Lesser-Known Destinations in Southeast Asia: The Waterlands

23 Feb, 2024 | A-> Z Guide

Go beyond the most popular tourist spots to explore these lesser-known Southeast Asia destinations in the Waterlands.

You have already visited the bustling travel spots in Southeast Asia like Bangkok, Saigon, and Bali. Now, you are looking for somewhere that is off-the-beaten-track, but just as rewarding. Let’s explore some lesser-known destinations in Southeast Asia, specifically in the waterlands. 

1. Ko Lipe - Thailand 

In southwest Thailand is a small island you can escape to during your Southeast Asia vacation called Ko Lipe (sometimes spelled “Koh Lipe”). A ferry or speedboat can take you there. Watch the break of dawn at the aptly-named Sunrise Beach, and then snorkel in the clear waters surrounding the island to marvel at coral reefs teeming with life at Tarutao National Marine Park. 

Along with the sea life which the park is most famous for, it is also home to more than a hundred species of birds. On land, foxes, boars, mouse deer, monkeys, and other critters reside in the park. 

Tarutao National Marine Park has some history as well pertaining to World War II when some of the prisoners and guards isolated on nearby Tarutao Island ran out of food and began banding together to attack ships passing through for supplies. Today, it is hard to imagine that with such a violent past; the park is so peaceful. 

If you can, try to save up a little energy after you are done exploring the park. You will need it to party all night at Pattaya Beach. Do not confuse Pattaya Beach with Pattaya City, which is a busy resort city. Pattaya Beach, by contrast, is not as touristy and offers plenty of room if you just want a spot to yourself on the sand during the day. It is up to you whether you want to join the party at night. 

Recommended Resort: Serendipity Resort Koh Lipe

Serendipity Resort Koh Lipe is just south of Sunrise Beach. It features gorgeous villas surrounded by trees and views of the ocean and includes free wi-fi and a restaurant offering a range of Thai and Western cuisine.

In fact, if you book a room with a view, you need not even leave your villa to walk to the beach to enjoy the sight of the sun rising above the water. It is truly a gem among luxury resorts in Southeast Asia.

2. Con Dao - Vietnam 

If you daydream of an island hopping through a chain of emerald jewels surrounded by clear waters, plan a visit to Vietnam’s islands of Con Dao. While swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving off the shores of these 16 islands, keep an eye out for the famous sea turtles that breed here. Along with the turtles, you may spy dolphins and dugongs as well as numerous other species in Con Dao National Park.  

In addition, you can hike up a forest trail on Bảy Cạnh Island to visit the famous historical Bảy Cạnh Lighthouse. The French constructed this lighthouse in 1885, situating it at 200 meters above sea level to ensure excellent visibility. Step inside to ascend the spiral staircase and behold the spectacular view at the top. 

Recommended Resort: Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa
For the best accommodations in Con Dao, spend your nights at Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa. This remarkable resort is located on the east side of the largest island adjacent to Vông Beach. Framed by Chua Mountain, it features serene pools, tropical gardens, dense foliage, and a unique mixture of Vietnamese and French colonial architecture.

Relax at the resort’s spa, take yoga or meditation classes, or borrow a complimentary bicycle to explore the surrounding area. Every moment of your stay will be pure magic.

3. Belitung - Indonesia 

In the Java Sea off the coast of Sumatra, there is a fascinating island called Belitung. At 1,840 square miles, it is certainly not the largest island in Indonesia, but it is also not all that small. It does not draw the same crowds that Bali does every year, making it one of the lesser-known destinations in Southeast Asia. Yet its size is comparable, and so is what it offers tourists in search of unique experiences. We can even say that some of the natural sites travelers encounter here are downright surreal. 

Bali is almost certainly on your list of destinations for your adventure in Indonesia, but Belitung should be as well. Book a boat tour, and you can island hop between the smaller islands that surround Belitung, most of which are concentrated north of Belitung. 

Two of the main highlights of a Southeast Asia vacation to Belitung include the 19th-century lighthouse on Lengkuas Island, and Tanjung Tinggi Beach, which features crystal-clear blue-green waters and large, rounded boulders. If you are staying in Tanjung Pandan city, be sure to also head to Tanjung Pendam Beach for spectacular sunsets. 

