Yes, Asia is a long flight from the U.S., and the jet lag can be a beast. But when it comes to finding islands that have it all — rich culture, healthy marine life, endless white-sand beaches — you’d be hard-pressed to find a more spectacular part of the world.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.
Related: The 2018 World's Best Awards
After two years of winning the No. 1 spot, the Philippine island of Palawan has been unseated, although it still makes an appearance on both this and the overall islands list thanks to its friendly locals, crystal-clear seas, and top-notch diving (don’t miss El Nido, with its limestone islets, and Coron Island, where you can dive among World War II shipwrecks). Sister island Cebu also made the cut. One reader, who swam with whale sharks there, calls it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Koh Samui, which is Thailand’s third-largest island and just a one-hour flight from Bangkok, earned praise for its idyllic beaches dotted with seafood restaurants and bars, as well as its range of accommodations (the Four Seasons Resort here took No. 4 in the Top 10 Southeast Asian resort hotel category). Travelers can hike to the pristine Na Muang waterfall and explore Ang Thong National Marine Park, a protected reserve of more than 40 islands. “I’ve been twice to Koh Samui and won’t hesitate to go back,” said one reader.
Over in Indonesia, the perennial honeymoon destination of Bali continues to enchant; visitors practice yoga high in the hills of Ubud and surf the windswept shores of newly trendy Canggu. But for those who prefer their white-sand beaches slightly less traveled, Indonesia’s Lombok, a 30-minute plane ride from Bali, is an interesting alternative. And the No. 1 island, as voted by T+L readers, is another Indonesian stunner that is as exciting as it is idyllic. Read on to see how all these magical destinations stacked up.