Islands in South-East Asia have their fair share of luxury resorts, night clubs, beach bars, and all the things that make them a travellers dream. But they also have tourists. Lots of tourists. So if you’d rather escape the noise and the queues, and find your own piece of tranquil solitude, we recommend these lesser known islands in South-East Asia, off the beaten track, many of which have areas that remain completely untouched.
Ko Rong, Cambodia
Although Ko Rong is the most developed of the islands off Sihanoukville’s shore, you won’t find any luxury resorts here. The 78 square kilometre island’s main attraction is its 43 kilometres of beaches where guests can enjoy diving and snorkelling. The island is also perfect for jungle trekking in the surrounding tropical area. With a dozen guesthouses at Paradise Bungalows, you’ll always have your own untouched beach to retreat to. Paradise Bungalows also has a restaurant which offers freshly caught seafood and ice cold beer. However, for those who want to indulge in the drinking culture of the island, head to Monkey Island Bar which is open late, and don’t forget to stay for the fire-dance performers every night.
Average price per night: $35 – $100 USD
Average price for beer: $0.50 – $3.00
Best time to go: November to June
This island has long been a surfing mecca, with the best waves in the Philippines and drawing Australian and European travellers alike to its gorgeous beaches. Surfing at Cloud 9 is Sarigao’s main attraction, but not its only one. For fishing enthusiasts, tuna, mackerel, and marlin are easy to come by between January and May. If these activities excite you, then you’ll probably love the camping available on the island as well. However, there are also a number of resorts and hotels on the island for those who want to relax in luxury.
Average price per night: Approximately $35
Average price for beer: Less than $0.50
Best time to go: August to November
Ko Lipe, Thailand
A former hidden gem of Thailand, Ko Lipe is quickly becoming well-known among travellers to the area. The southernmost island in Thailand, it is part of the beautiful Tarutao National Marine Park and was first discovered by the Chao Ley, who remain there to this day. Due to the island’s increasing popularity, there is a wide range of hotels, guesthouses and bungalows to choose from, many with restaurants, bars, and even live music. Activities on the island such as diving and snorkelling are easily accessible and you can even take day trips to nearby islands.
Average price per night: $40 – $350
Average price for beer: $2 – $3
Best time to go: November to February
Before Redang became the luxurious island it is today, it was a temporary anchorage for traders between Siam and the Malaya Archipelago, creating a number of stories now told by locals. Redang is the largest island among the Redang Archipelago, and famous for white sandy beaches, as well as the world that lies beneath the water. The marine life and beautiful coral reefs are perfect for snorkelers and divers, with over 3,000 species of fish. Divers will also love the sites of various shipwrecks off the coast, which provide an amazing underwater experience. Live in luxury on Redang with a choice of some amazing resorts and hotels, many with their own spas, pools, and beachfront location.
Average price per night: $100 – $400
Average price for beer: $2.50 – $3
Best time to go: April to September
With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, it can be hard to narrow down the choices. Malapuscua is our pick however, for those who want the small island beach experience with a small number of tourists. The beach bungalows available are nestled in between the locals’ homes, which really makes you feel like one of them. Cocobana Resort will have you covered no matter what your budget, but if you prefer luxury all around, then check out Legend Resort and its beachfront suites. With manta rays, thresher sharks, and high visibility, Malapuscua has some of the best diving spots in the world.
Average price per night: $30 – $200
Average price for beer: Less than $1
Best time to go: February to May
The sixth largest island in the world, Sumatra is more than a holiday; it’s an adventure. Visitors to the island can indulge in the natural wealth of the area, with its volcano, jungles, underwater landscapes, and the famous Lake Tabo. Here, you can experience some amazing diving spots Sumatra is also rich in history, and visitors can explore the ruins of an ancient Batak village in nearby Ambarita. For just $1, tourists can hire a guide and learn about the cannibal rituals and Batak culture. For a great location, friendly service and local knowledge of the area, stay at Casa Nemo or Hotel Deli River and enjoy the ocean views.
Average price per night: $35 – $200
Average cost of beer: $3
Best time to go: May to September
Mabul Island, Malaysia
A fishing village since the 1970s, Mabul Island has now become a famous dive site. The 20 hectare piece of land can be explored completely on foot, as there are no roads or cars on the island. A number of boats can take visitors to the various dive spots, many of which are quite shallow, only reaching 18 metres. For a different experience, visitors can try muck diving, with visibility around 5 – 8 metres, at Froggy Lair, Paradise Reef, and Lobster Wall. The great thing about the accommodation on Mabul Island is that many of them are specifically for diving holidays, which means they supply all the necessary equipment. Sipadan Water Village Resort and Borneo Divers Resort are two such resorts which cover everything you need while staying on Mabul Island.
