When it comes to beaches, I will forever choose a Malaysian Beach Resort over any in Thailand. Which is partly due to them being more of a holiday for us, given we live in Thailand, but the beaches in Malaysia also feel more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ in comparison. And, in parts, they have managed to avoid that generic backpacker vibe that often follows these “banana pancake trails” in Southeast Asia. (Although we can still share some fantastic Thai beaches as well). So I do find myself travelling to Malaysia relatively regularly, often overland from Thailand, which includes the train journey from Bangkok (as in the video below). Although I have hopped through other border crossings as well. However, for most island destinations, flights will forever be the smarter way of travelling, and this goes more so for the east coast islands of Peninsular Malaysia, and most definitely for the Malaysian territories of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo. Otherwise Kuala Lumpur is the obvious starting point (our Kuala Lumpur Guide here).
West Coast Malaysia
The northwest islands and beaches in Malaysia are by far the easiest to reach, with international airports in both Langkawi and Pulau Pinang (Penang). Although, this also means they’re the more developed and busier beach resorts in Malaysia. However they do have a unique contrast in cultures as well, with obvious Indian and Chinese influences, brought by the old British trade routes which followed this coastline south to the Malacca Straits. And this goes more so for Penang which is best reflected in Georgetown (our Penang guide here). Langkawi as well has its own unique position, where it’s sat on the borders of Thailand, and is a duty-free island in a predominantly Halal country, where alcohol is otherwise expensive and hard to come by at times (our Langkawi Guide here). Further down then, nearer to the capital of Kuala Lumpur, is the island of Pangkor.
Tanjung Rhu Beach, Langkawi
By Lotte of Phenomenal Globe: Tanjung Rhu is a beautiful quiet beach located in the Northeast of Langkawi. We discovered this beach when we were exploring the island on a scooter. The coast road (named Jalan Tanjung Rhu) ends at this beach, along the way you will see beautiful mangrove trees. There is a gate with a guard, but the only thing you must do is fill out the environment protection form. Not the entire beach is accessible since part of it belongs to the luxurious Tanjung Rhu Resort. The beach is usually very quiet, no large and loud groups here! The sand is fine and white, in the distance you can see several islands. The water is quite shallow making it a great family beach as well. There are not many facilities though, just one restaurant where you can get drinks, meals and snacks. Of course you can also bring your own food and drinks! I loved spending a relaxed afternoon at this secluded beach (approximately 30 kilometres from Pantai Cenang).
By Yen of Swing Abroad: Pantai Kerachut is located in Penang National Park away from all the urban developments. And yes, there’s a national park in Penang Island. To get there by public transport, you’ll have to take the bus in Komtar or Weld Quay. And the journey takes around an hour one-way. Compared to Monkey Beach, which is also located in the national park, Pantai Kerachut is way less touristy and offers a more pristine beach. It requires around an hour of hiking from the entrance across the amazing rainforest. Note, that you’re not allowed to swim there due to safety concerns. There are no lifeguards around. There’s a turtle conservation centre at the end of the beach as well but it’s not always open, so check before you go. For the best time to visit, I recommend in the middle of the day. Sounds crazy but there are a lot of trees by the beach to provide the shades. Bring some food for a picnic, but beware of the aggressive monkeys that will snatch your food right from your hands.
By Renata of bye:myself: What makes Pulau Pangkor attractive? Location, location, location! It’s far easier and faster accessible than any other island around Malay peninsula: Half an hour by ferry – which goes about every half an hour – from the pier in Lumut for a hand full of Ringgit. And by bus, Lumut is about four hours from Kuala Lumpur and one and a half hours from Ipoh. There are things to do and sites to visit on Pangkor – like the Lin Je Kong Temple or the remains of the Dutch Fort. But honestly, you’ll find Temples and Forts all over the mainland. On Pulau Pangkor, you should stay focused….on doing nothing. On enjoying the beach. Like Teluk Nipah just in front of a small fishermen village or the even nicer and more secluded Coral beach in the adjacent bay. At the village, you find a range of accommodations – from pretty simple to more upscale – no luxury, though. There is also a small supermarket and stalls selling beach equipment, souvenirs, and refreshments along the Teluk Nipah beach; everything is very relaxed. Both beaches offer fine sand, clean waters, and friendly restaurants serving good food. Fingerlicking good! Pulau Pangkor caters mainly to national tourists so during the week – granted it’s not school holiday season in Malaysia – the beaches are pretty empty. Here, you can actually have the entire beach practically to yourself.
