We’re always drawn to coastal destinations with bucket-loads of history, character and local flavour, but sometimes we crave simple, beachside R&R too. Many of the small islands just off Malaysia’s coast are unarguably photogenic. The remote Tioman Islands, for example, are made to daydream about on rainy days: all golden sands, tall palms, and turquoise waters... The mainland’s north east coast draws visitors for similarly idyllic reasons, with that extra touch of flexibility that’s ideal if you’re travelling as a family. Look for adventure out on the water, get lost at markets, and seek out unusual moments.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
With warm, dry days on the cards for a good chunk of the year, Malaysia’s east coast is a great destination for getting a dose of reliable, relaxing sun, sand and sea. This corner of the country, separated from the frenetic trading ports of the south and west by dense jungle, has its own distinct culture, rooted in traditional fishing and farming. Just under an hour by plane from Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Terengganu is a bustling modern town with several laid back beach resorts dotted along the nearby coast, including one of our absolute favourites: Tanjung Jara. Even though this coast has its fair share of mass tourism, it's a great place to come if you want some simple, slower-paced beach bliss.
Providing an east-coast counterpoint to Langkawi’s easily accessed but crowded beaches, Tioman Island is gently paced, serene... and a pain to get to! The journey is fairly convoluted, involving a long bus ride, walking transfers and a ferry trip, but the rewards are worth it. Around 32km offshore from the south east coast, Tioman cuts a dramatic profile with the twin peaks of Batu Sirau and Nenek Semukut jutting up from its centre. It’s the perfect place if you want some time away from the rush. The surrounding reefs are said to be among the best in Malaysia, offering top notch diving and snorkelling opportunities. Go fishing with the locals, hike to inland waterfalls and revel in the peace and quiet.
It’s tempting to group these islands together, despite being on opposite sides of the Peninsular, as they all draw visitors for the same reason: isolated beach bliss. They’re popular with domestic tourists and international visitors alike, and which one you visit will probably depend more on the season (and your budget) than the particular details of each island. In the north-east, the Perhentian Islands are known for their picture-perfect looks and world-class diving, while Redang has excellent reefs to snorkel or dive around and is very family friendly. Tiny Pangkor, in the south west, is a bit more of a luxury option, and the island’s only resort is considered to be one of Malaysia’s finest.