12 overlooked islands worth visiting

12 overlooked islands worth visiting

Run away to Asia’s little-known, eco-rich isles

Word has long leaked out on “island paradises” like Phuket and Boracay. In high season, some beaches seem to have more tourists than sand.

Unless you’re a hardcore Survivor fan, however, vacationing on an uninhabited rock isn’t the solution.

Strike a balance.

Sail away to these overlooked isles, which have enough amenities and activities to keep you breezy.

12. Innoshima, Japan

Innoshima, Japan

A small island in the Seto Inland Sea, Innoshima has a scurvy history: in the 16th century it was a battleground for Murakami Suigun pirates. The swashbucklers’ legacy remains in the maritime museum and annual Pirate Festival. Find the best of Innoshima here.

Why the island is unknown: Innoshima isn’t included in most tour guides or excursions.
How to get there: The island is connected to the mainland by Innoshima Bridge. From Hiroshima Station, take the JR San-yo line to Onomichi Station, then transfer to a bus for Innoshima.
Where to stay: Visitors stay either in Innoshima or the mainland city of Onomichi. The city has a chart of accommodations.

11. Izu Oshima, Japan

Izu Oshima, Japan

Travellers who shun the sun will feel at home in eerie Izu Oshima. Dissidents were once exiled to the volcanic island, including the shaman En no Gyoja, whose spirit supposedly fathered Sadako from The Ring. And thousands of Japanese have thrown themselves into the bubbling Mt. Mihara. Find a complete guide to the island’s spooky side as well as its cheerier attractions.

Why the island is unknown: While technically part of Tokyo, the island is remote and has a foreboding reputation.
How to get there: Take a two-hour hydrofoil from Tokyo’s Takeshiba port terminal, or a 45-minute flight from Haneda or Chofu airports.
Where to stay: Book a rustic hotel through Rakuten.

10. Siargao Island, Philippines

Siargao Island, Philippines

Located 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, the laid-back town attracts top surfers who between July and November for some of the best waves in the world. The season peaks with the annual Siargao Cup. For those who wipe out, there are fishing and dive sites.

Why the island is unknown: Until recently, flights to Siargao were not readily available.
How to get there: Philippine Airlines offers flights from Cebu to Siargao five days a week. SeAir takes off three times a week. You can also board a 12-hour overnight boat from Cebu, or a faster boat from Surigao.
Where to stay: The General Luna district is centrally located. Visit surigaoislands.com for listings.

9. Kinmen Island, Taiwan

Kinmen Island, Taiwan

Kinmen was a military reserve and tension zone between Communists and Nationalists. Since the island is close to the mainland, curious Chinese come to gape at bullet-ridden walls and get sloshed on local Kaoliang liquor.

Why the island is unknown: Officials lifted travel restrictions to the island only about 10 years ago.
How to get there: Fly on one of Taiwan’s domestic carriers, or take a one-hour boat ride from Xiamen to Shuitou.
Where to stay: The tourism board suggests traditional homestays and inns.

8. Shengsi Island, China

Shengsi Island, China

Shengsi is known as China’s “hometown of mussels” and hosts the annual Mussel Culture Festival. When you’ve eaten your fill of hairy clams in Seafood Town, walk to Lingyin Temple or Huaniao lighthouse, one of the largest in Asia. CNNGo has a foodie’s guide to Shengsi.

Why the island is unknown: Qingdao and Dalian are the bigger beach destinations in eastern China.
How to get there: Take Metro Line 4, get off at Nanpu Bridge Station and walk to 1588 Waima Lu. Ferry tickets are RMB 109 (steamboat) or RMB 140 (fast boat) including free shuttle bus to the harbor (which leaves at 8:30 or 9am).
Where to stay: For hotel options, click here.

7. Pulau Lang Tengah, Malaysia

Pulau Lang Tengah, Malaysia

Pulau Lang Tengah has the best-preserved ecosystem of the Redang Marine Park islands. The rich coral reef holds hundreds of species, including the endangered green and hawksbill turtle. Scuba. Snorkel. Tan on white sand.

Why the island is unknown: Most beach bums go to Redang and Perhentian Islands.
How to get there: Hop on a speed boat from Merang Jetty on Redang Island, or from Perhentian Islands (CNNGo has a guide to these isles). The ride takes 30-40 minutes.
Where to stay: The island has three resorts: D’ Coconut Lagoon, Redang Lang Tengah and Lang Sari.

