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9 Underrated Islands In Southeast Asia For Your Perfect Weekend Getaway


Farah R. •  Mar 17, 2016


Southeast Asia offers so many beautiful locations for Muslim travellers seeking to chill on a beach – Bali, Lombok and Krabi, just to name a few. But popular tourist locations such as these can get pretty packed. Not so ideal when you’re trying to relax. But fret not – Southeast Asia has many other gorgeous island hideaways where you won’t have to jostle for your spot on the beach. These nine places on our list are Muslim-friendly, too, so you can truly relax without worrying about hunting down Halal food.

1. Koh Lipe - Thailand

This small island in the south Thailand is one of the region’s most underrated locations. Its picturesque beaches and proximity to the country’s best dive spots have been quietly attracting travellers from the region as well as those from much further away. Feel like snorkelling? Just step off the beach – coral reefs populated by a huge variety of tropical fish can be found from a mere 20 metres off the coast.
Credit: @gettingstamped on Instagram   Halal food is available on the island as well, to cater to Muslim tourists coming mainly from Malaysia – Koh Lipe is just 30 km away from Langkawi!  
Credit: @thesoulrider.jw on Instagram Accommodation is limited, so it might be hard to secure a place to stay during weekends and peak season. But if you visit in the off season (from May to October) you’ll find plenty of room. Getting there: All-year round: From Hat Yai, take a bus or taxi to Pak Bara, then take the ferry to Koh Lipe. Peak season only (November to May): You can take the speedboat from Krabi Town in Krabi. For those coming from Malaysia, ferries to Koh Lipe from Langkawi’s Kuah Jetty and Telaga Terminal operate during this period.

2. Lang Tengah - Malaysia

Credit: Lang Tengah Turtle Watch on Facebook Terengganu is home to some of Malaysia’s loveliest beaches. Most tourists flock to the popular Redang Island. But for somewhere less crowded and developed, head for Lang Tengah Island instead. There are four resorts on the whole of Lang Tengah, and almost nothing else. Except for, oh, pristine beaches and some of the bluest waters you can find in Malaysia.  
Credit: Lang Tengah Turtle Watch on Facebook If you enjoy diving, there are a number of dive sites around the island for you to explore. You can also snorkel in the waters around the beach, or charter a boat out to the coral reefs of Terengganu Marine Park. Or you could just lie back on the beach and soak up the sun. Getting there: From Kuala Terengganu’s Sultan Mahmud Airport or bus terminal, drive out to Merang Jetty. Take a speedboat to Lang Tengah (about 1 hour). It’s best to make arrangements for the speedboat transfer with your chosen resort or hotel.

3. Gaya Island - Malaysia

Credit: Gaya Island Resort on Facebook   Gaya Island is one of the five islands in Tun Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Sabah. The island is mainly rainforest, with some pretty beaches, and surrounded by protected coral reefs. Even the main beaches are far from crowded during peak periods. But if you explore a bit you can probably find your own private stretch of beach.
Credit: Gaya Island Resort on Facebook Accommodation can be pretty expensive, though; all three hotels on the island are upmarket ones. But if you’re looking for a luxurious villa retreat in a secluded location, Gaya Island is a place for you. Getting there: From Kota Kinabalu, head out to Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal and take a boat ride to Gaya Island (about 10 min). It’s best to make arrangements with your hotel.

4. Koh Yao Islands - Thailand

Credit: @voyagesetc on Instagram Off the coast of Phuket lie a pair of islands, Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai. The inhabitants of these islands are predominantly Muslim, and have long been dedicated to building a sustainable tourism industry without threatening the locals’ quiet rural way of life. While resorts and luxury hotels can be found on the islands, Koh Yao Noi has gained worldwide recognition for the eco-friendly homestay programme provided by the locals. This is the perfect way to experience the laid-back island life, away from the crowds of overdeveloped tourists spots.
Credit: @dziambel on Flickr   Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai have lovely beaches of their own. But if you like, you can also take a boat out to nearby islands, such as the famous Koh Hong.   Getting there: You can get to Koh Yao Noi by boat from Phuket. Take a taxi from the airport to Phuket’s Bang Rong Pier, then take a longtail boat (1 hour) or speedboat (30 min) to Koh Yao Noi.

