Southeast Asia has been quite a prominent travelling destination in the last couple of years. It was very popular even before that, but now it’s all the rage, and it has been brought to attention to masses of tourists thanks to the power of the Internet.
This corner of the world is no longer a mysterious, unreachable dream that we can only speculate on. All of the countries at this end of the Asian continent have opened their doors to tourism and let in all the good and the bad that comes with it. Suddenly, it is not enough to visit only one Southeast Asia country! Instead, you need to visit all of them and experience every nook and cranny of their world. Climb the highest peak, trek the thickest jungle and dive into the deepest sea!
Naturally, such adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit has led many westerners to islands of sandy beaches and blue waters. Now is the time to pick the most endearing ones!
Best Islands in South-East Asia to Explore
1. Bali Island, Indonesia
One of the best destinations to visit in the last couple of years, Bali attracts visitors from all over the world for a relaxing, fun holiday. It does so with an unlikely combination of traditional and more youthful charm.
Pristine, blue waters appear as if they come straight out of a fairy tale. They go hand in hand with surrounding jungles, volcanoes and other breathtaking visages of nature. Palm trees and temples rise all around you, the latter ones being unfathomably mysterious. There is something unpalpable and exotic about places of worship in Southeast Asia, and Bali is no exception. Visiting these places will no doubt enrich your overall experience of the island.
However, there is still a lot left to do and see when you’re done checking out shrines and temple. Families can visit one of many animal parks on the island or even give safari a try. Luxurious beach resorts are probably the most relaxing way of spending a vacation. No one would blame you if you decided to just chill out for a week or two, seeing as how Bali has some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world. At night, clubs and bars are in a full swing, prompting Bali higher on the ladder of party destinations.
For those who identify as adventurers and don’t really care about nightlife, hiking trails are all around Bali and take travellers on some impressive routes! You can also go scuba diving or snorkelling and discover a rich underwater world. Bali belongs to the Coral Triangle, a region known for immense marine biodiversity. Diving down into its clear waters will reveal endless coral reefs of most amazing colours.
When to Visit Bali Island?
You can mostly divide a Bali year into dry and rainy seasons. Spring and summer months are mostly dry, with July and August being high season for the island. That can make your visit far more expensive than it could be, so if you can, try visiting in April – June period. A lot of people claim that September and October also seem fine, but it would be a good idea to check weather forecasts before coming to Indonesia.
Read more: Cheapest Way to Travel to Southeast Asia
2. Koh Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
This archipelago that encompasses a total of six islands is by far one of the most beautiful ones in this part of Thailand. That’s not saying that other places nearby like Phuket or Krabi Town don’t have much going on. In fact, they all parallel each other in amazing, natural beauty, towering limestone cliffs and rich nightlife options.
Koh Phi Phi islands haven’t seen too many visitors until Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach hit the big screens. In that movie, you can see the famous Maya beach in all its beauty. Probably you ought to get used to seeing that beach on screens only because the attention from tourists hasn’t been treating it kindly. After zounds of tourists descended on, at the time, an undiscovered gem called Koh Phi Phi, its natural world has suffered. It remains to be seen if and how the government is going to react to this problem, but so far nothing has changed. It’s up to us, as individuals, to try and keep these places as clean as possible.
In spite of ongoing degradation, Koh Phi Phi archipelago still has six beautiful islands of staggering, clear waters and great beaches. You can go diving, shark watching, hiking and having some awesome day trips around the archipelago. Climbing to some of Koh Phi Phi’s high cliffs will reveal best views of the entire area. These viewing points are also great spots for some top-notch photos!
When night falls, great partying destinations will reveal themselves, offering young people a chance to have the time of their lives.
When to Visit Koh Phi Phi Islands?
The ideal time to visit Koh Phi Phi islands is from November to April. After April, the hot season comes combined with high humidity to make for a truly awful experience. Monsoon season that usually lasts from June to October is still not too kind to tourists, but at least you can get much better deals. Always check humidity levels before planning your trip to these islands.
