Seeking Sun and Sand
The tropical island of Hainan, the “Hawaii of the East,” has been transformed into China’s leading beach hotspot, offering miles of coastline, high-quality golf courses, and natural scenery including hot springs and waterfalls. Sanya, at the southern tip of the island, is home to a host of five-star resorts, originally occupying Dadonghai and Yalong bays. However, as beachfront space has all been bought up, international brands entering the market have shifted slightly north to Haitang Bay, which boasts 14 miles of sweeping sand. Recent openings include Grand Hyatt Sanya Haitang Bay Resort & Spa, while Marriott has the Xiangshui Bay Marriott Resort & Spa set to open in early 2017. Raffles has also announced a second resort on the island’s east coast, featuring a golf course.
Where to stay: The five-star MGM Grand Sanya, located on Yalong Bay, offers luxury accommodation with the added thrill of an assortment of Las Vegas-style shows, from magic performances to fire-breathing acts, as well as the relaxing interior of Sho Spa (mgmgrandsanya.com). Alternatively, Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort, located on a private inlet minutes from Yalong Bay, offers equal luxury, fine dining options and fun-filled activities (sanya.park.hyatt.com).
There’s no shortage of picturesque beach escapes in Asia, but Boracay in the Philippines is one of the best. The island’s crown jewel is White Beach, famous as much for the two and a half-mile sweep of powdery white sand as the hypnotizing sunsets that fill the horizon at dusk. If you can rouse yourself from lazing in paradise, there’s an array of water sports, shopping, ATV riding, ziplining and more. For evening entertainment, head to Station 2, where fire-artists light up the beachfront and bars crank up the volume for a high-spirited party scene.
Where to stay: Shangri-La leads the way in terms of five-star resorts here. Sheltered in a quieter area in the north, the property offers 219 guestrooms and villas with private balconies and all the trimmings including CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La (shangri-la.com).
No beach roundup would be complete without mentioning the tropical paradise of Koh Samui – one of Thailand’s largest islands, renowned for palm-fringed beaches, lush forests and a happening nightlife scene. From high-end wellness retreats to spa getaways, the island has no shortage of luxury lodging. Coming soon are two beautiful resorts: The Beach Samui – a Design Hotels property nestled on the southern tip with just 21 suites and penthouses and a modern design led by Philippe Starck and YOO founder John Hitchcox; while Ritz-Carlton is also developing a new 187-room luxury getaway on the northern tip of the island.
Where to stay: Amari Koh Samui has reopened after a year’s renovation. Situated on a secluded stretch of Chaweng Beach, the resort comes with two pools and a spa (amari.com).
For a rip-roaring rainforest adventure, look no further than Langkawi. The Malaysian archipelago offers a host of jungle pursuits, from canopy walks on Mt Gunung Raya to cycle trips exploring exotic flora and fauna. If you’re into wildlife, bring binoculars to spy the magnificent tropical specimens. Kayaking through ancient mangroves and leafy hikes are also popular activities. And let’s not forget the island also boasts a number of beautiful beaches, with waterfront hotels such as the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort & Spa, a tranquil retreat rustically designed like a traditional Malay village. Here, guests can enjoy natural beauty, five-star restaurants, soothing spa treatments and more (meritushotels.com/pelangi).
Where to stay: The recent opening of the St Regis Langkawi heralds the island’s first all-suite resort, with 85 luxuriously appointed rooms and four private villas (stregislangkawi.com). The Andaman Langkawi is a five-star resort with an ecofriendly USP, hosting a Marine Life Laboratory and Coral Nursery within the hotel, tasked with replenishing the fragile reef that surrounds the island, and giving visitors the chance to learn about the delicate marine ecosystem (theandaman.com).
Aside from its reputation as a honeymoon spot, the Maldives is a diver’s dream. The Indian Ocean paradise is made up of more than 1,000 islands and is renowned for its thriving coral atolls, lagoons and abundance of colorful marine life. Top sites include Fotteyo Kandu in Vaavu Atoll for exciting caves and overhangs, while the strong currents of Lhaviyani Atoll’s Kuredu Express offer up big fish action from reef sharks and manta rays. Anantara recently opened up its first PADI-certified free-diving center – available to guests at three of its resorts – for those who want a different subaquatic experience.
Where to stay: Vacationers are spoiled for choice in the Maldives, but a brand-new opening in September is the St Regis Vommuli Resort, Maldives. The idyllic resort offers 77 private villas, a tranquil spa with six private treatment rooms, an infinity swimming pool, fitness center and yoga space, plus dive and activity center (starwoodhotels.com/stregis).
Japan’s southern island of Okinawa is another diving hotspot, with year-round warm water and a variety of oceanic creatures from hammerhead sharks to unique nudibranchs. Another draw is the chance to explore WWII shipwrecks and underwater ruins. Back on land, Okinawa offers a long list of relaxing vacation pursuits, from beautiful beaches to World Heritage sites and endless opportunities to sample the local cuisine. If you’re still in need of an ocean fix, the Churaumi Aquarium lets visitors get up close with whale sharks, manta rays and more.
