Where to next after The Beach?
With the iconic Maya Bay temporarily closed, Lee Cobaj selects 10 alternatives relatively untouched by tourism
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, as of last week, it’s 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 (£7.50) – no one wants a repeat of Maya Bay.
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.
The Holiday Place (020 7644 1770; holidayplace.co.uk) has seven nights staying at JW Marriott Phu Quoc from £1,099, B&B, including flights from Heathrow and transfers.
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 £15.
Bamboo Travel (020 7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk) offers five nights at Hotel Icon from £1,395, B&B, including flights from London with Cathay Pacific.
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. Lightfoot Travel (0203 950 5105; lightfoottravel. com) offers seven nights at Soneva Kiri from £3,611, B&B, including flights from Heathrow and private transfers.
SOK SAN CAMBODIA
You can always find a quiet spot on Sok San, also known as Southwestern Beach, which unravels across four miles (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.
Inside Asia (0117 244 3380; insideasiatours.com) has a 10-night Cambodia in Style tour, including four nights on Koh Rong, from £3,170. Flights not included.
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.
Red Savannah (01242 787 800; redsavannah.com) has seven nights at The Anam resort from £1,320, B&B, including flights from Heathrow with Vietnam Airlines.
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.
Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) flies from Gatwick to Manila from £600. Philippine Airlines operates five flights a day from Manila to Zamboanga City from £117 return. Double rooms at the Cityinn Hotel (cityinnhotel.weebly.com) start from £20, room only.
TANJUNG RHU LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA
Tanjung Rhu is far and away the most beautiful beach on Langkawi: two miles (3km) of broad ivory sands fronted by a glassy aquamarine seascape punctuated with dramatic limestone karsts. A handful of highend 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.
Wix Squared (0203 808 6383; wixsquared.com) offers seven nights at the Four Seasons Langkawi from £2,165, B&B, including private transfers and flights from London.
It’s only 12 miles (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.
Kuoni (0800 138 7195; kuoni.co.uk) offers seven nights at the Amari Vogue Krabi from £1,438, B&B, including flights from Heathrow.
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. Trailfinders (020 7084 6500; trailfinders.com) has five days in the Si Phan Don region from £744, including full-board and private transfers and guides. Flights not included.
PULAU TIGA MALAYSIAN BORNEO
A gorgeous 20-minute wind-in-yourhair boat ride 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.
Turquoise (01494 678 400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers a 14-night Borneo tour, including seven nights at the Borneo Eagle Resort, flights from London and private transfers, from £4,910.
ROUGH AND SMOOTHKayakers at Tai Long Wan in Hong Kong, above; a traditional boat at Sok San, Cambodia
BLOCKBUSTER SETTINGLeonardo DiCaprio in
DIVE RIGHT INKoh Kood in Thailand, left; Binh Lap, Vietnam, right