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From the palm-fringed shores of Koh Samui to the lush mangroves of Langkawi, islands in Asia feature an astonishing range of natural wonders. Here, intrepid travelers can trek to ancient temples, learn to surf the waves, or swim through coral reefs.

History buffs, art aficionados, and gastronauts will find plenty to love throughout this region as well. Many of the best Asian islands have their own individual cultures, cuisines, and architectural styles. Feast on street food while admiring colonial-era shophouses on Phuket, peruse the art galleries in Ubud, or snap photos of photorealistic murals in George Town, Penang.

These are just a few of the most compelling islands scattered throughout the region.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia, one of the best islands in Asia

Bali, Indonesia

Sometimes known as the Island of the Gods, Bali has been one of southeast Asia’s top destinations for decades. With its mulitlayered cultural heritage and head-spinning geographical diversity, it’s not hard to see why. You’ll find volcanic black sand beaches, rocky shorelines, and leafy jungles, all on one island.

In Uluwatu, visitors can admire a temple perched atop sheer cliffs that plunge straight into the Indian Ocean. Over in Nusa Dua and Jimbaran, the coastline is lined with some of the best beaches in Bali.

Exterior of Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia

Ubud Palace in Bali, Indonesia

Meanwhile, Ubud has long lured travelers looking to connect with their spiritual side, or simply unwind. Ubud Palace, located in the heart of town, is resplendent in intricate stone carvings and offers visitors a moment of serenity.

One of the best things to do in Bali is to visit the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, where you’ll be rewarded with the sight of emerald rice paddies stretching to the horizon.

Penang, Malaysia

Colorful Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, Malaysia

If you’re seeking history, contemporary art, and street food, Penang has them all in spades. George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, bears the hallmarks of its past as a key international trading port.

The Peranakans, merchants sometimes also referred to as Baba Nyonya or Straits Chinese, left their distinctive architecture all over the city. And these days, whimsical street art adorns many of the colonial buildings.

Cable car in Penang Hill, Malaysia

Penang Hill, Malaysia

After exploring the galleries and hawker stalls in downtown George Town, take a short drive out to Penang Hill. Also known as Bukit Bendera, this modest peak offers an impressive view. Travelers should also take a look at Kek Lok Si Temple, a glittering assortment of golden spires adorned with murals and carvings.

Menjangan Island, Indonesia

Clear waters of Menjangan Island, Indonesia

Menjangan Island, Indonesia

It may be situated just eight miles off of the coast of western Bali, but this untrammeled gem feels like another world.

The name translates to “Deer Island,” in honor of the Indian muntjacs, or barking deer, that migrate to its shores each spring. These diminutive mammals are known for their cry, which does indeed sound a bit like a dog barking.

For divers, Menjangan Island is as close to heaven as it gets. A coral reef surrounds the island on all sides, creating spaces for all sorts of marine species.

Expect to see sea turtles, moray eels, and immense tuna swimming lazily by. Some of the best dive sites here include Eel Gardens, so named for its slithery inhabitants, and the shipwreck of the Anchor.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand, one of the best islands in Asia

Ao Phang Nga National Park, Thailand

The self-styled “Pearl of the Andaman,” Phuket is Thailand’s largest and most-visited island. Many travelers here make a beeline for the beach, and for good reason.

After all, the electric-blue waters of Ao Phang Nga National Park, a protected area off the island’s coast, are brimming with biodiversity. From Patong Beach, a particularly buzzy area, to Karon Beach, which offers three miles of soft, sandy coastline, there are plenty of places to dip your toes in the water here.

Street view of Old Phuket Town, Thailand

Old Phuket Town, Thailand

Still, there’s much more to Phuket than beautiful beaches. In the 16th century, Phuket Town was a booming trading port, with ships routinely sailing in from as far as Portugal.

While it’s no longer a commercial hub, signs of the area’s proud multicultural heritage abound. Today, the streets of Old Phuket Town are lined with pastel-hued Sino-Portuguese homes and shophouses.

Phuket Town’s uniquely delicious cuisine has earned it recognition as a UNESCO as a Creative City of Gastronomy. Unlike Central Thai cooking, which errs on the sweeter side, Southern Thai dishes sparkle with bracing acidity and formidable spice.

