Lip-smacking food, diverse cities, mesmerizing beaches and idyllic islands. Did we forget to mention national parks with wildlife-packed rainforests? All these together pretty much sums up Malaysia. You must have heard of the slogan, “Malaysia, Truly Asia”? The catchy tourism slogan continues to prove that the country is a potpourri of Asian cultures. Hindu and Muslim Indians, Muslim Malays, diverse Chinese along with aboriginal groups live together in harmony. Most of the visitors in Malaysia come down to experience the rainforests and lovely beaches. Identifiable patches of forests remain intact, all protected by national parks and conservation projects.
But did you also know that this country is also famous for its beautiful islands? Malaysia Islands are one of the best tourist destinations in the country. Apart from rainforests, beaches and the urbanized cities of course. Virgin beaches with the quintessential ocean colours, isolated islands and world-class diving. Islands in Malaysia are the best way to spend a rejuvenated and relaxed vacation. The country has more than 800 islands across both sides of the peninsula and around Borneo. Malaysia Islands Langkawi is a district and an archipelago of about 99 islands. Let’s take a look at some of the best islands in Malaysia.
List of 10 Best islands in Malaysia
- Langkawi Island
- Tioman Island
- Perhentian Island
- Pangkor Island
- Manukan Island
- Sipadan Island
- Mantanani Island
- Layang Layang Island
- Selingan Turtle Island
- Mabul Island
1. Langkawi Island
Officially known as the Jewel of Kedah, Malaysia Island Langkawi is situated on the west coast. The turquoise waters surround the island while the interiors are a blend of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills. The coastline is adorned with powder-fine sand and a long line of swaying coconut trees. Part of the state of Kedah, which is adjacent to the Thai Border, Langkawi is a duty-free island. It is also an administrative district with the town of Kuah, as it’s the largest town. Intent on carting off duty-free chocolates, cigarettes and alcohol? Then, Langkawi is the perfect place for you.
Recognized for its excellent diving opportunities, this tropical paradise is a treasure trove of other activities as well. Langkawi makes sure that your Malaysian holidays don’t go to waste. Explore the expansive underwater world Langkawi and the soaring cable car in Pantai Kok. It’s an electrifying locale which would make visitors come back again and again. Stroll through the glistening coastlines with mountains and mangroves.
- Best known for: The beautiful contrast of turquoise waters bordering the island along and paddy fields located in the interiors.
- Things to do: Visit Galeria Perdana, take a ride on the Langkawi Cable Car, take a mangrove tour of Kilim Geopark, climb Gunung Raya
- How to reach: Take a direct flight to Kuala Lumpur. From there tourists can reach Langkawi by rail, road or air.
Also See: Malaysia Travel Guide 2019: Truly Asian
2. Tioman Island
Home to some of the most gorgeous views and pristine beaches, Tioman is one of the most famous islands in Malaysia. If you have ever dreamt of living on an island, then Tioman is the perfect place. The island has seven villages, and the largest and the most populous being Kampung Tetek on the central western coast. An island which can leave you awestruck with its charm, Tioman offers some of the most amazing attractions to stop by. Numerous coral reefs surround the densely forested island of Tioman Island making it a perfect spot for scuba diving, snorkelling and other water activities.
It was in the 1970s that the TIME Magazine had declared Tioman as one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Part of Pahang territory, it is geographically closer to mainland Johor as compared to Pahang. For thousands of years, this island had been used by fishermen as an essential navigation point. There’s a marine area around Tioman Island and eight other nearby islands. They have been declared as the marine parks and marine reserves. Best time to visit Tioman would be around July and August as the weather stays quite dry, pretty and soothing.
- Best known for: The pristine beaches dotted throughout the island and the seven villages which offer a picturesque view.
- Things to do: Meet the fishermen at Genting Village, go surfing at Juara Beach, choose to hike till Asah Waterfall, relax at Mukut, walk and hike to Air Batang
- How to reach: Tioman can be reached via ferry from the port town of Mersing or Tanjung Gemuk. To reach Mersing, you can take a bus from Kuala Lumpur which takes around 7-8 hours.
3. Perhentian Islands
A group of beautiful, coral-fringed islands off the coast of northeastern Malaysia are the Perhentian Islands. One of the most famous islands in Malaysia, Perhentian is urban and well-developed. Most of the Malaysia Islands are equipped with the best of amenities a tourist requires. And Perhentian doesn’t lag as well.
Even after a massive inflow of tourists, the islands have been able to maintain it’s sanity. The waters are refreshing and crystal-clear and are perfect for various water activities. Tourists who come down there love to indulge in swimming, snorkelling and diving. Perhentian is dotted with numerous crescent beaches with shimmering waters and fine sand.
And, a signature to Malaysia islands – rainforests and dense jungles. Several hiking trails through those lush forests give you a sense of adventure. Which means islands in Malaysia are a lot more than just relaxing on the beaches. Walk through the forests or indulge in various water activities or have the best Malaysian cuisine. Pulau Perhentian is a conglomeration of several islands. Among them, two are large and developed for tourism. They are Kecil (small) and Besar (big). You would find the least amount of traffic in both places. All you would get to enjoy is that typical laid-back islander vibe.
