1. Green Bowl beach, Bali
Best for: Escaping, snorkellingWhy go? Only 20 minutes from seriously un-secret Kuta, this is a real find. It’s the 300-plus steps down the cliff-face (or, more accurately, back up again) that keep the masses from Green Bowl. Those who brave the staircase will find quiet golden sand, crystal waters, crabs and starfish, and caves full of bats.
What to do: Surf (there are good waves here). Snorkel amid colourful coral and hundreds of tropical fishes.
While you’re there: Visit cliff-top Uluwatu Temple, which hosts nightly kecak (music drama) and fire-dance performances. Eat a seafood supper on Muaya Beach.
Get there: Green Bowl is near Uluwatu, South Kuta.
Surfer on the beach, Bali (Shutterstock)
Top Indonesia & the Philippines alternatives…
2. Pulau Derawan, Indonesia:Tiny island, green turtles, few tourists
3. Sibang Cove, Calayan, Babuyan, Philippines:No resorts, no restaurants – feel like a true castaway
4. Kalanggaman Island, Leyte, Philippines:Camp on this uninhabited sandbar; buy dinner from the local fishermen
5. Bai Sao, Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Best for: Relaxing, swimmingWhy go? The whole island of Phu Quoc (much of which is a national park) is a beach-lover’s dream. But squirrelled-away Bai Sao is pick of the bunch, its waters sheltered by the central uplands, its angle gently sloping to off-shore sandbars, so you can wade waist-deep for 100m or more. Plus, working out how to get here, via a jink of hills and villages, is half the fun.
What to do: Hire a motorbike. Find Bai Sao (ask a local for directions). Then relax. Take a dip, have a drink. Relax some more.
While you’re there: Barter for goodies at Duong Dong market. Hire a boat from An Thoi Town, to explore more hidden bays.
Get there: Phu Quoc is a 50-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Bai Sao is a twisty 27km motorbike ride from main hub Duong Dong.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam (Shutterstock)
Top Indochina alternatives…
6. Con Dao, Vietnam:One-time prison island turned tropical retreat; loads of brilliant beaches
7. Kep, Cambodia:Not the best beach, but the best seaside ambience: crumbling French villas, not a tat-shop in sight
8. Long Set, Koh Rong, Cambodia: Calm waters that, come nightfall, glow with bioluminescent plankton
9. Fuvahmulah Island, Maldives
Best for: Cheap sand, Maldivian cultureWhy go? This may not be the best beach in the Maldives, or the most secret. But the beauty of bumming around on Fuvahmulah is that you can get there by yourself: this still-spectacular spot is an inhabited isle, not a private resort, peopled with actual Maldivians rather than just foreign honeymooners.
What to do: Meet people! Wander the perfect sand, dip in the Indian Ocean and take advantage of the Maldives’ most authentic beach break.
While you’re there: Delve into the verdant interior, home to Buddhist relics and inland lakes.
Get there: Fly from Malé to Addu Atoll (1hr), then another flight out to Fuvahmulah (20 mins, busy with commuting traffic at weekends).
Hawksbill turtle, Maldives (Shutterstock)
Top Indian Ocean alternatives…
10. Anse Capucins, Mahé, Seychelles:Hidden beach where whale sharks hang out
11. Alankuda, Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka: Wild, windy and under-developed; ideal for kitesurfers and dolphin-spotters
12. Kanthaya, Burma
Best for: Culture, bird-spottingWhy go? Not so long ago, it would have seemed odd to talk of a Burma beach break. Now the country is hot stuff, and Kanthaya (otherwise – and aptly known – as Pleasant Beach) is its hottest sand. Get there before the developers do.
What to do: Walk for miles along the deserted shore, stopping (and snacking) at fishing villages en route. Climb the hills behind the beach, for views of the sand, sea and reservoir (popular with migrating birds).
While you’re there: Hire a bicycle to pedal 8km north to Sat-thwar market; barter for handicrafts and coconuts from the local Arakanese people.
Get there: Kanthaya is around 260km west of Yangon.
Tropical beach, Burma (Shutterstock)
Top South-east Asia alternatives…
13. Lampi, Myeik Archipelago, Burma:Island-hop to find this remote, untainted strand
14. Koh Similan, Thailand:Like a mini-Maldives, three hours’ sail from the mainland
15. Juara, Tioman, Malaysia:
Under-developed and idyllic; home to a turtle conservation project
16. Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong
Best for: City sand, surf, hikingWhy go? This is Hong Kong? Really? Tai Long Wan (‘Big Wave Bay’) has unspoilt sand, emerald water, good surf, views out to rugged peaks and islands, and – during the week at least – few other people.
What to do: Walk there via the MacLehose Trail – Section 2 (Long Ke to Pak Tam Au, 13.5km) of the 100km-long hike passes the beach. Swimming isn’t officially sanctioned (there are no lifeguards) but surfers certainly brave those big waves.
While you’re there: Ascend 958m Tai Mo Shan for views of Kowloon and Victoria Harbour. Go bird-spotting at Mai Po Nature Reserve.
Get there: Tai Long Wan is on the Sai Kung Peninsula, New Territories. Take a bus from Sai Kung to Pak Tam Au; the beach is a two-hour walk.
Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong (Shutterstock)
Top China Seas alternatives…
17. Hoshizuna-no-hama (Star Sand), Okinawa Islands: Lovely yellow sand on tiny car-free Taketomi
18. Ozuna Kaisuiyokujo, Shikoku:You won’t be alone: expect sea turtles (May-Aug) and surfers
19. Longmen, Penghu Islands, Taiwan:Secluded rocky beach, on the most traditional Taiwanese archipelago
Tropical beach with palm and white sand, Philippines (Shutterstock)