Chloe, our Malaysia Specialist first visited the country in 2010 travelling up the East Coast and spending two months between Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Like many travellers, she fell in love with the dreamy beaches. Check out her top picks below for inspiration…
Welcome to paradise…
Whether you’re looking for somewhere to completely get away from it all, or searching for a snorkeller’s paradise, Malaysia is home to hundreds of idyllic tropical beaches and islands. From the turquoise seas and laid back beaches of the peninsula’s east and west coasts, to the coral reefs and white sands of Sabah, Borneo, there are plenty of beach options to choose from.
Best time to visit: The east coast of Malaysia is best visited from March – October with peak season in the months of July and August, so it’s worth bearing in mind that the limited accommodation does fill up quickly! It’s best to visit outside the peak months to avoid the crowds and high season supplements.
The Perhentian Islands are my kind of paradise – swaying palms, powdery white sand, beach hut style accommodation, and water so clear that you can still see your feet when standing neck deep.
There are two Perhentian Islands, Pulau Kecil and Pulau Besar, with the latter being the larger of the two but quieter, and less of a lively backpacker scene. Here, there is some of the best snorkelling that I have seen, with plenty of colourful fish and even a chance to see turtles between May and September!
Located just 2 hours by boat South of the Pulau Perhentians, Lang Tengah is a little off the popular backpacker track, but is a bit of a hidden gem as it is absolutely beautiful. With lush green interior, sparkling white sand, and the crystal clear sea we all dream of, Lang Tengah is a must-see beach in Malaysia.
With only four resorts on the island, it’s the perfect place for someone wanting a relaxed, chilled out holiday, without all the noisy bars that can come with a beach. It marries well with our island hopping Perhentian Pulau Besar trip.
This little tropical paradise is the smallest of the East Coast islands, with only one resort, and plenty of little private beaches for you to explore. The beaches are more of a golden colour than the sparkly white sand you find on the Northern East Coast islands, but who really cares when you have one all to yourself anyway? The water villas at the Gem Island Resort – complete with a balcony on stilts over the ocean and your own private hammock, are ideal for relaxing for a few nights at the end of an adventurous trip. There is also a small, neighbouring island called Pulau Kapas with plenty of bohemian cafes and restaurants, which is a short 5 minute kayak away if you get bored of that good book…
Tioman Island will always have a place in my heart as it the first place that I visited when I arrived in Malaysia. It is definitely the more developed of the East Coast Islands, but in no way lacking in character or charm. Most of the beaches are smaller, with golden sand, and plenty of palm trees dotted along the shoreline, perfect for tying a hammock in between and then there is Juara Beach which is a long stretch of sand which attracts surfers from all around the world when the monsoon season kicks in.
The snorkelling on Tioman is something else, I was able to follow a turtle by just snorkelling off the shore for over an hour, and I would highly recommend a short boat trip to Rengis Island, for its brightly coloured coral and tropical fish! With its cheeky monkeys, laid back monitor lizards, relaxed vibe and lots of different bays and villages, Tioman Island is an island that you should place high on your list.
Best time to visit: The west coast of Malaysia can be visited all year round – peak season is December, July and August, and Chinese New Year in February so best to avoid these times if possible, or book well in advance to avoid disappointment!
Langkawi is a large, beautiful island located on the North West Coast of Peninsula Malaysia. It is definitely one of Malaysia’s most popular islands, and the development on the island does reflect that. Not to worry though, we have sourced some wonderful locally owned accommodation on Pantai Cenang, which is away from the larger chain hotels, and has its own lovely selection of bars, restaurants and shops.
The beaches are long, with powdery white sand, allowing plenty of space for lounging around with a good book. The island is wonderful for exploring, with a lush green mangrove forest, duty free shopping, and a sky high cable car to view the tropical island from above. The snorkelling off the beach isn’t as good as you would find on the East Coast Islands, however you can organise snorkelling boat trips from your resort.
Pangkor Island is a popular, but also laid-back island with golden beaches and iconic pink minivan taxis to get you to and from each place. It is frequented to by locals on the weekends, as it is the closest island for locals to get to from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. The beaches aren’t as beautiful as you would see on the East Coast, or Langkawi, but it is still a lovely place to chill out and relax at the end of an adventurous trip, as you will be nearest to the airport for your flight back home. There is good snorkelling around a small, neighbouring island called Giam Island, and plenty of jungle trekking and temples to explore and visit around the island.
Best time to visit: Sabah can be visited all year round, but the most rain falls from November through to January so it may be a little rainy while trying to sunbathe on the beach. Peak season is in July and August so it’s best to book well ahead for these months, as the prices escalate quickly and accommodation gets booked up months in advance too!
Gaya Island is a small, unpopulated island located just a 15 min boat ride off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. With only 2 resorts on the island, it is lovely and peaceful and the beaches boast gorgeous white sand that meets the glistening turquoise sea. I would recommend visiting Gaya Island for ultimate relaxation and luxury, while snorkelling off the shore and winding down after an exciting wildlife trip.
With long stretches of white sand, 40 mins drive from the airport, lush jungles and luxury resorts, Kota Kinabalu is the perfect place to acclimatise at the beginning of your Borneo stay or relax at the end of a jungle safari and wildlife spotting adventure. You can’t really snorkel off the beach here as the water doesn’t have great visibility, but most resorts have snorkelling trips that you can arrange during your stay to the protected Tunku Abdul National Park where you can spot colourful fish and maybe even a turtle if you’re lucky! Check out our ‘In Style’ accommodation option which is right by the beach!
I have two words for you – Just go. Lankayan Island is located 2 hours by boat off the coast of Sandakan and has some of the most beautiful beaches that Malaysia has to offer. There is only one resort on the island, which has wooden, stilted bungalows located in the sand directly on the beach. There is nothing to do on the island except eat, swim, snorkel and lay on the beach, but there’s nothing wrong with that is there? It sounds perfect to me.
There is a small turtle sanctuary on the island too, and if you want to be woken if any eggs hatch to assist the baby turtles to the sea, you can put a sign on the front of your door and the rangers will come and get you. Our Malaysia charity that we support, Reef Guardian, is located on Lankayan Island you can even adopt a baby turtle for a small price! Keen divers travel from all over the world to dive in the many dive spots surrounding Lankayan Island too, so if diving is one if your interests then it will definitely be the place for you!
With only one resort on the island that just has 27 rooms, Selingan Island has more beautiful beaches, and rustic, beach hut style accommodation. You are only allowed to spend one night on the island at a time, and due to the limited availability, there can only be a certain amount of people visiting each day, making it another short but sweet, peaceful getaway.
The beaches are stunning, with white sand, and there is excellent snorkelling too, but the main reason for visiting the island is for the large turtle sanctuary. The guides claim that you can spot turtles all year round, but generally the best season for turtles is from May – September. As this is only an overnight destination, it is best to combine with a wildlife trip, and to make your beach stay longer somewhere else, such as on Lankayan, Pulau Gaya or Kota Kinabalu beach.