Palawan, The Philippines
Anchoring the southwest corner of the Philippines, Palawan is a largely undeveloped island that channels the wild vibe of nearby Borneo, in Malaysia. The island's natural treasures include eerie Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River and the pristine coral gardens of super-remote Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park - both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Nothing defines Palawan more than the water around it. With seascapes the equal of any in Southeast Asia, and terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, the Philippines’ most sparsely populated region is also the most beguiling.
A tiny island off the west coast of Malaysia, Pangkor is overshadowed by heavyweight destinations like Penang and Langkawi. But that's a good thing for anyone who longs for a more authentic experience. Pangkor's east coast is spangled by stilt houses in old-fashioned kampong villages, where fishing and boat-building are still the main occupations. Meanwhile, the gorgeous west coast offers white-sand stretches wrapped around turquoise bays.
Among local landmarks are the ruins of the 17th-century Dutch Fort and Fu Lin Gong Temple, with its extravagant Taoist sculptures and miniature version of China's Great Wall. You can crash at one of the modest beach bungalows along Coral Bay or splash out at the posh Pangkor Laut Resort.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Located near the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Koh Rong is famous for its serene beauty. Often described as an ‘island paradise’ by visiting tourists, the island boasts pristine white sandy beaches, warm crystal-clear ocean waters, and a hot tropical climate.
With 23 beaches, Koh Rong offers plenty of options for sun, sea and sand, while the heavily forested interior beckons those in search of raw nature. Most of the accommodation options on the island are backpacker-friendly while the upscale Song Saa Private Island resort appeals to island-hoppers looking for all the creature comforts.
Andaman Islands, India
Framed by the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the Andaman archipelago is a mash-up of modern mainland India and old-world keepsakes - not to mention countless beaches, bays and coral reefs. In this tropical backwater, visitors can mingle with the early morning cows and fishermen on Corbyn's Cove Beach, or scuba in the warm waters of Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, and soak up the exotic sights and smells of Aberdeen Bazaar in Port Blair -- the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Southeast Asia meets the South Pacific in this exotic archipelago, located off the west coast of New Guinea in far eastern Indonesia. Considered one of the world's top dive spots, Raja Ampat is home to largely untouched coral reefs that are teeming with biodiversity. Though scientists are still studying the ecosystem, the WWF counts more than 1,300 species of coral reef fish and five species of rare and endangered sea turtles among the wealth of sea creatures.
Above the surface, Raja Ampat's dramatic karst topography - think southern Thailand without a thousand hotels - is ripe for jungle walks and rock climbing. But it takes some work to reach this scuba divers' paradise. The islands can be reached via a six-hour flight from Jakarta or small ship-adventure cruises offered by the likes of Coral Expeditions.
Con Dao, Vietnam
Once a penal colony known as the Devil's Island of French Indochina, this 16-island archipelago off the Mekong Delta has turned to more peaceful pursuits in modern times. Reachable by flight from Ho Chi Minh City or ferry from Vung Tau, Con Dao offers coral reefs, palm-shaded beaches, rainforest trails and chic beach hotels like the Six Senses Con Dao.
To learn more about the island's war-plagued past, travelers can explore the Revolutionary Museum - located in the former French commander's residence - or tour the old prisons on the main island. The best way to get around Con Dao is via motorbike, easy to hire from most hotels or a local rental outfit.
Con Dao is a haven for outdoorsy types too, with plentiful scuba, snorkeling and fishing opportunities. Between May and October, visitors can watch sea turtles lay their eggs, while the infants hatch and scramble into the sea.
Koh Phayam, Thailand
Thailand's beach scene is constantly changing, as resort areas expand to accommodate increasing tourist numbers. But one island that continues to retain its retro past is Koh Phayam, off the coast of southern Ranong province in the Andaman Sea. There is much debate about whether the island - when seen from above - resembles a giant manta ray or a massive kangaroo kicking its feet into the air. But one thing is for sure: Koh Phayam is blissfully empty compared to Thailand's better known islands.
Phayam has a year-round population of just 500 people - and there aren't many tourists either. Accommodations are modest yet charming, including beach bungalow hotels like King Paradise Resort. Most of the action centers around crescent-shaped Aow Yai Bay - also known as Long Beach or Sunset Beach.
It's the go-to venue for beachfront dining, as well as after-dark parties. Between May and October, the Indian Ocean churns up surfable waves along Aow Yai. No matter what the time of year, Koh Phayam offers scuba and snorkeling, cycling, motorbiking, kayaking and surf fishing.
While much of Japan's huge northern island has been developed, a few corners of Hokkaido still offer a wild, untouched atmosphere. Inhabited by brown bears, sea eagles and a host of other creatures, the island's diverse landscape features snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs, lakes and temperate northern forests. The trees explode with color each fall and shed a sea of blossoms each spring.
The raw natural beauty of Hokkaido's national parks - especially Daisetsuzan, Shiretoko and Akan in the northeast - feels more like Alaska than what you would expect to find in Asia. Another draw is the traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring) - culture. Hokkaido boasts 23 hot spring areas and 11 different types of onsen, from simple thermal and sulfur to lesser-known radium, ferruginous (iron oxide) and cupriferous (copper) springs.
The largest island in a marine national park of the same name, Lampi blends virgin rainforest, secluded beaches, coral gardens and local maritime traditions. The area is teeming with wildlife, running the gamut from pangolins (like small, scaly anteaters) to colorful hornbills, flying foxes, "dugong" manatees, sea turtles and dozens of coral and tropical fish species.
In addition to wildlife, Lampi is also a refuge for the Moken "sea gypsies" - one of Myanmar's smallest ethnic groups - who have lived on the island for generations. Within the national park boundaries are five Moken villages, as well as several related spiritual and cultural sites.
One of the Amami islands south of the Japanese mainland, Tokunoshima is known for its bloodless bullfighting. The bovine equivalent of sumo wrestling, the events see massive bulls try to push one another out of a ring surrounded by cheering farmers - many of whom placed bets on the beasts.
Aside from quirky past times, Tokunoshima also draws those in the know to its pristine coral reefs - as one of the most secluded places to scuba or snorkel in the western Pacific. Empty beaches, weird coastal rock formations and obscure World War II landmarks add to the island's offbeat allure.
Tokunoshima is famous for yet another reason: longevity. The island is home to the world's highest percentage of people living beyond 100 years.