Asia is a vast and sprawling land, providing keen explorers with untamed natural landscapes, ornate architectural wonders, bustling cities and deep-rooted traditions that are lovingly explained by friendly locals. While each region differs from the other, one constant stays: that some of the best islands in Asia have the pockets of sun and serenity that so many travellers are seeking. These are the places where serene turquoise waters pool their way across the continent's edges and islands, lapping warm sandy beaches in the process. While rolling, vegetation-rich hillsides act as a continuous backdrop, supplying travellers with a sanctuary and escape from the hubbub of the city. Of course, it can be tricky to narrow down the thousands of islands found here to just a few, but we’ve given it a good go, with the six best islands in Asia we think you need to see.
- Bali, Indonesia
- The Maldives
- Munroe Island, India
- Hokkaidō, Japan
- Koh Yao Islands, Thailand
- Naoshima, Japan
When we think of the best islands in Asia it’s near impossible to miss Bali off the list, a gem among the world’s largest archipelagic state, Indonesia. This bohemian hub of scared temples, hidden waterfalls, lush green rice paddies and secluded beach spots has enthralled and captivated countless travellers, and rightly so. Bali lures everyone from surfers to sunbathers to famous beach spots like Seminyak and Canggu. Whether you’re after slower-paced ocean adventures, the chance to go diving over colourful corals or simply some relaxation and recuperation (with accompanying cocktails), this is an island that offers something for all. Those seeking a more secluded spot can find solace in Uluwatu or further north along the sleepy shores of Amed. Both have equally breath-taking coastlines and luxury resorts to ensure you really relax and unwind in this Indonesian slice of paradise. It doesn’t have to be all beach and no play however, as you can immerse yourself in the traditions and laid-back Balinese lifestyle by heading to the island’s cultural heart: the town of Ubud where you can eat, explore and escape.
This might be cheating given that the Maldives is made up of nearly 1,200 islets (with over a 100 to choose from) but when discussing the best islands in Asia, a holiday in Maldives feels an obvious choice for an unrivalled luxury escape. This scattering of islands dots its way through the depths of the Indian Ocean and promises soft white sand beaches, an underwater world illuminated blue and a plentiful catch of fresh seafood on your return to shore. You’ve likely seen the bungalows rising from the calm translucent waters, but knowing which one to stay in, with so many options to rest your head, can be tricky. We recommend Niyama for an intimate setting, Amilla Fushi for a foodie haven and Baros for shimmering waters and diving galore. Or, for all your laidback luxury needs (with an emphasis on sustainability) a trip to Muravandhoo atoll is a must. The islands’ resorts have been built sympathetically to the coral, snaking their way around the flora and fauna to avoid disturbance. It’s certainly a tropical getaway you won’t forget.
The raw beauty of Munroe Island in India might just capture your heart. This collection of eight islets is a delta formed where the River Kallada joins the Ashtamudi Lake in Kollam. It’s a hidden Keralan secret, with whispers of a slower pace of life and appreciation for the natural world. Canoe your way through the narrow twisting canals, as the large-leafed palms overhead wave you onwards, confirming that this is a worthy addition to the best islands in Asia. Journeying deeper into the village reveals the locals’ livelihood of coconut farms, paddy and banana cultivation, and rubber and spice plantations, as well as how the rising water levels and changing ecological landscape are impacting this. Munroe Island could be completely submerged underwater by 2050, making a trip here to appreciate this natural paradise and meet the people that make it the haven it is even more poignant and impactful.
Unlike the other destinations making the cut for best islands in Asia, the Japanese oasis and northernmost island Hokkaidō can offer travellers a slightly different experience, especially come wintertime. The colder months see large blankets of snow coat the wide-open spaces of this rather large island. Cold winds blow in frosty temperatures from Siberia and with it, skiers and snowboarders from all over the world, who flock here to snake their way down the light and powdery runs, with plenty of remote off-piste possibilities too. It’s not all glove-wearing and snow sports though, as the thawing begins and primeval forests, alpine wildflowers and steaming hot springs bubble into life. Proving this is a location worth journeying to all year round, no matter your preferred season you can be sure that they’ll be walks, cycles and gentle strolls to take in all the scenery on offer.
Swap the glitz and glamour of the beach clubs near the shores of Thailand's lively Phuket in search of something a little more authentic and travel to the Koh Yao Islands. Here you’ll find empty sandy coastlines and adventures that take you off the beaten track, in a spot that feels far removed from the tourist buzz of Thailand’s southern region. Instead, quaint fishing villages and eco-chic stays (promoting greener travel and holidaying) line the few paved roads where guests are encouraged to explore on foot, bike or boat. This decidedly low-key location stitches together rice paddies, deserted beaches and rubber plantations (admittedly that last one might not be a priority for a holiday) but with its eclectic amenities comes a clear identity. One that’s continued to shape this (direct translation) ‘small long island’ into the humble and tranquil destination that’s worth adding to your itinerary.
Would it be an Original Travel best islands in Asia list if we didn’t sneak another Japanese entry in? This time we’re ditching the snow boots and picking up the paintbrush as we journey to Naoshima. A once remote and rather sleepy island town in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea that became rejuvenated after an art-loving Japanese businessman’s vision came to fruition. Now it’s any art lover's paradise, with traditional fishing villages (Miyanoura and Honmura), architecture by Tadao Ando that brings the outside in and countless colourful art galleries and installations to ponder and observe. After a full submersion into the world of all things art and design, you can stroll along the sandy beaches, basking in a warm, almost Mediterranean climate. This laid-back community feels rustic and rural, worlds away from the neon-lit busyness of Japan’s larger citied regions, making it the perfect spot to explore.