Asia’s hidden beaches

With their laid-back vibe, tropical charm and lesser crowds, these are the rising beach stars of tomorrow. Here are TTG Asia‘s picks of the region’s best under-the-radar spots

Scarborough Beach, Australia
A favourite swim and surf spot among locals, Perth’s Scarborough Beach will soon become a tourist gem thanks to a A$100 million (US$74.3 million) redevelopment plan.

Located on Western Australia’s Sunset Coast, 15 minutes north of Perth, the centrepiece of the redevelopment will be a A$26 million heated pool comprising eight 50m lanes, four 25m lanes and a separate leisure pool. Slated to open in early 2018, the pool will also be equipped with “extensive lights” for night-time swimming.

There will also be beachfront boardwalks, lookouts, picnic shelters, cafes, bars, retail outlets, and a Town Square for markets, food trucks and special events.

A range of accommodation options, from hostels to the high-rise 4.5 star-rated Rendezvous Hotel, are available.

“We’re very excited about this redevelopment,” said Sylvia Mills, founder of Luxury Outback Tours in Perth. “Scarborough has always been an iconic place with its white beach and crystal clear water.”

Watch out for Pinky’s Eco Retreat and Beach Club on Rottnest Island, 18km off Perth’s coastline. The property will offer island “glamping” in summer 2017/18, in the form of 29 beachfront luxury tents, 10 two-bedroom family tents and 35 budget-friendly tents.

The retreat is part of other developments on the car-free island, including a new resort, spa, golf course and function centre for up to 400 people. – Adelaine Ng

Desaru Coast, Malaysia
At this classic Malaysian beach town in south-eastern Johor, Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels’ (TAR&H)

plan to transform 1,580ha of the land into a premium integrated destination resort, is expected to widen its appeal beyond the domestic and Singaporean markets.

Phase 1 has seen the opening of The Els Club Desaru Coast – comprising the Ocean Course (opened September 2016) and Valley Course (opened May 2017) – plus waterfront F&B and entertainment outlets, and a conference centre.

In addition, the Els Club Desaru Coast comprises two championship golf courses with 45 holes in total. The 27-hole Ocean Course was designed by four-time major champion Ernie Els, while the 18-hole Valley Course was co-designed by Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

Raaj Navaratnaa, general manager of Johor-based New Asia Holiday Tours & Travel, said: “Currently, Desaru Coast attracts Indian and Asian FITs who are keen on soft adventure and nature activities. Its close proximity to Singapore is another attraction as tourists can combine a beach stay in Desaru with a day trip, or overnight, in Singapore.”

Watch out for Launching by end-2017 is the 365-room Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, located adjacent to Desaru Coast Adventure Water Park (currently under construction). Also coming up are the Anantara Desaru Coast Resorts & Villas, Aman Resorts & Villas and The Westin Desaru Coast Resort. – S Puvaneswary

Phu Quoc, Vietnam
While resorts are quickly rising on the 20km stretch of Long Beach and the west side of Phu Quoc, simple island life can still be found on its east coast, with its reefs perfect for diving, calm bays for kayaking, and quaint fishing villages and beach shacks serving up fresh seafood.

There, Star Beach, known locally as Bai Sao, is the island’s prized beach, said Shane Ngu, general manager of Vietnam Designer Tours.

“Phu Quoc is fast becoming developed, which can put some people off. But it still has a lot of charm and you can find seclusion and tropical beaches, which make it the perfect getaway,” he added.

Watch out for The debut of the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa in March 2017 has significantly raised the destination’s luxury credentials. Designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley, it has 244 guestrooms, five F&B outlets, a gym, spa and 1,100m2 of meeting space. – Marissa Carruthers

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Lying off Myanmar’s southern coast is the Mergui (or Myeik) Archipelago, comprising more than 800 pristine islands that have remained untouched until recently despite its proximity to the Thai border.

Boasting white beaches, vibrant marine life and home to the Moken people – or sea gypsies – the archipelago is touted as South-east Asia’s best kept secret.

Janis Vougioukas, general manager of Burma Boating, said: “The Mergui Archipelago is just opening up to tourism and people come to explore remote islands.”

The archipelago is now flagging up on visitors’ radars, with a string of sailing trips touring the islands, as well as more land accommodation springing up, such as on Nyaung Oo Phee Island.

Watch out for Burma Boating, which has been operating in the area since the late 1990s, recently added four yachts, including the luxurious new flagship Clan VI to their fleet. The company also added a seven-day itinerary that takes in more of the archipelago’s islands. – Marissa Carruthers

Koh Chang, Thailand
Mu Koh Chang National Park, located in eastern Thailand near the Cambodian borders, comprises 52 islands including Koh Chang – the second-largest island in the country after Phuket.

Panika Kongprasert, owner and sales manager of Changtour explains that Koh Chang is fast gaining popularity among Thai and foreign tourists alike as it is just 300km from Bangkok, and cheaper than the many famous beaches and islands in the country’s south.

