Pangkor Island (off central west coast, with airport)
Less well-known than the lavish island resorts of Langkawi and Tioman, Pangkor Island is more of a low-key holiday destination, located off the country’s west coast and home to unspoilt golden sand and great Malaysian cuisine.
One of the best strands is pretty Pasir Giam with the offshore islet of Giam which is walkable at low tide. Pasir Giam is 2km north of Teluk Nipah.
Head to Pasir Bogak, the island’s largest stretch of sand, for marine activities or Nipah Bay, a fine length of clean golden sand with crystal-clear waters.
Pangkor Laut Island (off central west coast, private) Pantai Teluk Belanga (Emerald Bay)
Emerald Bay, on a tiny, privately owned island near Pangkor Island is often listed among the top ten world’s best beaches. The bay is a perfect crescent, with soft golden sand and calm emerald-green water.
Teluk Belanga is the property of the upmarket Pangkor Laut Resort and only guests can enjoy its elegant facilities. In spite of its commercial success, much of the island remains untouched, with plenty of wildness and natural beauty just outside this sophisticated resort. Teluk Belanga is a perfect honeymoon or romantic destination.
Langkawi (aka Langkaei) island.
Langkawi Island (northwest coast), Datai Beachin Datai Bay.
The beaches on this well-developed island are regarded as some of the world’s most secluded and picturesque by many travel specialists. Unfortunately most of the best coves are private, occupied by luxury beach resorts such as the beautifulcrescent of Datai, home to the top-end resorts Datai Langkawi and The Andaman.
Most tourism lies along the south coast near the airport and the capital town of Kuah.
If you are looking for action, try the lively, fine-grain Pantai Cenang, fringed by waterfront bars and restaurants that really buzz around sunset. The Underwater World aquarium nearby is a grand place to keep kids quiet for a while. Pantai Cenang is at the south-western tip of the island near the airport.
Next to it is the more laid-back and family-friendly Pantai Tengah. Pantai Kok on the west coast is also pleasant with up-market resorts and Oriental Village, a popular shopping centre.
Head north to the long sandy stretch of Tanjung Rhu for natural beauty with mangroves, limestone caves, cliffs and a great view of the little islands nearby. It also hosts a couple of luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons beach resort.
Pasir Tengkorak(Skull Sand! ), a small sheltered public strand backed by lush jungle, is Langkawi’s hidden gem and a magical spot for a dip and a picnic.
Langkawi also offers a handful of sensational diving or snorkelling sites, especially Palau Payar Marine Park for the best coral reefs, 45 minutes by boat from Kuah. Day trips and tours are available.
The best season for Langkawi is November-May, when the sky is clear and the humidity is low, but rainfall here on the west coast is lower than in the east, so most of the year is acceptable. The worst time to be here is September-November. Langkawi is situated 30 km off the mainland, an hour’s flight from Kuala Lumpur or a bouncy boat ride.
Tioman Island (just off the south-east mainland)
Tioman, one of the most spectacular islands in Malaysia is relatively unspoilt despite increasing development. Located 32 km off the country’s east coast, Tioman is a great destination for nature lovers, golfers and especially underwater enthusiasts due to close offshore reefs and crystal clear waters. The underwater environment is protected as the Tioman Marine Park. Tioman has small golden sandy beaches backed by tropical jungle but watch out for aggressive monitor lizards near the jungle and monkeys stealing golf balls.
One of the best palm-fringed beaches isTioman, property of the vast Berjaya Tioman Resort, though this de luxe hotel has mixed reviews.
For cheap hotels on Tioman try the seaside town of Kampung Tekek.
A popular 7 km, 2-3 hour jungle hike from Tekek gets the hardened trekkist to the total serenity of Juara, but if that’s a bit too much like hard work rent a motorcycle, take a jeep taxi or boat taxi.
The northern end of the island is home to laid-back Salang, close to some of island’s best dive sites and favoured by divers and backpackers. It is always crowded and cluttered in the high season, though somehow maintains its charm. Head south by water taxi (also walkable but punishing! ) to sheltered Monkey Bay for more peaceful snorkelling and sloth.
Panuba, (a 40 minute walk from Tekek) south of Monkey Bay and ABC (Air Batang Chalets, a 70 minute walk), are both popular resorts and along the coastal trekking route. Best March-September.
Redang Island, Redang archipelago (northeast; most of the islands are uninhabited)
This is another perfect Malaysian island exploited in the nicest way by posh resorts, a dozen at the last count; it possesses the usual assets of powder white coral sand and warm turquoise seas.
What makes Redang a bit special is the superb underwater life in the encircling Radang Island Marine Park, making this a prime target for scuba and snorkel addicts. Water temperatures hover around 28C and the best season is March-October. Redang is 50 mins by boat from the mainland.
The largest and most popular strand is Pasir Panjang (Long Sand. Photo at top) on the east side of the island where most of resorts lie.
Redang’s finest and arguably the best Malaysia beach is Teluk Dalum (Deep Bay) on the north shore, with powder white sand and glassy waters; however it (sadly) belongs to a world-class hotel, Berjaya Beach Resort & Spa.
Perhentian Islands (northeast)
The Islands of Perhentian (meaning ‘the place to stop‘), have been a must-stop place for budget travelers for many years, especially the smaller isle ofPerhentian Kecil. All five islands are part of the Radang Island Marine Park and they encompass some of the world’s most seductive beaches, along with world class diving and plenty of budget Malaysia accommodation. However, due to tourism overload the islands’ marine life is in danger, with coral shrinking and garbage growing, though a handful of pristine beaches are still irresistible.
If you are a party goer, head to the popularPasir Panjang(Long Sand, not to be confused with Redang Island’s Long Sand! ) on the east coast of Perhentian Kecil for action.
Alternatively try Teluk Aur (Coral Bay) on the west coast of the biggest island, Perhentian Besar. This is a little more upper-class and family-friendly resort, with tranquil beaches such as long and secluded Teluk Dalam (Deep Bay, also known as Flora Bay), or the superb swimming zone of Teluk Pauh, occupied by a couple of large resort hotels.
Finally, for peace and quiet boat out to the lovely sandy strip on tiny Palau Rawa (Rawa Island), 16 km off Mersing. It’s only accessible by ferry from the mainland or a 30 minute trip from both Besar and Kecil Islands. Travelers can stay at one of Rawa’s two resorts.
Sarawak, Similajau National Park, (Borneo Island, a long way east of the mainland) Turtle Beach and Golden Beach.
This parkconsists of 30 kms of golden sand embraced by cliffs and jungle shrieking with wildlife. It is well worth the hassle to get there for some of the finest beaches in Malaysia, forest streams, waterfalls, 185 species of bird and plenty of animals – including gibbons, macaques, turtles, wild boars and crocs.
The park has chalets with an open-air café, hostels and a camping site near some good beaches, but the best ones, Turtle where turtles lay eggs and Golden, both require a permit to enter and are a long walk (7km – 10 km) from the park office. Or a hire a boat. No contest there, then!
The best time to go is April-September. Turtle season is March – September. Temperatures range from 23C to 32C with high humidity.