The most sublime beaches are often the most remote. With the careful development of luxury resorts on the islands, transportation to these beaches is often dramatically accelerated, travelling by helicopter from Manila to the site of the clearest waters off Palawan, or with a direct yacht charter to a remote beach in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. We suss out the best beaches around Asia that are delightfully secluded but have luxurious accommodation options nearby to suit your barefoot luxury.
9. Best for Celebrity Spotting
Celebrities like Ian Marber, Issy van Randwyck, Michael Buerk and Jade Jagger are fond of the Maldives, citing the country as their best place to unwind and relax. Frequently noted for its postcard-worthy beaches and crystal clear waters, it’s also the location to spot some of Hollywood’s best. Stay at the One&Only Reethi Rah Maldives, which has hosted David Beckham’s family and Dannii Minogue. Here the view of the beach on the Kaafu Atoll, an almost endless expanse of pale white sand, is best enjoyed from your 2,000sqm Grand Sunset Residence at about US$15,000 per night. The Residence lays claim to the largest stretch of private residence within the resort and is accessible only by a private road that’s closed off by an electronic gate.
Alternatively, charter a luxury catamaran to a private, deserted sandbank, where you can snorkel in the warm sea with the colourful fish, manta rays and turtles or enjoy delectable snacks and drinks prepared for you by the staff.
8. Most Remote
Sulug Island, situated on the west coast of Sabah, is arguably the most remote beach in this list, accessible only via speedboat. It’s situated in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and allows guests to not only have privileged and exclusive access to the beaches, but also the most natural views of the Sabah tropical island. The seashell-shaped island of about 20ac, while mostly covered with lush greenery, opens up to an expanse of white sands that leads out to magnificently turquoise waters.
It allows intrepid, idyllic beach-seekers to uncover reefs and stunning corals like the Acropora, Echinopora, Montipora and Seriapora within the waters. The island is currently the least developed, with basic facilities for day trippers, although there are plans underway to build a resort on an 8ha site in the coming years. Access the beach via boats departing from Kota Kinabalu’s jetties such as Jesselton Point, Sutera Harbour and Beach Bums.
Indulge yourself by staying at the Gaya Island Resort’s Suria Suite (up to US$1,183 per night) and enjoy a personalised picnic basket on the island with a chartered yacht taking you to the island, which is about 5km away.
7. Best for Water Sports
Palawan’s Linapacan Island in the Philippines has been noted by international media as having the clearest waters in the world. A medium-sized island, it’s located between Coron in the north and the Palawan mainland to the south. Charter a trimaran from your base at the luxury resort Ariara Island for a trip to this island. Minimise the numbers of transfers needed by arranging a helicopter or seaplane straight from Manila to Ariara (the island is also available for private hire at US$715 per person per night, for up to eight persons).
Additionally, the presence of the resort has allowed guests to engage in some of the best water sporting activities in these crystal-clear waters, such as windsurfing, jet skiing, snorkelling on the protected coral reef and fishing with high quality fishing tackle on a new 33ft speedboat. This speedboat can function as a diveboat or support water skiing, wakeboarding and even take guests on an island hopping expedition. Divers can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tubbataha as well as superb wrecks around Busuanga and Coron Bay, where 13 sunken Japanese naval ships and a US supply boat from WWII lie.
6. Most Endangered
Endangered beaches in this instance, signifies the demise of pristine, white sands in a tranquil, untouched environment, known to just a few select travellers. Koh Rong in Cambodia is one such example. The second largest island of Cambodia is holding onto its last years as an untouched paradise as the Royal Group plans to turn it into a sustainable resort destination in 20 years. It’s accessible by flight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville followed by a 40min boat ride (about US$30). Relax on one of 23 white sand beaches or arrange diving or snorkelling trips to nearby sites.
The beaches range in length and colour, from white, beige and rose-coloured sands, while framed by picturesque bays, capes and sandstone rock formations around the island. One of the most spectacular sights here is the phosphorescent water which will sparkle when disturbed. It’s best seen at night on a darker part of the beach and about 4ft of water out.
Accommodation on this island is fairly basic, so if you’re looking for something a lot more luxurious, head over to the Song Saa Private Island , about 4km away, and book the two-bedroom Royal Villa with its own pool (about US$4,350 per night).
5. Most Beautiful
Finding that perfect stretch of sandy beach can often involve a lot of effort, requiring multiple modes of transport to finally get to that haven. Nowhere is this best personified than the Palaui Island in the Cagayan Valley, north of Luzon in the Philippines, where the 27th season of Survivor was filmed. It’s renowned as the most beautiful of Asia’s beaches. Fly via Airphil Express or Cebu Pacific to Tuguegarao, and hire a car to travel nearly 2.5h to San Vincente pier in Santa Ana. From here, charter a fishing boat to the island for another 45min ride. To top off your Amazing Race-esque journey, it’s said that you’ll need to battle thorny grass, a mangrove forest and muddy ground to reach the beaches. Circumvent this by getting the boatman to drop you off at the northeast side of the island instead, a nameless cove framed by lush greenery, which is touted to be the island’s most beautiful beach.
