Imagine yourself taking it easy like a Sunday morning on some remote beach. Or flying high above the shore with the wind in your face as you parasail through the skies. Or dancing the night away with a blanket of stars twinkling above.
Do these things sound pretty darn amazing to you?
Then you’re in need of an island getaway.
Luckily, Southeast Asia has a fine selection of island destinations for you to choose from, ranging from non-stop party hotspots like Phuket and Boracay to more laid-back sanctuaries like Langkawi.
If you’re wondering how to make the most of your time, here are the top five things you’ve just GOT to do when you’re at these islands:
1. Zip off to far-flung beaches
Don’t limit yourself to just the nearest beach – sign up for an island-hopping tour and check out nearby islands and lagoons. You’ll often get the chance to do a bit of snorkeling, maybe even some jungle trekking.
On Boracay, while its famed ‘White Beach’ is undoubtedly the main draw for many visitors, hop onto an outrigger boat to explore the island’s many other unspoiled white sandy beaches, such as Puka Shell Beach, Tambisaan Beach, and Ilig-iligan Beach. (Rates: P1,000 to P3,500 – depending on the itinerary and whether it’s a shared or private tour.)
If you’ve got a bit of extra cash to spend, splurge on an island-hopping tour that’s a bit different: at Langkawi, you can go on an exhilarating ride around the island on a jetski to explore the limestone karst outcroppings and hard-to-reach beaches. Each tour package lasts for four hours, starting from RM600.
If Phuket is too crowded for you, escape to any of the smaller islands, which are easy to get to by boat. Phang Nga Bay, the Phi-phi Islands, the Rok Islands, and the Similan Islands are all popular stops for day trips. Depending on which locations you choose and whether it’s a half-day or full-day package, rates range from THB1,600 to THB3,700.
2. Dive into an underwater paradise
If snorkeling isn’t enough for you and you want to discover oceanic gems deeper below the surface, then you’re in for a treat, because Boracay, Langkawi, and Phuket are surrounded by vibrant diving sites.
However, if you don’t have a diving licence, you will need to undergo an introductory course. The beginner’s course lasts 3-4 hours and will usually include a guided dive. You’ll be finding Nemo and Dory in no time!
It’s also important to have Mother Nature on your side, as adverse weather like rain would affect the visibility of the water.
In Boracay, Yapak is the most well-known diving site, teeming with underwater life.
The Andaman Sea is also home to many world-class diving sites, so if you’re visiting Phuket, be sure to go to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, or Richelieu Rock, where you can come across leopard sharks and whale sharks.
For diving near Langkawi, you’ll need to head about 30 kilometers south of the island nearer to the Pulau Payar Marine Park, which have plenty of diving spots perfect for newbies. The artificial reefs at the Kaca Sunken Wrecks also have interesting coral formations.
3. Get your heart pumping with daring activities
Where there’s a beach, you’ll no doubt find a variety of water sport activities, ranging from the extreme to the chilled-out.
Normally you won’t have much trouble finding operators for activities such as parasailing, banana boat rides, and ATV rides, as they’ll come to you while you’re walking along the beach. However, if you want to ensure you’ve got a legit operator, you can search and book online beforehand.
Boracay’s Bulabog Beach is a hub for water activities on the island. If you’re not terrified of heights, you can also take a leap of faith off Ariel’s Point, where you can cliff dive into the sea below. There are several platforms, ranging from 3 meters to 15 meters, so you can go with what you’re comfortable with.
Up for a bit of a challenge? Head to Langkawi’s Skytrex Adventure, an outdoor adventure park in the rainforest where you’ll have to climb, swing, and crawl your way through an obstacle course of varying difficulty.
In Phuket, kitesurfing and stand-up paddle boarding are all the rage, so give them a go.
4. Set your eyes on some inspiring sights
To discover hidden facets of the islands, be sure to go sightseeing, where you can enjoy gorgeous views of sun, sand, sea, and jungle.
You can catch a breathtaking sunset at Boracay by jumping on a paraw (a local outrigger sailboat). It’s almost hypnotic to sit back and bask in the sun’s sinking rays while feeling the idle rocking of your boat on the waves.
For a bird’s-eye view of Langkawi, take a cable car ride on the Skycab or stroll along the Skybridge. If you’re a nature lover, take a boat to Kilim Karst Geoforest Park.
For a panoramic view of Phuket, climb up to Karon Viewpoint, which looks out over the Andaman Sea and pristine beaches. It’s also known as the Three Beach Viewpoint, as you can see Kata Noi Beach, Kata Yai Beach, and Karon Beach from there.
5. Eat like a local
When you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, sampling the local delicacies is a must-do. Night markets, in particular, are some of the best places to try a variety of street foods and dishes.
In Langkawi, there’s a night market every night from 7 to 10pm, but it changes location between towns from night to night. So check with your hotel before you head out.
Phuket is known for its bustling nightlife, and its markets are no different. Malin Plaza near Patong Beach is your best bet for good eats, but there’s also the Chillva Market, which has a trendier boho vibe.
On Boracay, everyone’s heard of D’Talipapa Market – a mecca for fresh seafood where you can get the biggest, juiciest prawns around. But to get the best price, you’d better be good at haggling!