What are the best islands in Asia to visit?
Asia might be better-known for its old-world charm that’s met with bustling streets, bright lights and breathtaking cityscapes, but it’s also home to so much more. In particular, some of the most incredible islands in the world. If you’re looking to explore ivory beaches that go on forever, turquoise waters packed with marine life, towering cliffs, lush jungles and palm trees for days, Asia is the perfect choice for your next island getaway. To help you find the very best islands in Asia, we recently got together with a bunch of travellers (who love island hopping just as much as we do) to set out the best spots for you, here.
Are you looking to explore the best islands in Asia? Well then, you’re in luck. We highlight the best islands in Asia worthy of being added to any island lover’s destination hit-list. Whether you are a solo traveller, a couple or a small family – Asia has no shortage of amazing island escapes perfect for your next trip.
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The Best Islands in Asia
By Sam and Natalie of Something of Freedom.
Siargao is not only one of the best destinations in the Philippines, but also one of the best islands in Asia. For surfers in particular the island is a bucket list destination, as it’s home to the famous Cloud 9 reef break – which is considered to be one of the best surf spots in the world!
Don’t let that fool you though, there’s plenty for non-surfers to enjoy too. Siargao offers some of the best island hopping tours in the Philippines. Beat the crowds to the paradise islands by renting a private boat and setting off early. Surprisingly, you’ll end up saving money this way as long as there are at least 2 of you splitting the cost!
There’s plenty more to discover on Siargao too – whether it’s the beautiful Sugba Lagoon or the impressive naturally formed Magpupungko rock pools.
With so much to discover, Siargao is becoming an increasingly popular destination. This means prices are slightly higher than elsewhere in the Philippines, but thankfully it’s still possible to visit this beautiful island on a relatively tight budget!
By Mariza of Hoponworld.
mostly unheard of Penghu Islands may not be high on your Asia island hopping bucket list, but if you’re looking to trade in the busy streets and weird tastes and smells of Taiwan’s city life for island vibes – Penghu is your answer! Although the archipelago consists of 90 islands and islets, base yourself in Magong City – the easiest port to reach from the mainland.
There are two options to reach Magong; either by plane or ferry. But if you are pressed for time, I highly suggest flying instead. The flight is only 20-30 minutes long and you’ll barely be on the plane long enough to enjoy the ocean views before touching down again. Multiple flights run daily from both Taichung and Taipei.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Magong City to suit every budget – from hostels and luxury hotels to minsu’s (aka Taiwanese home stays). Most places can also help you rent a scooter (only for valid license holders) to make exploring the main islands easier. However, if you aren’t planning to do so, navigating yourself around the main islands might be a bit tricky. So, it might be best to stay close to the city centre.
There are no shortage of activities in Penghu either – explore the various temples, enjoy an array of water sports, tour the Marine National Park, snack on local treats such as cactus ice cream, brown sugar cake and onion pancake or simply just relax on the beach. When you want to see a bit more of the archipelago, take a day trip Qimei Island (home to Taiwan’s most iconic sight, the Twin Heart Stone Weir) or Jibei Island with its tear-shaped beach.
By Ben McLaughlin, Horizon Unknown.
Koh Tao is a beautiful island in Thailand and is well-known for its amazing and cheap diving. I have visited Koh Tao twice, once as a backpacker and the other as a new diver looking to complete my open water scuba diving certification.
While known as one of the cheapest places on earth to complete many diving courses, that doesn’t mean the quality of diving suffers. With thriving marine life, night diving and a shipwreck to explore, there’s no shortage of amazing sights to see under the surface of the water.
If you would rather not dive down below the waves for extended periods of time, there are plenty of amazing snorkel spots and Black Tip Reef Sharks and massive schools of fish can be seen from the surface.
If you’re just after a fun and lively party scene, Koh Tao is full of bars and clubs, while relaxing on a beach is a great way to pass the days here. This beautiful island has something for every visitor.
Koh Phi Phi
By Mariza of Hoponworld.
