By Tim Johnson
Asia is a vast continent – a place with hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline, thousands of islands, and more beautiful, blue water than you can imagine. With such an amazing array of beaches, it’s definitely tough to choose the best – but we’ve given it our best shot. Here are, in our humble opinion, the ten finest places to swim and suntan in all of Asia.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sinn/Sunrise Beach, Koh Lipe
A small island in the southern reaches of the Andaman Sea, Koh Lipe was a largely undiscovered place – until now. This past year, National Geographic named the island to its short list of essential places to visit, calling the sands here “the perfect beach.” There are actually three beaches on Koh Lipe – Sunrise, Sunset and Pattaya – but no cars, paved road, or worries. The waters around the island are preserved as a national marine park, with the corals serving as home to some 25 per cent of all the world’s tropical fish species. While sophisticated resorts can be hard to find, the Idyllic Concept Resort – set on the sands of Sunrise Beach – provide stylish, modern accommodations just steps from the sand and within easy walking distance of all that the island has to offer. Roll in on a long-tailed boat, slip your shoes off to disembark, then stay that way for the duration of your stay.
Paradise Beach, Ko Yao Noi
Called one of “Thailand’s last unspoiled islands” by The Guardian, this island – accessible only by boat – has a pace that any beach bum would love. With much of the area still undeveloped, this is the Thailand of yesterday, when people spent their days fishing on the water or swimming in the waves. For a true throwback, stay at Koyao Island Resort, a luxurious place with an infinity pool and plenty of spots to lounge on the warm waters of Paradise Beach, then bed down for the night in one of their beautiful bungalows, which are open to the beach and stars at the front, providing a perfect mix of comfortable interiors with the wonders of the tropical surroundings.
Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort
Pantai Dalit Beach, Borneo
When people picture Borneo, they usually see dense jungle, headhunters and far-flung, exotic pleasures. And while you will get all of these (except, perhaps, the headhunters) on a visit to Borneo, the Malaysian part of the island is also emerging as a popular beach destination. And no wonder, with beaches like Pantai Dalit with six kilometres of sand on the warm waters of the South China Sea, backed by lush rainforest and impressive hotels like the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, which offers luxury accommodations, pools, top-drawer cuisine and, perhaps most importantly, a 25-hectare Orangutan Education Centre; when you tire of tanning, come and observe these playful simians, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Pantai Cenang, Langkawi
Less than an hour’s flight from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, the island group of Langkawi is fast emerging as one of the country’s top beach destinations, with a number of top resorts (including a brand-new Four Seasons) raising their flags on these sunny isles. There’s plenty to keep you busy on this 104-island archipelago, if that’s what you seek, including a Sky Bridge (which is reached via cable car) that gives you a bird’s eye view of the dense rainforest canopy (which has been given World Geopark status by UNESCO). But we suggest that you head straight to Pantai Cenang, grab a coconut drink, soak up the sun under its many palms, take in a beautiful sunset, then hit the bars along the beach as the night heats up.
Once a refuge for hippies and other cultural dropouts, Goa retains its carefree feel. The state, which was long a possession of the Portugese, has a slightly European feel, and serves as a lower-impact experience for those new to the Subcontinent (people often call it “India Light”). Located in North Goa, Calangute has some of the very best beaches in the state, where loungers and palm-frond bars serving up fizzy beverages stretch as far as the eye can see. Grab a Kingfisher, recline by the water, hire one of the local women for a ten dollar massage, and embark on your own little cultural dropout.
On an island that’s world-famous for its stunning natural beauty, it’s hard to pick just one, but Kuta – five kilometres of sand and wonderful, warm water – is among the very best, a popular place to chill under the sun that heats up with a party crowd every night of the week. You may be tempted to stay immobile – drink in hand – for the duration of your stay, but that would be a shame, as Bali is an island with so much to offer, from a bustling central market to the lovely temples, rice patties, monkey forest (with some 350 Macaque monkeys) and hand-carved masterpieces available in Ubud, a village up in the shady, cool mountains of inland Bali. Stay on the beach, or head to the nearby Ayana Resort and Spa, one of Asia’s top spa resorts, which sits atop a cliff and offers private villas (each with its own private pool) and the largest Aquatonic pool in the world.
Located 60 kilometres south of the East Javan city of Malang, this sandy paradise, while collectively referred to by one name – Balekembang – is actually three separate beaches. All three (the other two are named Ngliyep and Sendang Biru) provide the opportunity for some of the best sunbathing in the world, but if you’re feeling adventurous, charter a boat out to Pulau Sempu, a small offshore island, or just walk to any of the three small islets that are attached to Balekembang by handy walkways. Then, when you’ve had your fill of relaxing, head back up to Malang, a well-known centre of batik artwork, temples and even a 85-hectare botanical garden.
Sanya Beach, Hainan Island
This island city – one of the southernmost in the People’s Republic of China – is mainly known for two things. One: Its tropical climate. Two: The fact that it serves as the home training site of the Chinese national beach volleyball team. If that’s not enough to convince you to come to Sanya, consider the fact that it lies on about the same line of latitude as Hawaii, that water temperatures off Hainan Island never dip below a lovely 20 degrees Celsius, and that it is home to some of the best resorts in East Asia, including a Mandarin Oriental property that opened just three years ago.
Bai Dai Beach, Phu Quoc Island
A long, narrow country with a seemingly unending coastline, Vietnam has more than its fair share of beaches. While it’s now one of Southeast Asia’s hottest destinations, a country that’s wide open for foreign investment – and international visitors – Vietnam still has a few places that afford a slower, more relaxed pace, and Phu Quoc Island, a green, mountainous island with a relatively small population of fishermen, is definitely one. Located in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, you can avoid the crowds and take your pick of calm, secluded, white sand beaches – Vung Bau is a half-moon of heaven, Cua Can is nothing but a lovely spit of sand, but our favourite – Bai Dai – is arguably the most pristine, a couple kilometres of sun, sand, and nothing else.
Jungmun Beach, Jeju Island
While Korea is rarely recognized as a tropical paradise, its Jeju Island has long been a favourite destination of domestic travellers looking to log some beach time. An isolated volcanic island that’s located well south of the Korean Peninsula, Jeju is home to a temperate climate, lovely mountains, scenic waterfalls, and one of the longest lava tubes in the world, as well as a number of great outdoor sports and activities, including fishing, golf and horseback riding. Or you could just head straight to Jungmun, the country’s southernmost beach, a scenic place with 600 metres of brown sand at the base of a series of cliffs that’s favoured by surfers and sun seekers alike.