Ko Tao’s beaches are frequented by ocean-loving travellers, and for a few months every year, by hawksbill turtles and green turtles that breed in its secluded coves. Photo: empty007/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Picture this: Mornings dedicated to exploring waters full of neon corals and sting rays, afternoon naps on beach hammocks with ocean views, and evenings spent drinking at beach shacks with your toes in the sand and sea breeze in your hair. For many, Ko Tao is the ideal island. There are bountiful home reefs for snorkelling, hiking trails on land, and a wide range of accommodation options, from budget stays to luxury resorts. Many divers visit Ko Tao to get their beginner’s license, which includes reading theory chapters and prepping for the (relatively easy) diving test. Take a ferry to nearby Koh Phangan Island, to attend Thailand’s legendary Full Moon beach parties.
Getting There: Koh Samui and Chumphon have the closest airports and are connected to Koh Tao by ferry. Both airports have connections to Bangkok.
When to Visit: January to October
During summer, when the water is warm, divers and snorkellers around Havelock frequently encounter jellyfish. The species isn’t harmful, and will, at most, leave you with a minor sting that dissipates within minutes. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
Closer home, the aquamarine waters and white-sand beaches of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands beckon. There are a number of sites to explore but Havelock Island, with its warm waters and friendly instructors, is the most popular and suited for beginners. Its coral gardens, sunken cargo boats, and steep walls create a varied landscape that is home to the butterfly fish, octopus, seahorse, turtle, and starfish as big as frisbees. On land, unwind at Radhanagar on Havelock (voted amongst Asia’s best beaches), kayak through Havelock’s mangroves, or curl up with a book in your hotel. Stay options range from basic, thatched huts to boutique luxury resorts.
Getting There: Port Blair is the only commercial airport in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and is connected to Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai by daily flights. From Port Blair, take a public or private boat to Havelock Island (about 2 hr). Dive operators on Havelock usually include transfers from Port Blair in their packages.
When to Visit: October to May
The island of Pulau Tiga has two mud volcanoes, both tame enough for visitors to soak in. Immerse yourself, while you scan the canopy above for hornbills (right). Photos: Karen Dias
Pulau Tiga in Malaysian Borneo has throbbing rainforests on land, and marine forests in the water. Explore the island on foot, while keeping an eye out for hornbills, monitor lizards, and proboscis monkeys that live here. Soak in the island’s bubbling mud volcanoes, known for their healing properties. Then, stick on your flippers to explore the calm, lagoon-like waters of Pulau Tiga Park, a protected marine area inhabited by clownfish, angelfish, and anemone in all shapes and sizes. The reef is only a few metres from the beach, making it ideal even for those who don’t know how to swim. There are only two hotels on the island—the Survivor Lodge Pulau Tiga and a basic chalet run by regional park authorities—so the beach is blissfully empty.
Getting There: The city of Kota Kinabalu has the nearest airport to Pulau Tiga and is connected to other South East Asian cities. From Kota Kinabalu, travel to Kuala Penyu (2hr by road) and then a 30-minute ferry ride to Pulau Tiga.
When to Visit: April to September
is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.
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