Above: The Alu Alu restaurant at Sabah’s Gayana Eco Resort sits on stilts above a tranquil bay.
From New Zealand to Sri Lanka, we’ve scoured the region for 20 affordable beach resorts where style and value meet just steps from the sand. All are priced at less than US$250 a night in the low season, guaranteeing that you’ll stay out of the red when going into the blue
$128 Commemorating the telegraph cable laid between Broome and Java in 1889, Cable Beach is one of the most spectacular stretches of sand in Western Australia, spanning 22 kilometers and fringing the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The Frangipani (15 Millington Dr., Cable Beach; 61-8/9195-5000; thefrangipani.com.au), a drive of less than 10 minutes from Broome, is the newest lodging to open in the area, bringing a series of stylish one- to four-room apartments and villas to the beachfront strip. Set around a pair of swimming pools, rooms come with outdoor showers and private courtyards; the larger villas also feature separate dining and kitchen areas. When you’re not relaxing in poolside gazebos, ask the management to organize activities ranging from sunset camel rides to full-day charter flights over the Kimberley region.
$156 Roughly halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, the peaceful holiday town of Merimbula is home to one of the most eye-catching resorts on the Sapphire Coast. The Coast Resort (1 Elizabeth St.; 61-2/6495-4930; coastresort.com.au) offers a collection of white, cube-like apartments, suites, and townhouses, hemmed between a quiet beach and numerous lakes and lagoons. The fully self-contained apartments come with kitchens and private balconies, though views of the Pacific Ocean can be scarce from the lower floors. For sweeping vistas, check into one of the penthouse suites instead. While the cafés and restaurants of Merimbula are only a 10-minute stroll up the beach, you’ll find a far more intimate perch at the resort’s own eatery, where freshly shucked oysters are a nightly highlight.
$179 Set on the southeast coast of Cambodia, just outside the sleepy fishing village of Kep, Knai Bang Chatt (Phum Thmey; 855-12/879-486; knaibangchatt.com) made a splash when it opened in 2005. The hotel’s three striking, Le Corbusier–inspired villas date back to the 1970s, designed by disciples of the legendary Cambodian architect Van Molyvann. Each of the 11 rooms has its own identity, furnished with Khmer antiques and ceramics from the Belgian owners’ extensive private collection. Villas are linked by a series of elevated passageways and staircases and open up to spacious terraces that overlook the Gulf of Thailand. While the quiet beach offers plenty of distractions, it’s hard to ignore the hotel’s saltwater infinity pool, carved from volcanic rock and surrounded by canopy beds.
$234 Opened in January, the Mandarin Oriental, Sanya (Coral Bay, Sanya; 86-898/8820-9999; mandarinoriental.com) sets the bar high for accommodation on Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province. Located at the tip of Coral Bay (just west of the Yalong Bay resort strip), the 297-room resort occupies a prime beachfront position, flanked by rain forest on one side and the South China Sea on the other. Rooms are spacious (the smallest are 60 square meters) and appear even larger thanks to glass-paneled ceilings and sliding doors opening to ocean-facing terraces. Timber floors, coconut-weave headboards, and bamboo-themed amenities add a regional flavor. As tempting as it is to spend the day propped up beside the resort’s three lagoon-style pools (or your own private plunge pool, if you have a villa), there are dozens of other distractions, including floodlit tennis courts, eight restaurants and bars, and a 3,200-square-meter “spa village” set on a hill above the water.
$105 Once owned by the late Raymond Burr (of TV’s Perry Mason and Ironside fame), the newly opened Fiji Orchid (Saweni Beach Rd., Lautoka, Nadi; 679/664-0099; fijiorchid.com) has been transformed into a luxe, eight-room resort in the foothills of the Nausori Highlands. A 15-minute drive north of Nadi’s international airport on the island of Viti Levu, the property is set just back from the water. Still, the short stroll to Saweni Beach is pleasant and peaceful, and takes you through tropical rain forest hung with wild orchids and palms. The six suites, arranged in two bure cottages, are light and spacious, and are tastefully designed with polished-wood floors, stone bathrooms, and private terraces overlooking the garden and pool. Pacific cuisine is served in the open-air restaurant, although we suggest ditching the dining room in favor of a seafood barbecue in the garden or on the beach.
