Worried About the Bali Volcano? Go Here Instead
Bali's Mount Agung volcano has erupted, and Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) has closed and canceled hundreds of flights, screwing up exponentially more travel plans. If you're one of the unfortunate travelers who've had Indonesian dream honeymoons, family getaways and solo trips ruined by Mother Nature and her sooty skies, here are six other Asian destinations that could save your vacation.
(For more information on airline rules for rebooking travel, read this post. And if you happen to be stranded in Bali, take solace in knowing you're not alone: Brian, aka The Points Guy, is stranded there too. At this time, it’s not known how the Mount Agung situation will evolve, but you can follow TPG on both Instagram and Facebook to see how he navigates the crisis.)
A short hop from Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL), this small island off the coast of northwestern Malaysia is known as the Jewel of Kedah, and it truly is a gem. The island's exotic appeal (it's actually part of an archipelago of nearly 100 mostly uninhabited islands) comes from the fact that, besides its sunny, palm-covered beaches, there are also rainforests, bat caves, mangroves and swamps for nature lovers to explore.
Luxury knows no bounds on this island, and the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi (December rates start around $600 or 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night) and the St. Regis Langkawi, which opened in 2016 (December rates start at $400 or 20,000 Starpoints per night), are some of the most opulent hotels on Langkawi, if you're in need of a splurge or have points to burn.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
These three small islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, are a godsend if you're looking for white sands and turquoise waters. In fact, if you're stranded in Bali at the moment, boats may still be running to Lombok, from which you can catch a ferry that should reach these picturesque islands in 20 minutes. If you're coming from elsewhere, Lombok International Airport (LOP) has reopened, and you can fly there from Jakarta (CGK) and Kuala Lumpur.
The toughest decision is which of the three islands to visit: You can relax in the romantic tranquility of Gili Meno, party on the sexy beaches of Gili Trawangan or have a little bit of both worlds on Gili Air. Divers love the islands' clear waters, and it's possible to spot giant sea turtles near the shore if you're snorkeling. Plus, there aren't any cars on the islands, so you'll be in exhaust-free heaven. Don't expect large points hotels here, though. Instead, stay in beach huts ranging from budget to luxury, available on all three islands.
Koh Samui, Thailand
This idyllic island is a one-hour flight from Bangkok (BKK or DMK), Singapore (SIN) or Kuala Lumpur. You can also fly from Hong Kong (HKG) nonstop to Samui's airport (USM). Koh Samui has something for everyone: long stretches of unspoiled white sands, beach clubs for the party animal, and calm beaches with shallow waters perfect for families. You can get a stunning Airbnb villa for less than $100 per night or a quaint beach bungalow for less than $40 per night.
Plus, thanks to SPG's current Paradise Is Closer promotion, you can get 35% off award stays through March 5, 2018. The W Koh Samui is included, as is the Vana Belle Koh Samui. There are many points properties on the island, such as the Le Meridien Koh Samui, Renaissance Koh Samui, InterContinental Koh Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort, Sheraton Samui and more.
An emerging destination, this is the spot to go to if you're looking for an adventure that includes more than just beaches. It's sort of a PG version of India — similar to its larger sister to the northwest, but less crowded, less smoggy and more organized. One of the popular routes to visit is called the Cultural Triangle, which includes rock fortresses, caves, rock carvings, forest monasteries and abandoned ancient cities.
The country is also known for its elephant sanctuaries, golden beaches perfect for surfing, rainforests and tea plantations. (Get around by train for scenic journeys.) Starwood fans will have to sit tight, though, because two properties are coming to the island, but not until 2018. Till then, there is a Hilton Colombo located close to city beaches, which has rooms for $135 or 32,000 Hilton points per night.
Now is the time to visit the Philippines, just starting its dry season. The easiest place to start is Manila, and from there you can head to a number of different islands for a dreamy beach getaway. Boracay is one of the most popular spots, home to large, luxurious resorts and plenty of activities. Don't miss a climb to the island's high point, Mount Luho, with stunning views of the island and the expansive sea. Palawan is also a TPG favorite, and the island's famous El Nido frequently tops lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Bohol, though a bit far from Manila, is known for having perhaps the most eclectic collection of attractions in the country. First, it boasts some of the best diving in the Philippines, and is famous for its many species of mollusks. It is also home to another important creature, one of the world's smallest primates, the Philippine tarsier. This strange-looking creature has bigger eyes in proportion to its body than any other mammal. The island also has interesting landscapes such as the Chocolate Hills, approximately 1,500 rolling brown-green mounds covered in limestone created from coral deposits. Most of the points properties in the Philippines are located in Cebu and Manila, so if you plan to island hop, it's best to stay at locally owned spots and boutique hotels.
A destination fairly close to Bali but still many miles from the erupting volcano, the island of Borneo is actually divided among three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. This island is ideal for nature buffs, and also boasts decent beaches. Many tourists visit the Malaysian gateways to the rainforest, Sabah and Sarawak, from which you can organize river and jungle tours to see orangutans in the wild. Turtle Island is just a few miles off the coast of Sandakan in Sabah, and an overnight stay on the island allows you to watch green and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on the beach.
On the Indonesian side, Sebangau National Park is home to the largest orangutan population the world, just under 7,000. Brunei only takes up a tiny portion of the island and has strict laws, so it may be best to avoid this region, but if you're really dying to go, there is a Radisson Hotel Brunei Darussalam. (December rates start around $105 or 44,000 Club Carlson gold points per night.)
Featured image of El Nido courtesy of Wu Zhi Shen Mng / EyeEm / Getty.
Has the volcano interrupted your travel plans? Do you plan to head elsewhere? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Feature photo of the 2000-year-old World Heritage Ifugao rice terraces in Batad, northern Luzon, Philippines, by rmnunes / Getty Images