With some notable exceptions, we think spending a substantial amount of time at a hotel or resort is a pretty horrible use of vacation time. There are too many people to meet, too much great food to eat, and too many amazing places to see to be stuck at the pool or hanging out in your room. That being said, sometimes it is necessary to set aside time to “just be.” We love travel because it takes you out of your daily routine and forces you to bond with your travel companions in a way that regular life just makes more difficult. In our minds there is no better place to push pause like this than the beach…and not just any beach, but one that is as far away from everything as possible.  Without the distraction of crowds, screens, or the Internet, it is way easier to take a step back and focus on the little things that allow us to strengthen our family bond. After all, even with awesome wifi, how many folks want sand in their laptop? Bottom Line:  As much as we love the crazy cities of Southeast Asia, we love it’s beach destinations just as much!

Below we’ve listed five of our all time favorite beautiful South East Asian Islands that provide white sands, towering cliffs, and turquoise seas…without the crowds, drunken backpackers, or high rises that are common in some other tropical locales.

Thailand’s Koh Mook

Between Leonardo DeCaprio’s movie, The Beach, and the party reputation of Thailand’s west coast islands, it can be very difficult to find a place where the main focus isn’t getting passed out drunk. Look hard enough, however, and you can find options that are still largely devoid of tourism and offer much quieter, more authentic experiences that still feature all the beauty that the region is known for. We decided to pass up better known Phi Phi Islands and Koh Lanta to head to the relatively unknown Koh Mook. It was one of the best decisions we made on our Thailand trip!

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Where to Stay: Koh Mook Sivalai Resort. Even though this was the first true SE Asia beach getaway, Koh Mook Sivalai is still probably our number one favorite hotel. Its location on a peninsula off of the main island provides ~270 degrees of white sand beach surrounding the main building. The food was top notch with tables on the sand at night to have dinner under the stars. The view of the resort from the speed boat as you zoom by on the way to the dock is impressive and we think you’ll find your stay here the same.

What We Loved:

  • There is a dock making arriving and departing the island much easier. Dom and I have found as we travel that this isn’t always the case, so we consider it a luxury now!
  • Island is small and has a very authentic feel. In order to access the resort, you walk through the grounds of a local school.
  • Golf cart available to take you and your luggage from check-in to your bungalow (although we thought this was a bit excessive as our room was SUPER close to the check in area and totally walkable).

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  • Our villa was right on the beach and included a lovely porch with two comfy reclining lounge chairs. In our opinion, this set-up is worth the extra cost for two major reasons: 1.) Your little ones can nap easily inside the room while your older kiddos still enjoy the beach and 2.) is there really any better sound that the soft whisper of the ocean at night as you drift to sleep at night? Nope.

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  • The soft sands of the beach and the minimal waves made this island incredibly child-friendly.
  • Breakfast buffet (which was included in our Booking.com reservation) had a nice variety. Each morning we chose a table by the beach, so we could not only have a killer view, but also so our kiddos could play in the sand once they were done (allowing us parents to talk – a rarity!).
  • Town is VERY walkable from the resort making picking things up at a lower price easy. Several times we walked into one of the local markets to pick up milk for the kids. Heck, we even picked up a pair a floaties for Miles here as well!
  • The Sivalai Resort offers a dinner buffet, as well, which allows you to have your toes in the sand while dining. Service is great and food delicious! *If you hang out in the area in front of this dining spot during the day you’ll be rewarded with an ~270 degree ocean view as well.*

  • Although the room service (we ordered one time due to the kids being maxed) wasn’t amazing; we felt overall the food was the best at this resort compared to the others listed.
  • Out of the 5 resorts listed, this one had the most kiddos!
  • Albeit small, there is a pool available for when everyone has had enough sand.
  • VERY quiet unlike many of the “top” Thai Islands you see listed on various sites. Definitely not a place that gives off a “party vibe.”
  • Most definitely “off-the-beaten-path.”
  • Epic sunsets!