“Koh Chang is so attractive because there is a wide range of activities available, such as elephant riding, snorkelling and firefly watching,” Panika said.

Watch out for The new ferry service connecting Sattahip and Koh Chang was recently launched in May, providing an alternative means for tourists staying in Pattaya or those landing in U-tapao Airport to get to the island. – Siriarpa Kamjan

Belitung, Indonesia
An island on the east coast of Sumatra, Belitung has caught travellers’ attention since Laskar Pelangi – a film based on a book of the same title – was shown in 2008.

Known for its unique granite rock formations scattered on land and in the sea, Belitung’s most popular destination is Tanjung Kelayang, a 4km-long stretch of white-sand beach in the north. The southern part is home to mangrove forests, while the small islands south of Belitung offer shipwrecks for divers to explore.

In addition, Belitung is part of the tourism ministry’s 10 “New Bali” destinations, with a Special Economic Zone set up to include the development of a 90-room hotel and 30 villas, set to open in 2018. As well, an 18-hole golf course broke ground in September 2016 and is expected to open this year.

Bambang Sugiono, director of Gajah Bali Tour, said: “Belitung has the potential as it has beautiful beaches, and Chinese travellers like water sports and activities.”

Watch out for H.A.S. Hanandjoeddin International Airport, 40km from Tanjung Kelayang, extending its runway from 2,200 to 2,500m as it gears up to receive international flights in the near future. – Mimi Hudoyo

Port Dickson, Malaysia
Already popular among locals due to its proximity to Kuala Lumpur, a new crop of mid to upscale hotels targeted at the international market is now raising Port Dickson’s profile among a wider clientile.

New hotels include Avillion Port Dickson, featuring 258 rooms, chalets and villas; Avillion Admiral Cove, a waterfront 316-room hotel with meeting facilities and a marina; the 200-key Corus Paradise Resort Port Dickson; Lexis Hibiscus Port Dickson, offering 639 rooms and overwater villas; and the 317-villa Grand Lexis Port Dickson.

“The quality of these hotels have made it possible to sell the destination to foreign markets. In the past it was mainly budget and three-star properties catering mainly to locals,” said Arokia Das, senior manager, Luxury Tours Malaysia.

Said Steve Woon, senior vice president – sales marketing of Lexis Hotel Group: “We are seeing a lot of honeymoon couples, meetings and incentive groups, and upmarket leisure tourists mainly from China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Middle East and Indonesia.”

Watch out for Malaysian prime minister Najib Abdul Razak announced in May the creation of Malaysia Vision Valley (MVV) – a world-class metropolis in the Negeri Sembilan State (which includes Port Dickson). MVV is expected to attract more than RM290 billion (US$67 billion) in investments, and will be developed over 153,000ha and in phases until 2045. – S Puvaneswary

Con Dao, Vietnam
The southern archipelago of Con Dao comprises 16 islands, the largest of which is Con Son.

Despite its stunning natural beauty, it holds a dark history as this was where political prisoners were sent during the French rule. Today, former prison buildings have been turned into a museum and are open to the public.

While the island remains off-the-beaten path, its remote vibe and untouched paradise offerings make it attractive to both developers and tourists.

Florencia Allo Moreno, general manager of Khiri Travel Vietnam, said Con Dao has become a top beach destination with her clientele since it was introduced to itineraries.

She added: “The island is quite small with few accommodation choices, but this is changing as demand is increasing.”

Watch out for Dream Hotel Group is venturing into Vietnam, with its first property slated to open in Ba Ria province’s Long Hai in the next few months, followed by four more upmarket properties over the next two years, including one in Con Dao. – Marissa Carruthers

Wakatobi, Indonesia
Located in in south-east Sulawesi, Wakatobi is part of the Coral Triangle – a triangular area of tropical marine waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – and has been listed as a tentative World Heritage Site since 2005.

With its rich underwater biodiversity that spans 750 species of coral reefs, it is also one of the 10 new destinations the Indonesian government is focused on developing.

“The destination is promising. However, there is a need for international-standard and more affordable accommodation,” Vivi Herlambang, director – sales marketing and business development at Sahid International Hotel, which took over the management of the midscale Wakatobi Patuno Resort in September 2016.

Accessibility to the island is improving, with Wings Air launching a daily service between Makassar and Wakatobi since October 2016.

Watch out for The government is expanding Matahora Airport’s runway on Wangi-Wangi Island, from 2,000m to 2,500m in length. As well, Garuda Indonesia plans to fly between Denpasar and Wakatobi this year. – Mimi Hudoyo

Koh Lipe, Thailand
As one of the biggest islands in Tarutao National Marine Park in southern Thailand, Koh Lipe in Satun province has been steadily rising on the international tourist radar.

Last year, 1.2 million tourists visited the island, up from 800,000 in 2005.