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6. Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia

Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia

Bali’s noisy traffic and tourists have disappointed many relaxation seekers. The solution: head 12 kilometers southeast to the tiny neighboring island of Nusa Lembongan. Surf, snorkel and explore local seaweed farms in silence.

Why the island is unknown: The giant next door: Bali.
How to get there: Boats depart from Bali’s Sanur Beach daily at 8 and 10 a.m. (the trip takes 90 minutes). Several tour companies offer drop-offs and packages.
Where to stay: Budget accommodation are found mostly in Jungutbatu, while luxury hotels are in Mushroom Bay. Here’s a list.

5. Koh Phra Thong, Thailand

Koh Phra Thong, Thailand

Koh Phra Thong is a New Age nature retreat. Eco-tourists can watch colorful birds in the mangroves and leopard cats in the rainforest. Or do yoga and spa treatments on the beach.

Why the island is unknown: Phuket, Ko Samui and Ko Phi Phi receive the bulk of Thai tourism.
How to get there: Take a bus, car or plane to Khuraburi, then sail to Koh Phra Thong on a longtail or speedboat. Full details here: kohphrathong.com.
Where to stay: Golden Buddha Resort has 25 unique beachfront houses. The island also has a budget option and homestays: kohphrathong.com (accommodation).

4. Koh Rong Saloem, Cambodia

Koh Rong Saloem, Cambodia

The nearly untouched island is considered the most beautiful in Cambodia. Perhaps not for long, as the government is currently pouring millions into Koh Rong Saloem. Until then, hiking, swimming and plain relaxing are the top activities.

Why the island is unknown: Sihanoukville, Kep and Koh Kong are more highly developed.
How to get there: A two-hour boat leaves from Ochheuteal Beach in Sihanoukville at noon daily.
Where to stay: Visitors speak highly of Lazy Beach. Eco Sea Dive is another option.

3. St. Martin’s Island, Bangladesh

St. Martin’s Island, Bangladesh

St. Martin’s is a delicate beauty. As tourism heats up, officials are making efforts to protect the endangered turtles and corals. Tread carefully at the sea turtle hatchery, then cool off under the coconut palms.

Why the island is unknown: Bangladeshis began visiting in greater numbers over the past decade, but foreigners remain largely unaware of St. Martin’s.
How to get there: Fly or bus to Cox’s Bazar, then catch a bus to Teknaf, on the southern tip of Bangladesh. From there, ferries run daily and take approximately three hours.
Where to stay: Here’s a list of guest houses on St. Martin’s. The best time to visit is between November and March.

2. Lakshadweep Islands, India

Lakshadweep Islands, India

Lakshadweep boasts some of the best scuba diving in Asia. The water has a 20-to 50-meter visibility, and swarms with rays and sharks. Agatti is known for its clear lagoons, Kadmat has light boats for rent, and teardrop-shaped Bangaram glows with phosphorescent plankton at night.

Why the island is unknown: Only the three islands mentioned above are open to foreign tourists, who must obtain proper permission.
How to get there: Foreigners must have an entry permit, which can be arranged by a tour group or hotel. Starting September 24, Air India will offer flights from Chennai to Agatti in the Lakshadweep Islands. You can also fly from Kerala, via Indian Airlines or Kingfisher.
Where to stay: The most luxurious hotels are in Bangaram, followed by Agatti and Kadmat.

1. Monkey Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

Dao Khi, or Monkey Island, is ruled by thousands of long-tailed macaques who live in the mangrove. Watch out -- these Curious Georges are known to steal food and clothes. The Can Gio biosphere reserve also houses a Saltwater Crocodile Sanctuary, home to some 80 crocs.

Why the island is unknown: Nha Trang a busy beach town, so visitors forget to take the short trip to Monkey Island.
How to get there: Take a 20-minute boat ride from Da Chong Wharf in Nha Trang City.
Where to stay: TripAdvisor rates and reviews Nha Trang hotels.

La Carmina writes about Harajuku pop culture and all things spooky-cute. She is the author of three books about Japanese pop culture and food, including "Cute Yummy Time" and "Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo" -- for which she did all the photos and illustrations. Both books were released in October, accompanied by a U.S. major city book tour.

For more, please visit her website.

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