Mee Hokkien in a bowl

Mee Hokkien

Specialties here often incorporate Chinese, Portuguese, and other culinary influences. Keep an eye out for specialties like mee Hokkien, stir-fried noodles with Chinese roots, and kanom jeen, fresh rice noodles topped with a variety of fiery curries.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi Thailand, one of the best islands in Asia

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

This small archipelago near Phuket rose to international fame thanks to a silver screen cameo. It’s not hard to imagine why the location was so appealing to international film directors.

With striking, foliage-draped limestone karsts rising dramatically from the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, the entire area is almost impossibly photogenic.

Koh Phi Phi Don, the largest of the cluster of six islands, is home to some of the loveliest beaches in Thailand. It’s also one of the best Asian islands for active travelers. From kayaking to paddleboarding, this island offers virtually every sort of water sport imaginable.

Beautiful landscape of Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

Snorkelers will find much to see in these glass-clear waters, while PADI-certified divers can embark on day trips to coral reefs teeming with colorful fish. Smaller, uninhabited Koh Phi Phi Leh is easily accessible by longtail boat and makes for a great afternoon trip.

Lombok, Indonesia

Scenic landscape of Senggigi Beach in Lombok, Indonesia

Senggigi Beach in Lombok, Indonesia

For many years, travelers overlooked Lombok in favor of its more popular sibling, Bali. While that has slowly started to shift, this island in Asia still retains much of its sleepy charm.

Among the many shorelines here, Senggigi Beach is still one of the most exquisite. With its snow-white sands ringed by gently waving palm trees, this spot is as idyllic as it gets.

The waters here are largely sheltered from strong winds and dangerous currents, making this a safe spot for families with younger swimmers in tow. Not only that, but the beach also has its own coral reef, meaning snorkelers can expect to spy all sorts of marine life.

Aerial view of Mandalika in Lombok, Indonesia

Mandalika in Lombok, Indonesia

For a somewhat livelier seaside scene, head to Mandalika, a crescent-shaped bay lined with powdery sand. Much like Bali’s Canggu, surfers have long flocked to this particular patch of paradise.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Fine sands of Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Thailand’s second-largest island has a decidedly more laid-back reputation than Phuket. While Koh Samui still has thriving dining and nightlife scenes, most travelers come here to simply kick back and soak up the sunshine. Chaweng Beach, a sandy crescent that sprawls for nearly two miles, is lined with upscale resorts and restaurants.

For a slightly more low-key shoreline, head to Bophut Beach on the western side of the island. Travelers can wander along the shallows, or check out the nearby Fisherman’s Village for a bite to eat. Koh Samui is known for both its coconut trees and exceptional seafood, so expect to see both featured heavily in dishes here.

Beautiful landscape of Angthong National Marine Park in Koh Samui, Thailand

Angthong National Marine Park in Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui also happens to be the gateway for many travelers to Angthong National Marine Park. This protected area sprinkled with 42 islands is one of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia.

Best navigated by tour operator or ship, this ecological wonderland is filled with places to scuba dive, snorkel, or sea kayak.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, Malaysia, one of the best islands in Asia

Langkawi, Malaysia

Nature-lovers will fall hard and fast for Pulau Langkawi, the largest of 99 islands in the Langkawi archipelago. Upon arrival, stop to check out Eagle Square, so named for the mammoth bird sculpture that overlooks the water.

The island has plenty of sandy beaches, from busy Pantai Cenang to the more tranquil Pantai Tengah.

Aside from Langkawi’s sun-kissed beaches, this island offers a wealth of opportunities for inland trekking. One of the best things to do in Langkawi is to hike to Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls, a series of seven streams cascading into pools. Aspiring photographers should also take a walk across the Skybridge, a free span bridge that stretches more than 400 feet.

Jeju Island, South Korea

Haenyeo diving in Jeju Island, South Korea

Haenyeo in Jeju Island, South Korea

South Korea’s largest island is perhaps most famous as the home of the haenyeo. For hundreds of years, these fearless women divers have harvested seafood in the ocean’s depths.

Haenyeo famously can stay in water for hours and hold their breath for minutes at a time. Order sea urchin, abalone, or octopus in a restaurant here, and chances are a haenyeo caught it.