One of Thailand’s most beautiful islands that should be on any island hopper’s getaway list is Koh Phi Phi. The island, which is easily reached by speedboat from Krabi or Phuket, might be most famous for its close proximity to the world-famous Maya Bay. But, don’t let that fool you – Koh Phi Phi is just as stunning, making it one of the best islands in Asia to visit.
Spend your days exploring the best snorkeling, diving and swimming spots in the Andaman Sea by long-tail boat. Hike to the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint for spectacular views or simply enjoy your favourite cocktail on the pearly white beaches.
Whether you are a backpacker or seeking a high-end retreat there is no shortage of options on the island. Koh Phi Phi does however have a bit of a reputation as a party island. So, if this is not your scene, book yourself into a luxury secluded bungalow where you can spend your days admiring the tranquil waters and serene natural surroundings. If you do, decide to stay somewhere more secluded on the eastern side of the island, it’s important to know that you can only reach the main area by water taxi. Which is a bit pricey. I also found this guide on visiting Koh Phi Phi very useful, and so might you!
Maya Bay Notice
If you were hoping to see this beautiful reserve firsthand, you will unfortunately have to wait. But, for very good reason. Maya Bay has been indefinitely closed for conservation purposes by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservatioun (DNP). The closure is crucial and aims to not only restore and rehabilitate the area’s coral reefs and ecosystem, but to also preserve this beautiful area for many years to come.
By Chris W. of Chris Travel Blog (CTB Global).
Phuket is a beautiful island in south-western Thailand in the Andaman Sea. An island highly recommended adding to a Thailand itinerary. It’s famous for its beautiful beaches but also has a few cultural sights. The area around Patong beach, specific Bangla Road, is the place to go if you love partying all night long.
Phuket is relatively cheap and budget friendly. Hostels start at US$10 a night and for that same amount you should be able to have lunch and dinner too. Of course, more is possible but US$30 a day should work perfectly. Getting around the island can be done by motorbike (budget) or taxi (still cheap).
There are so many beaches that you can spend two weeks on the island and explore one daily. If you want to do something else, head to Phuket old town, Wat Chalong temple, the Big Buddha, and the most southern point.
If you get tired of Phuket, make a day trip to Phang Nga Bay which is a collection of idyllic islands. Phuket is one of the best islands in Asia.
By Per of Resrutt – The Travel Blog.
In Southern Thailand, you’ll find the beautiful paradise island Koh Libong. There are very few islands left in this part of Thailand away from the crowds. This is one of those islands. Koh Libong is the ideal place to visit for a soft relaxing time in the shadow of the palm trees.
There are a few resorts to choose from on the west coast. The Andalay Beach Resort is one of the best and will offer the most value for your money. Make sure to book in advance to get the best rooms.
A perfect activity for the more adventurous visitors is to rent a scooter for the day. That way, you can visit the remote beaches where (if you’re lucky) you can spend the day all alone. An amazing experience!
If you are considering driving anywhere in Asia, please remember to always carry a valid driver’s license with you. Check out this site if you need to get an international drivers license in a jiffy.
Koh Yao Yai
By Andra of Our World to Wonder.
Thailand has so many islands that it’s hard not to fall in love with at least one. However, most of them have become so famous that they attract tons of tourists, spoiling the serenity which some may search during a holiday. That’s why I love the island of Koh Yao Yai. A peaceful and quiet island in the beautiful Andaman Sea.
Although it is located between Phuket and Krabi, it is not characterized by the same huge crowds. It’s a great island if you want to explore the area, but at the same time, enjoy some peaceful moments. I especially loved the fact that we were able to make so many day trips, including exploring the Hong archipelago, the Phang Nga Bay with its floating market, as well as kayaking along the mangroves of the island, or other island hopping which is accessible.
There are not a lot of accommodation options, but you can find affordable ones, as well as luxury resorts ready to pamper you. And the best afternoon activity is to rent a scooter and tour the island to watch the locals’ way of living.
Ly Son Island
By Jackie Szeto & Justin Huynh from Life Of Doing.
If you’re visiting Vietnam, consider island hopping to Ly Son Island. Located off of the South Coast Central of Vietnam, it’s a perfect place to spend a couple of days. You have to take a speedboat from the mainland in Quang Ngai Province to Ly Son Island.
