthralled by the vibrant hues of the lagoon’s coral gardens, just meters from the sand. Visitors can also kayak through surrounding mangroves in search of monitor lizards and crocodiles, trek into the canopied forest (home to 150 animal and plant species unique to these islands), or go deer-spotting along the beach at sunrise.

When to Go

Rajan remains on land during the monsoon season, from May to October. To avoid the downpours, and to glimpse turtle hatchlings, visit between December and March.

8. Siargao Beach Siargao, Philippines

Siargao Island, a tiny islet 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, is another site that surfers flock to on a regular basis. The waves at Cloud 9, a notorious break off the island’s eponymous beach, are said to be the best in the Philippines, and the white sands they peel toward are powder soft.

Where to Stay

The brand-new Kalinaw Resort (63-921/320-0442; kalinawresort.com; doubles from US$136) is the only luxe accommodations on the island. Kalinaw (which translates as “peaceful” in Visayan) features a series of design-oriented cottages with wooden floors, free Wi-Fi access, and beach views.

What to Do

If you’re not tackling Cloud 9’s barrels, take to the water and explore the nearby Sohoton Caves, a beachfront nature reserve hemmed by wild forest cliffs with semi-submerged caves. Alternately, ask the resort to pack you a picnic hamper and spend the day paddling between the shallow reefs.

When to Go

The best waves are to be had between July and November, although these months do coincide with the monsoon season. To avoid the rain, visit between November and May.

9. Sunrise Beach Koh Lipe, Thailand

One of the 51 islands that constitute the Tarutao National Marine Park in the Andaman Sea, off the southwest coast of Thailand, the isle of Koh Lipe is as popular for its sand as it is for its sea. Of the island’s four main beaches, Sunrise catches the early morning rays, which cast silhouettes of coconut palms over a stretch of soft sand.

Where to Stay

One of the newest hotels on the island, the Idyllic Concept Resort (66-81/802-5453; idyllicresort.com; doubles from US$83) is set amid tropical gardens that end in ocean-facing bungalows overlooking Sunrise Beach. Sixteen airy villas are minimal in design, but come with mod-cons including flatscreen TVs and broadband Internet access.

What to Do

The petite island is easily explored on foot, but Idyllic can also organize bikes and motorcycles. While the reefs immediately offshore abound with aquatic life (the 2004 tsunami had little impact here), divers should not miss the opportunity to explore Tarutao, Thailand’s first marine park, covering some 1,490 square kilometers. These waters are home to dolphins and sperm whales, as well as an incredible 25 percent of the world’s tropical fish species.

When to Go

The best, albeit busiest, time to visit Koh Lipe is in December, when the weather is relatively cool and the rainy season has passed. Diving is optimal in March and April, when the water is still and clear and tourist numbers have subsided. Daily ferries connect Koh Lipe with surrounding islands from November to May, with weekly crossings between May and November.

10. Teluk Dalam Kecil Beach Redang Island, Malaysia

Set at the northern tip of Redang Island, off the east coast of the Malay Peninsula, this beach is lined with powder-soft sand surrounded by rain forest. Splash about in the  turquoise waters of the sheltered lagoon, or swim out to Aziz’s Reef, 100 meters offshore, where you’ll find an underwater menagerie bursting with marine life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Stay

The best lodgings on this sparsely populated strip of sand are the new hillside villas at the Berjaya Redang Beach Resort (609/630-8888; berjayaresorts.com; doubles from US$265), replete with private patios and unbeatable lagoon views.

What to Do

It’s hard not to spend day after lazy day on the beach. But if you must take shelter, pull up one of the resort’s padded sunloungers, set under thatched umbrellas. There’s always a game of volleyball on the go, and the Berjaya’s marine center is fully equipped to take out divers of all experience levels. On-land adventure seekers can trek into the rain forest towards Teluk Dalam Besar Beach, equally pretty and often deserted.

When to Go

Redang is blessed with blue skies for most of the year, except between November and January when the monsoon strikes.

Compiled by Natasha Dragun, with reports from Cynthia Rosenfeld, Leisa Tyler, David Tse, Martin Westlake, Petrina Price, and Cathy Paras-Lara.

Originally appeared in the June/July 2009 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“10 Great Island Beaches”)

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