Southeast Asia is a place chalked-full of stunning beaches and dazzling islands. With over 20,000 islands, choosing which islands are worth visiting can be a daunting task. We’re here to help. This is our list of 10 islands that you should try your best to see while you’re in Southeast Asia.
1. Koh Rong, Cambodia: We’ve written a lot about this little hidden gem and it boasts one of the most mesmerizing beaches in the world. Still considered off the beaten path, this large island is about 18 km off the shores of Sihanoukville, one of Cambodia’s main tourist draws (and one you don’t want to hang around). Don’t confuse it with the smaller, Koh Rong Sanloem which is more touristy and not as nice. Lucky for you, there are now regular ferries to take you to this tiny piece of paradise where you can trek to waterfalls, visit authentic local villages or just laze on 8 km of pure, powdery white bliss. Don’t miss Koh Rong!
2. Palawan, Philippines: This place has it all. Great diving, a laid back atmosphere, cock fights, underground caves, beach bars and beautiful beaches. If you want a quieter, more relaxed experience, check out Port Barton where you can cruise to surrounding islands or explore the nearby village. But if you want a real exciting adventure, head up to the popular El Nido and find a boatman to take you to one of the 45, Jurassic Park like islands that erupt from the sea around this beautiful fishing village. Spend a night or two camped under a mosquito net and live out your castaway fantasies!
3. Koh Phangan, Thailand: If you’re like us, you’ve made the mistake of thinking of this island as a party island. Sure it houses the biggest monthly beach raves in all of Southeast Asia, but aside from those 3 days surrounding the lunar optimality, you’ll find a jungle-clad Eden beckoning to be explored. Haad Rin, the famous beach that houses the epic full moon party, is the most beautiful beach in SEA besides Koh Rong and spending the days sipping cocktails and throwing a frisbee, isn’t a bad way to chill out and enjoy the island life. If you go during the full moon party but don’t want to be kept up by the noise, consider staying at Lighthouse Bungalows on Leela Beach, just far enough away that you’ll be able to sleep soundly.
4. Bali, Indonesia: When you come to Bali, you’ll probably end up in Kuta first. An overrun tourist trap that will probably have you planning an immediate exit from the island. Don’t let Kuta scare you off, this island has plenty to offer the adventurous backpacker including vast expanses of rice terraces that are kept shaded by towering volcanoes and perpetually cooled by flowing rivers and dazzling lakes. Balinese culture and dance is worth a visit alone and viewing an authentic ceremony or festival here is an experience not to be missed. Oh, and the beaches aren’t too shabby either.
5. Perhentian Islands, Malaysia: If you like staying in bamboo huts that line the beach while sipping coconuts from your hammock perch under swaying palms, then the Perhentian Islands might just be for you. This place is completely chilled out and the reefs offshore offer great snorkelling and even better diving. If there is one complaint for the place it would be the uncontrolled long tail boat traffic that zips past swimming tourists constantly. A little unwanted noise and traffic still can’t take away from this relaxing utopia.
6. Phu Quoc, Vietnam: More and more Mekong Delta tours are taking in this tiny island that bobs in the gulf of Thailand like a lost raft. It’s the only Vietnamese land that gets to enjoy the warm, clear waters of this sea and there is plenty to explore here. You may just find yourself enjoying an amazing massage on one of the many white sand beaches here. Try to get away from the crowds and make it to a hidden cove somewhere on the island. There are plenty to choose from and you can rent a motorbike to get there.
7. Sipadan, Borneo: If you can make it out here for diving, then you’re in for a real treat. This is truly one of the best dive sites in the world, in fact, it’s rarely left off of top 10 lists as one of the most amazing places to don a mask and fins. Unfortunately it’s pretty much restricted to those who have PADI certification, but luckily for snorkelers and coral lovers, there are plenty of other nearby islands that float in the Celebes Sea. The whole area is dotted with tiny specs of glimmering jewels and each of them are surrounded by healthy coral and a bewildering variety of sea life. A snorkelling or diving trip around these islands is sure to be the best of a lifetime.
8. Somisir, Indonesia: This is actually an island inside an island, smack dab in the middle of the largest volcanic lake in the world. That’s right, Somisir is actually in the center of an enormous, extinct volcanic caldera and the waters in the lake are so clear that you can see the bottom when its 30 meters below you! Here you can stay in funky, local Batak style cabins that are set right on the shore so that every morning you can roll out of bed and jump off of your deck into a Dasani clear lake.
9. Don Det, Laos: Located in the 4,000 islands region of Southern Laos, Don Det is a backpackers mecca! Here you can trek to waterfalls, spot rare freshwater dolphins, or just laze around in your hammock and watch the sun set over the riverine archipelago. There is only power here at night and the living is still pretty basic and while it’s no longer off the beaten path, it’s still a laid back place to spend a few nights.
10. Koh Chang, Thailand: There are two Koh Chang’s in Thailand and they are both amazing. We’re listing the Gulf Sea’s Koh Chang on this list because it was the first island we ever visited on our travels and one of our favorites in the world. Although more and more people are flooding into the shores of this jungle clad atoll, we still can’t get enough of the buzzing vibe that reverberates through this entire island. Exploring the thick jungle, watching a Thai Kickboxing match or riding elephants are just a few of the things you can do on this, the greenest of Southeast Asia’s islands.
There you have it, a list of our 10 favorite islands in Southeast Asia. If you’re planning a trip here, you may not be able to visit all of them, but at least try to add a couple of them onto your itinerary. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed. We’ve spent over a year and a half travelling around this region so we’ve seen our fair share of the sea-lost sanctuaries this place has to offer, and these ones are definitely our favorites.
Check out our extensive Travel Guides on all of the places listed above and more!
If you think of any that we may have missed or have questions about how to find the ones we’ve listed, leave a comment below and we’ll reply right away!
Thanks for reading!