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Where It Missed the Mark:

  • It’s time consuming to get to Koh Mook as the island is usually one of the last stops on the speed boat. It would be quicker to get here if you left out of Trang, but that proved to be too expensive for us and Phuket seemed to be a better option financially. Additionally, 3 hours on a speed boat with young kids can be a bit of a tiring experience.
  • Resort is expensive. We tend to splurge on our beach resorts as it is one of the few times during our getaways that we seem to spend more time in the room as we are around for naps and lounging on the resort’s beach. Thus, the room matters, the beach matters, and the service matters (even more).
  • On the day of departure, despite leaving the room before the official check-out time, the staff seemed to rush us a bit. Literally cleaning people were waiting at the doorstep as we finished packing. Not the most relaxing way to round out a trip.
  • The speed boat was not reliable and late departing. This made our trip to the airport to catch our flight to Chiang Mai later that day a little more stressful than it needed to be!

Full 10-Day Thailand Itinerary!

Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands (Besar & Kecil)

If we had to pick one island destination on the list to go back to it would be – The Perhentian Islands. The islands are made up of Perhentian Besar (the Big Island) and Perhentian Kecil (the Small Island) and are the most “off the beaten path” beach destination we have experienced to date. Truly a hidden paradise.

Although we enjoyed our time in Bali, Perhentian was a better fit (for us). Why? Well, have you ever heard of them? Most people haven’t and that’s what makes them so appealing. It’s all the beauty without the crushing commercialism.

Besar is the bigger of the two islands and it’s a bit more developed than its smaller neighbor, Kecil. We found the accommodations (for families) to be better appointed there, and more restaurant options seemed to abound as well.

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Where to Stay: Tuna Bay Resort. Great for both the beach and accommodations. Snorkeling through the reefs right off the shoreline seriously felt like swimming through a huge aquarium…all within sight of our beach front bungalow. Interested in seeing what the islands have to offer? Either trek through the jungle or hire a water taxi and hop from one deserted beach to another. If you’re lusting after seclusion this is the perfect getaway pick!

What We Loved:

  • Early check-in available. The staff had our room ready 1.5hours before scheduled time.
  • Great villa right on the beach with a small porch and a couple of captain’s chairs. Overall, the room was not as nice as Koh Mook and a bit more basic, however, being on the beach was still worth the extra cost here as our littler one was able to nap easily inside the room while our older one still enjoyed the beach and we were able to hear the waves at night.
  • The staff at this resort was our favorite out of the 5 listed! Shout-out to Mr. Tony for making sure our little travelers had a fantastic time during meals and for helping us plan some of our island adventures!

 

  • The beach had soft sands, but more coral than Koh Mook. Again, minimal waves made it very child-friendly.
  • Excellent snorkeling without even leaving the resort’s beachfront and we bet the diving is even better! One more reason to get PADI Certified.
  • Water is crystal clear. Never in my life have I ever seen water this clear. Even the waves were completely see through. It was incredible.

  • No roads on the island, but water taxis made it easy to see and experience other parts of the islands and made for an even neater experience. Don’t forget that you can bargain a bit with water taxi drivers, too! Plan on $4 – 5 USD/ride.

  • Want to walk? Great hiking opportunities (just remember the bug spray) through the jungle as much of these islands remains untouched.
  • Quieter than the neighboring Kecil Island (the other island included in “the Perhentian Islands”). Kecil is a better choice if you’re seeking more of a “party/backpacker vibe.” We still encourage you to take a water taxi over to “the small island” though to walk about and see the differences for yourself. Miles scored some pretty delish eats and would give it two thumbs up!
  • Epic sunsets!
  • Most definitely “off-the-beaten-path.” Heck you won’t find much out there about this tiny island! Most folks stay on the west-side of Malaysia and hit up the resorts on Langkawi, so this is off the radar for most.

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Where It Missed the Mark:

  • It’s time consuming to get to The Perhentian Islands as the island is located on the east-side and many of the big tourist spots are located on the west-side of Malaysia. You’ll most likely take a flight out of Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu to get here. Then, a long van ride to Kuala Besut Jetty which will be followed by a short ferry ride to the islands. So, it’s most definitely a process.

