Palm trees and sea breeze? Check. Sand on your feet and the warmth of the sun on your skin? Check. An island experience always relaxes the soul and recharges the mind and body.
Boracay, Koh Samui, Langkawi, Phu Quoc, Sanya, Da Nang, Sumba & Addu Atoll
PALM TREES AND SEA BREEZE? CHECK. SAND ON YOUR FEET AND THE WARMTH OF THE SUN ON YOUR SKIN? CHECK. AN ISLAND EXPERIENCE ALWAYS RELAXES THE SOUL AND RECHARGES THE MIND AND BODY. WE WHISK YOU AWAY TO EIGHT OF THE MOST MESMERISING ISLANDS WHERE YOU CAN LET YOUR ADRENALINE RUSH WITH ZESTFUL ACTIVITIES AND SIGHTS TO SPOT, REGALE YOUR TASTE BUDS WITH LOCAL CUISINE, LAZE AROUND THE BEACHFRONT, AND TAKE THE PERFECT SHOT WITH THE MOST VIVID VISTAS IN THE BACKGROUND.
Among the Philippines’ more than 7,000 islands, Boracay is arguably the most famous. Its beauty and vibe frequently place it on top of the best islands in the world. Once there, the possibilities are endless. Most visitors go to Boracay to lounge at the White Beach, the world-renowned 5-kilometre beach of fine, white sand. But now that you’re on this incredible island, it would be blasphemy not to engage in other activities.
FUN SPREE There are the usual water sports like surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, but the locals have something more interesting: paraw sailing. Paraw is a native double outriggers sailboat used by Visayan fishermen. Paraw sailing is an exhilarating ride with no motor to propel the vessel, only relying on the wind. Let the wind manoeuvre your paraw and have the time of your life. The Fly Fish is another adrenaline-pumping water activity where you will be asked to sit on an inflatable raft shaped like a big fish as a speedboat pulls you along. As the boat launches you into the air, hang on for dear life or let loose and let yourself fall in the water. Go cliff diving at Ariel’s Point or experience an aquatic immersion through Helmet Diving (it’s exactly what it sounds like). Descend ten feet into the water with your helmet on, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of colourful fish and coral reefs. You can also fulfil a lifelong dream of styling oneself as a mermaid at the Mermaid Swimming Academy. It’s the whole nine yards: wear a mermaid tail and swim underwater like one. As you’ll be wearing a monofin, make sure your dolphin kick is on point. Bars and pubs are in every corner of the island, so get ready for parties that last all night long.
PICTURE PERFECT The beach, the sand, the locals, the sunset – everything is. Spiderhouse’s restaurant and bar is one for social media, just be careful not to drop your phone while taking selfies as this restaurant is on a cliff!
PIED-À-TERRE Lose yourself in luxury at Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa. Its private beach and well-appointed rooms and villas will make your stay as pleasant as possible.
This island in the Gulf of Thailand is a perfect fusion of blues and greens – azure waters, lush forests and hills. Koh Samui is on every beach lover’s bucket list for its charming stretches of white and yellow beaches. You can lounge beachfront or if you’re feeling a bit of an explorer, set out with lots of energy and a fully charged phone because you’ll encounter a lot of snap-worthy attractions.
Koh Samui is on every beach lover’s bucket list for its charming stretches of white and yellow beaches
FUN SPREE For a vibrant social scene, head over to Chaweng Beach filled with bars and lounges. You can be one with air and water as you ride a flyboard, or soak up nature deep in the forest as you ride and bond with elephants. Thailand is also home to 50 kinds of venomous snakes, and some 120 species that are not as dangerous! Take an up-close look at some of these slithering reptiles at the Samui Snake Farm with its informative and entertaining daily shows. There are king cobras and giant pythons, as well as scorpions and centipedes, so this is not for the faint of heart. Make sure to stop by the active night markets, and if you still have time, hop over to the Ang Thong National Marine Park where you can witness exotic aquatic life leisurely swimming around you.
PICTURE PERFECT The Big Buddha Temple on the island’s northeast corner is the cultural centre of Koh Samui and nearby islands. Another enchanting Buddhist temple is the Wat Plai Laem, an 18-arm statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.
PIED-À-TERRE Thai elegance is paramount at the Belmond Napasai where you can have utmost privacy in its standalone villas that open up to balconies overlooking the ocean. You’ll catch a water buffalo or two lazily roaming around the gardens.
The quiet Andaman Sea is home to many hidden treasure islands. Amongst them is an archipelago of 104 islands called Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah in Malaysia. Crystal clear waters, waterfalls, and hot springs abound, making this island a one-stop destination.
