As tourism booms in Asia, a handful of islands have stayed under-the-radar
From India to Indonesia, here are 12 of Asia's most raw and remote islands
Finding an empty beach in Asia was a breeze a few decades ago, but it’s not quite so easy anymore.
As zealous souvenir hawkers follow busloads of tour groups to Asia’s most famous islands, discerning travelers must look farther afield for more authentic getaways.
The good news? Whether your idea of paradise involves a tropical beach framed by palm trees, or wildlife encounters in the woods, Asia has an island for you.
From Indonesia to India, we’ve singled out a dozen of the best throw-back islands – places where traditional cultures and unspoiled landscapes will transport travelers back in time.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
The low-key island offers a glimpse of what Ko Samui was like 30 years ago.
While both the American and French versions of “Survivor” TV show were filmed in Koh Rong, the island is still far from the typical tourist track.
With 23 beaches, Koh Rong offers plenty of options for sun, sea and sand, while the heavily forested interior beckons those in search of raw nature.
Most of the accommodation options on the island are backpacker-friendly while the upscale Song Saa Private Island resort appeals to island-hoppers looking for all the creature comforts.
A tiny island off the west coast of Malaysia, Pangkor is overshadowed by heavyweight destinations like Penang and Langkawi.
But that’s a good thing for anyone who longs for a more authentic experience.
Pangkor’s east coast is spangled by stilt houses in old-fashioned kampong villages, where fishing and boat-building are still the main occupations.
Meanwhile, the gorgeous west coast offers white-sand stretches wrapped around turquoise bays.
Among local landmarks are the ruins of the 17th-century Dutch Fort and Fu Lin Gong Temple, with its extravagant Taoist sculptures and miniature version of China’s Great Wall.
You can crash at one of the modest beach bungalows along Coral Bay or splash out at the posh Pangkor Laut Resort.
The largest island in a marine national park of the same name, Lampi blends virgin rainforest, secluded beaches, coral gardens and local maritime traditions.
The area is teeming with wildlife, running the gamut from pangolins (like small, scaly anteaters) to colorful hornbills, flying foxes, “dugong” manatees, sea turtles and dozens of coral and tropical fish species.
In addition to wildlife, Lampi is also a refuge for the Moken “sea gypsies” – one of Myanmar’s smallest ethnic groups – who have lived on the island for generations.
Within the national park boundaries are five Moken villages, as well as several related spiritual and cultural sites.
The largest Moken village is located on neighboring Bo Cho island – part of Myanmar’s first marine national park, established in 1996.
To protect the park, Italian nonprofit group Oikos has partnered with Myanmar officials.
The institute maintains a research station on Bo Cho with a small museum dedicated to Lampi’s flora, fauna and Moken heritage.
Andaman Islands, India
Framed by the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the Andaman archipelago is a mash-up of modern mainland India and old-world keepsakes – not to mention countless beaches, bays and coral reefs.
In this tropical backwater, visitors can mingle with the early morning cows and fishermen on Corbyn’s Cove Beach, or scuba in the warm waters of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, and soak up the exotic sights and smells of Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair – the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Once a far-flung bastion of the British Empire, the Andamans are flush with colonial relics.
Explore the jungle-shrouded ruins on Ross Island, the gallows on Viper Island and the infamous Cellular Jail – where murderers and political prisoners were once incarcerated.
Just looking to relax? A short ferry ride from Port Blair, Havelock Island has transformed in recent years from a backpacker hangout into a hub of chic boutiques like the Barefoot at Havelock resort.
Palawan, The Philippines
Anchoring the southwest corner of the Philippines, Palawan is a largely undeveloped island that channels the wild vibe of nearby Borneo, in Malaysia.
The island’s natural treasures include eerie Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River and the pristine coral gardens of super-remote Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Along the northwest coast, Long Beach near San Vicente is the longest white-sand strand in the Philippines – eight miles (13 km) of pristine shoreline that’s so far unsullied by anything resembling a high-rise hotel or modern resort.
That’s not to say there aren’t cool places to crash nearby.
El Nido Resorts offers over-water bungalows at four secluded locations along Palawan’s northern coastline.
One of the Amami islands south of the Japanese mainland, Tokunoshima is known for its bloodless bullfighting.
The bovine equivalent of sumo wrestling, the events see massive bulls try to push one another out of a ring surrounded by cheering farmers – many of whom placed bets on the beasts.
Aside from quirky past times, Tokunoshima also draws those in the know to its pristine coral reefs – as one of the most secluded places to scuba or snorkel in the western Pacific.
Empty beaches, weird coastal rock formations and obscure World War II landmarks add to the island’s offbeat allure.
Tokunoshima is famous for yet another reason: longevity.
The island is home to the world’s highest percentage of people living beyond 100 years.
Japanese centenarian Shigechiyo Izumi (1865-1986), who reached the age of 120, claimed a daily swig of shochu – local sugarcane wine – was the secret to his ripe old age.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Southeast Asia meets the South Pacific in this exotic archipelago, located off the west coast of New Guinea in far eastern Indonesia.