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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?