June 9, 2023


Just Do Travel

Three Under-the-Radar South Asian Surf Spots for Your Next Beach Break

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From the pearly sands of Phuket to the azure coves of Bali, South Asia’s got plenty of fodder for beach bums. But swim a little farther out and you can still find uncrowded waters. With an intoxicating blend of glassy waves, coconut tree-studded backdrops, and a steadily growing mix of clean-eating cafes and boho beach bars where surfers let their salt-soaked hair down, these are the rising locales to consider for your next long-haul beach vacation. 

In the shade of the sports center at Nihi Sumba

Chris Schalkx

One of the sleek A-frame cabanas at Ahangama’s Palm hotel

Chris Schalkx

Sumba, Indonesia

Just a 50-minute turboprop flight east of Bali, this rugged island is one of Indonesia’s last wild frontiers. And while intrepid surfers have been catching breaks here for decades, mass tourism never quite took off—so postcard sights like the gin-clear Weekuri Lagoon and cliff-lined Mandorak Beach are still blissfully empty, save for the locals who frequent their crystalline waters. But despite Sumba’s remoteness, you won’t have to rough it: Ultra-plush Nihi Sumba, a perennial Readers’ Choice Awards favorite, has been here for a decade, and newcomers are joining its ranks. One beach over at Alamayah, which opened in October 2020, guests shuffle between airy timber-floored suites, some with jungle views, and a spa with a steam room and hydrotherapy treatments. Cap Karoso, from first-time Parisian hoteliers Fabrice and Evguenia Ivara, will settle on Sumba’s western tip later this year, bringing with it a shamanic spa and villas kitted out with private infinity pools. Food choices are mainly limited to resort restaurants and roadside warungs, but Makan Dulu is a notable exception. Opened last year by the nonprofit Sumba Hospitality Foundation, it’s run by students and specializes in Sumbanese classics such as rumpu rampe, a sizzling stir-fry with papaya flowers and cassava leaves.

Khao Lak, Thailand

The profile of this 16-mile stretch north of Phuket has risen quietly over the past few years as nature-starved Bangkokians swapped home offices for beachfront coworking spots. Most of the action happens around Pakarang Beach, where swell-chasers sip pour-overs at third-wave coffee shop Saifah Society or hang out in front of Salt Surf, a café and surf school where a hip young staff whips up lattes and mango-topped smoothie bowls. At sunset, everyone gathers by Memories Beach Bar, a toes-in-the-sand hangout with thatch-covered bungalows; next door, newcomer restaurant Karkinos’s swirling bamboo architecture is the perfect match for easygoing coastal Italian dishes, which include handmade pastas and fresh daily catches. A few noteworthy boutique bolt-holes line the main road: Hotel Gahn, designed by Phuket-based Studio Locomotive, offers a contemporary take on Sino-Portuguese warehouses—think arched columns and terrazzo floors—and serves family recipes like moo hong (stewed sweet pork) at its restaurant. Farther south, photographer and Bangkok transplant Chut Janthachotibutr and his yogi wife, Sirisopa Chindakawee, recently opened The Place Khao Lak, which houses six smart bedrooms, a café, and a surf shop in a mod town house that evokes Palm Springs.

The Palm’s tranquil pool

Chris Schalkx

Coconut roti with honey at the Palm hotel

Chris Schalkx

Ahangama, Sri Lanka

Unlike the well-trodden resort towns farther down the coast, this fishing village east of Galle still feels unhurried, with fruit stands outnumbering souvenir stores and a conspicuous lack of large-scale hotel developments. Over the past five years, surfers and yogis from Colombo and abroad have trickled in, transforming the area’s terra-cotta-roofed villas into wellness retreats and cool-kid hangouts. Among them are Trax, an indie-music venue and brunch spot opened by a music-industry crew from Colombo, and The Kip, a locavore café and eco-store selling organic soaps and scrubs and breezy linen caftans by local labels like Amma. An après-surf scene buzzes around the skating bowl behind Lamana, a bistro serving excellent tuna burgers on toasted activated-charcoal buns. Most cafés have bedrooms you can book, though a few hotels are worth seeking out: Palm’s six black steel A-frame cabanas bring an industrial vibe to a lush coconut grove. Closer to the coast, Abode Ahangama occupies a 1950s Art Deco villa with four quirky bedrooms and a shaded pool, while the tropical-brutalist Harding Boutique Hotel opened last November right on the beach. Even if you don’t stay in one of its handful of concrete-covered suites, be sure to visit the laid-back rooftop bar for a sundowner.

This article appeared in the April 2022 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.