Behold! Our list of the best and worst beaches in South East Asia that we’ve actually visited and can personally vouch for. Needless to say, best/worst can be inherently subjective.
When researching for our RTW trip I spent a lot of time researching “the best” beach destinations. While “the best” is subjective, Conde Nast or Travel & Leisure have no problem printing out list after list of these beaches. After having the pleasure of spending the past 6 months around the Philippines, Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia, I’d say I’ve spend a fair amount of time in a bikini and would like to throw in my two cents.
Here’s what “BEST” means to me:
- Not crowded
- Not feeling unsafe to leave small things behind when I go to swim
- No one soliciting me to buy a necklace, get a massage, or take a surf lesson (or a damn whale shark tour)
- Clean water (jellyfish are attracted to pollution and in several places in SEA it’s un-swimmable)
The 3 Best Beaches in South East Asia
1. Entire West Coast of Koh Lanta, Thailand
Clean water, cool vibe and the perfect mix of Westerners and locals. This hipster paradise is the perfect place to come relax, put down your tie-dye sarong and sun bathe next to all the other beautiful people doing the same.
Without a nearby airport, Koh Lanta is a bit more off the beaten path compared to the beaches of Ao Nang or Phuket, so you can expect to run into tourists that are sticking around for a month compared to a quick weekend vacay.
2. Batu Bolong & Echo Beach, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
There may be a bit of bias in this selection. I’m writing this post with salt in my hair from just swimming here…
Bias or not, Echo Beach is a surfer’s paradise. After a short visit in Kuta, I can hardly believe that Echo Beach and Kuta Beach are in the same country, let within a few kilometers of each other. The Canggu area is a place to show off your ironic tattoos, flaunt your jean cut-offs or launch your organic cotton t-shirt line.
Canggu is cool. It’s WAY too cool for me so I put on extra bracelets, muster up what swagger I have, and hope that no one calls me out. The beach exudes the same too cool feel. Best part about this cool beach? No one running up to you yelling “transport? scooter? transport!?”
3. Otres Beach I & II, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
If Canggu is everything cool, Otres is everything chill. You’ll find special shakes, special pizza, or even special joints on some of the beach front menus here; somehow it all works and comes off as charming.
More than likely you’ll be served by someone with blonde dreadlocks who’s only just “found themselves”. Grab a bean bag chair and take in one of the most beautiful sunsets in Asia before planning your trip on a long boat for the next morning.
The 3 Worst Beaches in South East Asia
Now for the fun part:
1. Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
What an incredible disappointment. After 2 weeks staying north in Canggu (see above) we traveled down to hit a few big stores in the larger city of Kuta. If you’re Aussie you already know of this place (and may love it!) you may skip ahead.
The Kuta area is the party scene on the island – and – I mean, I like to party- but this list is all about the beaches. Simply put: Kuta beach was the absolute worst place we visited. Picture yourself trying to relax on nice white sand while a line of people yell at you.
“TRANSPORT?! SURF LESSON TODAY? SURF LESSON TOMORROW? YOU WANT SURF? Marijuana? I SELL YOU UMBRELLA.COLD BEER. SURF TODAY?!”
Tim and I didn’t do anything more than walk from the road where we parked our bikes down to put our toes in the water and then back up to the bikes. It was the most absurd experience.
Though there were swarms of people surfing, swimming and sun bathing, I can’t even imagine being someone who was there on a relaxing holiday (there are nearby hotel chains like Sheraton and Best Western). All that looks like to me (and to the hecklers) is: you spent money on an umbrella, you’re surely likely to: buy a surf lesson from me. Let me massage you- right now. Buy and wear this necklace- right now. I could go on. You get it. Head north.
2. Nha Trang, Vietnam
“Velcome to Nuh Trung”. Imagine Ivan Drago from Rocky 4 saying that.
Welcome to “little Moscow”. Nha Trang, Vietnam was one of the most interesting places we visited in our travels. While appearing on many travel lists as “one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam” this crazy small tourist city on the East Coast may have been beautiful at one point, but wouldn’t be described as such now. I’ve never actually been to Cancun, but I would have to describe this as the “Cancun of Vietnam…for Russians”.
There were insanely “hyped up” partiers dominating the space at our roof-top pool, and way too much skin flopped all over the too-small beach chairs. It was certainly a sight to see – a ton of fun to experience with other friends, but not a must-see destination on you beach paradise shopping list.
3. Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines
Alona Beach is hard to understand. I really don’t want this place to be on my list. I loved all the islands we visited in this spectacular country. Much of this country’s beauty is not beaches but the beautiful limestone cliffs found in the Palawan area. If you’re shopping for locations, don’t leave out El Nido or Coron.
Alona beach is at the tip of the island of Panglao which you may know as the touristy area of Bohol. While famous for diving, if you’re not here to dive you won’t be happy about your beach-lounging options. The coral -laden water line almost approaches the crowded beach-front shopping area. Here you will certainly have options to immediately book a tour for ‘WHALE SHARKS” (do it in Oslob), have a “MASSAGE!” or be encouraged to have a meal.
While you can still enjoy a $5 fresh caught fish dinner on the beach, you will still be politely shoeing away adorable 7 year old boys trying to serenade your table. This has a huge downside though.
Children can often end up making more than their parents with serenades or straight up begging. Parents will sometimes keep their kids out of school to earn more money this way, and thus, a vicious circle begins for the kids.
So with Alona Beach, come here to dive, check out the fun bars, eat at the amazing local restaurants, check out the chocolate hills of Bohol. Then, book another flight up to Borocay if you’re looking for sand.
Isn’t your name Allison? Yes. My maiden name is Finney. Most people call me by a nickname. You can call me Fin.
FAVORITE PLACES: Dubai, Argentina, Santorini and Croatia.
FAVORITE TRAVEL MEMORY: Kids in rural Philippines jumping and shouting HELLO whenever they saw two awkwardly tall white people trying to keep up with them on a scooter.