The 5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

There are many things that keep luring me back to Southeast Asia.  The food, the temples and the culture all play significant roles but, for me, the beaches are a huge part of the draw.  It’s true that Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s best beaches.  But contrary to what many might think, finding that ‘postcard-perfect’ beach isn’t so easy.

After spending 7 months traveling around the region during my big backpacking trip and being based in Indonesia for the past 9 months, I’ve had the opportunity to explore this corner of the world incredibly thoroughly.  After doing a lot of painstaking research (poor me!) I’ve decided to compile my picks for the top 5 best beaches in Southeast Asia.

So here it goes, starting with #5!

The 5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia:

5. SEVEN COMMANDOS BEACH, PALAWAN, THE PHILIPPINES

Seven Commandos beach is located a short boat ride away from the backpacker hub of El Nido.  And while I admit that I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with El Nido, there’s no denying that some of the surrounding beaches are simply spectacular – and Seven Commandos is truly something special.

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

I visited Seven Commandos Beach during one of El Nido’s famous island-hopping tours, and as our boat pulled up to the shore I was wowed.  The water was an almost neon-blue, the sand was a toasted brown and the beach was lined with tropical green palms.

But what made the setting all the more spectacular were all of the islands and islets that make up the Bacuit Archipelago and dot the waters around Seven Commandos.  It makes for a truly stunning backdrop to an already perfect beach.

My only complaint is that most island-hopping tours in El Nido stop off on this tiny stretch of sand.  It would have been nice to enjoy Seven Commandos without the crowds.  Regardless, it’s an amazing beach!

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

4. GILI TRAWANGAN, LOMBOK, INDONESIA

Gili Trawangan gets a bad rap for being a hedonistic party place.  I came close to skipping it during my big trip but because of a fellow traveler’s rave review I decided to give it a go.  I initially planned on staying there for three days but ended up lingering on the tiny island for nearly two weeks.  That’s how much I loved this place!

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

There’s not much to Gili Trawangan.  There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, no real activities aside from snorkeling or scuba diving.  The island is so minuscule it’s possible to circumnavigate it on foot in about an hour.

So how did I manage to spend two whole weeks here?  Well, the beaches of course!

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush
Stormy, yet still beautiful.

The main beach was one of the most perfect I’ve ever seen.  It was an ideal swimming beach, free of coral and sea grass.  Plus, it’s possible to just grab a mask and fins and go snorkeling right off shore.  It’s inevitable that visitors will spot sea turtles wading through the clear waters or munching on sea grass near the shore.  Gili T, as it is known, is incredible.

3. PHRA NANG BEACH, RAILAY, THAILAND

Railay is home to some of the most stunning coastline I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Railay itself is tiny and has a distinct island vibe, although it’s actually a peninsula.  The towering limestone formations that Thailand’s Krabi Province is famed for have effectively cut Railay off from the mainland.  But because of its isolation – you can only reach Railay by one of Thailand’s signature long tail boats – Phra Nang Beach is all the more magical.

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush
Railay’s main beach.

Although there are a few beaches in Railay, Phra Nang Beach was hands down my favorite.  To access the beach you have to walk alongside the base of one of the many giant karsts, passing by hidden caves and temples along the way.

This beach has it all from azure waters to white sand, but what makes Phra Nang Beach so outstanding are the limestone formations that jut dramatically out of the water.  It is a truly otherworldly beach setting and unlike any other I’ve ever visited.

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush
Look how tiny all those people look!
2. WHITE BEACH, BORACAY, THE PHILIPPINES

Before my trip to the Philippines I read so many bad reviews of Boracay that I came incredibly close to bypassing it.  That would have been the biggest mistake ever because Boracay comes in at a very close second to my top pick for the best beach in Southeast Asia.

Boracay has a reputation as being ultra-touristy and expensive, which is why many backpackers and budget travelers choose to skip over it.  I’m not even going to try to argue against that.  But, honestly, with a beach like this who cares if you’re sharing it with other tourists?  Just look at it!

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush
My first glimpse of White Beach.

I visited Boracay one week after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.  At the time, tourists were scared off of traveling to the Philippines and were canceling their trips in droves.  When I first arrived there White Beach was pretty dead.  While I felt awful about the disaster the country was coping with, I felt incredibly lucky to have experienced one of the world’s most famous beaches when it was so uncrowded.

During my 10 days in Boracay tourism rapidly picked up and by the end it was business as usual.  Despite the fact that Boracay does get really crowded, it in no way should deter you from traveling there.  This place is pretty perfect and I still have dreams about living there someday!

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush
The flawless White Beach extends for 4 incredible kilometers.

Boracay is also denounced by a lot of budget travelers because it is relatively expensive compared to other destinations in the Philippines.  I managed to travel Boracay on $40 USD a day and could have easily done it for less.

And the best beach in Southeast Asia is…
1. Long Beach, Koh Rong, Cambodia

Long Beach is pretty much the most perfect, pristine beach I have ever laid eyes on.  Located on the backpacker island of Koh Rong, Cambodia, Long Beach has somehow managed to elude major developers.

The only way to access Long Beach from the island’s main pier is by boat or via a 45-minute hike through the jungle (FYI, the hike is awesome!).  Given its isolation, as of January 2015 there were still only a handful of rustic wooden bungalows at the far end of the beach.  The rest of Long Beach is still blissfully undeveloped.  It is a ribbon of white sand that unravels as far as the eye can see.

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

The water is a shimmering and transparent turquoise blue.  The sand is so bright white it’s almost painful to look at (in a good way) and so powdery fine it literally squeaks under your feet as you walk.

