Top Koaysomboon rounds up 2013’s hottest islands around Asia.
Koh Ta Chai
First it was Lipe, then Phayam, but the hottest Andaman island at the moment is undoubtedly Koh Ta Chai off the coast of Phang Nga. Part of the Similan archipelago, which was only opened to the public a few years ago, Ta Chai is home to powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, meaning it’s totally worth taking the almost-two-hour speedboat from either Khao Lak or Phuket to visit before the crowds start piling in. As it’s part of the Similan Marine National Park, overnight stays on the island are not permitted. “Camping there is not a good idea, anyway,” says Nimitdee Sripong, communication officer at Tourism Authority of Thailand, citing a scarcity of freshwater. Note: Marine National Parks on the Andaman Sea are now closed for monsoon season and will reopen in November.
Getting there: You can buy a day trip package from a bunch of operators, ranging from B2,600-2,800. Try Love Andaman (www.loveandaman.com) or Sea Star (www.seastarandaman.com)
A few years ago, we could only dream about the turquoise waters and soft sand of Thailand’s easternmost island, sat right on the Cambodian border, before taking the easier options of spending the weekend at Koh Samed or Koh Chang. But now improved shuttle services make getting to Koh Kood a lot easier, even if it still involves an eight-hour trip from Bangkok. It’s the length of this journey, on the other hand, that has kept the island lush and relatively untouched. The arrival of more high-end resorts, like Away (www.awayresorts.com), Cham’s House (www.chamshouse.com) and, most recently, Soneva Kiri (www.soneva.com), is slowly changing the face of Koh Kood as a destination for affluent-yet-eco-friendly travelers who don’t mind paying a fortune for the privilege of relative isolation.
Getting there: Drive six hours or take a 45-minute flight on Bangkok Airways to Trat, then get a two-hour ferry to designated resorts.
Recommended by off-the-beaten-track tour operator Backyard Travel (www.backyardtravel.com), Karimanjawa (or Kariman Java) is an archipelago of 27 islands located some 80km north of Java. Blessed with an abundance of coconut trees and sandy beaches, the islands are best known for offering castaway-like holiday experiences. What’s really sparking interest in Karimanjawa, though, is the arrival of the high-end Kura Kura Resort (www.kurakuraresort.com) on Menjawagun Island, which offers their guests charter flights from Semarang, the nearest city in Java.
Getting there: The nearest city is Semarang, which is 55 minutes by plane from Jakarta. Thai Airways, Air Asia and Garuda Airlines operate direct flights from Bangkok to Jakarta.
Myanmar is certainly on a rapid rise as a tourist destination, but still only very few people know about the country’s beautiful islands in the Andaman sea. Yacht company Burma Boating (www.burmaboating.com) is operating a luxury sailing trip around the Mergui archipelago, offering vacation makers the chance to set foot on some of the 800 small islands that most people have never even heard of. The islands are known locally as Myeik and are mostly home to people of Moken (sea gypsy) ethnicity. Do note, the trip does mean at least five days on-board and will cost you a minimum US$1,140 (B35,000) per person.
Getting there: Don’t try going there by yourself. Contact Burma Boating to arrange a pick-up service from either Phuket or Kaethaung port in Southern Myanmar.
Lying just off the coast from the port of Sihanoukville, in the Gulf of Thailand, are about 20 small islands known as the Koh Rong archipelago, a couple of which have just been opened to visitors. The islands are named Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, also known as Song Saa—or “The Sweethearts”—in Khmer. This private escape is defined by rainforests, pristine coral reefs and white sand beaches. The islands are protected as part of a conservation area, and the waters are teeming with life—dugongs have been spotted among the fish, shoals and seahorses. If it’s absolute seclusion you seek, you can take a boat trip to other completely deserted neighboring islands. The catalyst for the development of the two islands, Song Saa Private Island Resort (www.songsaa.com) is the only place to stay here. With its overwater villas, spa and sunset cruises, this eco-friendly establishment is as good as it gets. You pay for it, though: a one-bedroom villa is from US$650 (B19,850) per night.
Getting there: Song Saa is accessible by speedboat from Sihanoukville, which is a three to four hour bus ride from Phnom Penh. Air France (www.airfrance.com), Air Asia (www.airasia.com) and Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) fly daily to Phnom Penh.
We hadn’t heard about this island near Sihanoukville until Akaryn Hospitality announced its plans to open a retreat there, scheduled to launch next year. And it seems we weren’t the only ones in the dark about Koh Krabeay: “We have to admit that we’ve never thought about Cambodia’s beaches and islands before. But as they are largely beyond tourists’ reach, they tend to be untamed and beautiful, so now’s the chance to experience them,” says Narisa Leelathawonpanya, assistant editor at Lonely Planet Magazine Thailand.
Getting there: As Koh Krabeay is a private island you might need to start saving and wait until the resort opens in 2014.
This island in the San Jose municipality has been called “The Next Borocay,” but for now it offers a much quieter alternative to the world-famous Boracay island located 30 minutes away by speedboat. Unlike its tourist-swamped neighbor, Carabao still offers empty beaches, clear waters and a wide range of water sports. There are no fancy resorts, either, so you can kick back without the towdy party crowds.
Getting there: You can fly from Bangkok to either Manila or Cebu (try Cebu Pacific, www.cebupacificair.com), and get a local flight to Boracay. From Boracay, hop on the ferry to Carabao, which costs around 50 peso (B36) per person.
Located halfway to Taiwan, Japan’s Okinawa prefecture consists of a chain of islands which are very un-Japanese. “The locals prefer to call themselves Ryukyuans, after the former ruling Ryukyu empire and they have their own traditions and culture which is totally different from mainland Japan. On top of this, the islands offer plenty of skin- and scuba-diving spots as well as other water sports,” says Siriruk Thienthong, editor of Atitta Publication’s Okinawa travel guide. What’s more, this year sees Okinawa starting to ramp up its tourism promotions so you can enjoy a better range of deals and packages. Visit www.okinawastory.jp/en/ for more information about hot deals and upcoming events.
Getting there: There’s no direct flight from Bangkok. The shortest route is via Taipei on China Airlines (www.china-airlines.com).