Relaxing places in Asia
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Kep once was, and maybe will be soon again, a posh seaside resort town for the elite, but right now it is in between. It is a strange mix of hammock shacks for holidaying locals and upscale resorts for those with money. The beaches are close to nonexistent and the few narrow strips of gray sand are not impressive. As you probably guessed, we didn't stay for long, so we might have failed to find the true "soul of Kep". But the inland surroundings are as beautiful as they are all along the Cambodian coast.
Sihanoukville is Cambodian's answer to a beach resort area. There are several nice beaches around what might one day turn into one connecting town when all the developments are completed. The main beach drag is the crowded Serendipity Beach, which slides into the deserted Ochheuteal Beach. It is a shabby version of Phuket with ramshackle deck chairs, aged jetskis for rent and an endless stream of beach kids, massage ladies, beggers and cheap draft beer. Some people like the edge and seediness of the place (all the middle aged men certainly seem to like it), while others might wish they were in picture-perfect Thailand. Serendipity Beach has a lively backpacker scene where expats, sex tourists and young travellers meet over more cold beers. If you want to escape all the buzz and beach hawkers, hit for easy going Otres Beach further south or one of the many tropical islands off the coast, like Koh Russei (Bamboo Island) or Koh Rong (Monkey Island).
30 km across from Dili
Lying off the coast of Dili, Atauro Island is a great getaway destination, either for a full exploration or just a day trip on Saturdays when the ferry goes. There are good walks and, of course, excellent snorkeling, but else the main thing is just chilling out and tuning in to the simple life. The village of Makili, at the southern tip, is known for its wood carvers. If you cannot make it here, you can usually find a few carvers in Dili, selling their pieces in front of Castaway bar at the waterfront.
Jesus Backside Beach
A short drive from Dili
Tucked away in a cove on the backside of the hoovering Jesus statue lies one of the best beaches around Dili. It goes under the precise but utterly uncharming name of Jesus Backside Beach. It is a long stretch of white sand with gentle aqua blue water. Even though it is in close proximity to Dili, it is untouched and has some very good snorkeling right from the shore – maybe even some of the best in East Timor.
Check the photo gallery for more Timor beaches along the northern coast.
Off the shore of Labuanbajo, Flores
Just one hour away from Labuanbajo by boat, sits the island of Kanawa. It is the ideal place to disappear for a few days. The island is small and only takes about an hour to walk around. The beauty lies in the large hill in the middle and the surrounding mangroves around the backside of the island. The true greatness of the island is that the only sign of humans is 12 oceanfront bungalows and a restaurant (both very cheap). The island has great big patches of white sand to relax on and you never have to worry about noise disturbances. Take a walk out the jetty and jump in the water for a snorkel, and you will find world class reefs and an abundance of fish. It is the perfect getaway to forget about the rest of the world for as long as you want.
Lombok has also a Kuta Beach, which not surprisingly is called Kuta Lombok. The place reminds Bali fans of Kuta Beach Bali thirty years ago. Investors have now started to buy up seafront estate, so maybe in a couple of years it will turn into another tourist ghetto. But until then, Kuta Lombok is a getaway for surfers and travellers with a crave for easy living and nightly acoustic performances. During the day, fishing boats outnumber sunbathers on the long stretch of white sand. Kuta bay is protected by rough hills to both sides and the outer reef makes sure that the waves break a long way from the shore, leaving calm waters for those who fancy a swim. It is a tranquil place with a friendly vibe, but only God knows for how long.
North coast, Bali
Lovina is not just one place, but a collection of several fishing villages turned tourist hangouts. The coast here is fringed by beaches of black volcanic sand which are alright at the main tourist village at Kalibukbuk, but can be very trashy and littered at the less touristy villages, like Anturan. Most people are coming to Lovina for some dolphin watching and interesting snorkelling, but when those activities have been ticked off, the main thing is doing nothing - and maybe joining the local kids in the sea at sunset. The vibe is very mellow and when you first have declined the initial offers of massage/dolphin carvings/fishing-snorkelling trips/magic mushrooms/etc. you can walk in peace. Traditional life is still lived by the many friendly fishing families giving Lovina a refreshing authentic feel compared to the hectic beach spots in South Bali.
As an alternative to stay inside noisy Padang, you can stay at some of the beaches both north and south of town. Long wide beaches stretch as far as the eye can see, only fringed by tall coconut palms. Thatched huts, used by locals for weekend picnics, are scattered in the palm shades. Simple beach accommodation and food can be found, but don't expect much company - besides fishermen and cheeky children, you will pretty much have the whole place to yourself.
Sengigi is Lombok's sad attempt of a resort area. Though the stretch of beaches has a few fine hotels and eateries, the whole place has an abandon feel to it. Never finished hotel projects lie side by side with overgrowing land slots and pretentious concrete malls with vacant shops. The fairly nice palm fringed beach is patrolled by bored looking beach boys and friendly vendors. So use Sengigi for what it is good at, namely as a base. Eat some nice food, rent a scooter, and then explore the rest of Lombok - or go straight to Gili Islands.
It comes as a surprise to many that Sarawak doesn't have an abundance of tropical sandy beaches with clear blue water. Long stretches of Sarawak's coastline are covered in jungle, swamp, mangrove or rocks. However, patches of white sand do exist. In the western end of Sarawak, near Lundu, are several nice beaches where Pandan Beach is one among others. It's a long palm-lined beach with rocky outcrops at the ends. Keep in mind that it's a two-hour drive from Kuching, making it not the obvious choice for a day in the sun as there are beaches closer by, like on Damai Peninsula.