9 top beach resorts in the South China Sea
Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Philippines might be fighting over a few remote, uninhabitable atolls and guano heaps deep in the South China Sea, but on most islands the sun rises and sets as beautifully as ever.
At these top regional resorts, you can be securely pampered like a movie star -- or senior party official.
Six Senses Con Dao
Once a notorious prison island, Con Dao is now one of the most exclusive island resort destinations in Southeast Asia.
A protected national marine park, the pristine island is best reached by a 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.
Six Senses Con Dao is the first five-star resort in the archipelago. Its 50 villas, each with a private pool, are spread along a mile of private beach.
Six Senses Con Dao, Dat Doc Beach, Con Dao District, Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province; +84 64 383 1222; www.sixsenses.com
Phu Quy Island
Further north, Phu Quy Island is an undiscovered prize for good reason -- it's not easy to reach and facilities are minimal. That makes it all the more appealing to some.
Boats to Phu Quy Island run every other day from Phan Thiet City. Tickets are US$7-14 and the trip takes five to seven hours. Rooms range US$10-20 at family-run guesthouses.
Options include: Anh Tuan Guesthouse, +84 62 376 9245; Minh Tan Guesthouse, +84 90 732 9006; and Thanh Thao Guesthouse +84 90 944 6311.
Occupying all of Hon Tre Island (just off the central city of Nha Trang), Vinpearl is a resort, theme park, golf course and aquarium rolled into one.
Vinpearl is reachable by a 10-minute speedboat from Nha Trang or by what's said to be the longest over-sea cable car in the world.
Vinpearl Resort Nha Trang, Hon Tre Island, Nha Trang; +84 58 359 8598; www.vinpearlluxury-nhatrang.com
Whale Island Resort
Two hours north of Nha Trang, Whale Island is named for the whales and whale sharks that frequently visit the island to feed.
There are even whale temples on the island, where fishermen pay tribute to the sea beasts.
Whale Island Resort has a National Geographic dive center for world-class diving. Its 23 bamboo bungalows sit directly on the beach, shaded by coconut palms.
Whale Island Resort, 2 Me Linh, Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa Province;+84 58 351 3871; www.anislandinvietnam.com
Catba Island Resort & Spa
Home to one of the most endangered primate species in the world -- the golden-headed langur -- Catba is located at the southwestern end of Ha Long Bay.
Catba Island Resort & Spa is the dominant hotel on the island, complete with a sizable water park, underground "Pirate Bar" and festively presented giant war-era gun turrets.
Catba Island Resort & Spa, Catco 1 Beach, Catba Island, Halong Bay; +84 31 368 8686; www.catbaislandresort-spa.com
Hainan might be China’s largest island, but it's also the country's smallest and southernmost province.
Often touted as China’s own Hawaii, the island is peppered with luxury resorts, beautiful scenery and rare wildlife, such as the Hainan black-crested gibbon.
The Sheraton Sanya Resort occupies 300 meters of private beach along Yalong Bay and has five swimming pools. The property's seven bars and restaurants mean you never need to leave the resort to hunt for variety.
Sheraton Sanya Resort, Yalong Bay National Resort District, Sanya Yalong Bay, Hainan; +86 898 8855 8855; www.starwoodhotels.com
A bit further down the beach, the Ritz-Carlton Sanya offers a family vacation with a complete program tailored for kids.
This includes a children’s butler, Uncle Martin’s Secret Garden (an active educational garden complete with fuzzy animals), deluxe pool for kids with water slides and Petit VIP -- a program to keep them busy, happy and out of your hair all day.
Ritz-Carlton Sanya, Yalong Bay National Resort District, Sanya, Hainan; +86 898 8898 8888; www.ritzcarlton.com
El Nido Resorts
El Nido Resorts has four Palawan properties, each on a different island, with luxury cottages perched above the beach and coral reefs.
Palawan is an archipelago of 1,780 islands in the western Philippines. The area is famous for its limestone cliffs and biodiversity, both on shore and in surrounding reefs.
El Nido Resorts; +63 2 813 0000; www.elnidoresorts.com
Gaya Island Resort
Gaya Island Resort is a 15-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. Set amid the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park with stunning views of Mount Kinabalu, the resort’s 120 villas are perched on a pristine rainforest hillside.
The resort offers several eating options, including Fisherman’s Cove, which has a grand view of the bay. Visitors can also enjoy a picnic at the private Tavajun Bay, a five-minute boat ride from the resort.
Gaya Island Resort, Malohom Bay, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; +60 3 2783 1000; www.gayaislandresort.com