With a wealth of tropical atolls dotting the region’s waters, it’s hard to choose a favourite. We pick five standouts that provide a haven from the tourist trail
Often dubbed ‘the island born of fire’ due to the smouldering volcanoes – more per square metre than any other island on the planet – that give the diminutive isle its unmistakable silhouette, Camiguin rises from the sea some 10km off the northern coast of the major Philippine island of Mindanao. With an area of just under 240 square-kilometres and a population barely reaching above 80,000, Camiguin is the second-smallest province in the Philippine archipelago – and perhaps its best-kept secret. Visitors hoping to work off their beachside beers can trek up Hibok Hibok, a 1,250-metre-high volcano that has erupted no less than five times in modern history.
Belitung Island, Indonesia
The sleepy little brother of the flourishing island of Bangka, Belitung possesses a lazy charm that belies its history as an oversized tin mine picked apart by international mining conglomerates – even to the extent that Australian giant BHP Billiton happily took its name for their own. Now, though, Belitung is the ideal destination for travellers sick of the jumbled chaos of Jakarta or the well-trodden beaches of Bali. Despite finding minor fame as the idyllic setting of 2008 film Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops), Belitung remains relatively untouched by the nightclubs and party resorts that blanket Indonesia’s more touristed islands.
Macleod Island, Myanmar
Only opened to the outside world in 1997 by Myanmar’s military government, Macleod is nestled among hundreds of still-unexplored islands off the southern coast of Myanmar. More eco-lodge than expat party palace, Macleod’s Myanmar Andaman Resort stands as the first and only of its kind on the unspoiled beaches of the Mergui archipelago. A pristine paradise of surf, sky and sand, Macleod island is the ideal place for wanderers weary of the worn-out wonders of Southeast Asia’s sprawling cities. It also offers unimaginable scenes of splendour to snorkellers and scuba divers alike in the waters off its coasts.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Forty-five minutes as the speedboat soars from Cambodia’s coastal party city of Sihanoukville, Koh Rong may seem out of place on a list of Southeast Asia’s hidden island paradises. Far from the bars and bungalows of its backpacker hubs, though, the giant island’s less-travelled bays and villages – Sok San Beach and the aptly name Lonely Beach, for starters – preserve the pure white sands and silent starlit evenings of beaches that remained deserted for decades until the turn of the 21st century. At night, phosphorescent plankton swarms the shores in an unmissable blaze of blue light.
Once a way station for traders travelling between Thailand and the territories that now make up Malaysia, the Redang island chain offers a more upscale source of serenity for those wishing to combine the unbroken peace of a tropical paradise with the ease and luxury of an island resort. Famed for its glorious reefs and crystal clear waters, Redang remains an ideal refuge for snorkellers in search of a glimpse of Malaysia’s marine life in all its majesty. For maritime history buffs, there is even the odd antique shipwreck settled deep in the blue stillness off its shores, just waiting to be explored.