If you’re looking for an island getaway, there are literally countless options to choose from around Asia. For an Asian new comer (or even an old timer!), it can be a tad confusing. Our friends at Lightfoot Travel have singled out a few of their favorites and created this handy guide to family-fabulous islands in the region. Let’s go!
Cebu is the easiest island in the Philippines to get to from Hong Kong, and is a great option for those looking for a convenient weekend away or short break. Diving and snorkeling around the island are very good, and it’s very much a resort-focused island. While there are a few cultural sites you can see (temples, a Spanish fort and Magellan’s shrine to name a few), most likely you will spend your days lazing by the pool or beach at your hotel of choice!
Good for: Easy weekend getaways, spending your time in one resort.
Famous for its 4km-long White Beach, Boracay can be as lively or as laid back as you choose – it all depends on where you decide to stay. White Beach is divided into three stations: Station 1 is more upscale and quiet, enjoying the widest section of the beach. Station 2 is hectic, busy and full of bars and restaurants. Station 3 is the most recently developed section, and is quieter with quite a few backpacker hostels. If you’re looking to avoid White Beach entirely, Shangri-La Boracay is located a 25-minute drive away just around the peninsula and is absolutely pristine - for those looking to enjoy the quieter side of Boracay.
Good for: Pure white sand and turquoise water, with a little bit of nightlife in the evenings.
Quieter and more remote than the above two, Palawan is truly pristine and tranquilly beautiful. It is sparsely populated and sailing through the crystal-clear waters from one uninhabited island to the next is a remarkable experience. The resorts we recommend in Palawan are very exclusive, but they really are a step above and provide amazing bases to experience and explore the surroundings.
Good for: Diving, boating and experiencing a more serene side of the Philippines.
While Phuket is perhaps best known for its rowdier side, it is still much-loved by and able to cater to every type of traveller. Families can find their peace and quiet by staying on the quieter beaches, renting one of them many private villas that dot the island, or by venturing to some of the smaller surrounding islands such as Yao Noi or Naka – close enough to still be considered “Phuket”. The island has a sophisticated restaurant scene, there are plenty of excursions you can take to nearby isles, and there are of course a lot of entertainment options (don’t worry, many are very classy!) for parents in the evenings.
Good for: Private villas, restaurants and bars, convenient beach holidays.
Thailand’s alternative to Phuket, Koh Samui is smaller in size, less busy and a bit more upscale. The airport is owned by Bangkok Airways who have a monopoly on flights, making getting to and from the island more expensive than other Thai beach destinations. Therefore, the resorts are a tad more expensive and the whole scene is a lot less backpacker-ey. There are some amazing private villas around the island, which are a great option for groups of friends or large families travelling together, and provide excellent value for money. Delicious meals using the freshest of local ingredients prepared in-villa daily – divine!
Good for: Private villas, a quieter Thai island holiday.
A one-hour flight from Saigon, Phu Quoc is a little island located of the southern tip of Vietnam. It’s extremely laid back, on the quieter side, and very much a resort-focused island. Phu Quoc is known to have some of the best snorkeling in Vietnam, but from our experience while a boating day trip is pleasant, it’s nothing to write home about. Most restaurants are located within hotels and you won’t find many independent beachside dining spots or cafes. Overall, it’s a great spot to end a greater Vietnam holiday with a few days on the beach.
Good for: Adding a relaxing few days on the beach to the end of a wider Vietnam tour.
Located a one-hour flight from Saigon, we only really recommend Con Dao for one resort – Six Senses Con Dao. That said, it is a fantastic property and if you like rustic luxury combined with spa and wellness, this is the resort for you! Activities abound on Con Dao where cycling around the island is a popular activity, as are rainforest treks, fishing excursions, discovering local island life through village visits, and exploring the nearby islands. The turtle hatching season is from May to September which is always a big hit with the kiddies!
Good for: Those who’ve done Phuket and Bali, and are looking for new beach destinations, fans of Six Senses resorts.
Where to stay: Six Senses Con Dao
Bali is a predominantly Hindu island in the world’s largest Muslim country by population. It’s full of art and culture, stunning resorts and private villas, world-renowned surfing, and has a vibrant dining and nightlife scene. Bali’s regions each have their individual style and can provide very different types of experiences. Seminyak is very trendy and full of boutiques, bars and restaurants. Ubud is the cultural hub of the island with beautiful resorts, galleries and spas set amongst vibrant rice paddies. Uluwatu in the south is a surfer’s paradise, and also home to some of Bali’s most famous cliff side hotels. While Canggu provides easy access to Seminyak and is a bit more laidback with quirky cafes and boutique hotels.
Good for: Exclusive resorts and private villas, wellness retreats, great bars and restaurants.
