Discovering Asia’s Islands: Underrated Destinations to Visit in Southeast Asia



Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Be it the hidden oases and uncrowded beaches of the Philippines to the picturesque sunsets and tranquil island getaways of Malaysia, this story explores the diverse charms and idyllic settings that Southeast Asia has to offer for the discerning traveler yearning for respite and relaxation. Be it the nature lover or the food and history enthusiasts, these lesser-known islands and locations are off the beaten track and primed for their enchanting tropical landscapes making them underrated escapes for any adventure-lover looking for an exciting getaway.

Belitung, Indonesia

Located off the east coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, Belitung is known for its unique cultural attractions that include pristine beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters alongside the island’s rich cultural and historical heritage. The island holds a colonial past which sees an array of Dutch and British-era landmarks while the island’s seafood-centric cuisine sees fresh fish and shellfish served with local spices, providing an authentic taste of Indonesian flavors. Aside from panoramic views, Belitung’s strategic location offers guests the opportunity to visit neighbouring islands including Pulau Lengkuas. A cluster of tiny sandbanks emerge during low tide and their close proximity to one another makes it ideal for island-hopping adventure via boat.

Must-See Holiday Highlight: Coffee lovers may want to try “Manggar Coffee” named after the town of Manggar known for its coffee culture and marked with the 1001 Coffee Shop Monument. Located at Manggar Kota 1,001 Warung Kopi, this cafe is a favourite amongst locals and offers a variety of traditional caffeinated beverages.

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Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

The Perhentian islands consist of two separate islands; Perhentian Besar (Big Island) and Perhentian Kecil (Small Island) and both are known for their clear waters teeming with marine life and lush tropical jungles that are ideal for hiking and wildlife spotting. With coral reefs housing a diverse array of marine species, the islands are a haven for snorkelers and divers who can go on excursions to popular sites like Shark Point, Turtle Bay, and the Sugar Wreck. The Perhentian Islands are also known for its ecotourism and the sustainable practices set in place to conserve the area’s marine ecosystem and preservation of its coral reefs.

Image courtesy of Turtle Bay Divers

Must-See Holiday Highlight: Participate in an all-day diving excursion. From Turtle Bay Divers to Sea Voice Divers, diving institutions are aplenty on this island with scuba diving courses for beginners to professionals. A full day should be dedicated to this underwater activity. Click here to make a booking.

Bohol, Philippines

Among the various attractions in the Bohol islands of the Philippines is the opportunity for various forms of adventure tourism which includes river cruises along the Loboc River, zip-lining at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, and exploring the Hinagdanan Cave in Panglao Island. One of the island’s most famed attractions are the island’s “Chocolate Hills”. The name is derived from the brown hue of the hills during dry season which resembles Hersey’s chocolate kisses. Visitors can climb the viewing deck for panoramic views of this geological formation of around 1,200 hills spread over an area of more than 50 square kilometers.

Must-See Holiday Highlight: Hinagdanan Cave. The Hinagdanan Caves are easily accessible caves comprised of hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites that surround an underground lagoon which comes to life as sun rays illuminate the cave naturally, creating a visual spectacle to behold. Click here to book a trip.

Read More: Defying Wonder By Discovering The Garden Of Eden In The Galapagos Islands

Koh Rong, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Koh Rong provides a tranquil escape from the bustle of mainland Cambodia with its serene beaches including the vast stretch of Sok San Beach (a good option for swimming and sunbathing) to Bai Dau Beach, which secluded setting makes it ideal for those seeking privacy and relaxation. The island’s diverse coral formations and numerous diving opportunities make Koh Rong a popular destination for beach lovers and nature enthusiasts. Koh Rong’s exciting nightlife is centered around beach bars and restaurants with breathtaking sunsets and an array of fresh seafood and dishes cocktails.

Must-Visit Holiday Highlight: Ponleu Spa & Restaurant. Ponleu Spa offers a one-of-a-kind relaxing massage against the backdrop of the beautiful Saracen Bay beach. The variety of oil treatments include a refreshing aromatherapy massage and a cleansing coconut oil massage. Click here to make a booking.

Cubadak Island, West Sumatra, Indonesia

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Cubadak Island remains relatively untouched by mass tourism offering visitors a tranquil sojourn. The accommodations on the island range from quiet eco-lodges to expansive bungalows and beachfront resorts with stunning views of the sea. Accessible via boat from Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra, Cubadak Island provides opportunities for cultural immersion through interactions with local communities. Visitors can learn about traditional fishing techniques, participate in cooking classes, and witness traditional dance performances showcasing the island’s cultural heritage. With limited tourist infrastructure, Cubadak Island offers a serene and relaxing atmosphere ideal for those seeking peace and rejuvenation without the worry of overcrowding.

Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam

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The coastline of Ninh Thuan Province includes various beaches and coastal attractions including the golden sand of Ninh Chu Beach and Bai Trang’s white sand dunes near Vinh Hy Bay. Beautiful beaches and water activities aside, the Ninh Thuan Province is also known for its protected areas and natural reserves including the Nui Chua National Park which offers birdwatching opportunities, hiking trails, and panoramic views of the surrounding forested mountains and coastal plains. The region’s grape cultivation has resulted in the emergence of vineyards where visitors are welcomed to tour vineyards, learn about high-quality wine production processes, and enjoy a wine tasting session. Lastly, lovers of culture and heritage can visit the Po Klong Garai Cham Temple complex, a notable cultural site showcasing the architecture and religious practices of the Cham people, (a Vietnamese ethnic minority) where visitors can explore local artisans practicing traditional crafts such as pottery and weaving.

Must-Visit Holiday Highlight: The Tanyoli Sand Dunes. Tanyoli is an adventure resort and in the sunshine of Ninh Thuan, the sand dunes are reflected like a miniature desert and host various games and entertainment, making it an ideal spot for thrill-seeking travellers. Click here to make a booking.

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is surrounded by lush green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and verdant rice paddies. The island’s environmental beauty offers visitors the chance to participate in various forms of nature-driven activities. Travellers can embark on trekking and hiking adventures to nearby villages, make a trip to the turquoise pools of Kuang Si Falls or set off on a boat trip along the Mekong River to explore the area’s caves and visit local riverside communities. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang boasts a picturesque riverside setting. The town’s laid-back atmosphere and French colonial-era architecture, only add to its charm while riverside cafes and guesthouses offer stunning views of the rivers and surrounding mountains, creating a serene ambiance to remember.

Must-Visit Holiday Highlight: The Kuang Si Falls. Less than an hour away from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is known for its lush waters with multiple pools scattered throughout the area. There is a lookout point just a short hike away, which offers panoramic views of Lao’s countryside. Click here to make a booking.

Sibu Island, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Sandy beaches framed by lush greenery and swaying coconut palm trees make Sibu Island an ideal tourist destination for snorkeling, kayaking and paddleboarding. The island’s water is rich in marine biodiversity with coral reefs teeming with colourful sea creatures, tropical fish, and sea turtles making the island a snorkeller’s haven. Visitors can participate in snorkeling trips organised by local resorts and diving operators, for an opportunity to explore vibrant underwater ecosystems. Sibu Island’s pristine landscapes allow nature lovers the opportunity to witness monitor lizards, monkeys, and various bird species along jungle trekking trails through dense forests and mangrove swamps. The island’s rustic beachfront chalets and comfortable resorts are designed to blend harmoniously with the island’s natural surroundings, adding to the island’s peaceful ambiance.

Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai, Thailand

Located in Phang Nga Bay, these islands offer a quieter and more traditional Thai island experience compared to Thailand’s more tourist-heavy locations like Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. They are great for adventure-driven travellers who enjoy a combination of relaxation, biking, and exploring the local culture. Tha Khao Bay is known for its tranquil beaches while the local fishing villages allow tourists the opportunity to learn about the island’s traditional lifestyle. Laem Haad Beach on the other hand, is known as a snorkelling destination where one can enjoy a sunset cruise around Koh Yao Yai. Take a kayak or long-tail boat tour through the limestone karsts and mangrove forests or explore hidden lagoons, caves, and snorkel in clear waters. Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai both have several resorts offering spa treatments, yoga classes, and wellness retreats making it a great destination to unwind and relax.

Must-Experience Holiday Highlight: Leela Massage Hinkong At Koh Yao Yai. Experience a traditional Thai massage offering an array of well-being services guaranteed to leave one feeling rejuvenated.

Special Mention:

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

While not located in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka’s Trincomalee is a captivating travel destination for whale watching, water sports, relaxation treatments, and historical sites. Gentle waves make it underrated location for water sports such as snorkeling and diving while boat tours take wildlife enthusiasts out to see blue whales, sperm whales, and dolphins in their natural habitat from March to August. With a rich history dating back thousands of years, one of the most prominent historical sites is the Koneswaram Temple perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, offering panoramic views of the coastline. Nearby sits Fort Frederick, built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and later developed by the Dutch and British. The fort provides insights into the nation’s colonial architecture and history. These are but a few reasons that make Trincomalee one of Sri Lanka’s most stunning beaches to visit.

Must-See Holiday Highlight: Koneswaram Temple. The Koneswara Hindu temple in Trincomalee is a must-visit location, perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sprawling blues of the Indian Ocean. The ancient Hindu temple stands as a beacon of culture, history, and spirituality.

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