The island is a pristine paradise overflowing with raw beauty, without having been developed. Its inaccessibility heralds good news: you’d be the only one having full unobstructed views of the cove and its blue-green waters. Other sights include a hidden waterfall and a lighthouse, best explored together with a hired guide, such as one from Unchartered Philippines for US$550, which includes camping on the beach and sleeping under the stars. The fee also includes land and water transportation from Tuguegarao City. Back on Tuguegarao, stay at the Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort’s Luxury Villa (about US$2,128 per night).
4. Private Beaches
Nikoi Island is a 15ha private island that lies just 8km off the east coast of Bintan, Indonesia and about 2.5hr from Singapore. It’s an island surrounded by wonderfully pure white sands, a coastline with rugged granite boulders that rise up to heights of 30m and a rainforest consisting of native Banyan trees forming a picturesque, photo-worthy landscape. The resort, which prides itself on barefoot luxury, is designed in Indonesian architecture and contemporary form, using driftwood andalang alang roofing to match the environment. It’s possible to hire the entire island for about US$11,339 per night on weekdays, and US$13,806 per night for the weekend.
Visitors can enjoy a plethora of water sports, including snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing on one of two 5m catamarans. Explore the marine life around the area with stellar coral reefs, best in the months of March to November, either by snorkelling or diving. Expect sightings of turtles, stingrays, seahorses, cuttlefish, sweet lips and puffer fish. Here, the seabed is relatively shallow at slightly more than 20m.
3. Best for Conservationists
Located in the southern Thailand province of Krabi, Koh Lanta is famed for its picturesque white sand beaches, gorgeous views of the Andaman Sea, spectacular sunsets, mangroves and large limestone rock formations. One of the best beaches on Koh Lanta is reportedly the Klong Jak, at the south end of the island, best for swimming without being impeded by rocks given its deep blue waters. It’s particularly noted for being a fantastic site for scuba diving and its wealth of marine life. In order to ensure the sustainability of these sites, guests can participate in one environmental and social initiative at Pimalai Resort & Spa. The resort, awarded the global winner of the Luxury Hotel Best Scenic Environment at the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2013, is also considered to be a pioneer in environmental and social initiatives.
Volunteer divers can release 200 clownfish back into the sea, at the dive site beside Koh Ha in specially designed cages. These cages will help to protect 30 per cent of the fishes from predators, while allowing the clownfish to thrive in their natural environment, within the fronds of the sea anemones.
2. Most Varied Activities
Nha Trang Bay in Vietnam has been considered one of the world’s most beautiful bays, and has hosted several renowned events like the Miss Universe 2008, Miss Earth 2010 and will host the 2016 Asian Beach Games. The coastal city is renowned for its glittering blue-green waters and immensely soft sands. Stay at the Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa’s Presidential Suite (about US$500 per night) and experience a wealth of activities around the coastal city, that range from water sports to cultural attractions.
This includes snorkelling and diving in marine protected areas admitted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at Hon Mun Island to find rare varieties of nudibranch, frogs, scorpion fish and turtles released by The Marine Park Association at depths varying from 16 to 45m. Venture to quieter islands like the Whale Island with pristine white sands framed by lush forests and rolling hills or the Monkey Island, where hundreds of the primates frolic. Otherwise, discover the local culture, whether it’s iconic sights like the Po Nagar Tower built between the 7th and 12th centuries, or a visit to Vietnamese handicraft factories. Other excursions include a horse carriage tour around the country side, fishing, visiting Dam Market, local tailors or a boat ride down Cai River.
1. Best for Families
Located on the southeast coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya has developed into a beach resort city, attracting more than four million tourists to its coasts each year. Its proximity to Bangkok makes it a superb option for a quick beach getaway. Luxurious accommodations here include the Dusit Thani Pattaya that sits on the northern end of the majestic, curving Gulf of Thailand with direct access to two beachfronts. Book the most opulent two-bedroom Royal Princess Suite (about US$2,151 per night) and enjoy value-added family privileges such as a special turndown service with milk and cookies for children and complimentary use of the Kids’ Corner. The neighbouring Jomtien Beach will keep older children occupied with its wealth of water sporting activities, while younger children can visit the amusement park. Further afield, 45 mins away, are islands like Koh Larn and Koh Khrok, offering pristine beaches and clear waters for more water sporting activities or diving and snorkeling to view the corals respectively.
Featured image: El Nido, Palawan. All images are used with permission.