Where to stay: Five-star options are limited in this quiet Japanese backwater, but the Ritz-Carlton Okinawa is an excellent choice, with a luxury golf course, spa, 97 guestrooms and three dining outlets (ritzcarlton.com). Alternatively, the Hyatt Regency opened last year, ideally located between Naha main street and a historical pottery street, with upscale guestrooms and facilities (naha.regency.hyatt.com)
There are many premium fairways in Asia, but for breathtaking views while you swing, an island location is hard to beat. Lying just a short hop from Singapore, the Indonesian island of Bintan, and its up-and-coming neighbor Batam, boast a number of championship golf courses as well as upscale resorts. From the Laguna Bintan Golf Club, designed by golf legend Greg Norman, to the much-lauded Ria Bintan Golf Club, enthusiasts can enjoy some of Asia’s best courses. Meanwhile, on Batam Carlson Rezidor is set to open the brand-new Radisson Golf & Convention Centre Batam, featuring 271 rooms and a championship golf course.
Where to stay: In addition to golf resorts, there are a number of venerated five-star properties on the island. The gorgeous colonial exterior of The Sanchaya Bintan houses a collection of five-star villas (thesanchaya.com), while the Banyan Tree and Angsana Bintan also offer luxurious accommodation and five-star service.
South Korea’s Jeju Island is another option for golfing pros, with more than ten top-class courses to choose from. The volcanic island offers a dramatic backdrop and some unusual teeing-off spots, with popular resorts including Castlex Golf Club, Pinx Golf Club and Jungmun Resort. If your handicap isn’t working out for you, the island has plenty of unique cultural attractions, beautiful scenery or casinos to explore as an alternative.
Where to stay: Five-star options range from The Shilla Jeju, with suites offering stunning mountain or sea views, complete with balcony and whirlpool tubs (shillahotels.com), to the larger Hyatt Regency Jeju, with 222 rooms and suites, which offers a tempting outdoor pool with luxury cabanas (jeju.regency.hyatt.com).
Just off the coast of Queensland, near the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, lie the Whitsundays – a tropical collection of 74 stunning islands. There’s no better way to traverse the calm waters than by hopping aboard a majestic sailing yacht, whether you charter a boat or become the skipper of your own vessel. Dotted around the region is an appealing range of luxurious spa resorts, restaurants serving up amazing seafood, and plenty of hidden beaches.
Where to stay: A number of independent and boutique properties offer quality accommodation. On the main Hamilton Island lies the Beach Club Hotel, an adults-only oasis on Catseye beach, with a host of serene pampering treatments and ways to unwind (hamiltonisland.com.au/beach-club).
Another excellent island-hopping destination is Phuket, particularly the stunning karst landscape of Phang Nga Bay, which boasts the iconic “James Bond” island, Koh Panyee – a Muslim fishing village on stilts in the middle of the Andaman Sea – and multiple hidden lagoons and beaches. Back on the main island, there’s a wealth of luxurious hotels, dining spots, spas and top-class hospitality to enjoy.
Where to stay: Starwood’s Naka Island Resort, part of its Luxury Collection, offers an incredible private island experience for pretty unbeatable prices – rates start from around THB7,000/$200 (nakaislandphuket.com). For a distinctive, modern five-star resort consider the Indigo Pearl Phuket (recently renamed The Slate). In addition to being conveniently close to the airport, the resort offers a fabulous design concept based on the owners’ connection to Phuket’s ancient tin mining industry (indigo-pearl.com).
Bali is one of the most popular Indonesian destinations, offering relaxing retreats, beaches, nightlife and plenty of cultural interest. A thriving community of artisans has blessed the island with exquisite woodcarving workshops and art studios, providing an excellent opportunity to hunt down unique pieces of furniture. Mystical temples, serene cantilevered rice paddies, colorful festivals and iconic dance shows are also enjoyable ways of immersing oneself in the island’s inimitable traditions.
Where to stay: From the brains behind Potato Head, comes Katamama – a 58-suite boutique hotel in Seminyak that opened in April. Embodying “handcrafted hospitality,” every aspect bears the work of Indonesian craftsmen, while each room features a balcony, garden or private pool (katamama.com). Alternatively, for a more peaceful retreat, Ametis Villa tucked further round the coast in sleepy Canggu, offers a selection of luxury villas, complete with private butlers and a spa, to soak up the peaceful Balinese culture in style (ametisvilla.com).
If you’ve already checked off this list of must-visit island retreats, perhaps it’s time to turn your attention to some of the more hidden gems around the region. Thailand’s Ko Tarutao – the largest island of Tarutao National Marine Park – has somehow managed to stay under the radar, despite being the filming location for the popular Survivor TV show in 2012. As such, the island offers picture-perfect white beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and fascinating wildlife from tree pythons to wild pigs.
Another immaculate beauty spot is the Philippines’ tiny Camiguin Island – known as the “Fire Island” after the four volcanoes contained within. Old churches, hot springs, waterfalls, beaches and the volcanoes themselves make this small paradise worth seeking out.
Finally, head to Vietnam’s southern island of Phu Quoc for balmy waters, pristine beaches, a relaxed, undisturbed atmosphere and superb southern Vietnamese cuisine. La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc-MGallery Collection offers luxury accommodation redolent of a colonial French seaside mansion – a unique experience guaranteed to ease away any lingering city stress (laverandaresorts.com).
By Tamsin Cocks