View of cliffs on Jeju Island, South Korea

Jusangjeolli Cliffs in Jeju Island, South Korea

Aside from its diving traditions, Jeju Island has breathtaking natural scenery. Aspiring photographers shouldn’t miss Jusangjeolli Cliffs, which rise sharply from the sea. Cheongsu Gotjawal Forest is best known as a haven for fireflies after dark.

Nevertheless, this verdant sanctuary is equally wonderful during daylight hours. Finally, while much of Jeju’s coastline is rocky, it does have several sand beaches. Hamdeok Seoubong Beach sports placid waters perfect for swimming.

Read: Best Beaches on Jeju Island


Taiwan, one of the best islands in Asia

Taipei, Taiwan

From subtropical jungles to ultra-modern metropolises, Taiwan has something to offer every sort of traveler. In Taipei, futuristic and historic architectural elements often sit side-by-side.

Crane your neck upward to the top of Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. Or lower your gaze down to Earth to visit the Bangka Longshan Temple, a place of worship since 1738.

Visitors looking to take in some of the island’s natural wonders should take a 30-minute drive from Taipei out to Yehliu Geopark. Marvel at the unusual rock formations, each sculpted into curious shapes by wind and erosion. The Queen’s Head, the most famous of these stones, resembles a slender-necked royal bust.

Sentosa Island, Singapore

Sentosa Island, Singapore, one of the best islands in Asia

Palawan Beach in Sentosa Island, Singapore

With cutting-edge art, public gardens, fine dining, exceptional street food, and shopping for days, the Lion City really has it all. Sentosa Island makes for a family-friendly day trip within the city-state.

Virtually every aspect of the small landmass is devoted to pleasure. For a leisurely afternoon, pull up a lounger on some of Singapore’s best beaches, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach. Meanwhile, parents with energetic kids may opt for the adrenaline-packed rides of Universal Studios Singapore.

Luckily, the impeccable infrastructure of Singapore means accessing Sentosa Island couldn’t be easier. Visitors can hop on the monorail, hail a taxi, or wander along the pedestrian-friendly boardwalk to the other side. For the most scenic route, opt for the cable car ride, which offers plenty of panoramic shots.

Sri Lanka

View while boating in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has invested heavily in wildlife conservation. It’s now one of the best islands in Asia on which to spot charismatic megafauna of all kinds. Birders should pay a visit to Bundala National Park, a wetland full of migratory avian life.

Yala National Park, meanwhile, has been a protected sanctuary for more than a century. Today, the park has more leopards per square mile than almost anywhere in the world. It’s also home to a healthy elephant population, plus plenty of other species.

Aerial view of Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s beaches are every bit as spectacular as its jungles. Galle Face Green has the distinct advantage of being located right in the center of Colombo.

After sightseeing in town, walk along the sandy promenade and splash around in the sea. Still easily accessible from the capital, Negombo Beach is particularly pretty.

Honshu, Japan

Honshu, Japan, one of the best islands in Asia

Kyoto in Honshu, Japan

Japan is home to more than 14,000 islands, but most of its population resides on the main island of Honshu. To truly explore all of the cultural offerings, national parks, and superb dining on that one landmass would take years.

The former Imperial capital of Kyoto contains more than 1,600 temples, 400 shrines, and 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Wander the flame-hued torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Find a moment of zen in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

View of Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

Tokyo in Honshu, Japan

While Kyoto is most proud of its past, Tokyo is a hotbed of contemporary culture. The capital has a dizzying number of museums and art galleries. Check out the Yayoi Kusama Museum, an ode to the polka dot-loving avant-garde artist.

Gourmands could spend their entire time here exploring the city’s 10,000-plus ramen restaurants, or exploring the seafood eateries in Tsukiji Outer Market.

Fashionistas may wish to prowl the ritzy shops of Ginza, one of the best neighborhoods in Tokyo. Pop culture junkies, on the other hand, may prefer the candy-colored alleys around Harajuku.

Couple on a bumboat cruise in Singapore


By far the best way to explore as many islands as possible in a single trip is aboard a cruise. Browse our upcoming Asian cruises and book your next voyage today.

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