Malaysia has some of the most beautiful island paradises in the world but Malaysian Islands are often overlooked by tourists for its more well known neighbours such as Thailand or the Philippines.
I have just spent the last 3.5 years living in Malaysia and 2 of those years were during lockdown. Consequently, a lot of my holidays were spent in the country I live, Malaysia! Any chance that we got to getaway we took it! My favourite type of a holiday is a beach holiday. I don't mind if it's very basic and rustic, but I also enjoy a little bit of luxury from time to time. This list of Malaysian Islands includes a little bit of both!
The most well known Malaysian island holiday destination is Langkawi. Langkawi is a large island with an international airport and a wide range of accommodation. For this reason it is extremely popular.
If you want to experience a bit of luxury you can choose to stay at The Datai, in Datai Bay. The Datai is well known to be one of the most exclusive options in Langkawi. Alternatively you may want to stay closer to the action near Pantai Cenang Beach.
I have been to Langkawi several times and have stayed in a range of accommodation including The Andaman at Datai Bay (unfortunately this has closed down), The Danna, Rebak Island Resort, and even at a private villa in the hillside adjacent to Pantai Cenang Beach.
Langkawi has something for everyone, including bars, beaches, jet ski's, island tours, sunset cruises, a cable car, the Langkawi sky bridge, a crocodile farm and some beautiful hikes and waterfalls (my favourite).
2. Tioman Island
Tioman island is one of my favourite Malaysian Islands. I love it because it is incredibly rustic and feels very remote. However, this means that it is not for everyone. Tioman Island is a good fit for you if you prefer to go somewhere where there are minimal tourists and love the idea of a basic beach shack.
That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot accommodation options on Tioman Island, with more expensive hotels found on exclusive beaches and cheaper options found along the main beach. I have only ever visited Tioman Island for Scuba diving.
However it is a great option for anyone looking for a beach holiday with crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches as well as jungle hikes and waterfalls to visit. You can also visit Tioman during Monsoon season and go surfing! Surfing is popular on the East side on the island at Juara beach.
You can also fly to Tioman Island from Kuala Lumpur with SKS air. This is a more pricey option but it's good to know if this falls within your budget.
3. Pangkor Island, Perak
Pangkor Island is only a 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and is a popular choice for locals and expats. There are a lot of options on Pangkor Island for you to stay and access to the island is via boat from the mainland Marina.
I have only ever been to the Pangkor Laut Island Private Resort, which I can highly recommend! This is a resort on its own private island complete with sea villas, hill villas, and even estates. This holiday is perfect if you want an all inclusive beach holiday for ultimate relaxation. The hotel is complete with a spa, gym, tennis courts, games rooms, 2 x pools, and several restaurants.
While Semporna itself is not a Malaysian Island, Semporna is perfectly situated on the East Coast of Sabah, on the Island of Borneo. Sabah is well known to have some of the most beautiful waters and islands in the world! Therefore, Semporna is on this list because it is a fantastic base to visit some of these Malaysian Islands. Unquestionably this is where you will find the best Malaysian beaches as well.
However, be warned that Semporna is a small fishing town and you may therefore choose to stay at one of the surrounding Malaysian Islands. You can read more about my personal experience and recommendations for these islands here
Similarly, Sipadan Island is an Island in Sabah, on the East Coast of Borneo. Sipadan is well known for its world class Scuba diving and is protected by the Malaysian government. I have been to Sipadan for Scuba diving and I can 100% confirm that it is amazing! If you are a scuba diver, then Sipadan is an absolute must for you! Read more about my Scuba diving trip to Sipadan
6. Mabul Island, Sabah
Likewise, Mabul Island is an Island located in Sabah, on the East Coast off the island of Borneo. Similar to its surrounding Malaysian islands, Mabul island also boasts beautiful clear waters. However it is crowded with hotels and a village and I would only recommend staying here as a base for you to Scuba dive Sipadan. I also describe my experience on Mabul Island here.
7. Penang Island
Penang Island is a far cry from a tropical island paradise, but it is in fact an island off the East Coast of the pennisular and it is an excellent choice for holidaymakers that want to experience more than just a beach paradise.
I have actually been to Penang so many times now that I've lost count (5+ times now!), and every time I go I like to stay in Georgetown. Georgetown is a UNESCO heritage protected town and it's unlike anywhere in the world. Spend the days exploring the streets viewing the world famous street art, as well as unique shopping, traditional long shop houses, and by night you can experience the food night markets and many speak easy bars!
You can also choose to stay North of the island at Batu Ferringhi if you really want to stay on a beachfront. This is popular choice for families as well. Although be warned that the beach isn't particularly beautiful.
8. Redang Island
Arguably the most popular Malaysian Island on the East coast is Redang. Unfortunately I have actually never been to Redang! However, anyone that has been has given raving reviews about the crystal clear waters of Redang. Similar to it's surrounding East Coast Islands, Scuba diving is a popular activity to do on Redang,
There are loads of accommodation choices ranging from budget to high end. The most raved about luxury hotel in Redang is The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort and this is certainly on my to do list!
You can also fly to Redang from KL with SKS air. This is a more pricey option but it's good to know if this falls within your budget.
9. Perhentian Island
Last on the list, is another well known Malaysian Island, Perhentian Island. The Perhentian Islands are made up of two islands, one small island and one large island. The smaller of the Islands is more popular amongst couples and younger travels, with its famous beach parties on long beach. The larger island is more suitable for families, with all night life and restaurants contained within the hotels themselves.
Perhentian Island is also well known for Scuba diving, and is the best value for money for scuba diving that you will find in all of Malaysia. Although there isn't much big wildlife, the corals are beautiful and the visibility can be excellent, making it a pleasant Scuba diving holiday.
Other (less known) Malaysian Islands
Other Malaysian islands that you may not have heard of include:
- Rawa Island
- Batu Batu Island
- Pulau Tenggol
- Kapas Island and next door Gemia Island
- Lang Tengah Island
I'm yet to explore the above islands but they are on my list to do next!
I hope that you have found this article helpful and if you have any more questions you can ask them in the comments section below or send me a dm on Instagram.