Top 10 luxury beach resorts in Southeast Asia
The idyllic beaches of Southeast Asia have drawn many a holidaymaker over to these shores, seeking solitude, sun, sea and sand.
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Over the decades, cookie-cutter resorts have cropped up along coastlines ruined by overtourism, and have destroyed much of the serene hillsides that accompanied the beaches, and in turn the beaches themselves. A handful of luxury properties have ensured that the legacy of paradise lives on with careful preservation and selection of location, thereby offering Southeast Asia’s best luxury beach resorts.
Below are Southeast Asia’s top ‘private’ beaches and the beach resorts that accompany them, split by region.
The Philippines hosts arguably the best beaches in the world. Although more popular for party destinations such as Cebu and Boracay (though both destinations also have their own slices of heaven if you look for them), idyllic destinations such as El Nido and Coron (both a part of the Palawan province) have gained traction in recent years due to their sensational surrounds, limestone karst lagoons and long stretches of coastline.
“Private island” only hints at the bliss that is Amanpulo. Set on Pamalican Island, about 100 kilometres off the coast of Palawan, the softest, whitest, most powdery sand we have ever encountered forms the coastline that circumnavigates the island. With a beach to surpass the finest of beach destinations such as the Maldives, Seychelles, Caribbean and more, this little-known slice of heaven, accessible by an easy 70-minute twin-propeller ride from Manila, is only a short trip from Asian transport hubs such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and more. Guests stay in ‘casitas’, modelled after local dwellings, with most of these situated on the beach, while also having the option to stay in privately owned (these are for sale) beach-side villas with pools ranging from one- to four-bedrooms. Honestly, if you just want THE most spectacular beach ever (but want all the comforts of a luxury resort), forget everything else, just go here.
Read our review of Amanpulo here
Beaches and Thailand almost go hand-in-hand. From the road-accessible Hua Hin to the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui, the country has long been visited for its beaches, many of which are often featured in Hollywood feature films like James Bond. But rapid development has meant that finding those private beach resorts has become increasingly difficult, yet it does exist…
There are plenty of great beaches and beach resorts around Thailand, two of our favourites being The Racha (soft, white-sand beach on a small island with great snorkeling) and Rayavadee (golden-sand beach with a dramatic limestone karst setting), but unfortunately, as all beaches in Thailand are strictly public, and since neither The Racha nor Rayavadee have a sheltered cove or bay (one way to get around a ‘public beach’ access) and are in a popular destination hotspot, both can get very crowded due to boat tours that run in the area and so, with great consideration, sadly do not make this list (but be sure to check them out if you don’t mind the daytrippers!).
Koh Kood, a paradisical island in the quiet Gulf of Thailand, is the country’s fourth largest island but also one of its least densely populated, with only 2,500 locals, and barely any tourists. A few small boutique and locally owned resorts and inns and homestays dot the coastline (thankfully, no big resort chains on the island), barely visible from the air as you fly in from Bangkok on Soneva’s charter flight, which lands on a private airstrip nearby. Indeed, from the air, the island resembes more lush jungle with a small beach or two. Soneva Kiri’s tented wooden villas sprawl over a peninsula on the even quieter northwestern coast, with no visible development north of the resort. The resort’s 29 villas are among the largest in Asia, from the entry-level villa 1-bedroom Bayview Pool Suite, starting at a very generous 464 sqm/4,994 sq ft, to the massive 6-bedroom residence coming in at nearly 3,000 sqm (29,928 sqm/31,51 7sqft). Some villas even feature their own private beach access. But as impressive as the villas are, guests really come to the island as much for the serene setting, the various island excursions and most importantly, the beaches. The resort runs a private beach club just north of the resort on North Beach, with soft sands and azure waters. Soneva also used to lay claim to a more spectacular beach on the south, aptly named South Beach, but the beach is now public access, arguably the best beach on the island. Thankfully, although there are no more Soneva facilities on South Beach, the resort’s wooden boat can still take you there (and also to other coastal parts of the island, or around the gulf for 7 days if you wish!)