The island is small, yet it has everything that you need – relaxing atmosphere, seeing incredible views of the coastline, snorkeling at Cau Cave and An Binh Island in the blue waters, visiting many temples, hiking Gieng Tien Mountain, and eating fresh seafood. Most of the attractions are free to visit except for the snorkeling or swimming excursions (around 60,000 VND/$2.60 USD per person).
It’s best to rent a motorbike to visit the various attractions. Enjoy the peacefulness with your drive since it isn’t congested with people and motorbikes unlike Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. In addition, you may smell the garlic in the air as this island is known for growing a special type of garlic and onions. We hope you visit this island to de-stress and enjoy the sunshine.
By Mike Still of Live Travel Teach.
Cat Ba should top your list of best islands in Vietnam even though you might not have heard of it. Most people think of Ha Long Bay or Phu Quoc when dreaming of islands in Vietnam. But, Cat Ba is right next door to Ha Long and a cleaner, less touristy paradise since fewer people know about it!
You can enjoy kayaking, island hopping, beaches, climbing, fishing and so much more on Cat Ba Island. There is a remote village that loves to show travelers how to enjoy village life or just rent you a bicycle so that you can ride through the beautiful scenery. One of my favorite parts of Cat Ba was the lush beach and romantic resort on Monkey Island. We climbed to the top of this peak for a gorgeous view of the surrounding karst mountains and made all your friends who visited Ha Long jealous!
Cat Ba and the rest of Vietnam can easily be enjoyed on US$30-50 per day. You’ll find dirt cheap meals and accommodation perfect for budget travellers, but also the opportunity to enjoy some luxury and go on a few excursions.
By Mariza of Hoponworld.
If you are visiting Indonesia, one island that you won’t want to miss is Gili T. The great thing about this gorgeous little island is that it’s one of those places where you could literally spend your days doing nothing, without ever feeling bored. But, if you do decide to tear yourself away from your hotel’s swimming pool, there are tons of awesome activities to enjoy! Enjoy lazy days swimming in the warm waters, snorkelling with turtles or scuba diving. Cycling around the island, bar hopping and feasting on the local treats at the nigh market are other popular must-do’s.
There are no paved roads or cars on the island, making it the perfect peaceful retreat from often crowded Bali. But that also makes getting around slightly harder. The only way to get around Gili T is by foot, horse carriage or bike. Luckily the island is not very big, even though it is the biggest of the three Gili’s. So if you do visit here, don’t bring too much luggage!
Gili T is not the cheapest island in Asia, but you’ll still find prices pretty reasonable. Then again, can you really put a price tag on one of the best islands in Asia?
By Mike Still of Live Travel Teach.
Gili Air is the perfect island for couples in Asia because you can always find a beach, a good meal and so much more! We loved that there are no motors on the island and enjoyed bicycling around or taking a romantic horse & buggy. You can see Balinese volcanoes towering above the western horizon while snorkeling with sea turtles. Better yet, book a diving tour and you might just watch one munch on some fresh coral or spot some other amazing life in this marine paradise.
Gili Air resembles Gili T just enough for you to enjoy some nightlife, but without going overboard. This really makes it a lovely destination for any couple or even a small family. In addition to the nightlife, be sure to check out some of the wonderful yoga studios, eat a delicious local curry and cool off in the afternoon sun with some ice cream!
The only drawback to any of the Gili’s is that they will cost you a little more than the average Indonesian destination. Plan a minimum of US$50 per day plus a little more if you want to go diving or snorkelling.
By Ruben Arribas & Rachel Pregunta of Gamin Traveler.
When you visit Singapore, you are bombarded with skyscrapers, technology and modernity. It is after all one of the most advanced countries in Asia. However, those looking for a change of pace might need something a little more low-key and natural than all Singapore has to offer. Fortunately, 45 minutes away lies Bintan, a wonderful getaway in Indonesia.
For only SG$45, you can travel to Bintan on a ferry to experience the unique adventures the island has to offer. You can discover the Sebung River’s wonders on an hour-long boat tour that takes you to the mangrove forest and other beautiful areas in the river. Active travellers will surely enjoy the land and water activities in Bintan Island, too. Enjoy activities like swimming and snorkeling or riding an ATV around the muddy course of Treasure Bay Bintan. Lagoi Bay Beach and the other gorgeous beaches of Bintan are also lovely places to visit and catch the sunset.
