Malaysia is home to some of the best tropical islands in South East Asia! Each island here is unique in its attractions. While a few would charm you with an island escape with dramatic tropical landscape, some would offer you the best diving experience in an ocean that’s bio-diverse in marine life, and others would enchant you with their amazing food culture and heritage. These 10 Malaysian Islands will surely intoxicate you with their unique beauties!
1. Paradise on a budget at Pulau Perhentian Kecil
A tourist favorite for a more laid back, secluded beach getaway; Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian Island) is the perfect budget friendly escape from the city, known for their pristine white sandy beaches lined with tall coconut trees and rustic wooden chalets, as well as great snorkeling opportunities in the surrounding azure waters. It’s worth noting that the Pulau Perhentian Kecil stands proudly at number 13 in CNN’s World’s 100 Best Beaches! It’s sister island, Pulau Perhentian Besar (Big Perhentian Island), is more known as a family island destination, where you’d find more luxurious resorts and family related attractions.
Periodically closed for monsoon season, the best time to visit Pulau Perhentian Kecil is between March and October; outside this period you’d find most of the accommodations here to be closed. To get here, make your way to Kuala Terengganu by flight, or ground transportation, then make your way to Kuala Besut Jetty. A one way boat ticket to Pulau Perhentian would cost about 13 USD per person.
Website: Perhentian Island
2. Staying disconnected at Pulau Kapas
A neighboring island to Pulau Perhentian Kecil, off the coast of Terengganu, Pulau Kapas would also provide you the ideal nomadic island getaway! Pulau Kapas’s turquoise blue waters provides an ideal condition for great snorkeling and diving opportunities to explore the diverse underwater bio-diversity; that includes a wide variety of exotic fish, sea turtles, colorful coral reefs and even some small varieties of sharks!
Have a relaxing time on the clean beaches here, that are often quoted to be as good, if not better than the beaches of Thailand’s most popular islands! Lined with hammocks, beach umbrellas and volleyball nets, you can bet you’d be spending a chunk of your time here basking in the sun. The best way to get here is through Marang Jetty, located a 30 minute drive south of Kuala Terengganu. A round trip by boat would cost you approximately 9 USD, and the journey to the island is roughly 15-20 minutes.
Website: Kapas Island
3. Food, heritage and cultural beauty at Pulau Penang
Penang is not known for having the best beaches around, but still, it’s one of the best islands you can visit in Malaysia! What it lacks in good sandy beaches, it makes up for with its food culture, arts and heritage! Going on a food trail is definitely the best activity you can do around the island, while you check out the colonial buildings and quirky street art that make this island a declared UNESCO Heritage site.
Check out this ultimate Penang food guide that’ll definitely make you drool!
Website: Penang Island
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4. Escapade in nature at Pulau Tioman
Located 32 kilometers (19 miles) off the East Malaysia’s Pahang State, Tioman is a small island that’s mostly known for its snorkeling and scuba diving. Expect most of your time here to be spent by Tioma’s pristine waters, discovering the abundance of diverse marine life residing in the healthy coral reefs around the islands.
Covered with lush tropical rain-forest that’s not only home to over 138 species of tropical birds, but also endangered species like Long-tailed macques, Slow-Loris and even Red-Giant Squirrels, you can take a stroll around this small island to enjoy the beauty of its flora and fauna! Your gateway to this paradise lies in the small town of Mersing in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor. Make your way to Mersing Jetty, and board a ferry to reach the shores of Pulau Tioman for 16.26 USD one-way.
Website: Tioman Island
5. Ecotourism & cheap booze in Pulau Langkawi
Langkawi is a tropical paradise, with an archipelago of 99 islands, home to dramatic landscapes of white beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, bizarre rock formations and jungles with a wide variety of wildlife. There’s more than enough activities here for you to do, from mangrove kayaking, jungle canopy obstacle courses and jet ski island hopping!