FUN SPREE Don’t look down. A trip to Langkawi is not complete without a visit to the Langkawi Sky Bridge, a terrifying 700-metre bridge above sea level that gives a stunning view of the island’s rugged mountains, waterfalls, and even the islets surrounding the main island. At the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, you will be delighted at the amazing limestone formations as well as navigate mangrove forests. The Air Hangat Village offers a unique saltwater hot spring, one of only four countries that have these gift from nature.
PICTURE PERFECT The Temurun Waterfall is a mesmerising pocket of nature, a mere half an hour hike from Jalan Datai. There are no marked trails, and you will likely meet macaque monkeys along the way.
PIED-À-TERRE Stay in overwater villas with a fantastic view of the Andaman Sea at the St. Regis Langkawi or a sunset villa to witness the majestic sunset. With six gourmet restaurants, your palate will be pleased too.
With an island as big as Phu Quoc, it’s almost impossible to explore its entirety in two days. Aside from the main island, Phu Quoc also spans 21 smaller islets. The area is sometimes referred to as Vietnam’s Pearl Island due to pearl farms that produce some of the best iridescent pearls in the world.
The Phu Quoc National Park takes up a significant portion of the island’s north-east region covering both land and sea areas and is part of the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve. In 2010, it was declared a UNESCO designated site and a biologically sensitive area, covering 314,000 square metres of unique flora and fauna and rare or vulnerable animals. Although you can visit the National Park, a large section is off-limits to the public.
FUN SPREE Walk around the Phu Quoc Prison where Northern Vietnamese soldiers were jailed during the Vietnam War. You won’t hear screams of terror anymore as the prison has now been converted into a museum with displays of old torture instruments and photographs from the days best left in history books. Nestled in the mountains of Ham Ninh, a small fishing village, is the Suoi Tranh Waterfall, surrounded by rock pools and caves. The stream leads to Hang Doi (Grotto of Bats), a grotto 200 metres in height and home to bats and unique formations of stalactites.
PICTURE PERFECT Phu Quoc is the birthplace of Cao Daism, the prevalent religion in Vietnam. Visit The Great Temple of Cao Dai in the town of Duong Dong, built between 1933 and 1955. The colourful and sacred temple features paintings and architecture reminiscent of a cathedral and represents the diverse beliefs of the religion. About nine kilometres from the town centre is the Painting Stream, named so because it is so resplendent and picturesque that it looks like a painting.
PIED-À-TERRE East meets west at the La Veranda Resorts with its French colonial décor and architecture. Private villas make for a luxurious and private stay with scenic views of the beach and garden.
Sanya isn’t called the “Hawaii of the East” for no reason. It has miles of white sandy beaches, a vibe perfect for those looking for a tropical getaway and a fantastic city experience all bundled up into one destination. Located in the southern tip of Hainan province, China, Sanya is dubbed as a “Natural Oxygen Bar” for its lovely sunshine and fresh air, a contrast to the country’s biggest cities. For tanning and lounging in luxurious private beaches, head over to the Yalong Bay. To experience a bustling and cheerful vibe full of shops and bars, the Dadonghai Bay is your go-to zone.
FUN SPREE For a 360-degree stunning vista of the entire island, drop by the Luhuitou Park located on top of a hill. Legends have it that a young hunter was chasing after a deer that, when cornered, turned into a beautiful woman who he fell in love with. This story is commemorated by a 12-metre tall statue of a hunter, a deer, and a woman. Roam freely amongst more than a thousand endangered macaque monkeys at the Monkey Islands, just be sure to hide your food or drinks, because the monkeys will sniff them out and make a run for the edibles.
PICTURE PERFECT The Tianya Haijiao (The Edge of Heaven) is an extraordinary place with unusually beautiful rock formations. It is known as one of the southernmost parts of mainland China. You can also find one of the tallest statues in the world here, the Guanyin of Nanshan in Nanshan Temple, towering at 108 metres.
PIED-À-TERRE The 50-acre The Sanya EDITION is a horseshoe-shaped hotel with a private ocean and two pools. All of its 17 hotel villas are on hillside terraces with individual infinity pools.
Fabulous beaches can be found in the coastal city of Da Nang, Vietnam, a thriving area filled with textile, excellent beaches, and hints of Western influence. Da Nang is the first Vietnamese land that the Europeans stepped on in 1535, and it has continued to be one of the centres of commerce and tourism in the country.
Fabulous beaches can be found in the coastal city of Da Nang. a thriving area filled with textile, excellent beaches, and hints of Western influence.