Along with the Philippines, Indonesia might house Southeast Asia’s finest beaches, which, as the world’s largest archipelago with an estimated 17,000 islands, should come as no surprise. Despite not being in the top ten countries worldwide in terms of land area, Indonesia enjoys the world’s third largest coastline as a result of its islands. Just like the Philippines, the archipleago is perhaps best known for one destination – Bali – which has suffered from mass tourism (although regional Bali is still very beautiful). Most of Indonesia’s most pristine beaches are still out of reach (or are not accompanied by a resort) and are best accessed sailing around the islands aboard a yacht or on a liveaboard, but a few resorts do offer a glimpse into the marvel that is this equatorial country that stretches from the Andaman Sea near Malaysia to Papua New Guinea, and from southern Philippines to northern Australia.
Bawah Reserve, Anambas Islands
A four-hour journey east of Singapore brings you to the Riau Archipleago, and to Bawah Reserve, a private reserve made up of six islands and 13 beaches. The journey is long, but the wait is worth it when you see the group of islands peek out. This Robinson Crusoe-esque luxury resort features 35 villas on the hill, beach and overwater on a single island. This leaves the other islands (except one, which is currently undergoing a revamp into a private island with six villas) for private excursions, water sports and private beach picnics.
Read our review of Bawah Reserve here
Notoriously difficult to get to (domestic flight from Bali, followed by a 90-minute drive to the resort – although there are helicopter options available, either from the domestic airport or from Bali itself), the island of Sumba has gained popularity in the last decade thanks largely to Nihi, a remote resort focused on sustainability, eco-tourism and community outreach, and has won multiple ‘Best Hotel of the Year’ awards, often described as being ‘on the edge of wildnerness’. The waters are generally more surfer’s paradise (one of the world’s best surf breaks) than calm and soothing, but there’s a full gamut of unique sea-side experiences available on-site including swimming with the horses that frequently gallop along the beach. To top it off, the resort also combines well as a stopover with a liveaboard cruise through Indonesia’s most spectacular regions including Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat.
Almost all the resorts featured here use the words ‘white sand’ or ‘golden sand beaches’ to describe the colour of the sand. And most readers would be shocked at the inclusion of a resort from popular Bali, where the southern Bukit Peninsula (Jimbaran, Uluwatu and Nusa Dua) and neighbouring Denpasar, Seminyak and Kuta are known for overcrowded beach clubs, parties and nightlife featuring regional and international DJs. But Amankila, on Bali’s quieter north-eastern shore, bucks that trend – it is home to one of the more unique beaches on this list: glistening volcanic black sand made from the remnants of nearby active volcano Mount Agung. Although a relatively small 400-metre long beach, it is one of Bali’s most private and best beaches (in itself a feat!), accentuated by the best beach club we’ve ever seen: set in a small rolling valley in between two hills, encased by coconut trees and featuring a 40-metre long pool by the restaurant. The black sand (surprisingly soft) shimmers like diamonds in the sun (but beware! It gets VERY hot), and the beach club extends to the seaside offering multiple private bales and sunloungers shaded with vegetation to provide maximum privacy (disturbed only by the ships in the distance), and serviced by Amankila’s most loving family. Amankila actually is as much an beach resort as it is a jungle resort that offers hiking and cultura excursions in the vicinity, but its beach club alone propels it to this list.
Read our 2019 review of Amankila here
A narrow but long country winding along the South China Sea, Vietnam enjoys 3,600 kilometres of coastline. Popular for its mix of local Vietnamese, French colonial and American influences, and more commonly associated with its hectic cities, culture and food than pristine beaches, the country has only relatively recently started opening up to tourism which explains its slow rise despite enviable stretches of coast and a myriad of islands.
Six Senses Con Dao, Con Dao
Although the islands of Con Dao have a dark past (served as a prison island for political prisoners during the French colonial era, and later, the Saigon regime), its present and future has more in common with nature and stunning scenery. Hosting the 50 one- to four-bedroom villas on a stretch of soft sand sits the Six Senses Con Dao resort, stylised in the signature Six Senses rustic element, but each comes with a private pool and enviable views; the perfect complement to a serene beach. In continuing with Six Senses’ commitment to an eco-friendly paradise, the resort also sells ‘crystal water’ (mineral water), the proceeds of which provide supplies to building a mineral water supply for children of the Con Dao primary school.
Cambodia isn’t a destination particularly renowned for its beaches as the country enjoys a very limited coastline, but more beach resorts are starting to open up in the south on islands off ports and shores, typically easiest accessed via the town of Sihanoukville (which can be accessed by flights from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as by international destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Bangkok and more).