- Best known for: It’s the most developed islands in all of Malaysia. And, that’s the reason people love to visit this place, relax and stay over.
- Things to do: Try the breakfast spread at Panorama Divers Buffet Breakfast, go snorkelling and scuba diving, explore jungle trekking, sunbathe on Adam and Eve Beach
- How to reach: Board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to either Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu. Post reaching the airport take a cab or bus to Kuala Besut jetty.
4. Pangkor Islands
A tiny mountainous Malaysia Island, Pangkor is located at the west coast of the peninsula. With a population of approximately 25,000, Pangkor has a land area of 18 square km. Also, it’s at a distance of about 3.5 km from Peninsular Malaysia. The most interesting part about this island is that the interiors are dense forests. And the island is home to 65 reptile species, 17 amphibian species and 82 total herpetofauna species. In ancient times, the island was a refuge for local fishers, merchants and pirates. It was in the 17th century that the Dutch constructed a fort to control the Perak Tin trade known as the Dutch Fort. Did you know that Pangkor is just a 3-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur?
If you head towards the west coast of Pangkor, it is famous for its beaches, resorts and amazing accommodations. Some of the most popular beaches there are Pasir Bogak, Teluk Nipah and Coral Beach. Most of the residents live on the east coast of Pangkor. To be precise, Pangkor is still a secret destination in Malaysia.
If you are in for a laidback and toned-down experience, then Pangkor is the best option for you. Make sure when you are on the island, have your dinner well before 9. Most of the restaurants are owned by locals and they tend to shut down by 9 or 10. Apart from that, the island lacks buses and visitors. So, tourists need to either hire a bike or depend on fixed-price minivan taxis.
- Best known for: The dense forests, beaches and resorts are the most attractive part of this island. People visiting this island love to explore the forests while also enjoy their stay at the best accommodation.
- Things to do: Go for jungle trekking to Bukit Pangkor, feed hornbills at the Sunset View Chalet, kayaking or canoeing, frolic in the Pangkor waves, enjoy a lovely dinner at the Fisherman’s Cove
- How to reach: The best way to travel to Pangkor is by bus to Terminal Lumut. There are frequent buses available after every half an hour from Kuala Lumpur. Terminal Bersepadu Selatan is the bus station.
5. Manukan Island
It’s the second largest Malaysia Island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah, the island is easily accessible by boat. For Kota Kinabalu residents, Manukan is quite a popular island. It has got some excellent stretch of beaches on the southern coastline. Towards the eastern tip of the island, you would find the best beach in Manukan Island.
Beneath the waters of Manukan, you would find far richer corals and hence the perfect place for snorkelers and divers. Towards the north and west side of the island, the current tends to be strong. As a result, there is less visibility. As told, it’s the second largest island with almost 20 hectares covered in dense vegetation.
Numerous walking trails, verdant forests and amazing beaches would take you to a whirlwind of adventure. And, to explore all these don’t require you to be extremely fit. You can explore the whole of Manukan Island at leisure. Speedboats are available which connect the mainland and the protected islands in just 15 minutes. The long beach spans almost about 1500 metres at the southern side of the island. At that part the sea is quite calm and shallow and hence not ideal for swimmers.
- Best known for: Amazing beaches and richer corals underwater.
- Things to do: Try out various water activities, climb Mount Kinabalu, explore Borneo
- How to reach: Either depart from Jesselton Point Jetty or Sutera Marina Jetty. Take a cab or drive to either of the places mentioned.
6. Sipadan Island
Better known as Malaysia’s diving paradise, Sipadan is the only oceanic Malaysia Island. Rising 600 metres from the seabed, Sipadan island located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah. Sipadan is like that huge pillar amid the ocean which forms the perfect shelter for many sea animals and marine life. And, the most interesting part about this island is that it is home to the largest population of sea turtles.
Quite an unusual characteristic as very few islands in the world does have that. As it’s not an easy island to visit, you can only stay at the surrounding islands of Mabul and Kapalai. Sipadan Island was formed by living corals on top of an extinct volcanic cone. And, that took almost a thousand years to develop.
Located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, it is the centre of one of the richest marine habitats. Also, on the waters of Sipadan, you can frequently see green and hawksbill turtles. Bumped Parrotfish, Big-eyed trevally and so on. If you want to visit Sipadan, a permit is required which is issued by Sabah Parks. It’s a Sabah Government Agency. A limited number of 120 permits are available each day.
- Best known for: As a diver’s paradise. Also, it’s home to a huge number of sea turtles.
- Things to do: Scuba Diving, bird watching, explore beautiful beaches, snorkelling
- How to reach: Choose to fly either from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Kota Kinabalu to Tawau. Take a cab or shared van till Semporna. Take a speed boat from Semporna to Sipadan.
