If your idea of a great winter escape is one that involves walking a pristine beach, a turquoise sea on one side and a grove of palm trees on the other, we’ve got some great—and exotic—ideas for you. Having done our share of beachcombing, here are our picks of some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia.
Best Beach in Thailand
Skip the crowds and clamor of Phuket or Phi Phi and head for Krabi, on the west coast of southern Thailand and a short flight from Bangkok. True, the beach is lined with hotels from the boutique to the funky but a short hop by long-tail boat across the Andaman Sea will deliver you to less-crowded Railay Beach, a peninsula that can only be accessed by boat. It’s a favorite of rock climbers who share the limestone cliffs with monkeys, both of which can provide an afternoon’s entertainment. Once there, you have a choice of four beaches, each with its own vibe. We like the wide West Railay beach, which has been called the most beautiful beach in the world. Book early to stay in one of the luxury resorts or your own villa.
Best time to go to Railay Beach: December-April.
Best Beaches in Myanmar
For travelers who like to begin or end their Southeast Asia travels unwinding, we often suggest an extension to Ngapali beach, on the west coast of Myanmar. Its three pristine beaches on the calm waters of the Bay of Bengal are even less touristy than Maungmagan beach (below). There are lovely lodges and resort spa/hotels on the beach for easy transitioning to your Myanmar Odyssey or relaxing afterward. The nearby town, Thandwe, is a short flight from Yangon.
Progress is coming to the charming old town of Dawei on the banks of the Dawei River in southeast Myanmar. The 11th-century town of Dawei only recently became easily accessible by car or train from Yangon, and there are plans to turn the old port into a deep port for ships. That’s good for the local economy, but the beaches on the Andaman Sea, about eight miles from town, may lose their tropical allure as they are “discovered.” An interesting beach often frequented by locals and a few foreigners is Maungmagan Beach. Here you can also find simple lodging and restaurants.
If you really want to experience island-hopping with untouristed beaches, take a cruise to a few of the 800 islands of the Mergui Archipelago. Since these islands are only reachable by authorized boats, you don’t see a lot of tourists. A few of our favorite stops include the largest island of Lampi Marine National Park; Cockscomb Island with its naturally heart-shaped pool in the center and the Lun Le Islands, home to Karen communities. Chances are you’ll make these and others your own almost-private islands every day.
Best time to go to Myanmar beaches: Mid-October to April.
Best Beach in Cambodia
Song Saa Private Island
This luxury island retreat is Cambodia’s answer to your tropical paradise fantasy. Spread over two small islands (Koh Ouen and Koh Bong) in the Koh Rong Archipelago, Song Saa is a 40-minute, high-speed ferry ride from Sihanoukville. Built by locals with local materials, the two dozen, over-water villas blend naturally into the landscape. Snorkel and scuba dive the rehabilitated reefs, paddle-board and kayak the clear waters, meditate, indulge in spa treatments or do nothing at all but enjoy the tranquil beaches.
Best time to go to Song Saa Private Island: December through April.
Best Beaches in Vietnam
An Bang Beach
Just 3 miles from Hoi An, an old Chinese port town, An Bang has survived the serious erosion that has a made other nearby beaches all but disappear. Now, locals, as well as tourists, enjoy it. Sit on your chaise under a palm palapa and sip an iced tea or a cold Saigon Beer. Take a break from daydreaming now and then to sample the marvelous lobsters, crabs and other tantalizing seafood at one of the nearby restaurants. An Bang is an easy trip from Hoi An by motor scooter, bike or taxi.
If you’re partial to islands, Phu Quoc, is for you. The 200-square-mile island in the Gulf of Thailand off the southeastern coast of Vietnam has a range of beaches from those popular with locals to the uncrowded and remote. Once an island of sleepy fishing villages, it’s now a prime destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, jet skiers and squid fishing fans. You can tour on a bike, motor scooter or motorcycle, among other options. The range of activities makes it a favorite for families, too. There is something on the island that travelers of all ages will enjoy. And don’t forget to try the fish sauce! Phu Quoc is famous for it. Since the island has become a magnet for tourists, there are several wonderful 5-star hotels, excellent golf courses and an international airport with direct flights from Bangkok.
Best time to go to Vietnamese beaches: December-May