3. Cebu Island, Philippines
A perfection combination of rugged and urban, Cebu island is one stunningly beautiful island in the Philippines. Not only is it one of the most frequently visited islands, but it’s also one of the safest. Cebu sees fewer earthquakes and sometimes not even a single typhoon during a year.
Cebu City is the first capital of the Philippines, and it remained so until the 17th century. It’s quite a large, urban area that provides tourists with many places to see, visit and take pictures of. The city also provides visitors with a better range of local cuisine and good nightlife. Keep in mind that the Philippines is going through some rough times economically, and a lot of people in urban areas are stricken with poverty.
Despite there being several bigger cities on the island, the larges portions of it are still wild and incredible to explore. This attracts many adventurers to this part of the miraculous Visayas region, dotted with narrows passages and decent climbs. From the highest peak, you’ll be able to see the entire island and all the islets! Also, where there are mountains, there are waterfalls. The Philippines, in general, have some of the most amazing waterfalls in the entire Southeast Asia region.
Besides hiking and adventuring, fishing is also a prominent activity. When all else fails, you can always jump into the sea and relax.
When to Visit Cebu Island?
Make a stop here between November and April. After that, it will get incessantly hot! Come too soon (before November) and you’ll be caught in the wet season, and potentially in a typhoon. Also, there is far less humidity this time of the year, making your entire visit that much more pleasant.
4. Koh Rong Island, Cambodia
What sets Koh Rong in Cambodia apart from many other islands in the region is its still largely untouched nature and secludedness. That’s quite a feat if you think about it, especially considering the fact that it is Cambodia’s second largest island.
Being in an undiscovered paradise has many great advantages. First and foremost, there are fewer people to bother you on your vacation. Secondly, water is still so clean and simply gorgeous. On Koh Rong, you’ll be able to enjoy all the laid back activities such as fishing, sunbathing or having icy drinks.
It goes without saying that more adventurous types of people will always find their fill as well. You can go diving or even windsurfing and jet skiing. Much like in the rest of Southeast Asia, the jungle provides excellent trekking opportunities. This is also the best way to get in touch with local flora and fauna. Speaking of which, this island is home to a species of bioluminescent planktons that are easily spottable at night. Make sure that you’re in a less light polluted part of the island to see them clearly. If there’s too much city light preventing you from seeing these underwater sources of illumination, take a boat out into open waters at night. It will be spectacular!
Koh Rong is an unrefined gemstone, a lost island paradise only accessible by boat. Bedding options reflect that, with bungalows and guest houses still being the best way to go. Luxurious hotels are popping up all over the island. You can sleep there if you don’t like staying in rustic homes.
When to Visit Koh Rong Island?
It’s probably best to arrive after the rainy season, so mid-November should already be fine. Moreover, you’ll want to leave before the heats of June. That way you’ll be enjoying almost perfect climate with little humidity.
5. Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Cat Ba is a lovely island hidden away in a remote part of Vietnam, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Technically, it’s only one part of the Cat Ba National Park, but easily the most beautiful one.
Being a protected heritage site does provide certain benefits to the island, but also some downsides. You won’t be able to just do whatever you like and go exploring unchecked. Most places can be seen and visited as a part of a tour group, which are more than common here.
There is so much to see and so much to do on this gorgeous island. Some small measure of its natural beauty has been lost to large swaths of tourists and newly founded hotels, but it’s still one of the best islands to visit in Southeast Asia.
You can catch a ferry every day heading out to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi. The boat ride will take you past some truly remarkable landscapes that are well worth the trip on their own. But you’ll be stunned when you finally spot Cat Ba and its scenic beauty. There, you can practice rock climbing, snorkelling and diving. Maybe, you’d like to rent a speedboat or kayak to the hilarious Monkey Island. Opportunities are almost limitless!
