Polluted, humid, and as chilly indoors as out, Hong Kong winters can be a real pain. One way to help cure the winter blues is to plan the perfect sun-sea-sand escape and luckily there some excellent options for amazing beach holidays just a short sojourn away.
Danang, Hoi An – Vietnam
Flight time from Hong Kong: 2 hours
Stay: Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula or Beachside Boutique Hoi An
Combine two trips in one. Danang offers a perfectly good beach break with a string of hotels and restaurants offering sun-sea-sand-cocktail combos. But the great thing about heading to Danang (other than the very short flight) is that if you start to feel restless, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An is a short taxi ride away.
For Danang, you can’t go wrong with a stay at the Intercontinental with its beautiful villas and private beach, as well as excellent room service and restaurants. It is a little isolated – even within the resort it is sometimes necessary to take a golf cart to get around – but they have regular shuttle buses into town and offer transport into Hoi An.
If you prefer to be close to Hoi An itself then an excellent choice is the Beachside Boutique, in An Bang, which is around ten minutes from the Old Town.
Traffic can be heavy in Danang particularly in peak hours so even with a two hour flight time, the overall journey can seen arduous. Hoi An is still recovering from the 2017 storms and flooding that left much of the area submerged, it’s worth checking ahead to make sure that your plans are not affected.
Flight time from Hong Kong: 2 hours 50 minutes
Lapu Lapu off the island of Cebu is one of the easiest beach escapes from Hong Kong. A direct flight in under three hours gets you into the tropical air, and a coterie of resorts are within 20 minutes drive of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. By far the most renowned is the Shangri-La at Mactan, which offers multiple restaurants, and its own private beach and coral reef, plus an affiliated boat shop – Scotty’s – to arrange excursions and activities. For those looking for chance to do nothing but decompress, relax, and swim – this is the perfect option. The beach is small at around 350 metres but there is plenty of soft sand, shacks, or lounger chairs and refreshments are easy to come by. It’s possible to snorkel and swim straight off it, within a few metres you’ll be surrounded by tropical fish and a thriving reef. They hotel is actively cultivating it’s coral gardens and has an eco-hub dedicated to teaching guests about protecting the waters, limiting plastic use, and respecting the sea life. Instagrammers will love the wooden huts at the end of both jettys as well as the opportunity to pick up a free Garmin camera at dedicated stations to film or shoot on the go. The Ocean Wing is a good choice if you’re a fan of cocktail hour and crave a full sea view, as well as a dedicated pool.
The only downside this region is that it’s not particularly easy or advisable to leave the resorts as they sit alongside run down areas. While Thailand and Vietnam tend to have beach towns where guests can wander along the beach or streets, this is not really possible in this part of Cebu. Each resort is enclosed and travelling out usually requires a taxi, so aside from the staff, there’s very limited interaction with the locals.
Flight time from Hong Kong: 2 hours
This year Trip Advisor named Ishigaki, part of the Japanese region of Okinawa that is often compared to Hawaii, as its top ‘destination on the rise’. A quick hop from Hong Kong, it offers a doorway into another world, with clear skies, low pollution, powdery white sands and lagoons in every shade of blue. There are mangrove forests to explore by kayak, or an abundance of reefs to explore by paddle board, snorkelling or diving. The coral beaches are pristine – though some may find walking barefoot uncomfortable and the water is surprisingly clear.
Club Med Kabira Ishigaki has repeatedly been voted the best hotel in Japan. Set on the shores of a marine park there is an abundance of sea life just by the hotel and encounters with manta rays and turtles are not unusual. It is all inclusive, which for some is a little claustrophobic, but for those looking for an easy life, it’s a pretty good deal.
But be warned, the secret about Okinawa is out, and visitor numbers are soaring by more than 10 percent each year. It’s hugely popular with tourists from other parts of the country as well as South Korea, Mainland China, and Taiwan, so is often extremely busy during the key holidays such as Chinese New Year and Golden Week.
Koh Samui, Thailand
Flight time from Hong Kong: 3 hours 30 minutes
Stay: Anantara Bophut Koh Samui
An easy flight to a very easy holiday – Koh Samui has lovely beaches and the Bophut area is an excellent choice for those looking for a affordable hotels, accessible beaches, but also plenty of dining and drinking options. There’s a “fisherman’s market” with everything from shops selling beachwear and jewellery to upmarket waterside restaurants. It’s a seasoned tourist destination and has the hustle and bustle that goes with that – from tooting motorbike taxis to the street touts. Koh Samui has everything – sandy beaches, hiking, watersports, even an ethical elephant sanctuary but those craving a more authentic experience might need to head on a boat to more remote destinations.
The Anantara is ideally located – it’s a short walk to the action of the markets and restaurants but also has its own beach, watersports shop, and is designed in a way that makes it seem secluded. The grounds are lush and the spa is styled like a hidden kingdom with grand doors and wooden bridges – an Instagrammers dream.
Jeju: South Korea
Flight time from Hong Kong: 3 hours
Stay: The Shilla Hotel or Citrus Guesthouse
Dubbed the ‘island of the gods’ by locals, it is a hugely popular holiday choice among Koreans, but Jeju remains relatively unexplored by Hong Kong’s travellers.
The UNESCO-listed island is an opportunity to try a different kind of beach break. There’s a range of activities – on sea and land – but it’s also a stunning place just to kick back and relax. Surf lovers should head to Jungmun for some powerful breaks, there are some excellent walking trails in the Hallasan National Park, but Seobin is the place for the picture perfect white sand against turquoise sea. Hotels on the island are somewhat dated and can be expensive. The Shilla is ideally located and always popular, but the best deals are in the smaller guest houses such as Citrus, which can be booked through AirBnB.