The Royal Sands Koh Rong, Koh Rong
Just a short ferry ride away from the pier at Sihanoukville is the quiet island of Koh Rong. The Royal Sands Koh Rong, with its 67 Ocean View, Beach Front and Pool Villas, fronts a 550-metre long beach that may be one of Southeast Asia’s finest. The key reason for the inclusion of The Royal Sands Koh Rong is, that in addition to being a pretty spectacular boutique resort, the type that we at The Suite Life just LOVE, is it offers something the other key resorts near Sihanoukville can’t lay claim to: arguably one of Cambodia’s most spectacular beaches.
Malaysia might be rare within Southeast Asia in that the country’s better known beaches and islands (apart from Kinabalu in Sabah) are generally quite remote or less frequented – among them Rawa Island, Tioman Island, Redang Island, Perhentian Island, Sipadan Island – and are more associated with snorkeling, diving and crystal clear waters than party central. Unfortunately, none of these beaches or islands have a ‘world-class resort’ to accompany them (although Batu Batu on Tengah Island – a relatively reasonably priced private island resort – is worth checking out!). There is, however, one that does…
The Datai Langkawi is unique on our list because it is actually renowned for being set within the heart of an ancient rainforest featuring an intricate system of mangroves and an incredible ecosystem, rather than on the beachfront: the main resort, hosting most of the suites, is set 300 metres back from the beach in an elevated lush jungle setting, and the villas are mostly scattered around the rainfores, some just above a creek that runs through the resort. However, the Datai Bay Beach is a short buggy ride away and has been rated by National Geographic as one of the top 10 beaches worldwide. The Datai Langkawi features a private 1.5 kilometre long beach that’s shared with just one other resort (The Andaman, a Luxury Collection property) just west of The Datai Langkawi and its beach club. The resort also has its own boat, Naga Pelangi, a 30-metre traditional wooden Malaysian junk schooner that offers incredible daytime excursions or sunset trips. The idyllic diving Thai islands of Koh Lipe, Koh Ra Wi and Koh Adang are only a short ride away, best accessed by an overnight liveaboard or yacht. The resort, built and opened in 1994, recently added one- and two-bedroom beach villas which offer the ultimate beach experience, and also re-opened in 2018 following an extensive renovation.
Due to only recently opening up as a tourist destination, Myanmar isn’t a destination where one immediately thinks of a beach despite a long coastline, but in the country’s south, just north of Thailand, the Myeik or Mergui Archipleago sticks out like a sore thumb in its untapped potential. Similar in physical attributes to Thailand’s Krabi and Phi Phi region with otherworldly lagoons and karsts dominating the landscape, but more remote, less accessible and less frequented, we predict that the Mergui will be come one the region’s next ‘must gos’.
Wa Ale Island Resort, Myeik Archipelago
Wa Ale Island Resort features just 14 treetop villas and tented beach villas set within Lampi Marine National Park, surrounded by an ecologically diverse marine ecosystem and a lush jungle, and overlooking majestic rock formations over a private golden beachfront. The resort is not the easiest to reach (requiring at least a 1.5 hour speedboat ride from a pier, which in itself is not particularly easy to get to, requiring multiple stopovers), which makes being there all the more stunning. As one of the pioneers of luxury in Myanmar, the resort looks to pave the way for others – 20% of the revenue goes towards the Lampi Foundation which invests heavily in maintaining the delicate balance of nature and the resort’s stunning eco setting, along with local culture.
LIVEABOARDS, CRUISES AND YACHTS
Okay, this one isn’t strictly a resort. We’ve mentioned liveaboards, cruises and yachts a few times. Let’s face it, with archipelagos featuring multiple islands and islands covering varying landscapes, the best way to actually explore many of these is by taking a liveaboard, a small/boutique cruise or a private yacht charter. Most cruises run on a strict schedule and cabins can be booked individually. Liveaboards tend to run scheduled charters with select routes (especially common for Raja Ampat and Komodo National Park and the Indonesian region) but mostly as private hire only, and for an additional fee it may be possible to create your own itinerary and charter your own course, in cooperation with the captain and crew. For example, taking the cruise up from Langkawi to Phuket, or for the even more adventuruous and if time allows, all the way north to the Myeik Archipelago, would offer a full experience of the Andaman Sea. Yachts will generally give you complete flexibility anyway.
Like with hotels and resorts, but perhaps even more so, it can be confusing to know which liveaboard, cruise or yacht is the right fit for you and your party – do get in touch with us for assistance. Here are some liveaboards, cruises and yachts we love: