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Photo by Tjeerd

If you need poolside Pina Coladas to enjoy your vacation, stop reading right now.

25 YEARS AGO, A FEW intrepid travelers found paradise in the Andaman Sea. Phi Phi Island, off the coast of southern Thailand, was almost totally undeveloped.

There were no resorts on Phi Phi – just white sand beaches and palm trees, plus a small village of sea gypsies who called themselves “the island people.”

Travelers who made the epic journey to Phi Phi returned to the mainland with glittering eyes and epic stories. More travelers caught the once-a-week cargo ship to this new island paradise, then more and more and more.

Today, Phi Phi is packed with tourists. Dozens of resorts line the once-empty beaches and trash floats in the water off concrete piers built to accommodate large ferries.

Phi Phi is still beautiful, “a discovered paradise still worth checking out,” as Matador founder Ross Borden wrote last year, but for those who knew the island before the crowds arrived, Phi Phi is a tragic example of Paradise Lost.

A Call For RESPECT

Koh Rong Crab. Photo by Ryan Libre

Some of the islands described below are on the track to development, though early in the stage. Some are already protected. It’s up to you, as a sensitive and engaged traveler, to respect the information below, to preserve the natural environment and to honor the people who call these island Edens home.

-Tim Patterson, Editor, MatadorTrips.com

6. Koh Rong, Cambodia

Koh Rong is bigger and more beautiful than the most famous Thai islands, but there are no established beach resorts on Koh Rong yet, simply because it’s in Cambodia.

Last year your faithful Koh Rong correspondent camped in an abandoned house on 6 miles of white sand beach, and survived scary encounters with illegal loggers and Cambodian Navy men.

Now there’s word of heavy investment on Koh Rong, with big money flowing to the boss man in Phnom Penh and rumors of Russian, Japanese and Chinese investors.

Here’s the secret guide I wrote to Koh Rong 2 years ago, along with a follow-up article in Traverse – for more updates, keep your ear to the ground at TalesofAsia.

Beach Day on Bohol. Photo by The Wandering Angel

5. Bohol, Philippines

I have a confession. The Philippines intimidate me. There are just too many islands, too many languages, too much history.

How to pick just one of more than 7,000 islands?

Matador expert CaseyGusto lived on Bohol island in the Philippines for 2 years. Bohol gets a lot of tourists, he says, which it should – it’s one of the most beautiful islands in the whole archipelago.

But there are gorgeous parts of Bohol that are not developed, including outlying islands, where you can chill with some of the friendliest locals in the world.

Here’s Casey’s complete online guide to Bohol.

Cuttyhunk is a great place to catch big stripers. Photo by jedstr

4. Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, USA

Cuttyhunk is one of the most laid-back island “summer communities” off the coast of New England. There’s nothing to do except catch enormous striped bass, breathe fresh sea air and sniff about the new money that ruined Nantucket.

Cuttyhunk.net says it best:

Cuttyhunk does not have discos, bars, malls, a singles scene, a party life, video games, parking lots, traffic, or much action.

What Cuttyhunk does have is a quiet, isolated, beautiful, ocean environment, perfect for getting in touch with yourself.

For bonus points, arrive in Cuttyhunk on your own sailboat.

3. Teuri-to, Japan

Teuri-to is a lot like Cuttyhunk, except it’s off the northern coast of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, way north of Vladivostok, Russia.

The fresh sushi and sashimi on Teuri is quite simply the best and cheapest I found in 2 years of traveling around Japan and the locals will be thrilled to see you.

Here’s a feature article I wrote last year about the sea-urchin roe festival on Teuri.

Providencia from the air. Photo by Speculando

2. Providencia, Colombia

Providencia is the less developed of two isolated islands that lie off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, near the border with Nicaragua. Thanks to Richard, one of Matador’s many Colombia experts, for the heads-up:

Long stretches of white sandy beaches, verdant hillsides and palm trees lining the streets. Over the five days we rented a moped to explore the island, lazed on deserted beaches, drifted in the breeze in hammocks, slept late and enjoyed some cold ones with the locals. It was a cliche, it was paradise.

Read Richard’s complete Blog Post On Providencia.

1. Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands

I thought I’d never write about Salt Cay. It’s a special place to my friends and family, truly a second home, just a low-lying slab of coral, sand and memories 90 miles north of Haiti, as far from the corruption and resort glitz of the capital island Provodenciales as you can get in the Turk and Caicos islands (which are south of the Bahamas).

Salt Cay South Point. Photo by M.C. Blanton

Salt Cay is the most beautiful island I know, not because of the sunsets, empty beaches, neighborly humpback whales or free-range donkeys, but because of the pious, good-humored and hard-working people who live there.

Now, the whole island will be literally ripped in half for a mega-resort, complete with golf course and yacht marina. There will be worker dormitories at the airport, next to the runway – now lengthened to accommodate private jets.

The donkeys will be shot, or worse, shipped to Haiti. The development in the Turks and Caicos is getting ugly. Rape ugly. I wonder if I’ll ever go back there, and I can’t write about this anymore.