$185 Opened last year in northern Kerala, Neeleshwar Hermitage (Neeleshwar, Dist. Kasaragod; 91-476/228-7510; neeleshwarhermitage.com) sprawls over five tropical hectares fringed by coconut plantations and spice gardens. Modeled on palm-thatched fishermen’s huts, the 12 airy cottages lack nothing in style, and come with high ceilings and furniture carved from recycled wood. The restaurant’s mostly vegetarian cuisine uses produce grown on-site in organic gardens; there are solar panels throughout; and a strict non-smoking policy is enforced across the entire resort. Reward your good behavior with an Ayurvedic treatment at the spa, or join in yoga retreats, cooking classes, or backwater houseboat tours. If that sounds like too much activity, relax at the beachside café with views of the Arabian Sea; dolphins are regular visitors to these warm waters.
$175 Set on northeast Lombok’s Sire Beach, the Tugu Lombok (62-370/620-111; tuguhotels.com) is the fourth, and newest, property from Javanese hotelier Anhar Setjadibrata. Like its sister establishments, the Tugu Lombok is a monument to Indonesian culture and heritage, decked out with antiques and objets collected on Setjadibrata’s travels across the archipelago. The 18 rustic-chic rooms come with bright tropical flourishes like emerald-green walls and bunches of red hibiscus flowers, all set against Dutch colonial doors, antique four-poster beds, and tubs carved out of boulders. The spa, nestled amid a mature plantation of palms, uses organic hinterland herbs and spices in its treatments, which can also be enjoyed off-site at a nearby waterfall. Dining is an equally nomadic affair, with meals served in the thatched-roof longhouse, in the garden, or under the stars beside the beach.
$196 Located on a 15-hectare private isle just east of Bintan (a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore), the Nikoi Island (65/9635-1950; nikoi.com) resort is a cluster of just six beach houses overlooking the South China Sea. The one- to three-room huts feature eco-friendly design features like driftwood walls and thatched roofs. Chill out by the resort’s impressive pool, set amid granite boulders high above the ocean on the north coast, or grab a snorkel and explore the coral reef that rings the island. It’s a winning formula that hotel management is looking to expand: nine new houses will soon open on the island’s south coast.
$235 Bali’s Tuban Beach may be woefully overdeveloped, but guests checking into the Kupu Kupu Barong Beach Resort (Jl. Wana Segara; 62-361/753-780; kupubarongbeach.com) will feel like they have their own patch of paradise. Freshly emerged from the multimillion-dollar makeover of an older property, this stylish all-suite hotel features just 11 timber-floored rooms (four of which have plunge pools and outdoor daybeds), dressed up with Balinese and Javanese art and fabrics. As at its cliff-hugging sister resort in Ubud, service standards here are high, and the food—overseen by classically trained French chef Patrick Marty —is first-rate. Better still, the resort’s pleasant alfresco restaurant is just steps from the sand.
$110 Like summer camp for grownups, Gayana Eco Resort (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; 60-88/442-233) comprises 44 villas perched on stilts above the South China Sea, each outfitted with Frette sheets, Harnn bath products, and powerful rain showers. Start the day by feeding the trevally fish that congregate around the jetty (which connects the resort to the mainland via a 10-minute ferry ride), then get an underwater education at the Marine Ecology Research Center, which is staffed by scientists and supported by a portion of room rates. Also popular are kayak tours to the mangroves of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, home to monitor lizards and stingrays. Seafood features prominently on the menu at the overwater Alu Alu restaurant; the lobster and barramundi are standouts. There’s also a small spa offering jaw-dropping views and Borneo healing traditions like urut, a long-stroke massage that employs native herbs.