Being a duty free island, tobacco, chocolates and booze here are ridiculously cheap, and considering Malaysia’s cheaper currency over the last few years, they are as cheap as can be! While generally a great place to visit all year round, December to March would provide you the best weather to enjoy Langkawi’s tropical escapades.
Website: Langkawi Island
6. Muck Diving in Pulau Mabul
Pulau Mabul is a small island off the south-eastern coast of Sabah in Malaysia. Surrounded by crystal clear waters, one of the most popular activities here is to explore the waters in a Molokini (transparent kayak), enjoying a breathtaking view of the seas and the island. Mabul is a perfect destination for any occasion, whether a laid-back family holiday is on your mind or even a romantic escape with your significant other.
Activities here are plenty for all age-groups. Mabul is a popular destination for Muck Diving, and if you don’t know what that is, google it now! A trip here wouldn’t be complete if you don’t visit the famous “Sea Gypsies” of the Bajau Laut village; seafarers who live in houseboats and villages built on stilts over the ocean, never coming to contact with land. Don’t forget to explore Sabah’s amazing marine diversity at Tun Sakaran Marine Park, comprising of 8 islands and 2 healthy coral reefs, this is the second largest marine conservation area in Sabah, akin to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef!
Website: Mabul Island
7. Diving haven at Pulau Sipadan
With a literal Malay language translation of “Border Island,” Pulau Sipadan’s outstanding natural beauty awes every one of its visitors! This island, located in the Celebes Sea off the East coast of Sabah, is exclusively known for being one of the world’s best diving sites; however early planning is required to come here as diving is limited to 120 divers a day. The abundance of marine life of over 3,000 species of fish found at Sipadan will amaze you, and the waters here are often quoted to be among the world’s top diving spots and the most famous scuba destinations in Malaysia!
Website: Sipadan Island
8. Isolated diving in Pulau Layang-Layang
Another must-visit island for scuba diving enthusiasts, you’ll actually find no tropical paradise or white sandy beaches here on Pulau Layang-Layang. An isolated ex-naval base, northwest of Kota Kinabalu, public visitors have only recently been allowed to visit for the amazing diving conditions Pulau Layang-Layang provides.
This “island” only has one accommodation, and given its popularity, prices are not cheap to visit! However you’ll find the amazing diving experience at the island is well worth the heavy price! Due to the periodic monsoon season, Pulau Layang-Layang is annually closed from September until February.
Pulau Layang Layang
Website: Layang-Layang Island
9. Marine biodiversity in Pulau Redang
Another tropical paradise that’s popular for scuba diving and snorkeling activities, Pulau Redang is home to a Marine Park that’s home to over 100 species of tropical fish, and clusters of healthy corals. There are a number of villages where you can stay in Redang Island, each having their own beach with unique diving and snorkeling experiences. If you’re planning a visit here, 4 of the best beaches here are Pantai Pasir Panjang, Pantai Taaras, Pantai Mutiara and Pantai Telok Kalong. The best time to plan your visit would be April to September. Your gateway to this island is through Merang Jetty in Johor, where a one-way ticket would cost you approximately 11 USD.
Website: Redang Island
10. A royal getaway at Pulau Rawa
Offering a royal stay in one of two of its accommodations, Pulau Rawa is a private getaway on a privately owned island of Malaysia’s Johor Sultanate. The views here are picturesque with white sandy beaches, tall scattered coconut trees and clear blue skies and ocean! Truly providing you a tranquil retreat from civilization, re-energize yourself, your mind and be in solitude on Pulau Rawa!
Website: Rawa Island
Serenity in the Southeast
Visiting Malaysia’s tropical islands, you’ll realize that the perfect “island life” is more than just lazing on white sandy beaches with a cold drink in hand. From laying back on the chilled beaches of Pulau Perhentian, to tasting some of the best Malaysian food and culture in Penang, to experiencing the best diving excursions in Pulau Sipadan, you’ll have a unique experience in each of these 10 Malaysian tropical islands, showing you not only diversity in nature and culture, but also the true diversity of an island escapade!
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