8 November 2013 by David Ward
A guide to the best beach resorts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia
Our Top 10 South East Asian Beach Resorts...
|1||Six Senses Con Dao Island, Vietnam; Deluxe barefoot luxury on a private bay, (££££)|
|2||La Veranda, Phu Quoc, Vietnam; Deluxe French-colonial-style hotel (£££)|
|3||Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia; Deluxe all-inclusive luxury (£££)|
|4||Haad tien Beach Resort Koh Tao, Thailand; Superior beach resort (£££)|
|5||The Treasure Koh Madsum, Thailand; Superior luxury villas (££££)|
|6||Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia; Deluxe private island paradise (£££)|
|7||Japamala, Tioman Island, Malyasia; Superior boutique resort (£££)|
|8||Gaya Island Resort, Sabah, Malysia; Deluxe hideaway on an idyllic island (£££)|
|9||Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, indonesia; Deluxe design-conscious hideaway (£££)|
|10||Oberoi Lombok, north Lombok, Indonesia; Superior private villas (£££)|
Whether you're diving into the crystalline waters of Indonesia's volcanic, coral-fringed islands, basking beneath towering limestone cliffs on the secluded white-sand bays of Thailand's Andaman Coast, or sipping sundowners on a remote island retreat in the South China Sea, its easy to see why South East Asia remains many people's first choice when it comes to booking that all-important beach holiday.
Travelling from north to south, we take a closer look at our top ten South East Asian seaside sanctuaries. From glitzy five-star hotels to intimate island hideaways, we cast an eye over the very best beach resorts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Con Dao Archipelago, a seldom-visited jewel in Vietnam's exceptionally sparkly crown, is a chain of 15 remote islands in the South China Sea, around 180 kilometres from Vietnam's south-east coast.
Set against the backdrop of Lo Voi Mountain on picturesque Con Son Island, Six Senses Con Dao offers guests the ultimate barefoot luxury experience. The resort, built entirely from sustainable resources and inspired by the traditional architecture of a Vietnamese fishing village, features 50 beautifully appointed villas on the edge of a sweeping, crescent-shaped bay, which makes up part of a protected national marine park. Here guests have the chance to encounter all manner of local marine life, including a burgeoning population of Green and Hawksbill turtles, which come to nest on the island's beaches from May to October each year. Diving, snorkelling and hiking are all popular activities here, but if you feel like taking it easy, the resort's superb spa offers a full range of massages and treatments, as well as yoga and meditation classes.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest outlying island, is located just half an hour's flight from Saigon in the tropical seas of the Gulf of Thailand. The island is picture-perfect, offering the quintessential South East Asian island experience with lush vegetation, secluded white-sand beaches and clear turquoise seas.
La Veranda Resort, set on a beautiful private beach on the island's sheltered west coast, takes its design from the days of French colonialism, reflecting the style of a period mansion with spacious, high-ceilinged rooms and white-shuttered verandas looking out towards the calm waters of the Gulf. While away your days enjoying delicious seafood at Le Jardin and Peppertree Restaurants, indulging in a wonderful range of rejuvenating treatments at the resort's superb spa, or losing yourself among the reefs and rainforests that characterise this very special island paradise.
Proving once and for all that green can be glamorous; Song Saa - which means 'the sweethearts' in the local Khmer language - sets the standard for eco-friendly, luxury island living in Cambodia. Reached by boat from the nearby coastal town of Sihanoukville, Song Saa consists of 27 super-smart villas with private pools, built entirely from sustainable, locally sourced materials and spread across the two tiny, forested islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, part of the beautiful Koh Rong Archipelago.
Opened in 2011, Song Saa has been garnering awards and recognition ever since - featuring in the list of the 60 Best New Hotels in the World by Conde Nast Traveller in 2012, as well as Tatler's 101 Best Hotels in the World in the same year.
Sailing, snorkelling, hiking, kite surfing, wind surfing, yoga, in-villa private movie screenings and guided island tours are just some of the activities included in the Song Saa's 'Always Included' pricing policy, which encourages guests to fully embrace the resort's remarkable surroundings. And, once you've finished exploring, there's a superb fine dining restaurant, a wonderful spa with full range of treatments, a spectacular infinity pool and a delightful beachside bar waiting for you - the perfect spot to sip on your favourite sundowner and contemplate that maybe, just maybe, life isn't so bad after all.
4. The Haad Tien Beach Resort, Koh Tao, Thailand
Once a preserve of backpackers and scuba divers, the pretty island of Koh Tao, located to the north of ever-popular Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, has at last opened its doors up to the luxury travel market with the gorgeous Haad Tien Beach Resort, a secluded island sanctuary set on the edge of a shallow, private lagoon and protected on both sides by granite cliffs, offering complete privacy and the ultimate in barefoot luxury - an escape from the stress of daily life in the outside world.
Accommodation at The Haad Tien ranges from simple yet spacious cottages, to elegant sea view rooms and spectacular seaside villas, some of which boast their very own private pools. And with the beach just yards away, and a selection of activities, which include diving, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, Thai cooking classes and Thai Boxing among others, a stay at The Haad Tien gives you the option to do as little, or as much, as you wish.
5. The Treasure, Koh Madsum, Thailand
Finding solitude can be a tough ask in Thailand. So many of the traditional island hotspots in the Gulf of Siam and along the ever-popular Andaman Coast have become overrun with backpacker-filled beachfront bars and a proliferation of sub-standard hotels, vying for business in an already saturated market. So, to be able to truly escape the crowds is a rare thing indeed, but on the tiny island of Koh Madsum, a 30-minute longtail boat ride south of the established tourist hotspot of Koh Samui, The Treasure Resort, which opened in mid-2013, offers just that.