5. Kho Lanta - Thailand

Credit: lin Judy(快樂雲) on Flickr A group of islands in Thailand’s Krabi Province. While it’s become more popular in recent years, the islands of Koh Lanta are still less developed and far less crowded than the beaches on mainland Krabi or the famous Koh Phi Phi islands.   The main island of Koh Lanta Yai itself has four sparkling beaches for you to choose from, some of which are quite secluded. Feel free to imagine you’re (happily) stranded on a beautiful desert island while on the beach, but know that comfortable accommodation and delicious food aren’t far away.
Credit: @jonah_levine on Instagram   Like most of Krabi, Koh Lanta has a significant Muslim population, so finding Halal food shouldn’t be difficult. Gettting there: You can get to Koh Lanta from Krabi Airport. You can go all the way to Koh Lanta by car/taxi (about 3 hours) or drive to a pier and then transfer to a speedboat (about 1 hour 30 min total).  

6. Bangka-Belitung - Indonesia

Credit: @ndo_le on Instagram   Belitung Island, part of Bangka-Belitung province in South Sumatra, caught the eye of the region when it was featured in the film adaptation of the acclaimed Indonesian novel, “Laskar Pelangi” (Rainbow Troops). You don’t have to be a fan of the movie, though, to enjoy Belitung. There are excellent beaches and snorkelling opportunities at Belitung and its surrounding islands, such as Pulau Lengkuas.
Credit: @sftrny on Instagram   Getting there: You can take a flight from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport to Belitung’s H.A.S. Hanandjoeddin Airport.

7. Pulau Weh - Indonesia

Credit: @zuza.be on Instagram This island north of Banda Aceh is also known as Sabang, which is the name of its main town. It is a haven for divers, due to the diversity of marine life in the waters. You could find yourself swimming with creatures such as manta rays, whale sharks and sea turtles.   If you’re not keen on diving, you can chill instead by the sparkling waters of Gapang, Iboih and Sumur Tiga beach, or visit the Pria Laot waterfall, 15 minutes away from Gapang.
Credit: @brylee.gilbertson on Instagram   The available accommodation consists mostly of guesthouses and beach bungalows, with not much more than basic facilities. But with waters like these, you’re probably not going to be spending much time in your room anyway!   Getting there: Flights to Banda Aceh are available from Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. You can take a fast ferry from Banda Aceh’s Ulee Lheu Harbour to Pulau Weh (about 1 hour).

8. Banda Islands - Indonesia

Credit: @ernaern_ on Instagram This one’s for those passionate about diving. This remote cluster of islands in Maluku, Indonesia, is home to some of the best diving and snorkelling sites in the world. The swathes of colourful reefs and large variety of marine life have attracted intrepid diving enthusiasts from all over the world to the area. Do be warned – it can pretty hard to get to the Banda Islands. If you’re looking for a destination far off the beaten track, this is place for you.
Credit: Ben Bland on Flickr The islands are also blessed with plenty of natural beauty above sea level. For instance, you can trek out to the active volcano, Gunung Api, or simply enjoy an incredible view of it from the coast.
Credit: Ben Bland on Flickr You can stay at Bandaneira, the capital of Pulau Neira, and charter boats to outlying islands for diving and snorkelling. The islands of Hatta and Ai in particular offer unspoiled beaches and great snorkelling areas.   Getting there: You can get to the islands from Ambon. Flights to Ambon are available from Jakarta. From there, you can hitch a ride aboard a ship (8 hour) to Bandaneira or take a speed ferry from Tulehu in Ambon (5 hours). You can also charter a flight to Bandaneira from Ambon, but seats are very limited and flight times are sporadic. Those sparkling white sands and clear blue waters in the vacation you’ve been dreaming of? You don’t even need to leave Southeast Asia to find them. Take your pick from our list and pack your swimming costumes – there’s a place on the beach that’s just waiting for you!