As the Southeast Asian borders open up, island escapes are sure to be on everyone’s minds. With most of us keen to maintain a certain degree of social distancing, we have suggestions for off-the-beaten path beaches that can serve as an ideal antidote to any two-year-long cabin fever.
Starting 26 April 2022, fully vaccinated travellers on all Singapore Airlines and Scoot flights will enjoy quarantine-free entry into Singapore without any pre-departure Covid-19 test. Why not stopover in the Little Red Dot and experience Singapore for yourself? You can check out Lazarus Island, included in this round up, as well as one of the city’s other great beaches. To know more about entry requirements for Singapore, check Singapore Airlines’ travel advisory.
1. Beach with a storied past: Koh Tarutao Island, Thailand
This is where those in the know come for what’s arguably Southeast Asia’s most pristine beach. Koh Tarutao is a protected national park, meaning there is no development here, except for a few park service bungalows and tents, plus a restaurant to ensure you don’t starve. To get in, take a 45-minute speedboat from Koh Lipe. In the 1940s, the island was used as a penal colony. Most visitors stay by the boat pier on Ao Pante beach but, if you head 8km further, you’ll find Ao Son, an empty white sand beach backed by steamy jungle. If you are lucky, you can spot langurs, hornbills, crab-eating macaques and a diverse array of birds and butterflies.
2. Exclusive luxury: Koh Kood Island, Thailand
Known as Bangkok’s boutique island due to affluent weekenders from the capital city and the limited fancy resorts, Koh Kood features empty stretches of postcard-perfect white sand beaches. One of the most stunning, the private Soneva Kiri beach, boasts sparkling white sand and turquoise water. From here, you can see Koh Mak and the other islands of the Koh Chang archipelago in the distance. Holidaymakers explore the waters on paddleboards and kayaks and, when the weather is fine, windsurfing is also available. Koh Kood is a five-hour boat ride from Bangkok.
3. Eco getaway: Koh Thmei Island, Cambodia
Koh Thmei is an island southeast of Sihanoukville – a coastal city in Cambodia. Part of Ream National Park, the bird-laden island is miraculously pristine. Over 150 species of birds have been spotted here, including the endangered Brahminy Kite. Look out for fishing cats and langur monkeys in the mangrove forests, as well as dolphins swimming in the waters just off the yellow shore. A 50-minute drive from Sihanoukville will take you to Koh Kchhang fishing village, from where you can catch a one-hour boat ride to Koh Thmei island.
4. Muck diver’s dream: Mabul Island, Malaysia
Situated off the southeastern coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, Mabul is one of several islands in the Celebes Sea blessed with diverse marine habitats. While its unnamed beaches are small and used by local villagers who moor their boats here, they are blanketed by white sand and backed by palm trees. Metres from the shore, the island’s waters make up one of the best macro-dive sites on the planet. Here, you can see tiny creatures such as harlequin shrimp and pygmy seahorses on a dive, or giant turtles, parrotfish and whale sharks while swimming or snorkelling. While you’re here, check out the small villages that sea gypsies (bajau laut) call home. Mabul is 45 minutes by boat from Semporna, a town in Sabah.
5. Myriad of marine life: Mantanani Islands, Malaysia
Off the northwest coast of Sabah is where you’ll find Mantanani Islands. This group of three isolated islands is surrounded by 20 dive sites, including three nearby dive wrecks that date back to the second World War. Witness clownfish playing hide and seek amidst the sea anemones and keep an eye out for rare dugong sightings. Several spottings of this rare marine mammal have been made in these waters. The islands can be reached via a 90-minute drive from Kota Kinabalu City to Rampayan Jetty, Kota Belud (80km), followed by a 30-minute boat ride.
6. Secret surf spot: Lombok Island, Indonesia
While Bali’s Kuta and Uluwatu beaches get all the surf headlines, savvy boarders make for neighbouring Lombok, where an isolated bay winding along the south coast is backed by verdant rolling hills and cliffs. Known as Tanjung Aan, this lovely stretch of coastline that’s about 70 minutes from Mataram city by car remains largely unknown. While nearby Gerupuk Beach has bigger waves – you need a boat to reach them – Tanjung Aan’s swells can be paddled out to. Most beachgoers come here to surf, snorkel and hike up the cliffs to enjoy panoramic views of the turquoise water and pearly white sand. As the sand here can get a bit too hot for sunbathing, bring your own lounger for some relief.
7. Most dramatic landscape: Sabtang Island, Philippines
The crowds head for Boracay and escape to Palawan but, if you want a more unique beach vacation, visit Batanes. With its dramatic, windswept scenery, the northernmost province in the Philippines resembles Scotland far more than it does the tropics, and sits close to Taiwan. It is also home to three inhabited islands. Morong beach on Sabtang Island is a strip of powdery white sand that is backed by verdant rolling hills, which have been manicured and eroded into liveng, the local version of a hedgerow. Also on the beach is Batanes’ most photographed landmark, the Nakabuang stone arch, a towering geological formation. You’ll find traditional stone houses in the villages of the native Ivatan people. Sabtang Island is a 30-minute boat ride from Basco.
8. Pure solitude: Siquijor, Philippines
Located 160km south-east of Cebu City, the island of Siquijor (pronounced see-kee-hor) has long captured imaginations thanks to its notoriety for witchcraft and folk healing. It’s also home to white sand bliss. Head to the town of Maria for a visit to Kaugsuan Beach. With few tourists, it’s likely you can enjoy this island on your own. Snorkel in the turquoise waters and find shade on the white sand from the beautiful rock formations.
9. Urban escape: Lazarus Island, Singapore
On weekends in Singapore, many people make a beeline for Sentosa Island, which is connected to the mainland. Yet, few know that just a 15-minute ferry ride from town is an urban escape called Lazarus Island. Completely undeveloped and without cafés or shops, the island requires you to bring your own picnic supplies. Access is via a walking bridge from neighbouring St John’s Island, which takes about 10 minutes. Lazarus features white sand imported from Indonesia, swaying coconut trees and truly deserted beaches, which is pretty impressive considering the urban sprawl is only minutes away.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For the latest travel advisory updates, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights, visit singaporeair.com. To join us in protecting the environment by offsetting your carbon emissions on your future flights, visit the following websites to learn more: carbonoffset.singaporeair.com.sg and carbonoffset.flyscoot.com
– ADDITIONAL TEXT BY DAVE STAMBOULIS
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.