Islands & Beaches - Malaysia
The coastline of Malaysia is dotted with stunning island and expansive beaches
Langkawi is celebrated for its white sandy beaches, luxurious resorts and tropical beauty. It is one of the most visited islands in Malaysia. Situated close to Thailand in the very north of Malaysia, it’s actually an archipelago of 99 different islands.
The main island sits around 18 miles from the Malaysian mainland and measures around 15 miles across at its longest point. The island can be reached by both air and sea. Its airport has connections to Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and there are ferries from Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah and Penang. Some cruise liners also stop here.
A string of high-end resorts such as The Datai and the Four Seasons have helped cement Langkawi’s reputation as a luxury getaway of the very highest quality. Outside of the resorts, Cenang in the southwest of the island is Langkawi’s main beach. In addition to idyllic palm-fringed sands, however, the island also has a breathtaking interior landscape, with mountains, lakes and rainforest adding to the charm.
Langkawi’s latest luxury hideaway boutique resort is the Seri Chenang Resort & Spas Langkawi.
Golf courses, spas, marinas, snorkelling, some diving, a spectacular cable car and a large aquarium are further draws. Island cruises are a popular way of taking in the scenic majesty of the island itself and the surrounding Andaman Sea.
Sipadan is an oceanic island sitting a short way off the southeastern coast of the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. It is a world class dive desitnation which Jacques Cousteau once described as 'an untouched piece of art'.
Only 120 divers are allowed at any one point. There is a permit system, which can be booked in advance. Dive schools cater to first-time divers, but experienced divers will be in more of a position to really appreciate what makes Sipadan so special. Sea turtles, bumphead parrotfish and whitetip shark are all common.
There is no accommodation on Sipadan. The island is reached by boat, either from the coastal town of Semporna or one of the nearby islands (see Mabul and Kapalai).
Mabul sits about 25 minutes’ sailing time from Sipadan Island, and is itself a popular ‘muck diving’ site with a a host of weird and wonderful critters to discover a from seahorses and octopus to ribbon eels and shrimp. As such, Mabul draws a large number of underwater photographers.
Mabul is easily reached by boat from the coastal town of Semporna, which is itself around an hour from the airport at Tawau.
Situated close to both Sipadan and Mabul, Kapalai is a unique 'sandbar' island of stilted wooden buildings connected by stilted wooden walkways.
Kapalai draws visitors year-round thanks to its excellent diving. The water village is also a dramatic and memorable setting.
There is just one resort – the Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort. The diving around the island is, like Mabul, excellent for unusul bottom dwelling creatures. The high enery diving of Sipadan is a short boat trip away.
Kapalai is reached by boat from the coastal town of Semporna.
The island of Labuan is one of Malaysia’s three federal territories. It has its own airport and is situated off the southwestern coast of the state of Sabah.
As well as boasting the scenic gifts you’d expect from a Borneo island, it also has a number of historical and cultural attractions. Its status as an offshore financial centre also gives it appeal for business travellers. It is bigger than most islands in the region, with a surface area of more than 35 square miles.
The main settlement, Labuan Town, has some good accommodation and dining options, and also offers duty-free shopping. Other items of visitor interest include World War II memorials, water villages, a major sea sports centre and botanical gardens.
Labuan Marine Park is located a few miles offshore and comprises three small islets. Its dive sites are well thought of, with four shipwrecks including the Cement Wreck helping to attract underwater enthusiasts.
Tioman is the largest of the 64 volcanic islands which make up the Seribuat Archipelago, stretching along the coast on the eastern side of Peninsular Malaysia.
It featured in the film South Pacific and was once named one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world.
There is a wide choice of accommodation. The Berjaya Tioman Resort is the leading high-end option, with excellent golf and spa facilities.
The landscape is stunning, with villages scattered around the coastline and peaks looming above waterfalls, hiking trails and lush greenery. The marine park around the island protects the marine environment for divers. Tioman is great for other water sports too, kayaking and windsurfing among them.
The settlement of Tekek on the west coast is the main tourist gateway and can be reached by both air and sea. There are flights from Kuala Lumpur with Berjaya Air, while ferries from the mainland take approximately one hour.
The two islands, Perhentian Besar ('Big') and Perhentian Kecil ('Small') are just ten minutes from each other by boat and are located off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. They have wonderful sandy beaches, terrific scuba diving, and jungly hills ideal for adventurous types.
Perhentian has a strong reputation with backpackers, and although a few bigger resorts are now in place, it still has the magical feel of being under-developed.
Perhentian Kecil has more of an upbeat, party buzz than its neighbour Perhentian Besar, which has quieter resorts.
Both of the islands are home to turtle nesting sites (which are viewable if on an arranged trip) and water sport activities.
The islands are reached by a 45-minute boat ride from Kuala Besut on the mainland.
It’s not just the islands that draw visitors to the east coast. The mainland has a few treats of its own.
These include the Desaru region at the bottom of the country. It has around fifteen miles of beaches. As well as providing a stirring backdrop of palm trees and casuarinas it also offers a whole host of recreational activities, from horseback riding and archery to off-road adventures and go-karting. Water sport options include waterskiing, canoeing and catamaran sailing.
Also of real note is Cherating, which is home to a Club Med resort. It’s located around 30 miles north of Kuantan (which itself has a Hyatt Regency beach resort), the capital city of Pahang province. Cherating has very good conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Nearby, Chendor Beach is a good seasonal spot for turtle-watching.
Further north, close to Dungun, the Tanjong Jara Resort is a very good luxury option. It has a spa village and incorporates traditional Malay design.
The west coast of the peninsular has a number of attractive beach options that are handy to know about due to their location.
By virtue of its proximity to KL, Port Dickson is the most popular beach on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It has an unbroken coastline of more than ten miles and hosts a good number of hotels, restaurants and resorts.The name is regularly shortened to PD.
Port Dickson is located in the state of Negeri Sembilan, known for its traditional architecture of upswept roofs. Access is usually by road – it sits around one hour’s drive from Seramban, which is itself some 35 miles south of KL. It’s also possible to catch a train from KL to Seramban.
A little further south, the region in and around the colonial city of Melaka also has some good beaches, including Tanjung Bidara and Tanjung Keling, the latter being a good option for feasting on freshly grilled seafood.
Sabah & Sarawak
The rugged terrain of Malaysian Borneo means that neither Sabah nor Sarawak have many lengthy sandy beaches. There are a handful of notable exceptions.
These include Tanjung Aru in Sabah, which sits just southwest of the city of Kota Kinabalu and has a beach more than a mile long. Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort is one of three luxury resorts in the vicinity. Close by is the Sutera Harbour Resort, while north of the city is the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort.
In Sarawak, meanwhile, there are a couple of lovely beaches located around 20 miles west of capital city Kuching. Pandan and Siar Beaches.
For more information on Malaysia visit our Destination Spotlight section.