A selection of 27 luxury villas - some of which have sea views and private pools - can be found on a peninsula with direct access to two gorgeous white sand beaches and, along with the resort's main reception, restaurant and beachside bar, are the only buildings on the otherwise deserted island.
Enjoy a well thought out program of daily activities, which includes snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, cooking classes and island tours; treat yourself to a private picnic on one of the many deserted, neighbouring islands; take a dip in the resort's elegant, white limestone pool before perusing the spa menu, and hoping beyond hope that this particular hidden treasure, for once, remains that way.
With a spa that's recognised as one of the best in the world and a tranquil, private island setting of ancient rainforests and picture-perfect white sand bays, its little wonder that Pangkor Laut Resort, located on Malaysia's palm-fringed west coast, remains one of the most popular island resorts in South East Asia.
Pangkor Laut, despite being one of Malaysia's best-known luxury resorts, has managed to retain a sense of remoteness and exclusivity, due in no small part to its location four hours by road north of Kuala Lumpur, followed by a further sea crossing from the small, coastal town of Lumut. Once on the island it's clear to see what all the fuss is about; from the signature sea and spa villas, standing on stilts above the calm, emerald waters of the Malacca Strait, to the exceptional open-air restaurants and award-winning spa, the resort oozes style and sophistication at every turn. If you can peel yourself away from the allures of the resort itself, be sure to join Uncle Yip - Pangkor Laut's resident naturalist - on a trek to discover the fascinating history and unique ecology of one of Malaysia's true island gems.
7. Japamala, Tioman Island, Malaysia
Do nothing, love everything - that could, and possibly should be the mantra at Japamala, a unique, boutique resort on Malaysia's stunning Tioman Island.
Accommodation consists of a series of simple, yet elegant "Sarangs" (Malay for nests), hidden amongst the forested hillside and along the shores of the resort's beautiful white-sand beach. Each Sarang is designed and built to blend in with the natural landscape of the small bay in which the resort nestles, and for an added touch of luxury, some rooms come complete with their own plunge pools.
The resort's restaurants and spa, called "comfort zones", only serve to enhance the feeling that this is a genuinely special place. Tamarind Restaurant, with breathtaking sea views and a rainforest backdrop, serves perfectly prepared dishes inspired by the traditional cuisine of Malaysia, Thailand and Indochina. For all-day dining with an Italian twist and nightly barbecues under the stars, Mandi-Mandi enjoys one of the best locations of all, built as it is on stilts above the sea, accessed from the beach by way of a long, wooden jetty.
A menu of excursions, from diving and snorkelling to island and village tours, as well as superb spa, round off the unforgettable Japamala experience.
Discovery, vigour, creativity and balance - the four "PURE activity paths" that aim to immerse guests at Malaysian Borneo's Gaya Island Resort in the untouched nature of Pulau Gaya - the largest of five coral-fringed islands in the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, just minutes from the spectacular coastline of northern Sabah and the imposing presence of Mount Kinabalu - Malaysia's tallest mountain - which sits ever-watchful on the horizon.
The resort itself, set along the coast of secluded Malohom Bay, seems to melt away into the rainforest and mangroves, which cover the island. And it's this oneness with nature and the environment that makes Gaya Island Resort so special. Apart from the luxurious villas and amenities - the resort is owned and run by YTL Hotels, the group responsible for Pangkor Laut Resort and the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury rail journey - the real draw card is the chance to fully embrace the unique environment of Pulau Gau. From the resort's very own in-house reef to the ancient ecosystem of the island's rainforest, guests are actively encouraged to embrace the nature, culture and heritage of the region as a whole, while enjoying the chance to encounter a myriad of bird, animal and plant life, including hornbills, proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs, mouse deers and more.
Perched precariously over the dramatic sheer cliffs of southern Bali's stunning Bukit Peninsula, Alila Villas Uluwatu is a chic, stylish, minimalist wonder, set in one of South East Asia's most breathtaking locations.
Its 64 uber-cool one, two and three-bedroom villas are spacious and beautifully designed, contrasting modern minimalism with some of the more traditional elements of Balinese design. Each villa also comes with its very own private pool and personal butler. Other facilities include a 50-metre infinity pool with sweeping views across the ocean, a wonderful spa, a 24-hour gym, two superb restaurants serving a blend of contemporary Balinese and Western cuisine and a spectacular Sunset Cabana - a strikingly contemporary cliff-side platform, which literally overhangs the sheer rock face and offers the resort's most dramatic views.
Lombok is Bali's chilled out cousin; an unspoiled slice of island paradise where life moves at a much slower pace. Despite its gorgeous white-sand beaches, supreme surf spots and spectacular dive locations, the island is yet to see the sort of influx of mass tourism associated with its more glamorous neighbour to the west across the Lombok Strait.
Set in the north west of the island amidst 24 acres of lush tropical gardens and just a stone's throw from the coral fringed perfection of the Gili Islands, the Oberoi Lombok is Lombok's best resort. The hotels spacious and beautifully designed villas and pavilions feature thatched roofs and shaded terraces with views across the beach and gardens. As you'd expect, there's a host of facilities and activities for those lucky enough to stay here, including a spa with steam room, Jacuzzi, herbal baths and relaxing private pavilions; a fully equipped fitness centre; four bars and restaurants with breathtaking ocean views and a diverse choice of Indonesian, Asian and Continental cuisine; and several day trips taking in the very best of Lombok's stunning scenery - including the awe-inspiring Rinjani National Park and the nearby Gili Islands.