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Seven blissful island boltholes in Southeast Asia

Seven blissful island boltholes in Southeast Asia

Seeking soul-soothing seclusion or an eco-luxe escape? When the white noise of urban life gets too loud, you know it's time for a quick exit. Hop on a plane to one of these heavenly hotels on the beautiful and exotic islands of south-east Asia. Stay in a boutique bolthole that melts into the tropical scenery or go native at an ethically-minded rustic retreat with quirky tufted thatch villas overlooking the ocean. Take the plunge and travel to a hip hideaway on the edge of far-flung paradise with local staff, sustainable resources and projects to enrich and protect the locale.

Here are seven of the most blissful spots in south-east Asia, so enchanting that, like the Odyssey's Island of the Lotus Eaters, all thoughts of the outside world evaporate like morning mist.

  1. Nihiwatu, Sumba, Indonesia

    The island of Sumba, Southeast Asia

    Get lost in paradise on the far-flung unspoilt island of Sumba in Indonesia, an hour's flight from Bali. The exclusive barefoot beach retreat of Nihiwatu started as a simple surf lodge looking out on a vast sandy shore washed by the crisp curling waves that the region is famous for. It has retained its untamed style - all verdant foliage, thatched roofs, natural wood, stone and sand - but has been upgraded with the smartest of accessories.

    Nihiwatu retreat, Sumba island, Southeast Asia

    The cool rustic villas have beachy-chic interiors with four-poster beds, the resort serves fresh locally-sourced haute cuisine, and there's even a spa safari to ensure guests are pampered to perfection. The resort is a closely guarded secret among the rich and adventurous, but mere mortals can probably rustle up the cash for a couple of nights. Drift off to sleep to the sound of the sea on the shore, tucked up beneath a blanket of stars in the outdoor bedrooms. Gaze out on acres upon acres of untouched papaya and palm forest from your ruggedly luxurious villa on the edge of tropical wilderness.

  2. The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia

    The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia, Southeast Asia

    Seek out soul-soothing seclusion at the Datai resort nestled in the fringes of ancient rainforest on the sloping north-western shores of Langkawi. Pitched off the Malay Peninsula's Andaman Sea board surrounded by rich blue-green waters, the island is a natural refuge for local flora and fauna as well as escape artists from around the world. The Datai overlooks a pristine crescent moon bay that has been named among National Geographic's top 10 beaches. The complex that includes pools, villas and dining venues surrounded by untamed forest is designed to blend in with its surroundings.

    Open pavilions on stilts above a wide shallow stream are the setting for the resort spa that uses traditional Malay healing practices and medicinal jungle plants in its relaxing and rejuvenating therapies and treatments. The resident naturalist Irshad Mobarak oversees the resort's eco-conservation programme and guides guests on nature walks through the 10 million-year-old rainforest to spot enchanting creatures such as dusky leaf langurs and Asian fairy bluebirds.

  3. Amanpulo, Pamalican Island, the Philippines

    Amanpulo, Pamalican Island, the Philippines, Southeast Asia

    Levitate in the height of tropical luxury at this private boutique retreat in the Philippines, an up-and-coming destination with a booming economy. Far less known than some other far-eastern spots, the country's jigsaw-puzzle of islands offer a chance for real adventure and exploration, as well as the opportunity to discover the pristine paradise of Pamalican Island in the sheltered Sulu Sea.

    The remote island resort is ringed by white sand beaches as pure as the driven snow with thriving coral reefs just offshore. It's heaven for scuba and snorkel enthusiasts, while luxury-loving landlubbers will appreciate the exquisite interiors, first-rate amenities and faultless service.

  4. Song Saa, Cambodia

    Song Saa, Cambodia, Southeast Asia

    On the tourist track less-trampled, tiny Song Saa Resort sits on twin private islands within the Cambodian Koh Rong archipelago. The chic wooden environmentally-friendly villas with large decks and curved infinity pools are perched either above the sea, on the beach or on the edge of the jungle. Song Saa's world-class on-site restaurant will have you singing songs of joy as you sip champagne and feast on fresh seafood.

    For those who want to explore further afield, leisure activities are far from confined to the resort, with the hosts organising boat trips to secluded beaches, picnics and diving in underwater coral gardens. The resort is accumulating good karma too by establishing a marine reserve alongside local development and sustainability projects.

  5. Six Senses Yao Noi, Phang Nga, Thailand

    Six Senses Yao Noi, Phang Nga, Thailand, Southeast Asia

    One of my personal favourites for so many reasons - the rustic naturalistic design and the stirring view of the little limestone karst hillocks studding the calm turquoise sea make Six Senses Yao Noi a nature lover's tropical paradise. The secluded retreat's thatched villas are notched into a verdant hillside above Yao Noi island's perfect crescents of powdery soft sand. On the horizon Phang Nga's spectacular limestone-karst geologic marvels dot the ocean.

    The resort's clever treehouse chic design with trunk stump seats and tables, soft rich colours and candlelight from dusk brings out the delighted kid in you, and the suites are blissfully open to the elements with the option to close off the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Relax in the evening with movies on a giant screen at the beach-side "Cinema Paradiso".

  6. Plataran Borobudur Resort and Spa, Java, Indonesia

    Plataran Borobudur Resort and Spa, Java, Indonesia, Southeast Asia

    Set in the hills above the teak and palm forested plains between smoking volcanoes close to mystical Borobudur, Plataran's location is breathtaking and lends it a special kind of spiritual ambience. The giant tiered pyramid in the shape of a Buddhist mandala dates back to the 11th century and was buried in ash and rediscovered by Dutch explorers back in the 19th century. Today it's one of south-east Asia's most awesome ancient marvels and it's best visited at sunrise, making Plataran the perfect base.

    You can see Buddhist monks in their orange robes studying acres of carved reliefs spanning the monument and you can spend hours combing over the mysterious site at your leisure, with your accommodation just a stone's throw away. The eco-resort has light and breezy teak villas with large four-poster beds, perfect for spending a few nights soaking in the atmosphere in this enchanting part of Java and exploring traditional Tanjungen village next door. Of course the resort has an excellent restaurant, swimming pool and luxury spa that make it worthy of a visit in itself.

  7. The Sanctuary, Koh Phangan, Thailand

    The Sanctuary, Koh Phangan, Thailand, Southeast Asia

    Yoga, tasty veggie food, detox programmes, tie-dye, unique villas and a rustic beachfront restaurant festooned with fairy lights make this magical hippy hideaway in Thailand worthy of mention. I first stumbled across it more than a decade ago, on the east coast of Koh Phangan island away from the full moon party madness that the island has become notorious for. Certainly no-one in the area is petitioning for a road, so access is by long-tail boat taxi from nearby Had Rin to the beautiful coralline beach in front of the resort. The other option is a one-and-a-half hour hike along the undulating jungle-lined coastal path, but the walk is much more fun without a heavy bag. Although not as polished as the other places in this list, this quirky independent resort has some real one-off villas.

    The Rainbow House is built around the distinctive local smooth rounded rocks and uses them as architectural props, while another villa melts almost seamlessly into the jungle canopy. It's much more affordable than the average 4- or 5-star hotel and it has oodles of individuality and charm. Ignore the occasional snootiness of visiting yoga bunnies and channel the friendly peace-loving vibe. Be sure to try the veggie Masaman curry at the restaurant - mouth-wateringly delicious.

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Sasha Wood

Travel Muse

An assorted adventurer, nature lover, wildlife enthusiast, culture vulture, and beach buff - my...

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