Sumet Marnhet, secretary of the tourism council of the Satun Provincial Administrative Organization, attributes Koh Lipe’s growing popularity to the island’s clear waters and powdery sand, which made it attractive for snorkelling.

Furthermore, Koh Lipe is located near other tranquil islands such as Koh Hin Ngam, well-known for its rock beach.

Watch out for The ambassador of China to Thailand in March visited Koh Lipe with Chinese tour operators to strengthen trade cooperation on Koh Lipe and in Satun province. It is expected that China will soon be a source market of Koh Lipe in the near future. – Siriarpa Kamjan

Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
As Cambodia’s largest and most developed island Koh Rong continues to grow, more visitors are seeking solace in neighbouring islands like Koh Rong Samloem.

Measuring nine kilometres long and five kilometres at its widest point, Koh Rong Samloem remains relatively undeveloped, with a smattering of guesthouses lining its white sandy shores, rare wildlife, and crystal waters perfect for snorkelling.

Kimhean Pich, CEO and founder of Discover the Mekong, said: “Koh Rong Samloem is close to the mainland coastal town of Sihanoukville, which has easy land and air access. It is also a relatively new destination and there are fewer people, which makes it appealing to some.”

With speedboats now transporting visitors from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem and more upmarket boutique accommodation being introduced, the Cambodian trade is keeping a watch on on the island.

Watch out for Earlier this year, Buva Sea Cambodia launched new fast boats connecting Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Samloem. The thrice-daily boats now take about 30 minutes, and increased competition has also driven down the cost of one-way tickets to about US$6. – Marissa Carruthers

Caramoan, Philippines
With its powdery white sand and limestone caves, Caramoan, in the Bicol Region, is often compared to Boracay and Palawan.

Vilma De Claro Mendoza, president of Mart Evers Travel and Tours, said that Caramoan is ideal for travellers seeking peace and unspoilt nature. Travellers can also take in the culture, cuisine, and heritage of the Bicol Region.

The resort destination can be reached from Manila via an hour-long domestic flight to Camarines Sur, followed by a three-hour overland drive.

Watch out for More Bicol Region tour operators, as well as the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa), have added Caramoan to their tour packages, creating stronger marketing mileage for the destination. – Rosa Ocampo

Siquijor, Philippines
Located in the Central Visayas, Siquijor is a laid-back island characterised by pristine white sand and great snorkelling opportunities.

Its tranquility and lack of tourist crowds are what make it unique, according to Renalie Locsin, Annset Holidays’ account manager for Europe. Visitors can ride a motorbike from one end of the island to the other, dip in the multi-tiered Cambugahay Falls and mix with the friendly locals.

Siquijor has no airport, so access is via ferry rides of about two hours from Cebu to Dumaguete, then another hour to the island.

Watch out for The 30-room, three-star Casa Coco Hotel will be built in San Juan, Siquijor, to augment the current accommodation shortage. – Rosa Ocampo

Pasikuda, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s eastern fishing village of Pasikuda is fast becoming a magnet for foreign visitors seeking long sandy beaches and unspoilt terrain.

The once, war-battered locality is now dubbed the ‘crown jewel of the east’ and has over 1,000 hotel rooms. It is also part of a five-year plan to increase the number of rooms in Sri Lanka’s east to 7,000 from 2,000 now, according to Eastern Province chief minister Ahmed Nazeer.

Mohamed Jaufer, president of the Chamber of Tourism & Industry, said: “We want to promote this destination (to be) as good as southern Sri Lanka.”

Watch out for Batticaloa Airport, 30km away from Pasikuda, will soon open for commercial operations, cutting travel time from Colombo to just 30 minutes, compared to a six-hour drive. Private domestic carrier, Cinnamon Air, currently operates daily flights to Batticaloa with an eight-seater amphibious Cessna plane. – Feizal Samath

Visakhapatnam, India
Also known as Vizag, this beach destination in the state of Andhra Pradesh has been growing in popularity in the domestic market.

It has the potential to become an international resort destination like Goa, as charter tourists from Russia are starting to visit the destination this year.

“In recent months, efforts have been directed towards international markets, with the state representing actively in ITB Berlin and Arabian Travel Market. Even local trade bodies like Confederation of Indian Industry have actively engaged with tourism stakeholders, and organised a meeting with top DMCs from New Delhi and Mumbai to showcase the destination,” said Aditya Shamsher Malla, general manager, Four Points by Sheraton, Visakhapatnam.

“Essential attractions in Vizag already exist but the capacity utilisation is grossly low,” said Col Minhas, general manager, Baypark – a Pema Wellness Resort.

Watch out for The Network of Indian MICE Agents (NIMA) recently organised its annual meeting in Vizag, providing an opportunity for member MICE operators to know the destination.

“NIMA is now planning to organise a B2B table session for some 200 travel agents and hoteliers in Vizag,” said Gajesh Girdhar, national coordinator, NIMA. – Rohit Kaul

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