7. Mantanani Island
A group of three islands located northwest of Kota Belud, it’s an hour’s drive from the state capital of Sabah. The largest island there is Mantanani Besar, and the other two are Kecil and Lungisan. Mantanani Islands are one of the best Malaysia Islands for birdwatching. The birds usually nest on the islands. You can say these islands are a gem of Malaysia. Long hidden and yet to be explored, the Mantanani Besar is shaped like a knife. It has a beach that stretches up to 2.500 metres. Hardly been ever commercialized, this is the main reason that secures its hidden secrets. Most of the tourists who head down to Malaysia have not heard about the Mantanani Islands.
With visibility up to 40 meters, the island promises a vibrant and diverse marine life. The waters beneath are also unfairly blessed with age-old shipwrecks and critters. The reason this island is a favourite among locals and the tourists who come is because of it’s picturesque scenery.
And it’s coupled with a serene environment and cool breeze. The island is all yours to explore. Go island trekking and experience local village life. The waters are so clear that you would even get to see the reflection of the floating boats on it. Hop into a kayak and try your hands at sea-kayaking. Or laze on the beach.
- Best known for: The most beautiful migratory and resident birds. Tourists love to visit this place to explore exotic fauna and avian life.
- Things to do: Water activities like snorkelling and scuba diving, gorgeous sunsets, bird watching
- How to reach: It’s a two-hour drive to Kampung Kuala Abai jetty in Kota Belud. Rent a car or arrange with island resort at Mantanani.
8. Layang Layang Island
This island is popularly known as the Swallow Reef. It’s an oceanic atoll of the Spratly Islands administered by Malaysia. And, it’s situated approximately 300 km northwest of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. About 7km long and 2km wide with a central lagoon, this atoll has gained recognition as a destination for scuba divers. Layang Layang is one of the best Malaysia Islands known for scuba diving and many other water activities.
The island is a true diver’s paradise. Also, travel to this island and staying there is quite expensive but, the place is worth a visit. Did you know that it’s a human-made island? It used to be an active marine base until recently when most visitors are not allowed inside this island.
Do not expect to stumble on a tropical paradise once you the island. Devoid of beaches, there is only the naval base resort, diving school and the airstrip. The best way to relax on this island is to eat, sleep and dive. The Island Resort is closed from September till February due to heavy showers experienced in the region.
- Best known for: It’s a world-class diving destination with an oceanic atoll. Tourists love to get a feel of the place. And obviously, it’s the best destination for adventure seekers and divers.
- Things to do: Diving, explore the diverse marine life, indulge in a luxurious spa
Experience fine dining
- How to reach: You need to first reach Kota Kinabalu. There are chartered flights which ply for this island. Book and go.
9. Selingan Turtle Island
Among hundreds of beautiful Malaysia Islands, Selingan Turtle is one of them. It’s one of the best islands near Malaysia, located at a distance of about 40km from Sandakan. The reason this island got its name is because of the many turtles that swim in the waters around the island. Female Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles lay their eggs on the island’s beaches.
In fact, it’s only this island on which the turtles breed. Another interesting fact about Selingan is that, it’s the only island in the region where visitors can stay. Basic accommodation along with proper food is available which makes it easier for tourists to come down and spend a day or two.
When you visit, you can also go down and explore the turtle hatchery and visitor’s centre. You can witness turtles laying their eggs and collect them to protect from predators. A few lucky visitors are allowed to release young hatchlings back into the sea under the hatchling release programme. You can try out scuba diving and snorkelling during the daytime. Apart from all these, there’s also the Bakkungan Kechil Island. You can go there to visit the bubbling volcanoes.
- Best known for: The many numbers of sea turtles that swim in the waters. It’s the best island in Malaysia if you wish to watch turtles laying eggs.
- Things to do: Visit the turtles at the hatchery and visitor’s centre, explore the Gomantong cave, visit Sandakan Memorial Park
- How to reach: You need to book from Borneo Tours, which is the only way to reach the Selingan Islands.
Also See: Top 8 Honeymoon Destinations in Asia
10. Mabul Island
One of the hidden islands near Malaysia, it is located off the south-eastern coast of Sabah. Since the 1970’s, it had been a fishing village. And, then since 1990, the island became popular to divers because of it’s proximity to Sipadan Islands. This 20-hectare piece of land is 2-3 meters above sea-level and located at a distance of about just 15kms from Sipadan.
If you look at the island from the top, it’s oval-shaped. Mostly the island is all flat lands and surrounding it are sandy beaches. And, these beaches are located on the northwest corner of a large two-square kilometre reef. With two main villages on the island, almost 2000 villagers are living in just one of them. “Kampung Mabul” and “Kampung Musu” are the two villages there.
The island of Mabul is a pretty sight in itself. Pristine beaches, coconut trees, soft white sand and emerald waters. Due to its isolated location, the island is still untouched and retains much of its natural beauty. It’s counted among the best Malaysia Islands.
- Best known for: This island is again a diver’s paradise. And, it’s proximity to Sipadan Islands has made it even more famous.
- Things to do: Ocean Kayaking, explore the sea gypsie villages, snorkelling, scuba diving, watch the sunsets.
- How to reach: Trip to Mabul is mainly for a day. You can arrange it with your tour operator from Semporna.
With an array of activities and a picturesque setting, Malaysia Islands are a must visit for your next vacation. The best way to experience the true beauty of Malaysia is with your family of course. So, which island are you planning for?