Four remote paradises in Southeast Asia you need to visit before the crowds get there
Avoiding gaggles of tourists at otherwise beautiful locations is becoming increasingly difficult, but it’s not impossible. We’ve picked four of Southeast Asia’s untainted gems where the peace remains relatively undisturbed
With anti-tourism protests hitting Barcelona and Venice recently, and visitor restrictions starting to crop up in other tourist-friendly destinations – you can’t use a selfie stick in certain parts of Milan during summer any more – the appetite for discovering quieter, more remote locations is on the rise.
Southeast Asia offers a multitude of such spots that are just waiting to be explored. Here are some places that remain relatively untainted by tourism and are well worth making the effort to get to – for now, at least.
Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar
Myanmar is full of idyllic, isolated destinations. One of its real gems is the southern Myeik Archipelago. While many of the 804 dazzling islands remain out of bounds, a handful have started welcoming tourists to their powder white sandy shores.
Lampi Island doubles as a nature reserve (Lampi Island Marine National Park) and is home to an abundance of rare flora and fauna, as well as coral reefs. Barking deer, flying lemurs, leatherback turtles, flying foxes, pythons and two elephants are among the wildlife found in the island’s dense jungle or swimming in the surrounding Andaman Sea. The island also holds a special place in the hearts of the moken – native sea gypsies – who affectionately call it Mother Island.
Getting there: Cathay Dragon flies between Hong Kong and Yangon. From there, fly to Kawthaung, from which the island is a two-hour boat trip away.
When to go: October to May.
Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
The crowds might flock to the island of Koh Rong, but those in the know head to neighbouring Koh Rong Samloem.
This island is proper postcard material: stretching white shores and crystal clear waters are the epitome of a tropical island paradise. It is home to a smattering of small guest houses and beach shacks, but for those unwilling to sacrifice modern comforts, a slice of semi-luxury can be found at Lazy Beach, the only resort on the west side of the island..
Lazing in a hammock on the beach or exploring life underwater are the main activities you want to get involved in. For those wanting to explore, the dense jungle that hugs the shoreline is full of interesting flora and fauna. A few thin tracks snake through the trees, with some better marked than others. You are advised to wear covered shoes, not flip flops.
Getting there: Hongkong Airlines and Cathay Dragon fly between Hong Kong and Phnom Penh. From there, take a taxi or bus to Sihanoukville (five to seven hours), then a speedboat to Koh Rong Samloem via Koh Rong (one hour).
When to go: October to May.
Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
The chain of 16 islands that make up the Con Dao archipelago are paradise. Boasting azure waters, soft sand, coral reefs, lush mangroves and tropical jungle, the mysterious islands are famed for their striking natural beauty. Con Son is the largest, but while visitors there today relish their stunning surroundings, it was once known as Devil’s Island and was a hell for political prisoners banished there between 1862 and 1975.
French colonists sent prisoners to the island to live in horrific conditions. Later, Vietnam’s POWs were shipped there to be shackled in claustrophobic concrete pits covered with steel bars – the infamous “tiger cages” of the time. Remnants of this history stud the otherwise idyllic island, which feels a million miles away from the bustling mainland.
Visit soon though – Con Son’s popularity is rising, with several major hotel development projects on the horizon. Plans are also underway to start a high-speed ferry to the islands from Vung Tau.
Getting there: Hongkong Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific fly to Ho Chi Minh. From there you can catch a flight to tiny Con Dao Airport (one hour).
When to go: October to May
Vieng Xai, Laos
While most visitors to Laos head to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, the luscious landscapes found in the north of the country are not to be missed. Vieng Xai is one such place, in the north-eastern province of Hua Phan close to the Vietnamese border.
Flanked by dramatic karst limestone mountains and emerald-coloured paddies, the area served as the headquarters of the former Pathet Lao communist political movement and is steeped in history.
During the country’s “Secret War” of the 1960s and early ’70s, the caves that litter the area doubled as hideouts to shelter from heavy American bombing campaigns. Until they were opened in 2007, the caves remained off limits to the world. Taking a tour of the caves is a must, as is exploring the breathtaking, rugged landscape that rolls towards the horizon.
Getting there: is time-consuming. Hahn Air and Bangkok Airways fly to Luang Prabang indirectly from Hong Kong; from there, a bus to Vieng Xai takes 15 hours.
When to go: October to April.