Southeast Asia’s Best Beaches
Southeast Asia is a bona-fide tropical paradise boasting secluded shores lined with swaying coconut palm trees. And as a bonus, unlike beaches in the United States and Europe, many aren’t overcrowded.
Skip the busy beaches in Bali, Langkawi, Nha Trang and Phuket, and head to any of these incredible spots instead. Get ready to enjoy crystal-clear water, vibrant coral and the chance to swim with wild sea creatures.
Koh Pha-ngan – Thailand
Daring beach-goers won’t want to miss the chance to swim in the Gulf of Thailand in their birthday suits. Don’t strip down at just any beach in Thailand though; it’s illegal to be naked in public, and can lead to tourists being deported.
Everywhere, that is, except for private Leela Beach on Koh Pha-ngan, where everyone sunbathes nude.
Considered to be the most hippie-friendly island in all of Thailand, Koh Pha-ngan offers clothing-friendly beaches, too, including romantic Bottle Beach. If you’re in the mood for a wild party, be sure to plan your trip here around the moon cycle to attend the infamous Full Moon party, featuring live music, dancing, juggling, fire-eating and fireworks.
El Nido – The Philippines
El Nido serves as the gateway to the coral-fringed Bacuit archipelago, home to schools of colorful fish. It is situated within stunning Bacuit Bay, where dramatic karst mountains jut out of aquamarine waters. The rock formations form a multitude of lagoons that are perfect for swimming and kayaking or, if you dare, rock climbing.
After working up a sweat, laze the day away at Secret Beach, which reportedly inspired Alex Garland to write his popular novel “The Beach,” later adapted into the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film.
Raja Ampat Islands – Indonesia
The Four Kings, also known as Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands, can be found off the coast of Papua. These stunning islands are famous for their incredible dive spots bustling with underwater life; they’re home to 75% of all coral species and over 1,300 species of fish. But they are just as diverse on land, in their wild jungles.
The Raja Ampat Islands are the perfect place to visit for anyone seeking nature in all its wild glory. The main islands to explore are Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool.
Redang Island – Malaysia
With white-sand beaches, thousands of palm trees and incredible underwater life, the absolute best tropical destination in Southeast Asia is Malaysia’s Redang Island.
This tiny remote island is located off the northeastern Malaysian peninsula and can be found just south of the more popular Perhentian Islands in the South China Sea. Redang Island offers all the same unbridled nature as its neighbor, but in a more quaint setting. The best beach is the private strip of sand that belongs to the island’s only locally owned resort, Wisana Village.
Redang maintains its beauty due to a rigorous set of standards upheld by the Terengganu state, as it’s a protected marine park island — meaning fishing, coral collecting and littering are prohibited. These protections ensure this is one of the best places for snorkeling; watch out for majestic sea creatures such as sea turtles, black-fin sharks and neon fish.
Komodo Island – Indonesia
A list of the prettiest beaches in Southeast Asia wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Pink Beach inside striking Komodo National Park. One of just seven beaches in the world with pink sand, its color comes from millions of broken pieces of red and white coral and shells. There are also grey and white sand beaches nearby.
To see the colorful beaches you’ll have to enter the park with a ranger and guide, who will also help you find prehistoric, dinosaur-like Komodo Dragons. Nature-lovers will also enjoy exploring the many hiking trails around Komodo Island, boasting views of stunning seascapes.
Koh Rong – Cambodia
Just off the coast of Cambodia’s mainland, Koh Rong boasts unspoiled beaches dotted with rustic beach houses. With no paved roads and very little development, it’s a true off-the-beaten-path find.
There are over 20 beaches to explore around Koh Rong. For a lazy day in the sand, visit 4K Beach; for watersports, head to Sok San Beach. Adventure-seekers will love to trek through the jungle to reach wild Lonely Beach, where they can take a dip in the cool sea to explore lively reef and get acquainted with exotic fish.
Koh Rong is also known for its electric sunsets, and for its bioluminescent plankton that illuminate the sea under a star-lit sky.
Sipadan Island – Malaysia
Sipadan Island in the Celebes Sea is on every scuba diver’s bucket list, as it’s known to have the best dive sites in the world. The marine park at Sipadan is projected to become a UNESCO World Heritage site and is protected for preservation efforts.
Overnight stays are prohibited, so divers must stay nearby on Mabul or Kapalai island. The abundant reef wall surrounding Sipadan nourishes a wide range of marine life, including hammerhead sharks, hawksbill sea turtles and barracudas. Sipadan also serves as a safe haven for sea turtle eggs and was declared a bird sanctuary by the British all the way back in 1933.