Salt Cay Historic Preservation

Salt Cay Resident’s Prayerful Protest (video)

About The Author

Tim Patterson

Tim Patterson is a long-time contributor and former contributing editor at Matador Network.

  • Julie

    Tim-
    Let's make it seven: Vieques, Puerto Rico.
    Simply gorgeous.

  • ben keene

    if you like undeveloped islands and are keen to participate in local cultural and sustainability projects, check out our home in the south pacific > http://www.tribewanted.com/

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Tim-
    Let’s make it seven: Vieques, Puerto Rico.
    Simply gorgeous.

  • Tim Patterson

    I've heard of Tribe Wanted, Ben – sounds wicked cool – congrats on turning a dream into reality.

  • http://www.tribewanted.com ben keene

    if you like undeveloped islands and are keen to participate in local cultural and sustainability projects, check out our home in the south pacific > http://www.tribewanted.com/

  • Nomadic Matt

    There's a few islands in Thailand I know of….but Tim, I'm keeping them a secret!!

    ok, i'll give one up: Ko Lipe

  • Tim Patterson

    I’ve heard of Tribe Wanted, Ben – sounds wicked cool – congrats on turning a dream into reality.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/nomadic-matt Nomadic Matt

    There’s a few islands in Thailand I know of….but Tim, I’m keeping them a secret!!

    ok, i’ll give one up: Ko Lipe

  • John

    Being in Kish Island (in Persian Golf) Is nice .

  • Dennis

    I'm gonna have to throw in Saona just off mainland Dominican Republic and Cleopatra's Island in Turkey. Both absolutely beautiful, the latter even boasts Roman ruins and golden sand.

    Dennis Czigler
    http://www.turkeytraveltours.net

  • http://www.italytraveltours.biz Dennis

    I’m gonna have to throw in Saona just off mainland Dominican Republic and Cleopatra’s Island in Turkey. Both absolutely beautiful, the latter even boasts Roman ruins and golden sand.

    Dennis Czigler
    http://www.turkeytraveltours.net

  • Donna Shope

    Please don't stop commenting on the rape of Salt Cay…we need all the help we can get to stop this! They now tell us that they "control" 80% of the island…which translates to the only land they do NOT control…is what is privately owned by belongers & ex-pats. Even a petition signed by the belongers got minimal response…please continue to report on this for us all.
    Thank you!

  • Donna Shope

    Please don’t stop commenting on the rape of Salt Cay…we need all the help we can get to stop this! They now tell us that they “control” 80% of the island…which translates to the only land they do NOT control…is what is privately owned by belongers & ex-pats. Even a petition signed by the belongers got minimal response…please continue to report on this for us all.
    Thank you!

  • Cheyenne Morrison

    Hi Tim, I have lived and travelled to most of these islands. Great post but I would make some suggestions. # 5 Bohol: I lived 5 years in the Philippines and Bohol is pretty average to me. Its often quoted as the "New Boracay". However there are far more beautiful islands off the beaten path you can have all to yourself. One of my favourites is Flower Island Resort, Shark Bay, Taytay, Palawan. Providencia and San Andres, or Old Providence and St Andrews island as they used to be known, are superb. I visited several times while sailing yachts. There are some little islands just offshore which you can rent cabanas for peanuts, and except for Sundays have almost all to yourself. They are pretty developed though, and are weekend getaway for the rich from Columbia. I think a far better choice would be Little Corn Island, on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. You can read all about secret, undiscovered island in my blog, The Private Islands Blog http://private-islands.blogspot.com

  • tom

    Typically great article Tim but I'm not gonna lie: the picture sold me on Koh Rong. I'm gonna go THERE.

  • christine

    ko lipe was great, but tons of rats when i was there 5 years ago….ate through my backpack!

  • http://saratheintrepid.wordpress.com/ Sara

    Excellent article. Shame that most places end up the same way as Phi Phi eventually.

  • Sarah

    About Salt Cay: It’s sick how selfish people are when they are trying to satisfy their own material needs. And it’s sick what we’re doing to the planet. Pave paradise and put up a parking lot, right? I heard Joni Mitchell was moved to tears over what inspired her to write that song.

  • Lea

    For a European balance there’s the Cies Islands in Galicia, northern Spain….stunning natural parks. The sea is bloody freezing though!

  • Taradondale

    This really touched me.. I hate most people these days it’s like they can’t see, they are so unbelievably selfish:( We should really form a group of people who can appreciate the natural magnificence of the world and buy a huge  island and have it preserved and untouched by materialism!! Maybe I’m a dreamer but the world is becoming intolerable for me:(

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomsonwithnop Max Thomson

    What a shame to hear about the plans for Salt Cay. When I was growing up my Grandmother lived on Grand Turk (the capital island) and my dad lived for a short time on Salt Cay. Although I was very young, I have fond memories of the stretching beaches and the rusted old American pick-up everyone (including my father) would drive. Would love to visit this place again before it’s ruined. It’s a real shame that development often means the rape of culture and beauty in our globalised world. 

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