  • Resort is expensive and not quite as nice as Koh Mook. We tend to splurge on our beach resorts as it is one of the few times during our getaways that we seem to spend more time in the room as we are around for naps and lounging on the resort’s beach. Thus, the room matters. The beach matters. And the service matters.
  • Unlike Koh Mook, there is no pool available.
  • Breakfast buffet (included in booking.com rate) was mediocre.

Full 9-Day Malaysian Itinerary!

Bali’s Nusa Lembongan

This is where the “somewhat” comes from in title…as nowadays it’s crazy to suggest that Bali is off the beaten path at all. Even though Bali itself is a beach getaway, we were looking for something a little more secluded and a lot quieter than the Instagram laden main island could provide us. There certainly is no shortage of places to choose from to get your “ocean fix” in this part of Indonesia and depending on who you ask, “the best place” varies substantially. For us, however, Nusa Lembongan seemed to fit the bill pretty perfectly. That being said, this was still the most traditional beach getaway on this list.

Where to Stay: Tamarind Resort. It’s not hard to find a nice place on Bali, but after going through the trouble to take the ferry off the main island we wanted to end our trip with someplace special. Tamarind definitely fit the bill, with a spectacular view, and a room with HUGE windows to enjoy it. It’s also centrally located on the island, making getting pretty much anywhere a breeze.

What We Loved:

  • Out of the 5 resorts listed, this one is the most easily accessed being just a short ferry ride (~30minutes) from Sanur.
  • Resort room is filled with tons of natural light due to the large windows. Having coffee on the balcony is a real treat as you watch the island wakeup.

  • Although not directly on the beach, this resort has a wonderful view from the resort’s infinity pool. Just look at that picture below!
  • Kid’s pool is available and has some lounge chairs for adults.

  • Excellent breakfast (included in our booking.com rate). Maybe our favorite out of all of the resorts! Order two items off a set menu. Definitely plenty of food (perhaps too much, I never could finish all of it)!

  • Rent (so cheap!) a scooter or a golf cart and go explore the island! Lots of little places to check out…Emerald Cove, Devil’s Tear, Dream Beach, and Lighthouse Beach. Be prepared for a bit of trial and error when exploring as not everything is well marked and many “streets” err…. maybe “paths” would be a better word are a work-in-progress at best.
  • Exploring Nusa Cenigan, a neighboring island, is easy with a scooter/golf cart (just head over the bright yellow bridge).

  • There are some excellent restaurants to snag a bite (+ a view)….we’re looking at you Sandy Bay Beach Club! Tables (& toes) in the sand + music + candlelight + solid menu… I mean, it’s a no brainer. You’ll need to arrive early to snatch up one of the tables in the sand and most people generally stay through sunset.

Where It Missed the Mark:

  • Speed Ferry not punctual. Although we were scheduled to depart at 1730, we didn’t leave but until 1820. Almost an hour late! Make sure to build in a buffer.
  • No dock for the speed boat which means depending on when you arrive/depart you may get wet. We literally had to dodge waves and run to the ferry when we departed Sanur and when we arrived at Nusa Lembongan had to switch boats and take a tender in because of the change in tide.

  • Easily accessible also means that it’s more crowded than the other islands listed in this article and not as “off-the-beaten-path” compared to the other four.
  • Although beaches were beautiful, but they were not as gorgeous as the others. They also had by far the most surf, making them not nearly as child-friendly.
  • Getting around the island can be a tad bumpy. The roads uuhhh… paths could most definitely be better maintained. 
  • Overall no where near as quiet as the other islands, even if it is still WAY quieter than a lot of other places in Bali. Cough…Ubud.

Full 9-Day Bali Itinerary!

Cambodia’s Koh Rong Samloem

Cambodia might not be the first country you think of when looking for a beach getaway, but it turns out it has some incredible off the beaten path options! It was a bit of extra effort to get to the island, but it was another great example of how some additional work can make a huge difference. After a short flight and a slightly longer boat ride, we were met with a beautiful white beach, an amazing sunset, and the laid back vibe we had been looking for at the end of our trip. 

Samloem is the smaller of the Cambodian islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, and manages to escape the stereotypical drunken backpacker party vibe that its larger sister island, Koh Rong, is well-known for. Its only about 25km from mainland, but feels like another world entirely. Just look at those colors below!

