Glimmering emerald isles dot the many seas of Asia. Spreading south and east from the mainland towards Australia, each is laden with white-sand beaches so soft you can't help but sink into them.

With larger islands like Phuket and Bali attracting more and more visitors each year, we’ve set out in search of those more remote coves, inlets and bays that give you a true feeling of desert-island paradise.

And the best way to get there? By boat...

Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

‘The Beach’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, shot this tranquil bay to fame in 2000. Surrounded by limestone cliffs and edged by a reef that forms a tranquil lagoon, this enchanting cove sits on one of Thailand’s many uninhabited islands. Getting here is half the adventure, with the boat from Koh Phi Phi Don taking you out only so far before you need to swim or kayak to shore. In low season (Nov-Feb), the approach becomes more challenging and you can only use the back way, which not only involves swimming to shore, but clambering through a cave to emerge into the dappled sunlight of this breathtaking bay.

Maya Bay

Emerald Bay, Pangkor Laut, Malaysia

If you’re looking for an Asian beach resort with character, Pangkor Laut is the perfect spot. Its cooling pools and stunning water villas are the only sign of human life on the entire island, which sits on the Straits of Malacca off the west coast of Malaysia. Dense forest fills the heart of the island, lining the shores of Emerald Bay, and just a few minutes here will make you feel a million miles away from the everyday.

Emerald Bay

The “Secret Gilis”, Southwest Lombok

By now, everyone has heard of the Gili Islands. Renowned as quiet, tranquil and secluded, these three islands, found off the northwest of Lombok, are made up of lively Gili Trawangan (affectionately known as ‘Gili T’), backpacker paradise Gili Air and quiet Gili Meno. But hidden away to the south are the lesser-known Southwest Gilis – the “Secret Islands”. Thirteen largely uninhabited islands, these are one of Indonesia’s best-kept secrets. Colourful coral, deserted beaches and hidden coves make it impossible to choose just one spot worth visiting here, so we recommend chartering a boat and pulling up on beaches so remote that only the locals know their names.

Gili Islands

Ao Kiew (or Ao Kio), Koh Samet

When you think “Thai island paradise”, your mind almost immediately springs to the south – to Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Lanta. But to the north, just a few hours’ drive south of Bangkok, is a local favourite – the quiet isle of Koh Samet. Hop aboard a boat from the mainland and you’ll find yourself surrounded by white sands and tranquil azure waters in just 45 minutes. At the southern tip of this peaceful little world, you’ll find the pretty Paradee all-villa resort. Spanning the small width of the island, there are two beaches here that are guaranteed to impress, offering the rare opportunity to enjoy both sunrise and sunset to a sparkling sea view.

Koh Samet

Secret Beach, Matinloc Island, El Nido, Philippines

While Maya Bay was the setting for “The Beach”, Secret Beach was the inspiration. This pristine beach in the El Nido region of Palawan in the Philippines is definitely one for the daring. To get here, you have to take a boat out and swim through a cave, but once inside, the shallow waters of the lagoon barely reach your knees and grey cliffs tower around a thin strip of untouched yellow sand. A Maldivian-inspired resort, the luxurious Huma Island Resort & Spa offers easy access to the unrivalled beauty of Palawan, and with over 7000 islands in the Philippines, you're bound to stumble upon a deserted island paradise or two.

El Nido

Ban Chan Beach, Halong Bay, Vietnam

The beaches of Halong Bay have become increasingly popular, making it hard to find one that isn’t packed with visitors. Of course, the best way to see the wonders of the bay is on a cruise, and two nights aboard the Au Co ensures that you get to see one of the region’s few remaining hidden gems – Ban Chan beach. With a primitive and rare undiscovered feel that’s hard to find in the waters around Halong Bay, you can wander the length of these beautiful sands unimpeded by the billboards and crowds that you’ll find on other nearby bays.

Halong Bay

Loh Pared Bay, Koh Yao, Thailand

Although extremely close to Phuket and Krabi, the small islands of Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi remain surprisingly untouched. Barefoot-chic is probably the best way to describe the laid-back feel of the islands, with the larger of the two, Koh Yao Yai, the more surprisingly undeveloped. Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort and Spa on Loh Pared Bay has one islands' best beaches, and while it may lack some of the beauty of its neighbours on Phuket, its real appeal lies in its tranquillity.

Koh Yao


If you want to make the most of your trip to Asia but aren’t sure which countries are available to you, take a look at our hand-picked selection, as chosen by our Far East Travel Experts.

Explore Asia

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