When to Visit Cat Ba Island?
Cat Ba is going to be the most enjoyable from April to November. It is overcrowded during high season (June, July), so that can impact prices. Aim for May or September to get the most out of your Southeast Asia excursion.
6. Pom Pom Islands, Malaysia
Among many other islands in Asia, these provide visitors with a truly incredible visit. Pom Pom Islands dot the sandy coast of Malaysia, baiting tourists with its incredible white beaches and almost untouched nature.
There are many resorts scattered around the islands and they’re actually the only place to stay on the island. They also organize their own boat tours to the island, and that’s going to be the only way to get there. When you finally do reach the island, all that’s left is to grab a drink and listen to the soothing sounds of the island. You’ll find nothing here, save for lovely beaches that stretch in every direction. A major pastime for the people here is (besides relaxing of course) diving. Pom Pom Islands are also a part of the Coral Triangle. What this means for travellers is that diving here will reveal a place most magical. Very high biodiversity leaves little to be desired and almost every diver would agree.
Tropical Research and Conservation Centre or TRACC for short give lessons on scuba-diving. They’re also the only other alternative way of getting to this remote island.
Read more: Hidden gem in Malaysia: Pulau Redang
When to Visit Pom Pom Islands?
Pom Pom islands are mostly visited during winter months! However, these islands have a decent temperature throughout the year. In order to fully enjoy one of the best islands to visit in Southeast Asia make sure to look at weather forecasts so that you can assess the opportunity correctly. Prices will be lower in the autumn months.
7. Macleod Island, Myanmar
Even though the Andaman Sea is often forgotten among many travellers and rarely cherished properly, it has had more success in recent years.
This side of Myanmar has the highest number of gorgeous, uninhabited pieces of land. With more than 800 islands in the Mergui Archipelago, there are bound to be many potential vacation spots hidden there. It is only a matter of time before Myanmar sees a boom in the number of visitors.
One of these lost islands is called Macleod Island. It’s slowly growing into a prominent tourists spot, and it’s not long before tourists start coming in hordes. Like all other best islands to visit in Southeast Asia, there are a great many opportunities to have a blast. Diving, snorkelling, hiking up the hill – all of this is at your arm’s length, and it is quite rewarding. Both in water and on dry land, there are spectacular living beings to be noticed and recorded.
Macleod island is also one of the stops for local Gypsies that live a nomadic life on a boat. They might even perform their enchanting dance!
When to Visit Macleod Island?
The best time to visit Macleod goes for the entirety of Myanmar. It’s usually the drier period of the year, that is from October to the end of March. As far as temperature is concerned, it will still be quite warm, but less humid and more enjoyable. April is then going to get much hotter, and many a tourist will be leaving then.
8. Similan Islands, Thailand
Our last entry is definitely a fan favourite. Similan Islands are also located in the Andaman Sea, just farther to the south. Similan means ‘nine’ which is how many islands used to comprise the archipelago that has now risen to twelve members.
These islands are a haven for many endangered species and a very fragile ecosystem that is slowly collapsing. The government of Thailand doesn’t allow visits to the islands during the monsoon season for safety.
It must be protected at all costs, and it’s all part of a national park. What that means is that you ought to discover the islands with a tour guide. In spite of that, many tourists go wondering on their own and end up damaging the ecosystem further. So, make sure to follow the guide – you’ll get to see everything while making sure that you are of no harm to the natural life around you and under you.
The beauty of the Similan Islands is immeasurable, matched only by sprawling underwater world. Luckily for visitors, crystal clear water allows for unhindered observation of marine life. You can even dive in and join them from some of the awesome spots around the islands.
When to Visit Similan Islands?
Due to the aforementioned increased government control, the Similan Islands are closed to visitors from May to October. Winter is supposedly the best time to visit the islands anyway, so take a look at December or January for your plans. Thailand will still be fairly warm!