East Coast Malaysia
The east coast beaches in Malaysia are harder to reach on the mainland, and unlike Langkawi and Penang, they have no airports on the islands on this side of the peninsula. Meaning your best bet for flights may be the city of Kuantan which is relatively central, between the islands of the north and south, of this east coast. At the same time, there are only a handful of routes crossing Malaysia, and we have covered some of them, including the journey from the west coast islands, through the Cameron Highlands, to the ports of Besut. As well as buses from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing, for the boats to Tioman island, and again to the coastal city of Kuantan. Note, this side of Malaysia is by far the quieter of the mainland, and at times I have found alcohol tricky to track down due to the prominent Halal cultures in the region. Although this probably doesn’t matter if you don’t drink alcohol. Note, snorkelling in the Perhentians is fantastic.
By Alan of More Passport Stamps: Long Beach, on the East coast of the smaller Perhentian island, is the most well-known for travellers and locals alike. The sand is bright white and super soft, the water is warm and as clear as the sky above. The North end of the beach is better for snorkelling and a quieter sunbathe, with the Southern end having a more vibrant, sociable feel to it. You will find lots of Malays on this beach, which should give you all the confidence you need to ensure that you don’t miss this gem. Getting here from Kuala Lumpur is easy, a flight with local carrier Firefly can be purchased for as little as £9 to Kota Bharu, and a short transfer from there is included with most hotel stays. Transfers are usually dropped off on the West coast of the island on Coral Bay, so you can take the leisurely 10-minute stroll through the rainforest to Long Beach, just follow the path behind Ombak Dive Resort.
By Campbell & Alya of Stingy Nomads: Perhentian Kecil is a small island with no cars or any other motor transport. It’s a great place to come for a beach holiday or just for a weekend like many locals from nearby cities do. There are two main beaches; Coral Bay beach and Long Beach. The main bar and party area is at Long beach there you can be awake till late. Coral Bay beach is more of a quiet area with a couple of restaurants, hotels and dive schools. We decided to stay here and if we felt like going out went to Long beach; both beaches are connected by a forest path. Walking between them in the dark with headlamps was an adventure on its own Our campsite at Coral Bay beach was just 30m from the sea and right next to a dive shop that we dived with. There are many activities that you can do from both beaches e.g. kayaking, diving, snorkelling, hiking (there is a walking trail that goes all around the island) or just chilling in the hammock. In order to get to Perhentian Kecil, first you need to get by bus to Kuala Besut, a small town by the sea, there are buses from many Malaysian cities that go there. Then take a boat to the island, the boat ride takes about 30 minutes. The boat stops at several beaches, it’s better to decide beforehand where you want to stay otherwise you’ll have to walk with all your luggage around the island. There are many local food places on Perhentian to eat out wasn’t expensive but beer and cool drinks cost quite a bit more than on the mainland some people bring them with. We loved the island and Coral Bay beach and instead of 3 planned days, we stayed for 1 week.
By Nikki & Michelle of Cheeky Passports: If you’re looking for crystal-clear, pristine, white-sand beaches, head over to little Kapas island, a tropical island paradise on the east coast of Malaysia, where time stands still; a destination in which relaxing on a hammock under the shade of coconut trees on one of its beaches, is the main activity! Sure, you can snorkel and dive around the island, and even go for a little trek across the humid jungle, but the beaches are what really draws visitors to the little gem. There are daily boats heading over to Pulau Kapas from Marang Jetty in Kuala Terengganu on the mainland, which in turn is a bus ride away from other major destinations in Malaysia, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Pulau Kapas has not yet been hit by mass tourism. There are only a few resorts scattered around the island, very little infrastructure, and its beaches are some of the least crowded in Malaysia!