An increase in international visitors, particularly tour buses, has lead to some issues with rubbish and traffic. Few people speak English, and the Korean spoken on the island differs from that used on the mainland, so getting around can take some effort and energy.
Jimbaran & Uluwatu, Bali
Flight time from Hong Kong: 5 hours
Stay: Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay or Alila Villas Uluwatu
Bali needs no introduction really. After Thailand, it’s probably Hong Kong’s most booked beach holiday destination despite the long-ish flight time. An island of many facets, picking the area that best suits your vacation needs is key. Jimbaran is well located, has a long wide sandy beach, and plenty of options for dining and lazing. The Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay is a great escape but close enough to all the action if you feel like a night out. A lovely mix of Balinese culture with all mod cons – the villas are styled as traditional houses but come with infinity pools. The resort offers chances to try out local cookery and art classes, plus there is a private beach which is cleaned regularly.
Uluwatu is home to some of Bali’s best loved beaches – including Padang Padang, which was made famous by the Hollywood adaptation of Eat, Pray Love starring Julia Roberts, and Balangan, which is beloved by surfers and sun-worshippers alike. Opt for the Alila Villas Uluwatu for an alternative kind of stay. Nestled on a clifftop, the hotel’s villas are perfect for hunkering down for a long weekend and you can opt to have a butler service so every whim is catered for. Most villas have their own pool, and the resort also has a main infinity pool that looks out over the Indian Ocean. Designed with excellent eco-credentials, it is beloved by photographers too – particularly the dining areas that seemingly hang over the cliff edge.
The hotel has a private beach, but it’s some 600 steps down (and up) and accessible only when the tide is low enough. But staying here is an excellent way to avoid the crowds, and it’s easy enough to book a car to one of the more traditional beach spots.
Bali is a beach holiday favourite, but there is no escaping though that an increase in package tourists and cheaper air travel across has had an impact on air, noise and sea pollution.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo
Flight time from Hong Kong: 4 hours
Stay: Gaya Island Resort or Tanjung Aru Resort
Kota Kinabalu is often regarded as simply a gateway city to do the popular two-day hike to see sunrise from the summit of Mount Kinabalu or onward travel through Borneo. But it does have some good R & R options too. There are a string of international hotels dotted around the town, but the Tanjung Aru Resort, from Shangri-La, also has its own beach. It’s a small stretch of sand but the design of the place means it rarely feels busy. The spa, if you’re looking to feel even more relaxed, is set on its own little island, accessible only by bridge. Cocktails are excellent as are the views. The location means it is straightforward to arrange excursions, whether it’s sailing to the islands offshore, or heading into the rainforest, plus it is close to the airport.
If you’re craving a bit more glamour, then a 20 minute speed boat journey from Kota Kinabalu, gets you to Gaya Island, and its eponymous resort. It’s built up high in the jungle, which means an uphill walk to your room in high humidity, but it also means being enveloped by flora and fauna. The resort runs a marine conservation programme, so the sealife is blossoming, and it also has a turtle rehabilitation programme.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Travel Time from Hong Kong: 6 hours (via Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City)
Stay: La Veranda or Salinda Resort
A darling island in the Gulf of Thailand, there’s miles and miles of empty beaches and gorgeous water. It boasts a National Park, home to hundreds of animals, and some excellent hiking trails. Water babies will love snorkelling or diving as it’s possible to spot such rare marine life as dugongs and hawksbill turtles. A great place to stay is the La Veranda which was once a 19th century French colonial mansion, updated to become a grand guesthouse. It has its own private beach so its perfect for uninterrupted sunset strolls and sundowners. The other favourite with Phu Quoc lovers is Salinda, which has been a stalwart of the hotel scene here for decades.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Travel Time from Hong Kong: 6 hours (via Sihanoukville, onward transfer by bus and boat)
Stay: Coconut Beach Bungalows or Song Saa Private Island
Seasoned travellers often describe Koh Rong as ‘what Thailand’s islands used to be like’. There’s plenty of wild jungle, vast stretches of undeveloped beaches, opportunities to sleep under clear night skies, and even a raucous beach dedicated to wild parties. And while the secret is most certainly out, Koh Rong still has that feeling of being ‘off the beaten track’. On a clear night, the sky is breathtaking and the sea dances with bioluminescent plankton.
There’s plenty of simple and affordable options such as the Coconut Beach Bungalows.Those looking for a more luxurious option should try Song Saa. This stunning private island resort boasts its own marine reserve and is dedicated to giving back to the local community.
Travel Time: 7 hours (via Kuala Lumpur, or via Penang with onward ferry)
Stay: The Datai Langkawi
Langkawi, where thick jungle rolls into wide sandy beaches, is a nature enthusiasts dream with an abundance of birdlife, snakes, and monkeys. For lazy days there are plenty of beaches to unwind on – and despite the increase in hotel development – still a fair few beach shacks for a bohemian evening. For the restless, there’s plenty of diving and snorkelling options, through bring a rash vest or full wetsuit as there are jellyfish. There’s not one, not two, but THREE geoparks to explore in the region, as well as the option to explore mangrove and caves. The Datai Langkawi is an excellent choice to indulge the inner naturalist as they offer guided tours into the rainforest at dawn and at night. Plus they offer nature talks and excursions to better understand Langkawi’s remarkable landscapes. Be warned though the heat and humidity can take its toll quickly and the searing afternoon sun can limit activity. Make the most of the mornings.