Daku Island – The Philippines
Daku Island’s dreamy white sand and clear, turquoise water are no accident; locals work hard here to preserve the enchanting nature of their home. The result? This is one of the most gorgeous and well-preserved of the 7,000+ islands in The Philippines. Make sure to respect conservation efforts by never leaving trash behind or touching any aquatic life, including coral.
To find the best spots around Daku Island for swimming, just ask a local to point you in the right direction — many of the beaches don’t have official names.
Koh Lipe – Thailand
The island of Koh Lipe is the most popular and least expensive place in Southeast Asia to get PADI scuba dive certification, so most visitors can be found in the water, not crowding the island’s quiet beaches. Scuba diving can be done year-round in Koh Lipe, but the best time is around the half moon phase, when the current is the most gentle and visibility is at its best.
Start your day at Sunrise Beach to spend a few lazy hours in the shade under a palm tree, then work your way around the island through the tropical wilderness to the rock formations at Edigyur Beach. At dusk, head to Pattaya Beach for a dip in the sparkling turquoise ocean before dancing the night away on the sand surrounded by fire dancers.
Ngapali Beach – Myanmar
This isn’t the beach to visit if you’re looking to jet-ski over coral or drive a jeep over sandy shores; Ngapali Beach is incredibly tranquil due in part to a ban on motorized vehicles in the area. There are, however, electric mopeds that can be rented to help you beach-hop up and down the palm tree-lined coast.
With limited available activities, this is the perfect spot for those who want to spend lazy days enjoying the surf, sand and sun. Due to strict environmental regulations, the shores are particularly pristine, and upscale accommodations make pampering easy.
Gili Meno – Indonesia
The Gili Islands are at once laid-back and culturally dynamic, with numerous beach shacks, idyllic beach swings and regular drum circles. Backpackers head en masse to Gili T, but the most stunning spot is neighboring Gili Meno, which remains almost entirely untouched. There are no motorized vehicles on the tiny island, which has a coastline that can be explored in a single hour.
Fill your days with leisurely walks or bike rides, or take time to make friends with the local wildlife. The island’s reef is home to aquatic creatures including wild green and hawksbill sea turtles and the deadly banded sea krait snake. Transparent seafoam waters make it easy to witness all the magnificent fish in the sea.
Jaco Island – Timor-Leste
Those seeking the wonders of an unexplored beach haven should venture to tiny Jaco Island in Southeast Asia’s newest country, Timor-Leste. Jaco Island is just 10 square kilometers, but offers plenty of appeal in the form of azure waters and fine white sand.
It’s not possible to stay on the island, as it has sacred meaning to the Timorese people, so any sort of development or camping is strictly banned. Travelers can visit Jaco Island for the day by hiring a fisherman to boat them over. Snorkelers tend to see blue starfish and massive sea turtles here, so be sure to bring some goggles.
Kalanggaman Island – The Philippines
The Philippines are full of uninhabited virgin islands offering untouched nature in the middle of the clear blue sea. The easiest to reach is Kalanggaman, a sandbar island that shifts ever so slightly with the tide and is sprinkled with just a few palm trees.
There are a handful of beach chairs available for rent and an on-site restaurant, but otherwise, the island is completely wild. The only way to stay overnight is to camp in a tent on the beach, making for a memorable castaway-like experience. There’s no electricity on the island, so be sure to bring a power bank.
An Bang – Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the top five contributors of plastic waste into the sea. Fortunately, the fishing village An Bang is trying to combat this legacy, one beach-clean up at a time. Not only are locals dedicated to keeping the shores clean, but mindful travelers can spend the day at The Fisherman — a vegan beach cafe that’s dedicated to reducing plastic waste by using bamboo straws and serving potable water in reusable glass bottles.
Located just 10 minutes from the lantern-lined Hoi An Old Town, An Bang also boasts a wide stretch of beach lined with bamboo bungalows and fruit vendors who will chop up a fresh mango right next to your sun chair. By day, enjoy stunning views of the Cham Islands; at sunset, watch the sky erupt in a kaleidoscope of colors that reflect on the still sea.
Rawa Island – Malaysia
This pristine island enchants with its dense jungle, clean stretches of soft white sand and waters clear enough to see vivid coral reef. The island is named after the lovely white doves, locally known as rawa, that live on the islands.
Rawa Island isn’t quite as popular as nearby Tioman or Sibu, and only has two resorts, making it the perfect place for a peaceful getaway from nearby Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Beachgoers can opt to soak up the sun on unspoiled beaches or go for a swim to discover fluorescent coral and fish.