FUN SPREE Just because it’s a city doesn’t mean most activities are on land. Da Nang’s waters suit adrenaline junkies’ passion for recreational water sports, with many surfers and stand-up paddleboarders filling the beach. There is also the Marble Mountains. Legend has it that a dragon from the sea laid an egg on the beach. The egg hatched and out came a beautiful woman, and the eggshells evolved into the Marble Mountains. The five marble and limestone hills are named after the five elements. Tunnels and Buddhist temples, as well as caves scarred by bullet holes from the Vietnam War, can be seen here. To explore Da Nang with a twist, it is recommended to rent a four-wheeler for an off-road adventure that will take you on a jungle trail scattered with traditional villages and remnants of the war that tore this country in two. Half an hour outside Da Nang is the Son Tra Mountain, a national park situated 693 metres above sea level with beautiful caves and a stunning Lady Buddha statue in the middle.
PICTURE PERFECT Drive up the Ba Na Hill that features a replica French provincial town, entirely out of place in Asia with gorgeous views of hills shrouded by white blankets of puffy clouds. You can also take photos while riding one of the longest and highest cable cars in the world. Back down at the city, wait until nightfall when the Dragon Bridge over the Han River gets illuminated with lights.
PIED-À-TERRE Vinpearl Da Nang Resort & Villas is the perfect lodging for a Da Nang getaway. Rooms range from 54-square metre units to private villas as large as 628-square metre spaces for bigger parties.
With big sister Bali a couple of island hops away, Sumba is a dream getawaywith far fewer crowds and abundance of natural beauty. The Indonesian island is rich in birdlife, many endangered, and a tantalising wealth of marine life stretching hundreds of miles in all directions into the Savu Sea. Charming pockets of nature can be found everywhere, whether trekking ordiving.
FUN SPREE At the Watu Mandorak Cove, serene white sand plays hide and seek amongst thecliffs perched above crystal clear water. The mangroves at the Walakiri Beach, teaming with life,are best explored on a slow boat. The Nihi Sumba, a 5-star resort co-owned by fashion mogulChris Burch, offers deep sea fishing or spearfishing, with your catch hot and ready for eating inthe next meal. Nihi Sumba is also home to Occys Left, one of the most coveted and exclusivewaves in the world. Surfers are limited to 10 persons per day, so better sign up early.
PICTURE PERFECT The Tanggedu and Lapopu waterfalls are a sight to behold with jagged rocks beforethe water cascades down towards a clear, turquoise lagoon. The Weekuri Salt Lake, with coolwaters and a sandy bottom, is a great place to swim and splash, preferably a visit timed with thetides.
PIED-À-TERRE Nihi Sumba ranked 20th in our annual ‘The 100 List, 2017’ is the placeto call home when falling in love with the lost world of Sumba. Its commitment to give back tothe community coupled with delightful accommodations make the hotel fully-booked all yearlong. Guests can stay in private villas with direct access to the beach or in two-storey tree houses.
No two Maldives atolls are alike. Each maintains its own allure that entices tourists to visit habitually. The Addu “Seenu” Atoll is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives and is home to the country’s second largest city, the Addu City. The mesmerising corals of this heart-shaped atoll are the only ones in the Maldives that were not affected by the underwater heatwave that struck in 1998, dubbed as the first global coral bleaching. Thus, Addu is home to one of the most abundant coral reefs in the world. Gan Island, the location of Gan International Airport and the former British airbase, can also be found here.
The mesmerising corals of this heart-shaped atoll are the only ones in the Maldives that were not affected by the underwater heatwave that struck in 1998
FUN SPREE Rent a bike or a scooter and leisurely ride along the causeways that link the majority of Addu. This causeway was built by the British and connects Gan Island all the way to Hithadhoo. Indulge in the relaxing art of island hopping and immerse in the locals’ way of life in the simple island of Feydoo, visit the Koagannu cemetery in Meedhoo, the oldest graveyard in the country, explore the mangroves and marshes of Hithadhoo, or lose yourself in the brightly-coloured buildings of Maradhoo. The entire range of watersports, from deep sea diving, scuba diving, snorkelling, water skiing, windsurfing, paragliding and fishing are very much possible almost throughout the year. Addu’s world-famous large manta rays, sharks and turtles create ample opportunities that keep novices and experts alike occupied.
PICTURE PERFECT During low tide, you can see the corals without dipping your head into the water, and you can even walk amongst this fragile ecosystem. In Hithadoo, the shallow beach of Queen’s Pond and the serenity of the entire place is as lovely in person as it is on a photo. No filter needed!
PIED-À-TERRE Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa in Addu houses the only golf course in the country.
And if you liked this story, subscribe to our bi-monthly World Travel Magazine, a handpicked selection of editorial features and stories from Global Destinations, Inspire Me, Insider, Style File, Wellness & Travel, City Travel, Suite Life, At Leisure, Short Breaks and much more.