It’s no big secret that I have a thing for tropical islands and beautiful beaches. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve spent the majority of the past four years based in the tropics! And in that time, I’ve had the chance to visit quite a few of what I think are some of the best islands in Southeast Asia.
Although, in all honesty, there are countless incredible islands here. So really, I’ve hardly scratched the surface! But I have ticked quite a few off my list. So if you’re headed to this beautiful little corner of the world, here are seven islands in Southeast Asia to consider adding to your travel bucket list.
The Con Dao Islands in Southern Vietnam are my latest obsession. The archipelago is made up of 16 islands located roughly 230 km away from Ho Chi Minh City (my new home!). The largest of the Con Dao Islands is called Con Son, and it is on this wild and remote slice of paradise that travelers to the Con Dao Islands base themselves. Not too shabby considering Con Son is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam!
With turquoise waters, golden beaches and world-class snorkeling and diving, Con Dao is pretty much paradise. But oddly enough, compared to most beach destinations in Vietnam, relatively few tourists visit the Con Dao Islands. But those who do make the effort are definitely in for a treat.
Where to stay on Con Son Island: There a bunch of guesthouses, modest hotels and (a few) high-end resorts scattered around Con Son. I opted for Xuan Anh Hotel for $17 a night, which I highly recommend if you’re on a budget. If you have money, like serious money, to burn then look into Six Senses Resort. And if you want to “camp” beachfront, Con Dao Camping Hotel looked like a really fun option. FYI, they are actually beachfront bungalows!
Nusa Penida is a rugged little gem just off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. It’s far less touristy than the rest of Bali, but it’s quickly gaining attention from international travelers. Even still, it feels like it’s worlds away from the rest of Bali. Nusa Penida is hands down my favorite place in Bali and potentially my all-time favorite island in Southeast Asia.
Nusa Penida has it all – excellent diving and snorkeling, turquoise beaches, jaw dropping vistas, cliffside waterfalls and more. Renting a scooter on Nusa Penida is by far the best (and possibly the only) way to explore the island.
Where to stay: There are a few hotels and guesthouses peppered around Nusa Penida. But the value is not great since tourism is still in its infancy here. I highly recommend Ring Sameton Inn. I chose it because of its great reviews and it did not disappoint. It was a steal for a double room at $35 and even had a great pool and a complimentary breakfast. They will also arrange motorbike rentals.
Camiguin is located just off the coast of Northern Mindanao, in the Philippines. The lack of regular ferry transport makes it somewhat difficult to reach, though I argue it’s well worth the effort.
Camiguin is the second smallest island in the Philippines, making it the perfect place to explore by motorbike. Dozens of attractions dot the island’s perimeter – old church ruins, White Island (a picturesque sandbar off the coast), and the sunken cemetery are among the most popular. But my favorite sites are hidden in the island’s lush and absurdly green interior. In my opinion, waterfalls, hot and cold springs, and stunning vistas are what Camiguin specializes in.
There’s a great debate among travelers about whether or not Koh Rong is still worth visiting. You see, up until a few years ago Koh Rong was a blissfully undeveloped island that is home to what I argue is one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful beaches. And then the developers started rolling in. I visited Koh Rong in 2015. During my visit I found Koh Rong to be touristy, sure. But it was not all that built up and there were definitely no resorts there.
Word has it though that even in the past year things have started to change. Long Beach (pictured above) is now starting to be developed and will soon be home to what is sure to be an extravagant resort. I think Koh Rong is still well worth a visit. It truly is a picture-perfect island. (Please leave a comment below if you’ve traveled to Koh Rong recently. I’d love to hear what it’s like now.)
Where to stay: I don’t recommend booking more than one night ahead of time (unless it’s the ultra-high season). I booked one night at Paradise Bungalows Koh Rong and then scouted places for myself the next day. I found a basic but incredible bungalow up the hill that I loved called Highland Beach Bungalows.
Located on the southern tip of Laos, near the Cambodian border, is the utopian-esque island of Don Det. Obviously Laos is a landlocked country, which means that this particular island is located in the middle of the Mekong River. And it makes up one tiny part of the archipelago known as the 4,000 Islands.
Don Det has become a backpacker magnet during the past decade. And to be honest I was pretty skeptical about visiting. But during the few days I spent on this four-kilometer-long island, it was pretty easy to see why travelers love this place so much.
There’s not much to it, really. It’s the perfect place to just chill. It’s a hippie haven where you can rent a bungalow right on the river and spend your days lounging in a hammock. Or, for those who are feeling a bit adventurous, you can ride a bike to the neighboring island of Don Khon to check out its impressive waterfalls or kayak around the Mekong to (hopefully) spot some rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
My trip to Coron was a weird one because the island had just been smacked by one of the worst typhoons in the country’s history. Typhoon Haiyan made a direct hit on Coron just two weeks before my visit, and the island was quite literally a disaster zone. The military was flying in provisions, there was no electricity on the entire island and no roofs on most houses – the island had been ripped to shreds.
But through all that, I could easily see why this is one of the Philippine’s shiniest gems. There is amazing diving and snorkeling, crystal clear lakes to swim in, and amazing little islets and beaches to explore. This is a place I’m dying to return to. Everyone I’ve talked to who visited under less extreme circumstances raves about it.
Gili Trawangan belongs to a cluster of three tiny islands that radiate off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. While you can stay on all three islands, Gili Trawangan remains the most developed and is by far the most popular choice for travelers.
There’s a reason why Gili Trawangan is becoming an increasingly popular stop on Indonesia travel itineraries – the island is incredible. From its postcard-perfect beaches to its amazingly chilled-out vibe to its unreal sunsets, Gili T is an ideal place to while the days away. Trust me, I’ve done so on more than one occasion. Yes, it’s totally touristy and it’s super popular with backpackers looking to party. But if that’s not your scene (it’s definitely not mine), it’s easy to avoid. Alternately, you can stay on one of the other two islands for a more mellow experience.
- 9 Travel Tips I Wish I’d Have Known Before Traveling To Gili Trawangan
- Gili Trawangan: Party Island or Island Paradise?
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What’s your favorite island in Southeast Asia?