Like many a Hollywood star before it, Maya Bay, made famous in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster The Beach, has become a victim of its own success. Over the past five years, its blonde bombshell of a beach, circled by a curtain of wavy limestone mountains and kissed by dazzling jade-green waters, has attracted nearly 10 million people. But recently it was closed indefinitely to allow the marine life to recover from the effects of overtourism.
‘With so many long-tail and speed boats arriving every day, plus ferries pulling in for photo ops, we’ve seen the shallow corals dying off,’ said Klaus Thumm, long-time resident and owner of H2O Sportz Phuket. ‘On top of that, visitors are urinating in the sea and most of the boats use marine toilets, which they also dump into the water.’
Happily, Thailand — and its neighbours — have dozens of beautiful beaches worth seeking out. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites. Whichever new hot spot you hit, be responsible by removing all of your own rubbish, don’t abscond with seashells or sand and use an ocean-safe sunscreen such as All Good Sunscreen Butter (about Dh45) — no one wants a repeat of Maya Bay.
1. An Thoi Islands, Vietnam
The diamond-shaped island of Phu Quoc in the far south-western reaches of Vietnam flew under the tourist radar for years. Today much of its shimmering shores come with a construction site soundtrack and increasing beach traffic. But just off the south coast, a slice of Eden remains. Pack a picnic and hire a boat from Phu Quoc’s port to take you the mesmerising An Thoi Islands, a speckling of 15 isles, secluded coves and colourful coral reefs almost completely devoid of humans.
Fly Vietnam Airlines from Abu Dhabi to Phu Quoc via Bangkok, from about Dh2,900 return.
2. Khlong Rahan, Thailand
The island of Koh Kood on Thailand’s eastern seaboard is beautiful, which makes it a miracle that it has remained relatively untouched by tourism. More than a dozen beaches frame the island, each a vision of crystal waters, icy-white sands and tranquil tidal pools, but if you want to ensure the only footprints on the beach are yours, seek out Khlong Rahan. The only company you’re likely to have is the hermit crabs.
Fly Thai Airways from Dubai to Bangkok, about Dh2,300 return.
3. Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong
Three-quarters of Hong Kong is green land, home to bird-filled wetlands, mountainous parks, secret waterfalls and golden beaches. The finest of these is Tai Long Wan, a bow of fine sands and opal-green waters coiled in subtropical rainforest. It’s at the end of a seven-mile hike, so bring supplies. And if you don’t want to trek back, walk to neighbouring Ham Tin beach and jump on a speedboat to the seaside village of Sai Kung for about Dh70.
Fly Emirates Dubai to Hong Kong, about Dh3,000 return.
4. Sok San, Cambodia
You can always find a quiet spot on Sok San, also known as Southwestern Beach, which unravels across 7km on the island of Koh Rong. From shore, slip into an aqua wonderland of seahorses, diamond fish, goatfish and grouper. In the evening, bioluminescent plankton will flicker in a glitter-fest of light. The creatures are more sparkly the darker it is, so avoid a week around the full moon.
Fly Emirates and Cambodia Angkor Air from Dubai via Ho Chi Minh City to Sihanoukville, about Dh3,800 return.
5. Binh Lap, Vietnam
Naval base turned island idyll, Cam Ranh Bay, on Vietnam’s eastern flank, is pinch-me perfect with barely another person in sight. The entire bay is speckled with sensational island beaches, such as Binh Tien, Binh Hung and Nha Cu, but the most enchanting of them all is the secluded Binh Lap, more Seychelles than south-east Asia.
Fly Emirates from Dubai to Ho Chi Minh City, about Dh3,000 return.
6. Tanjung Rhu Langkawi, Malaysia
Tanjung Rhu is far and away the most beautiful beach on Langkawi: 3km of broad ivory sands fronted by a glassy aquamarine seascape punctuated with dramatic limestone karsts. A handful of high-end resorts, including the Four Seasons Langkawi, are set around this public beach, but day-trippers are few, giving the entire stretch the feel of a private escape. If you’re looking for something to do, swathes of shadowy mangrove forest frill its edges and make for fabulous kayaking.
Fly Emirates and Malaysia Airlines from Dubai to Langkawi via Kuala Lumpur, about Dh4,600 return.
7. Pink Beach Great Santa Cruz Island, Philippines
The Philippine archipelago is made up of 7,641 islands. Parakeet-green mangroves blended with baby-blue waters and salmon sands paint a fantasy backdrop at Pink Beach on Great Santa Cruz. The rosy hue is the result of billions of bits of red organ pipe coral eroding into tiny fragments. Visitor numbers are restricted (arrange entry through the local tourist board) and facilities are few, which makes it the perfect spot.
Fly Cebu Pacific Air from Dubai to Manila from about Dh1,600 return. Philippine Airlines operates five flights a day from Manila to Zamboanga City from about Dh560 return.
8. Don Daeng Island, Laos
Beaches don’t get much more secret than Don Daeng’s in the wilds of landlocked Laos, which only materialises in the November to April dry season as the Mekong river recedes. Recognised by the Unesco World Heritage Centre as a Cultural Landscape, the entire scene looks like something from a 19th-century watercolour painting; wide sandy banks, rickety bamboo bridges, monks puttering past in boats, rice fields swaying on the hills. The swimming is wonderfully cool and refreshing, but stick close to shore to avoid currents.
Fly Emirates via Bangkok from Dubai to Vientiane, about Dh3,600 return.
9. Tubkaak, Thailand
It’s only 20km along the coast from Krabi, but feels a world away from the hordes of tourists who descend there every year. White sand swirls along the shore, forming dipping pools and Insta-perfect sandbanks. Long-tail boats wrapped in rainbow-coloured ribbons bob along the luminous green Andaman Sea. Flag one down for a ride over to nearby Hong Island, where you’ll find a superb M-shaped beach and a secret lagoon in the rainforested interior.
Fly Thai Airways from Dubai to Krabi via Bangkok, about Dh2,900 return.
10. Pulau Tiga, Malaysian Borneo
A gorgeous 20-minute wind-in-your-hair boat ride away from the Sabah mainland lies a cluster of small islands that burst to the surface as mud volcanoes in the late 1800s. Two centuries later, they were made famous as the setting for the first series of the British and American versions of the reality TV show Survivor. And, while not exactly a secret, the island’s earthy beauty remains intact. There’s plenty of vibrant marine life – fan corals, parrotfish, green turtles – to keep snorkellers happy, while inland there are mud pools for a DIY spa.
Fly Emirates and Malaysia Airlines from Dubai to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur, about Dh2,800 return.
The Daily Telegraph