Alex Garland’s 1996 novel The Beach gained cult status, especially amongst young western tourists who “backpacked” around Asia in search of places and experiences similar to those described in the book. Even though many critics saw the plot as a rehashing of Lord of the Flies, Garland did manage to accurately describe the backpacking culture and its obsession with exotic experiences and undiscovered (undiscovered by other western backpackers, that is) locales. IN reality, most of Asia’s best beaches have already been discovered. But that does not mean they are spoiled.
Cambodian towns of Kep and Sihanoukville offer a laid-back tourist scene complete with cheap bungalows, kids selling coconuts, and (relatively) uncrowded sands. These beaches do not have the “undiscovered” qualities some budget travelers might be in search of, but the locals are friendly the seafood delicious and the lack of a full-scale resort scene refreshing.
Malacca’s quiet and historic atmosphere offers plenty to do outside of sunning and swimming. An energetic night market and a town square, which harkens back to Dutch colonial days bring another layer to this Malaysian beach down. Pattaya is the capital of hedonism in Asia. A thriving waterfront serves as the epicenter of Thailand’s skin trade, and well as home to a plethora of nightclubs and sticky floored bars. Only a couple of hours from Bangkok, this beach town is worth a visit, if only to simply witness the spectacle the nightly goings-on.
Phuket is an island of options. Luxury resorts populate one part of Thailand’s largest island while bungalows and budget guesthouses can be found in another. Even though this is a popular destination, it’s easy to get around the island via bike (motorized or pedal-powered). There are some un-crowded stretches waiting to be discovered.
Bunaken is a rather un-extraordinary place. That is, until you head below the waves. This is one of the world’s premiere diving sites, and virtually every hotel and resort on the island offers guided dives and SCUBA certification courses.Nha Trang is Vietnam’s premiere beach city. This is a great place to learn how to dive, with many resorts and dive shops offering courses. The nice thing about Nha Trang is that, unlike Bunaken, you don’t have to be a hardcore diver. Beer soaked snorkeling ventures are also easy to come by. The Best Overall?
If you are searching for the unspoiled beauty celebrated in The Beach, it probably doesn’t exist. Me? I’ll settle for some coconut milk and a sunset in Sihanoukville any day.If you have a favorite beach, let me know about it in the comment area below.