Where to Stay: Sol Beach Resort. Even though Koh Rong Samloem is a little more off the beaten path, there are still quite a few places to stay. You won’t have a hard time finding something for any budget…including hostels. Sol Beach seemed to fit the bill of not being too expensive, but still providing beachfront bungalows and a few other amenities to make this part of the trip a little more luxurious.

What We Loved:

  • There is a dock making arriving to and departing from the island easier. Even if you are wearing swimwear, it’s nice to arrive at the hotel somewhat dry…especially if you have a camera and laptop with you.
  • Small tender boat will pick you up from the dock and take you to the resort (although the dock that at least we arrived at wasn’t that far away and the resort was totally walkable). *The dock we departed from was different and a bit further away.*
  • Nice short shoulder welcome massage while checking in. This was Penny’s first (+ only) professional massage and we’d say she loved it the most! Oh goodness, Dom and I are in trouble!

  • Our villa was right on the beach and included a lovely porch. Once again, we are big fans of splurging for a beachfront place if at all possible. The kids could go crazy playing while we relaxed. The convenience was worth it.
  • The soft sands of the beach and the minimal waves made it very child-friendly.
  • Nice swings on the beach in front of our bungalow. Great for those epic sunsets!
  • Free beach toys available for the kiddos to use! We hadn’t even finished checking in when our two babes spotted them. They were so excited!

  • Spa prices were fair (although a tad higher than on mainland).
  • Great opportunities to hike to other beaches and move away from the main tourist spot, Saracen Bay, trekking to lesser known spots. We recommend Lazy Beach to enjoy a bit more surf, clear warm waters and (for the most part) an abandoned beach! Even with the “off the beaten path vibe,” there is a nice ex-pat run bar/restaurant with some great drink specials and delicious food.

  • VERY quiet. Koh Rong is a place that gives off a bit more of a “party vibe” and things are a lot quieter on Samloem. That being said, there were still enough hotels scattered about the island, most with their own restaurants that you could go to if you were looking for something a little different.
  • Epic sunsets! Most of the hotels face west, making for quite a show at the end of the day.

Where It Missed the Mark:

  • We had to pay for an extra bed for Miles which cost $25/night making our stay a bit more expensive.
  • No pool available for when everyone has had enough sand.
  • The resort advertised wifi, but that’s spotty (read: almost non-existent).

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  • Sea floor seemed a tad muddier than some of the other locations, which were mostly soft sand.
  • Food was a bit disappointing. Breakfast (included in our room rate via Booking.com) was an order off the menu kind of thing and was 100% extra disappointing. That being said, there are several other options just a short walk down the beach.
  • Ferry is not timely (late departing and late arriving). Make sure to have extra time on both sides of your itinerary to make sure you don’t miss your next connection.

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Full 9-Day Cambodia Itinerary!

Vietnam’s Con Dao

We spent several weeks learning about Vietnam when preparing for our first trip to northern part of the country. Never once did we read a word about Con Dao. Even when we started focusing on our plan for Southern Vietnam, it took hours of research before we finally caught mention of this tiny former prison colony, once known as “Hell on Earth” due to the torture endured by the prisoners here. Not exactly the typical description you are looking for in your next tropical paradise…

Thankfully, those times have passed, and today’s Con Dao offers a largely unknown (to tourists) getaway with some of the most amazing beaches and dramatic scenery in any part of southeast Asia. With the opening of the Six Senses Resort in 2011, the island has begun to draw higher-end tourism (Brad and Angelina stayed here), but even today it maintains a very relaxed and authentic vibe. Unfortunately, we were not on a superstar budget, but we did still manage to find an incredible place to stay with a beautiful private beach. Even so, we found time to explore and learn about the island’s difficult past.

Where to Stay: Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa. While it is certainly getting better, hotels on Con Dao are mostly VERY bare bones, many of which don’t even have air-conditioning. We don’t mind roughing it, but with 90+ degree temps during the day, a little respite from the heat at night was something we were interested in. To be honest, we really wanted to stay at Six Senses, the premier resort on the island, but it was way way above our price range. We compromised and settled on Paulo Condor…still a bit on the expensive side, but it offers an extremely relaxing place to spend your vacation completely surrounded by nature.  Yes, the food prices are very high, but we try to eat out in town anyway (and breakfast was included).