Bintan has a unique culture where fisherman villages thrive and the food is a mixture of all things Asian. This island is a vibrant yet underrated destination where US$50 a day can take you a long way.
By Mike Still of Live Travel Teach.
Java is my favorite Indonesian Island because of its two incredible volcanoes. Java is home to Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen and perfect for any adventure lover. Both volcanoes are within a half-day bus drive from the more popular Bali. You could see them back to back, but I’d recommend planning a few more days to properly enjoy this excursion. I found Java to be much cheaper than Bali. Especially if you’re willing to take public transit and be adventurous with your meals. I spent about US$30 per day and visited both volcanoes in 4 days.
Mount Bromo sits in the ancient Tengger Supervolcano with the extinct Mount Batok and distant Mount Semeru. Which means you can actually see three volcanoes from one spot! Head over at sunrise for an incredible view of the sand sea covered in clouds and maybe you too will hear the locals spontaneously break into the national anthem as the sun peaks over the eastern hills!
Mount Ijen should be a world wonder with its mystical blue fires coming out of the sulfuric gases. You’ve got to start hiking around midnight to catch this magic. But, even if you are there during the day, you’ll be pleased by the panoramic view of Ijen’s crater with a turquoise lake glimmering below you.
By Raymond Lowe of Hong Kong Fast Facts.
The dumb-bell shaped island of Cheung Chau is one of the few active fishing villages in Hong Kong. Both locals and overseas visitors visit it to enjoy a break from the big city.
Despite the small size of the island, it holds a range of sights and activities. There are two official beaches with lifeguards and several quieter unofficial ones dotted around the coastline if you want to beach-comb rather than swim.
Both ends of the island are covered in light forest and paths that make for great walks. On the southern hill, you’ll find Cheung Po Tsai Cave – the supposed hiding place of a 19th-century pirate. The story is probably untrue, but the walk to the cave is well worth the time. You’ll pass great views of the sea and rocks shaped into strange shapes by hundreds of years of wave action.
Back in the village, check out the historic Pak Tai Temple and then stroll the waterfront promenade lined with seafood restaurants to choose your dinner. Or just feast on the amazing variety of snacks which is one of the main draws for the Hong Kong locals.
Fast ferries cost US$5 and take 35 minutes to reach the island. Ferries depart from Pier 5 in the Central district of Hong Kong island.
By Anjali of Travel Melodies.
Modestly placed at the tip of India, Sri Lanka is much more than just a small island. Exotic beaches, historic temples, lively cities, and lush tea plantations – this little island has it all. The country is set to join the list of desired destinations in Asia since the civil war has ended.
There’s something attractively medieval, rustic and laid-back about Sri Lanka. The Old Dutch town of Galle with its colonial structures is hauntingly charming. Ella and Nuwara Eliya with their all shades of green and brown are truly beautiful. Bentota, Tangalle and Arugam Bay with their gorgeous sandy-shores are among the best beaches in Asia. Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Dambulla with their rich history are sure to intrigue you even if you aren’t a history geek.
It’s a great place to visit solo, as a couple and with kids. Hike or trek, visit the tea estates, feed the baby elephants, get up-close with friendly whales, play with turtles, collect sea-shells, relax on the beach, taste authentic seafood and enjoy water sports – Sri Lanka has so much to do and see. If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka with kids, be sure to check out the whale watching season and the best places to go whale watching in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is one of the budget-friendliest destinations in Asia. Cost of living is low and thus perfect for budget travellers. The best way to explore Sri Lanka is by train. Traveling by train is not only budget-friendly but also soul-friendly. The scenic train journeys offer views to die for.
We hope that this list will inspire you to visit Asia – especially these incredible islands. Have we missed any of your favourite island hopping spots in Asia? Let us know in the comments below.
By the way…
Need some advice on what to pack for your visit to the best islands in Asia? Or looking to travel with a carry-on only? Check out this great Southeast Asia packing list for more tips!
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