5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia - Travel Lush

Floating in the water and looking back toward the shore there are nothing but lush, rolling hills. There are no hotels, no restaurants, no bars.  There’s nothing apart from a few other tourists scattered along the beach.  As far as I’m concerned, Long Beach is by far the best beach in Southeast Asia…and that is saying a lot!  Sadly, there’s no way it will remain so untouched for long.

So there you have it!

Obviously I haven’t been able to visit all of the incredible beaches Southeast Asia has to offer.  These are simply my picks for the top 5 best Southeast Asian beaches based on my personal travel experiences.  If you’re curious about what other travel bloggers have to say here is a great post by Adventurous Kate.  And for some off-the-beaten-path Southeast Asian beaches ESCapology has a great post too.

Join the debate…what are your top picks for Southeast Asia’s best beaches?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

36 thoughts on “The 5 Best Beaches in Southeast Asia

  1. My favorite beach was Ko Samet in Thailand. All three times I’ve been in Southeast Asia, I’ve visited that island and on my first trip, I thought the beach my friends and I arrived on was the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen. In part, because it was a very sunny day. The last time I was on Ko Samet, I stayed on Hat Sai Kaew, which has good nightlife. The beaches on Ko Samet have a good mix of Thais and foreign visitors.
    Rashaad recently posted…Top Ten UK Moments (5-1)

    1. I’ve been hearing such great things about Ko Samet. I can’t believe I’ve never been there! I’ll have to add it to my list next time I’m in Thailand 🙂

    1. Ashley, I swear to you that Long Beach is perfect! But I agree that there is something really special about Phra Nang Beach. I remember just floating in the water looking up at those karsts…it’s just unreal!

    1. Me too Emma! I haven’t traveled too much in South America and I haven’t been to Australia, but that’s crazy that Long Beach is the best beach you’ve seen. I have to agree, it’s perfect and definitely the best beach I’ve been to. And it’s made even more perfect by the fact that there’s virtually no development there. I know it won’t stay that way forever, but it’s pretty amazing that it has remained undeveloped as of 2015! I think it’s safe for you to go back 😉

  2. You know when you hear about a cool place for the first time, and then suddenly it keeps seems to keep popping up everywhere you read? That’s how I feel about Koh Rong, I need to see it for myself, it looks so lovely. Although so do all of these- gorgeous photos.
    Jo recently posted…Featherdale Wildlife Park

    1. Totally! I first heard of Koh Rong after a friend visited a couple years ago and then I seemed to hear about it all the time. I knew that I had to see it for myself. I actually thought there was no way it would live up to the hype, but it did! You should go, Jo 🙂

  3. I don’t think I’ve seen as many beaches in SE Asia as you have, so I couldn’t pick five favorites if I tried. My favorite Thai island I visited was Koh Phi Phi, but I think there are others that are less touristy and just as beautiful that I just didn’t get around to visiting. I definitely agree with Koh Rong being on your list, so so so beautiful and fairly pristine compared to many others!
    Leah recently posted…If You Wish to Travel Far, Travel Light: The True Cost of Baggage

    1. There are so many beaches that I haven’t visited. There are just too many ’round these parts. It’s crazy! I loved Koh Phi Phi too. It’s funny how really touristy beaches like Koh Phi Phi, Boracay and Gili T get a bad rap…I always seem to love these types of places.

  4. Great choices! I must get to the Cambodian beach! Looks awesome. White Beach is my fave of the ones you mentioned, but I also like a few of the beaches in Langkawi, such as Datai Bay, and also Ngapali Beach in western Myanmar is amazing!
    BackpackerLee recently posted…The Avenues, Kuwait City

    1. I’m shocked you haven’t been to Koh Rong…it seems like you’ve been everywhere! White Beach was my favorite before I went to Long Beach. Long Beach is what White Beach was before tourism. But I do love Boracay…I’m actually toying with the idea of going back this summer 🙂

  5. I have been to none of these and unfortunately don’t think I’ll likely get to any of them soon. I’m not a huge beach person though honestly, I get antsy really quickly but these beaches look stunning enough to keep me pretty tempted.
    Rebekah recently posted…Changing Plans: Vietnam

    1. It’s funny. I love beaches (I suppose because I grew up in San Diego) but I’m not the type of person who can spend all day laying out in the sun. I get super bored. That’s why I love beach destination that have great towns too. That being said, I think you would be tempted by all five of these beaches…they’re incredible!

  6. I lived on koh rong for 3 months working and I’ve been away for a year and I forgot how the sand squeaks!! Long beach is beautiful and 4k is fab as well as it’s less of a trek to get to!

    1. I was so envious of all those people who were living and working out there. That’s awesome! Wait, I don’t think I’ve even heard of 4k Beach! I will definitely seek it out next time I’m there. I have an inkling I’ll be back soon 🙂

    1. You should definitely head to the Philippines, Katie! In addition to being home to two of my top 5 beaches, the country is one of my favorites in Southeast Asia. I’m actually heading back to Boracay this summer and I could not be more excited!!

    1. Seriously in all the traveling I’ve done around the world I have never seen a more perfect beach. There was literally nothing wrong with it and the fact that it’s still undeveloped is kind of miraculous. Bummer that you can’t squeeze it in, but it’s a huge incentive to go back to Cambodia 🙂 Haha, don’t worry. It took visiting Thailand for me to get to Railay. I had never even heard of it before that! You should really go there too 😉 Okay, I’m going to go over to your blog now to check out all of your travels. It sounds like you’ve done a lot!

  7. Great write ups! and amazing pictures too! try visiting Calaguas Island in Camarines Norte Province of the Philippines. I doubt that it would disappoint you. Cheers!

    1. Ooooooh, I’m going to google Calaguas Island right now. There are honestly so many great places to travel in the Philippines, most of which I have never even heard of. Why can’t I just move to the Philippines and spend all of my time exploring?

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