Here are five of Southeast Asia’s most tranquil islands to retreat to, far from all the jingles and carols
So you want to celebrate the season in easier and breezier fashion, flung away from the carolling and jingling of bells in the city. Why not organise a short trip to a quiet little island around the corner?
There are plenty of gems scattered around Southeast Asia perfect for a weekend retreat. Best of all, they come without crowd-choked beaches and typical tourist stands. You’ll be surprised at how close to home some of these are!
1. St John’s Island, Singapore
Not many locals have ventured to any other island than Sentosa. St John’s Island is a great place to start! Just a short ferry ride from Marina Bay will take you to this rustic mecca, which has remained largely rural throughout the decades.
Fishing boats are still moored at the jetty, with tennis courts and football fields stretching across the grounds. Fancy a short stay here? There’s even a kampong-styled chalet on one end.
And if you cross the breakwater to the meadow-lined Lazarus Island, you will find Singapore’s best-kept secret: a secluded crescent beach with sparkling turquoise waters. That’s right: Not grey, but turquoise. It’s the perfect corner for a quiet picnic with your loved ones!
2. Mabul Island, MalaysiaMabul Island boasts a collection of rich marine reefs and calming overwater resorts
Located on the coast of Sabah near Sipadan Island, Mabul is home to several overwater villas, diving resorts, homestay accommodation, and backpacker hostels.
This island is especially popular for muck diving, which is derived from the muddy sediment at the bed of the diving sites here. But it’s not all mucky – these areas are teeming with exotic marine life.
In these waters you can spot rare creatures that you may not otherwise get to see, such as the blue-ringed octopus, mimic otcupus, and the black sail-fin goby.
Even if you’re not licensed to dive, snorkelling facilities are provided here too in the shallower reefs. Or you could stay dry and chill out on the deck of the resorts that overlook the beautiful horizon.
3. Phu Quoc, Vietnam
The crown jewel of Vietnam, Phu Quoc is a dreamy island paradise of clear shores and fresh seafood
Often considered the most stunning island in Vietnam, Phu Quoc is one getaway you definitely cannot miss out on. It is fronted by picturesque beaches coated with glorious white sand, and dense, untouched wildlife sprawls across the heart of this islet.
Phu Quoc is the country’s largest island, and has three beaches on its borders: Long Beach, Ong Lan, and Bai Sao. But don’t just flock here for its pearly shores – the restaurants here serve up some of the most lip-smacking seafood in the country.
There are plans in the works to develop Phu Quoc into a full-blown residential and tourist hub, so you’ll want to book your trip here before the island gets crowded!
4. Ko Chang, Thailand
Intriguingly nicknamed “the Beast of the East”, Ko Chang – or Elephant Island – is a giant land mass off the eastern Gulf of Thailand. Ko Chang has something for every visitor, from decadent resorts and buzzing nightclubs to hippy hangouts and traditional villages. It’s the quintessential Thai experience.
Despite its developed status, much of Ko Chang is made up of unspoiled and flourishing rainforests. In here nestle eight spectacular waterfalls, including the remarkable Khlong Neung that cascades from a 120m cliff.
Here, you can spot the resplendent great hornbill and vibrant flocks of other avian wildlife. And if you’re lucky, you can even see dolphins cruising by the southeastern coast.
5. Penghu Island, Taiwan
Many of us throng to the lively peninsula of Taiwan for its bottomless trove of street food and street fashion. But we hear you – you want to get off the streets. So head over to Penghu Island!
Known for its staggering view of the horizon amidst the old-time traditional Taiwanese culture, Penghu is actually an archipelago of 90 islands. This is where the ox-carts, stone-walled meadows, and basalt cliffs are hidden, far away from the bustling cities.
If you travel here between May and October, you can admire the endangered green turtles that come here to nest. With its sleepy, quiet vibes and sprawl of nature, we would gladly pick Penghu over everyday urban comforts!
By Pamela Chow