Just a 25-minute flight from Bali, Lombok is a world apart. It is a lot more peaceful, less touristy, and is Muslim, making it a bit more conservative than its Hindu neighbour. The majority of resorts and villas are located on the north side of the island, just a 5-minute sail from the stunning Gili Islands, making snorkeling and diving day trips extremely convenient. There are numerous golf courses nearby and another popular activity is embarking on the 2 day/1 night trek up Mount Rinjani. Lombok is what Bali used to be 20 years ago, but due to the increase in direct flights from many Asian cities, it is fast developing and won’t be as quiet for long!
Good for: Day trips to the Gili Islands, climbing Mount Rinjani, those who have been to Bali and are looking for something quieter and less commercial
More like a country than an island that can summed up in a few lines, we will do our best! If you’re looking for real Indonesian culture and flavour, this is the place to go. The magnificent temple complex of Borobudur in Central Java is truly amazing and one of the island’s most important sites. Watching the sun rise over this 9th century archaeological wonder is definitely one to tick off your bucket list. You can go on a Candijero Village tour around the area that teaches you how to play gamelan (traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali), and how local fruits, vegetables and spices are farmed and harvested – a fascinating tour for all ages.
Good for: Culture, experiencing Borobudur, village visits, climbing Mount Merapi, art galleries.
Sri Lanka is likely one of our favourite islands in the world. It never ceases to amaze us just how varied the landscape is and how much there is to see and do on an island so small. Since the end of the civil war in 2009, the whole of the country is now open and safe for tourists to travel to. There is the Cultural Triangle that involves some of the finest archaeological wonders in the world, magical hill country full of old colonial hill stations and tea plantations, the untouched north that has just opened up to tourism, the endless stretches of beach that line the east and south coast, and the charming Dutch Galle Fort in the southwest. The Sri Lankan people are lovely, the food is fantastic, and it is very safe to travel around. Plus, Cathay Pacific has just announced direct flights to the country’s capital, Colombo, starting on October 27th – this island is now reachable in just over 5 hours!
Good for: Private villas provide a great meeting spot for families with members coming from Asia and Europe/America, one of the most scenic train rides in the world, beautiful beaches and amazing cuisine.
Malaysian Borneo can be divided more or less into two main regions: Sarawak and Sabah. Sarawak shows the more cultural side of Borneo, and it’s well worth spending a few nights in the charming riverside capital of Kuching. The Semanggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is the only place in Sarawak where you can find orangutans, and is well worth a visit. As is an overnight stay in a Headhunters Tribal Village – a truly unique experience where you can interact with the tribe and learn about their traditions, culture and way of life. Sabah is full of ancient primary rainforests, and you can stay right in the heart of the jungle that is abundant with wildlife. Highlights include the Danum Valley and the Kinabatangan River, where you can cruise down small inlets and spot the animals that regularly come down to drink by the river. Here, there is a very high chance of seeing orangutans in the wild, and kids love spotting the proboscis monkeys with their long, funny noses! Sabah is also famous for its Robinson Crusoe-style islands with some of the best diving in the world, and is a place where you can really get away from it all at the end of your trip.
Good for: Culture, wildlife, diving, doing more than just lying by the beach.
We like to call Langkawi a great year-round destination – rare around Southeast Asia where countries are usually plagued by one monsoon season or another throughout the year. The beaches on Langkawi are very beautiful and the resorts are spread out, meaning you don’t feel like you are packed like sardines along a tiny stretch of beach. Renting cars is popular if you’re looking to explore the island, but we find that most like to just kick back and enjoy their resort for the duration. Plus, the island is tax-free so parents will particularly appreciate the inexpensive beers!
Good for: Resort holidays, white sand, golf.
The epic island holiday, due to direct flights from Hong Kong, the Maldives has become a lot more accessible. Famed as a honeymoon destination, the island nation is now frequented a lot more by families with some great child-friendly resorts. With some of the clearest waters in the world it is a diver and snorkeler’s dream, with tons of other water sports also available at every resort. With so many resorts to choose from there really is something for every type of taste – barefoot luxury, eco-friendly, large and modern, small and boutique. The Maldives is also fantastic when combined with other destinations such as Sri Lanka and India.
Good for: Exclusive resorts, overwater villas, diving, crystal clear water.
While not our dream island destination of choice, Sanya, often referred to as “China’s Hawaii”, is a great option if you’re short on time and looking to get away somewhere different. Just over an hour from Hong Kong, the resorts on the island are lovely and while it can get crowded during public holidays and during the summer months, it is fairly easy to avoid the crowds.
Good for: Inexpensive and super convenient weekend beach getaways from Hong Kong.
Where to stay: Mandarin Oriental Sanya, Ritz Carlton Sanya