$150 Settings don’t come much more dramatic than the wild west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Here, at Kapitea Creek—a three hour’s drive across the Southern Alps from Christchurch —a husband-and-wife team recently opened the six-room Kapitea Ridge (Chesterfield Rd., Hokitika; 64-3/755-6805; kapitea.co.nz). The lodge sits on eight hectares fronting a private beach and the Tasman Sea. Each room has a different look and color theme, though all come with heated bathroom floor tiles, paua-shell wall features, and mohair blankets. There’s a distinct regional focus across the property, from the wine and food to the striking indoor and outdoor art. When you’re not soaking in the open-air Jacuzzi or sipping a local Chardonnay by the fireplace, take a gourmet picnic hamper down to the beach, where you’ll be hard pressed to find another soul.
$205 Reopened late last year following extensive renovations, the Paihia Beach Resort & Spa (Bay of Islands; 64-9/402-0111; paihiabeach.co.nz) occupies a picturesque perch at the top end of New Zealand’s North Island. The 20 suites and apartments are modern and minimal, featuring French oak floorboards and Dedon patio furniture. Activities include big-game fishing, yacht cruises, and dolphin watching. Or, bliss out in the resort’s beautiful spa, where treatment packages can occupy the better part of a day. Although the azure waters off Paihia Beach are hard to resist, the resort has its own aquatic attractions, including five outdoor hot tubs, each set to a different temperature.
$113 Diving enthusiasts will not want to leave Amorita (Alona Beach, Bohol; 63-2/687-3641; amoritaresort.com). Set cliffside on tiny Panglao Island, a two-hour ferry ride from Cebu in the middle of a stunning coral reef, the property has its own well-equipped dive center, allowing guests to get up close and personal with an astonishing array of marine life. On dry land, the Amorita offers a range of suites and villas. The Ocean View villas are the pick of the bunch, with plunge pools, sundecks, and an outlook to the hotel’s private beach and the Bohol Sea, where dolphins are frequently spotted. Until the spa opens later this year, guests can enjoy treatments in their rooms or beside the main pool. Meals are as casual or formal as you wish, ranging from beach picnics to feasts featuring Boholan favorites like clam soup and stuffed squid.
$151 It might only be a 10-minute drive from the skyscrapers of Singapore’s central business district, but the Amara Sanctuary (1 Larkhill Rd.; 65/6825-3888; amarahotels.com) resort is a world away in style and ambience. Set on a hillside overlooking Palawan Beach on Sentosa Island, the resort’s heritage buildings (built as army barracks in the 1930s) provide the inspiration for colonial furnishings in some guest rooms: think four-poster beds and vintage photographs. Not all of the 121 rooms have such historic references, however, and for the most part, lodgings are smart and modern with designer lighting and marble bathrooms. The adult’s-only rooftop infinity pool is a great place to soak up views of the resort’s landscaped gardens.
$174 Popular for its national park and white-sand beaches, the island of Namhae, just off the south coast of the Korean peninsula, is still relatively undeveloped. It is home to a handful of small fishing villages, a couple of guesthouses, and the Hilton Namhae Golf & Spa Resort (San 35 -5 Doekwok-ri; 82-55/86-34-000; hiltonworldresorts.com). The only luxury hotel on the island, the Hilton is centered on one of the most picturesque golf courses in the country. The 150 suites and villas blend blond wood and stone with warm, earthy colors. In whichever direction you gaze from your private balcony, you’ll surely be impressed by the view, be it of the golf course, the surrounding mountains, or the beach where the Hilton’s private marina awaits.
$250 The sea views are sublime at the Frangipani Tree (812 Matara Rd., Thalpe; 94-91/228-3711; thefrangipanitree.com), a 10-suite beachfront abode named for the greenery that attracts hummingbirds by the hundreds. Sporty guests will appreciate the private tennis court, while others can simply lounge on the sand or beside the infinity-edge lap pool. The chef excels at seafood; try the Koggala chili crabs, grilled jumbo prawns, or red snapper ceviche with coconut, but be sure to save room for Sri Lanka’s tastiest chocolate cake. Guest quarters are spacious, and come with semi-outdoor bathrooms, cushion-strewn daybeds, and four-poster beds. Everyone rightly raves about the staff, who are quick to lend a hand and offer advice about what’s worth exploring—including Galle Fort, a 20-minute drive away—beyond these polished concrete walls.
$214 Designed by one of Thailand’s leading architects, the Alila Cha-Am (115 Moo 7; 66-32/709-555; alilahotels.com) impresses from the outset. Located in the beachside town of Cha-Am, around 160 kilometers south of Bangkok, the hotel swings between ultramodern and au naturel in its design. At the entrance, a large stone staircase leads to a sunken reflection pool, flanked by buildings that house the resort’s 79 guest rooms. Inside, the look is minimal and muted, with a liberal use of unfinished wood, limestone, marble, and glass; sliding doors lead to balconies where you can recline in a hammock and watch the water. When you tire of the ocean views, retreat to the adults-only pool, where expertly mixed cocktails are accompanied by lounge music emanating from the hotel’s funky bar.
$160 With oceanfront land in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin increasingly scarce, boutique hoteliers have turned their attention to the bays and beaches farther south. Perched beside the sand at Huay Yang, a two-hour drive from Hua Hin, NishaVille (333 Moo 7, Baan Huay Yang; 66-3/261-6333; nishaville.com) is the latest resort to open in the area. The 36-villa property comes courtesy of Supakorn Kijkanakorn, whose sister, Anchalika, made style stardom with her Aleenta resort in nearby Pranburi. NishaVille is equally smart in design, featuring candy-colored cottages with shuttered windows and white-board interiors alongside spa baths and fully equipped kitchens. The spacious Breeze villas are great for families, offering sweeping views of the beach, outdoor dining areas, and private plunge pools. Prepare your own meals with gourmet produce from the hotel’s soon-to-open deli, or feast on Thai and Pacific Rim cuisine at the open-air restaurant.
$185 An hour’s flight west of Ho Chi Minh City, the sleepy island of Phu Quoc—Vietnam’s largest—is slowly transforming from backpacker’s bivouac to well-heeled beach destination. For now, though, the only accommodation of note is to be found at the 43-room La Veranda (Ward 1, Duong Dong Beach; 84-77/398-2988; laverandaresort.com), located at the southern end of the island’s main beach. Designed in the style of a French colonial mansion, the resort’s two-story central building is the site of a breezy restaurant fitted with oversize cane armchairs. It overlooks the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Thailand, a view shared by many of the guest rooms and villas, six of which have direct beach access.
$67 Around 230 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City, Blue Ocean Resort (54 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St., Phan Thiet; 84-62/384-7322; life-resorts.com) sits amid a cocunut grove fronting Mui Ne Beach, one of Vietnam’s fastest-growing coastal playgrounds. The 84 rooms and bungalows blend contemporary comforts with local design flourishes like handwoven pillowcases and vibrant throws. Water is a fundamental element across the resort, from garden fountains and lotus ponds to plunge pools and a long main pool—the hotel’s centerpiece. Since this is one of Vietnam’s most important fishing areas, it’s no surprise that seafood like crab and tiger prawns stars at the restaurant. On the 153-meter-long private beach, try your hand at kite-boarding or windsurfing, or just lie back on the sand and watch fishermen bring in their catch.
All prices reflect regular-season rates in U.S. dollars for entry-level accommodation. Compiled by Natasha Dragun, with reports from Leisa Tyler, Cynthia Rosenfeld, Samantha Coomber, David Tse, Martin Westlake, and Petrina Price.
Originally appeared in the April 2009 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Seaside Lodgings for Less”)