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Dream hideaways: 8 unbelievably exotic beach vacations in South East Asia

There’s something special about the sand, the cliffs, and the clear blue water of South East Asia’s beaches.  This guide will give you the inside scoop on your perfect dream hideaway away from the crowds. Whether you want to while away your days on white sand beaches or explore excursions like scuba diving, snorkeling, and trekking, we’ve got you covered. Read on to get the inside scoop on South East Asia’s most unbelievably exotic beach vacations.

Lombok, Bali

Silent Hill, Kuta Beach Lombok Indonesia by Fadil Basymeleh, on Flickr
by Fadil Basymeleh

Close to Bali, Lombok retains its untouched coast line, and rewards travelers with spectacular palm coves, Balinese Hindu temples, gorgeous cliffs, and plenty of surf. In the center of the island, the majestic Gunang Rinjani gives panoramic views to the hardy trekker. Kata beach on Lombok is also a surfer’s Mecca, but without the hoards of tourists.  Lombok’s biggest draw is diving in the Gili Islands, a set of island with bungalows, coral reefs, and a marked party vibe.  The Gilis are famous for being laid-back, as the lack of cars slows down life’s pace on the islands, but new upmarket accommodations are opening, like  Manta Dive, 50 meters from the harbor on Gili Trawangan, where rates begin at $45 a night.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

’Nothing Beats a Cool Ocean Breeze’, Cam by WanderingtheWorld (www.LostManProject.com), on Flickr
by WanderingtheWorld

Sihanoukville is the perfect Cambodian beach hideaway, and now that the New York Times has discovered it, it is sure to grow. Set with white beaches, clear blue water, jungled mountains, and an old sleepy town center, you can also access plentiful islands for further exploration.

The most popular stretch of beach is Ochheuteal Beach, with beautiful views of both the ocean and the mountains. Yet it can get crowded, so consider booking a room in one of the resorts situated on Sokha Beach, much quieter yet largely privatized. There’s also Independence Beach, quieter than most and equally beautiful.

Ko Lanta, Thailand

Ko Lanta sunset by Robbie G1, on Flickr
by Robbie G1

Ready for the beach life? Head to Ko Lanta, an island with great, flat beaches. This little known gem has been kept from development by the local Thai and Muslim communities who refuse to see their island turned into the next highrise resort. When you arrive, don’t be put off by the gravelly road that it quickly winds to Long Beach (Hat Phra Ae), where plenty of options for eating and lodging are available.

You’ll soon find yourself tucked into a comfortable bungalow or sumptuous boutique hotel, spending your days gazing out at pristine waves.  Mango House, in Lanta’s Old Town, offers visitors the option to check out traditional life on the island from the comfort of their boutique rooms, perched on stilts above the water.  Rates range from 2,500-5,000 baht per night when booked online, but like most places in Asia, substantial discounts are possible if you walk through the door rather than arranging your stay ahead of time.

Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, Thailand

ko kai by VannaGocaraRupa, on Flickr
by VannaGocaraRupa

When you arrive, you will be swept away by the untouched and rugged beauty of Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. A little known archipelago of 51 islands that stretches south of the Thai mainland, the marine park is one of those quiet hideaways as yet undiscovered by the crowds.

Of the five islands open to visitors, the most pristine are Ko Tarutao and Ko Adang, both of which abound with stunning mountain scenery and lovely beaches. What better way to appreciate this unspoiled scenery than by camping in the wild, (with the facilities of the national park) an option that few tourists choose?

Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

by Chang’r
Lonely Boat by ChangPulau Tioman is a group of welcoming Malaysian villages with a decidedly Polynesian flair. Less voluptuous than the beaches to be found elsewhere, the coast is scattered with pockets of sand interspersed with crystal-clear rivers and stands of hibiscus.

Fortunately it’s not hard to wander past, and you’ll feel transported to a tropical paradise. Travelers rave about the secluded Bagus Place Resort with a small number of exclusive bungalows made to suit the natural environment one was even built around the trunk of an old growth tree. During the day you can enjoy coastal explorations or take one of the many dive tours through coral reefs to see turtles, sharks, and countless fish.

Pulau Weh, Indonesia

Pula Weh by Matthew Winterburn, on Flickr
by Matthew Winterburn

Pulau Weh, which means ‘away from’ in local dialect, is a languid, mountainous isle complete with stunning beaches, sleepy fishing villages, and spectacular diving. Find your way to Iboih Beach, a popular destination with younger travelers, as the bungalows on this beach can be as inexpensive as $4 a night. Or consider venturing to Pulau Rubiah, a densely forested island just off shore which boasts massive untouched coral reefs. There’s also Gapang Beach, more social and filled with more upmarket establishments.

More adventurous travelers will take the private boat to Freddies Santai Sumur Tiga Eco-Resort, where a double-bungalow begins at $14 nightly, and guests dine on a daily, freshly-prepared international buffet, overlooking a two-mile stretch of white sand beach.

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Phu Quoc Island, Sunset behind swimming by amasc, on Flickr
by amasc

Phu Quoc Island, off the coast of Vietnam, has beautiful wind sand beaches that are matched only by its quiet, calm, almost deserted vibe. This is a place to come to relax, sit back, and enjoy the beaches or the island forests, 90% of which are protected habitat. The island also boasts untouched coral reefs perfect for a scuba excursion or morning snorkeling trip. You can also take a chartered boat trip to the An Thoi Islands, for a more private getaway of swimming, snorkeling, and fishing.  For true relaxation, stay at the four star Long Beach Resort and Spa, a complex built in traditional Vietnamese style, with an attached Spa and Brewery.

Palawan, Philippines

By Far this is the Cleanest Delta I’ve S by Storm Crypt, on Flickr
by Storm Crypt

Palawan is the place to go to explore natural beaches and forests and have a vacation off the beaten path. Floating off the western coast of the Philippines, this stretch of jungle is one of the nation’s last preserved nature parks. To reach this stretch of land you take a long-winding road through shady jungle while getting glimpses of breathtaking bays and tropical sun.

Puerto Princesa is the capital hub of this tropical getaway, which is where you will find accommodation, food, and access to the many untouched beaches, including Sabang and Port Barton.  Discovery Divers can arrange dive trips, as well as accommodations for non-diving guests.  They have experience in this area, and are committed to maintaining the unique ecosystem of Palawan.

Of course, not everyone is willing to share the secret of their favorite island getaway. I certainly kept one to myself.  Do you have any tips, though, that you wouldn’t mind sharing with fellow travelers?

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