Average price per night: $45 – $600
Average cost of beer: $3
Best time to go: March to October
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
The island of Phu Quoc is a beautiful island with plenty to offer, so if you want a relaxing, sun-filled holiday, try visiting before the new development makes the island a tourist hotspot. Visitors won’t find a busy nightlife here, but can find plenty to keep them occupied during the day, including diving and snorkeling the reefs, kayaking in the bays, or exploring the back roads on a motorbike. The untouched natural environment of the island is well known for its stunning beaches and fresh seafood on offer. Visitors can also enjoy the island’s history and culture, including the many temples located on the island. One of these temples is Dinh Cau Rock, a combination of a Buddhist temple and lighthouse, built as a dedication to the Goddess of the Sea.
Average price per night: $25 – $200
Average cost of beer: $1.50
Best time to go: November to March
An important island during the heyday of the Dutch East Indies Company, Ambon was used by spice traders, which has been incorporated into many of their local cuisines. The island also boasts many attractions, such as the kampong of Waii. This is famous for its eels that live in the river, and if paid, a local man will call the eels by slapping the water and coaxing them with a raw egg. The island also has its fair share of sandy beaches, but none more visited than Natsepa which stretches more than 30 metres. The area is perfect for recreational activities and water sports, and visitors can enjoy a range of local snack foods. Ambon is also home to two hot springs, one at the foot of Ambon’s highest mountain, and the other on the beach at Tuleho.
Average price per night: $28 – $80
Average cost of beer: $5
Best time to go: October to March
Gaya Island, Malaysia
Gaya Island’s charm lies in the fact that it does not see many tourists, which means its beaches remain beautiful and pristine. The most well-known of these beaches is Police Bay, a 400 metre stretch of white sand and crystal clear water. This beach fronts the high-end Bunga Raya Island Resort, one of only two luxury resorts on the island. Gaya Island also boasts coral reefs along the entire coast in excellent condition, making it the perfect diving destination. Visitors can also head to Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures, which is set in a secluded bay and offers diving, snorkelling, jungle trekking, and wildlife spotting.
Average price per night: $300 – $500
Average cost of beer: $1.60
Best time to go: April to September
Dili, East Timor
Dili has endured a 20 year struggle for independence, and after innumerable damages and losses, it has now made incredible strides toward reconstruction. Dili still has traces of its former Portuguese colonials which can be found in remaining villas and churches along the water. Dili also boasts a 27 metre tall statue of Jesus overlooking the coast. Its white sandy beaches and beautiful water has become popular for diving, snorkelling, and soaking up the sun. Areia Branca is the most accessible of these beaches, and has several bars and restaurants nearby. Dili has no shortage of accommodation with something for everyone’s budget, from East Timor Backpackers to Discovery Inn.
Average price per night: $12 – $135
Average cost of beer: $2.50
Best time to go: May to November
Riau Islands, Indonesia
Riau Islands is quickly becoming a popular destination, not just for its beaches, but for its rich history. The famous Buddhist Temple, Mesjid Raya Mosque, and royal mausoleums are just a few of the many sites to see on the islands. Riau Islands also have regular festivals and cultural performances at Tanjung Pinang, including dance and music. There is a wide range of accommodation available across the islands, including the well-known Harris Resort Batam Waterfront. There are also a range of bars and restaurants available, and although the locals make great tea and coffee, the avocado juice must be tried.
Average price per night: $20 – $260
Average cost of beer: $2
Best time to go: May to October
Kadan Kyun, otherwise known as King Island, is the biggest island of the Mergui Archipelago in Burma. The archipelago consists of more than 800 islands varying in size. Many of these islands are uninhabited and rarely visited by tourists, which makes their untouched beaches and jungles seem all the more exciting. Trips can be taken to these islands through the Margui Princess cruise ship, with a friendly and experienced crew to look after you. The islands provide beautiful white sandy beaches and clear water, perfect for snorkelling or diving. Visitors can also kayak through the mangroves and engage with the locals on the water.
Average price per night: $25 – $300
Average cost of beer: $2
Best time to go: December to April