There is still more to do on Belitung: Hike up the massive Batu Baginda boulder for marvelous views, photograph the surreal “balancing rock”, and do not miss out on the pale green waters of Kaolin Lake. These are among the most unique places to visit in Southeast Asia.

Recommended Resort: Fairfield by Marriott Belitung
For the finest accommodations on Belitung, head to Fairfield by Marriott. This hotel’s central location on the island puts it within convenient reach of many of Belitung’s attractions. The resort combines modern and traditional influences for a pleasant minimalist vibe. 

Among the highlights of a stay at Fairfield by Marriott Belitung is a large, attractive swimming pool. There is also an on-site gym, a restaurant, and a couple of bars.

4. Koh Rong Island - Cambodia

Close to Sihanoukville is a peaceful island called Koh Rong. On this Cambodia’s tropical haven, 23 glorious beaches await you, each with its own distinctive charms. 

If you want to party, hang out at Koh Touch. This is where most of the tourists on the island gather; there are restaurants, clubs, and bars aplenty serving delicious food and refreshing beverages. 

Not into crowds? Make your way to the northern part of Koh Rong to the aptly named Lonely Beach. As this part of the island is more remote and has fewer amenities, there is a good chance you can have a long stretch of sand to yourself. 

On the western side of the island, you can check out another serene destination called Lazy Beach. Kick back and be as languid as you want; the gentle sounds of nature will soon lull you into a peaceful afternoon nap.

Though the sands of Koh Rong’s beaches exert a strong pull, make sure you head out into the water to snorkel and scuba dive among the reefs. Try taking a nighttime boat tour as well to view one of nature’s most remarkable sights: glowing blue plankton lighting up the waves. 

Other activities to experience while visiting Koh Rong include jet skiing, kayaking, windsurfing, hiking, cycling, and zip lining. 

Recommended Resort: The Royal Sands Koh Rong
The Royal Sands Koh Rong is located on the southwest coast of the island and is one of the finest luxury resorts in Southeast Asia. Once you have a chance to walk the length of its 400-meter white sand beach and experience accommodations fit for a king, you will have a deep appreciation for its name. You can even book an ocean-view room with a private swimming pool. 

While staying at Royal Sands Koh Rong, indulge yourself at the Senses Spa, work out at the resort’s gym, and dine on seasonal foods at the delicious Ocean Restaurant. The resort also employs local guides who can take you on an adventure trekking through the jungle or mountain biking. 

5. Si Phan Don - Laos 

Si Phan Don, or the “4000 Islands,” is a collection of islands in the Mekong River in southern Laos. The majority of the islands are too small to be developed; as a result, they are pristine and uninhabited, saved for a few laid-back villages.

A lengthy bus ride is required to get to the 4000 Islands, which discourages some tourists. For you, that is a good thing - it means being able to enjoy Si Phan Don without crowds.

There are bicycles and motorbikes for rent on the islands, perfect for exploring the sleepy little villages. Khone Phapheng Falls is also located in Si Phan Don; these stunning cascades are the largest in Southeast Asia. Be sure to rent a kayak as well for your chance to see endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, adorable animals with an almost whale-like appearance.

Recommended Resort: Pon Arena     

While experiencing this part of your Southeast Asia vacation, we recommend a stay at Pon Arena. 

This comfortable hotel is conveniently located on the island of Don Khong, making it the ideal staging post for your adventures exploring the 4,000 islands.
Be sure to book one of the rooms that offer a view of the Mekong River for the best experience. When you are ready to relax at the end of a day kayaking or cycling, you can take a dip in the hotel’s riverfront pool. There is also an on-site restaurant, along with amenities including laundry, cable internet access, air conditioning, and more.

The Waterlands of Southeast Asia Await You 

Some of the most unique places to visit in Southeast Asia are concentrated in the waterlands. At each, you will find spectacular scenery, fun activities, and sumptuous resorts. To experience the Southeast Asian waterlands at their finest, design your trip with Exotic Voyages. 

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