What We Loved:

  • Largest villa backing up to a lovely lotus pond with two porches. Great green lawn in the back with Adirondack chairs to enjoy a morning cup of coffee.
  • Huge outdoor bathroom complete with outdoor shower and deep spa tub.

  • Most dramatic scenery of any of the islands. This place feels like you’ve stepped into Jurassic Park, with limestone cliffs soaring right up out of the ocean.  Absolutely stunning!
  • Island is fairly easy to explore with a scooter and taxis are also available. Taxis do charge a premium though, so make sure to factor that in when planning your adventures.
  • Roads are well-maintained and smooth.

  • Island’s history is fascinating and it is easy to infuse both history + culture into your visit. The dichotomy of visiting “Hell on Earth” while in a tropical paradise definitely mixes up the usual super relaxed beach getaway quite a bit!

  • Widest beach (and most of the time deserted when we were visiting). Additionally, the waters are calm and the depth increases VERY gradually into the ocean. Super-child friendly!

  • Breakfast buffet (which was included in our Booking.com reservation) had a variety of options. Each morning we chose a table outside and then ordered whatever we wanted from the menu that morning (no limit!).
  • Large children’s pool in addition to an even larger “big kid” pool available directly behind the restaurant.

  • Very quiet at the resort (probably tied with Koh Mook on this front).
  • Most definitely “off-the-beaten-path.” Heck you won’t find Con Dao coming up in many Google searches. Most folks head to Da Nang, Nha Trang, or Phu Quoc. If you are trying to avoid the “partying backpacker vibe,” this is your place.

Where It Missed the Mark:

  • We had to pay for an extra bed for Miles which cost $25/night making our stay a bit more expensive.
  • Although the resort is located on a private beach the actual bungalows are not (Six Senses Resort will give you that option for a *much* bigger price tag).

  • Pedal bicycles were free and included in our stay (sounds great, right?), but not maintained making them almost impossible to use, even with Dom’s past life working at a bike shop. The two with child seats had harnesses that were broken. There is nothing less relaxing than thinking your toddler is going to jump off the back while you are struggling to maintain balance on a wobbly bike without brakes. Our use of these unfortunately didn’t last long.
  • Breakfast (included in our Booking.com rate) was solid, but 2 out of the 3 days the service was very slow. Our advice? Order everything you think you may want to order up-front. Our kiddos get antsy if they have to sit for too long and became a bit wild (especially when they knew that just a few steps away a killer beach and a fantastic pool await). Save your sanity. Order all of it from the get go and get over the feeling that you look like a pig.

  • Priciest food out of all the resorts and overall we did not find it to be a good value.
  • Strange rules printed in the Hotel’s Welcome Book about not bringing in outside food from other establishments. Weird. I’m not sure if they actually enforce this rule, but considering the hefty price tag of the food items offered by the resort we feel like this was an effort to somewhat take advantage of guests. Our advice? Scoot into town and pick one of the many restaurants to have dinner at and save yourself a few bucks! Scenery is great along the way, roads are well-maintained, and the food is a much better value!
  • Most expensive island to access efficiently. We took a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao via Vasco Airlines. At the time of booking we did not realize how unreliable Vasco was and how often they cancelled flights for no apparent reason. Our flights were delayed going to the island and coming back from the island.

Southeast Asia has some of the best beaches in the world, but as the secret gets out it is harder and harder to have that secluded family getaway that you may be picturing. By putting in a little extra time and effort, however, there are certainly several fantastic options. Most of the places discussed above had very few other people, relaxed vibes, and were perfect for letting us focus on what we were really there for…making memories with our kids.

COMING SOON: Our Full 9-Day Central/Southern Vietnam Itinerary!

Add Some Island Time into our Full 9-Day Northern Vietnam Itinerary!

Thinking about heading to Southeast Asia, but not yet ready to pull the trigger on your trip?

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