Crowds tend to flock to the most popular beach destinations: Patong in Phuket, Kuta in Bali, Bondi in Sydney and so on. And where sunburned tourists go, tacky bars and overpriced restaurants follow. So what options exist for a traveler in search of an under-developed, peaceful stretch of sand?
Not many, especially if you’re planning a trip on your own and don’t have a lot of time to spare on potentially disastrous detours taken in search of far-flung locales. So Forbes called upon the experts.
To determine our list of Asia’s best beaches, Forbes assembled a panel of those in the know: Graham Uden, a photographer based in Hong Kong; John Borthwick, a Sydney-based travel writer and photographer; Bart Kluskens, a marine biologist and conservation advisor working in Cambodia; Anchalika Kijkanakorn, who runs two hotels in Thailand; Robert Carmack, a food stylist, cookbook author and leader of Asian food tours; and Eliza Anderson of Intrepid Travel, an adventure tour operator for small groups. Their recommendations helped Forbes compile 22 top oceanfront destinations.
In Pictures: Asia’s Best Beaches
Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia are home to the most sunblock-worthyhaunts, but out-of-the-ordinary beach vacations also await in China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
Unsurprisingly, some of these paradises are remote. Sulug Island, for example, is the least accessible part of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, located off the cost of Malaysian Borneo. « This is the quintessential deserted beach. You can be forgiven for thinking you’ve found paradise, » Anderson writes. « Get dropped off on this deserted beach and while away the hours under the shade of an aru tree and snorkel the crystal clear waters. »
In Cambodia, where the tourist industry is nascent but growing, an island called Koh Rong Samleon earns Klusken’s praise. « It’s more pristine; it’s more undiscovered, because it’s only over the last few years that more people go here, » he says. « There are beautiful coral reefs. There is a forest on the island that you can walk through. It’s untouched. »
Graham Uden, who has captured scenes in countries from Oman to Laos, favors several quiet sites in Indonesia, including one in East Java called Balekambang Beach. « It has a lot of Hindu temples on a little island 20 to 30 minutes offshore that you can walk to by a bridge, » he says. « It’s peaceful and quiet; there are no hotels anywhere near. »
Just a 30-kilometer drive from Hua Hin, the Thai king’s vacation spot, is a beach called Pranburi, according to Kijkanakorn, who runs two hotels in Thailand and is managing director of Akaryn Hospitality Management Services.
« It’s beautiful, it’s wide, it’s long and there’s a beautiful fishing village nearby. You have little boats that you can go on and go squid fishing if you want, at 1 or 2 in the morning, and come back at 3 or 4. It’s only for the adventurous souls, » she says. « It’s the best beach for windsurfing. Good wind direction, not a lot of people, no coral underneath, no rocks to hurt yourself. «
Even in the most touristed destinations, there are hidden gems to be found–if you know where the look. Travel journalist and photographer Borthwick likes Aow Yai, a beach on Koh Phayam in Thailand. « I found out about it from a local. You get there by one-hour speedboat from Ranong, » says Borthwick. « It faces west, so you’ve got a lavish sunset every day. … the low islands of southern Burma floating off on the horizon. There is a tranquil sea most of the time. … There are a couple hundred visitors at the most. »
Even on packed Phuket, Uden advises visitors to try Bang Thao beach to get away from the masses. « I like that it’s in the north, because it’s quiet and it has these little offshore islands, » he says. « It hasn’t got thousands of European holiday-makers lying on the beach. »
And on Phu Quoc, an island that is one of the major beach destinations in Vietnam, Asian food tour leader Robert Carmack prefers one particular spot. Bai Sao beach, on the southeast corner of the island, boasts treats for the taste and the eyes. « There are a couple of extraordinary restaurants. Local Vietnamese go there for restaurants and recreation, » Carmack says. « The water in Phu Quoc is so wonderfully warm. … It’s clear; it’s underdeveloped. At least for now. »
Experts agree: Catch these places while you can.
In Pictures: Asia’s Best Beaches