By Christian Lindgren of the Unusual Traveler: Cherating might not be the prettiest beach in Malaysia, but it will probably win the prize for best sunsets and the laidback atmosphere here among travellers in Malaysia. Located on the east coast of Malaysia 30km north of Kuantan, the largest town on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The beach here itself is not as nice as on the islands of the coast of the country, but what it lacks in beauty does Cherating win back in coolness, the place probably has the most laidback atmosphere of all the beaches in Malaysia. Nobody stresses around here, but If you don´t want to just relax at the beach can you go surfing or take a short day trip to a Turtle Sanctuary (August – October) to experience the rare Leatherback Turtle, the largest of all turtles species. In the evening is Little Bali the best place to hang out, with cheap beer and live music. The easiest way to reach Cherating is from Kuantan. Kuantan is a 4hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur, buses leave Kuala Lumpur all day. The best place to stay is at the Coconut Inn Cherating, with different budget style small huts.
By Emma Walmsley of Small Footprints, Big Adventures: Juara Bay on Tioman Island is still a paradise worthy of postcards and tropical daydreams. The bay is perfectly framed by lush green mountains, and the water is calm and shallow so it’s wonderful for snorkelling and swimming in. There are two coral reefs close to the shore to explore, and a mangrove river that you can kayak through too! And watching the sun rise over the bay is the best way to start any day. Getting to Juara Bay takes a little time but is well worth the trip. The ferry to Tioman Island ports on the opposite side to Juara, so you can take a taxi up and over the middle of the island, or hike through the jungle for several hours to get there. There are many accommodation options in Juara Bay, and a small township with excellent cafes and some hire shops. I am still dreaming about a traditional Malaysian breakfast we had there: vegetable roti with satay sauce was simply amazing. Great food, picture-perfect scenery and clean, calm water to enjoy: what more could you want on an island holiday?
The least visited and most remote beaches in Malaysia will always be found in Borneo. And I do hope to cover them in more detail down the line, as, to date, we have only really covered the inland eco-attractions of Sabah, as well as Brunei (our Brunei guide here). So it’s very much on our to-do list. Anyway, rather vast distances are found between attractions in Malaysian Borneo, and there are only a handful of airports, where Kota Kinabalu would be the obvious entry point for the northern parts of Sabah, then Kuching would be the big port for the more southern state of Sarawak. Although Brunei is always a convenient entry point to the more central regions of Malaysian Borneo. Anyway, here are some of the best beaches in Borneo.
By Penny Fernandes of Globe Trove: Malaysia has so many gorgeous beaches but when I think back to my time spent there, the first beach that comes to my mind is the Gaya island beach. It is one of those places that does not make it to many traveller’s lists unless they are actually staying on the island. I however had a lot of time on my hands while we were staying in Sabah and the Gaya island beach popped up when I was searching for things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Staying on the island in one of the delightful water bungalows is rather expensive and we were on a budget trip. So we called up the resort and arranged to hop on to the ferry in the morning to stay on the island for a couple of hours. The cove is only accessible by boat and we found that we were the only snorkelers in the water since it was a private beach. The crystal clear waters cared for by the resort made the trip memorable and while we did not dive, time passed rather quickly with us snorkelling and kayaking in the protected areas. I highly recommend visiting Gaya island beach if you are ever in the vicinity. You will not be disappointed.
By Lora of Explore with Lora: Sipidan Island is a tiny island located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The island was formed by living corals growing on top of an extinct volcanic cone that took thousands of years to develop, and as result is surrounded by some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen. As the boat approached the island It was hard to believe how crystal clear the waters were beneath, you could see sea turtles swimming below. To reach Sipidan island you need to get a boat from the town of Semporna, which takes about half an hour. You can either do a tour to visit the island for the day and go snorkelling, or visit as part of a scuba package. Sipidan is one of the top dive sites in the world, teeming with rich marine life including sharks, turtles, and thousands of barracudas. If you go diving off Sipidan island you will take surface interval time on the island, which gives you an opportunity to relax and enjoy this stunning paradise. Just be sure to book in advance, as there are only a limited amount of permits for the island per day!