Which Malaysian island should you visit?

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Malaysia may seem small, but if you look closer, you’ll notice the country stretches across the South China sea, made up of hundreds of islands, many of which don’t offer overnight accommodations and some of which  remain unnamed even today.

If you are considering a trip to Malaysia, there are a lot of choices, and each pulau (the Malay name for island) offers a variety of opportunities for travellers with different interests.

So, which Malaysian island should you check out on your next holiday? Read on to find out.

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For foodies: Penang

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Clay Gilliland, Penang street scene, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

It may be the island that gets the greatest number of visitors, but it’s for good reason. The dazzling array of mouthwatering delicacies you’ll find there make it ideal for foodies looking to try something new. Thanks to its unique mix of different cultures (Chinese, Malay and Peranakan), you’ll find many varieties of cuisine that you won’t find elsewhere. They even have their own version of popular Malaysian dishes, such as Penang Char Kuay Teow, which foodies will tell you tastes very different from other types of stir-fried rice noodles you’ll find on the island and elsewhere. Penang also plays host to the George Town Festival, a huge month-long arts festival with artists from around the world.

For luxury lovers: Langkawi

Four Seasons, Westin and Meritus are just some of the international chain resorts that you’ll find on this sleepy little island, ensuring that you’ll receive nothing but the most impeccable service when spending a few nights there. Most resorts have their own private beaches and also offer a full array of leisure facilities from private spas to golf courses. That is not to say that the island has nothing else to offer. Langkawi is filled with many gorgeous natural sights, such as limestone cliffs, waterfalls and mangroves, where you’ll be able to spot eagles, kingfishers and monkeys. Those who like shopping will also be thrilled to learn that Langkawi is a duty-free island, letting you enjoy additional savings on your shopping hauls.

For underwater enthusiasts: Perhentians

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aishifu ash, Pulau Perhentian, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

With clear waters that are home to coral reefs and various sea creatures, there’s no better place to spend the day snorkelling or diving than in the Perhentians Islands in northeastern Malaysia. Considered relatively undeveloped and rustic for Malaysia, there are many diving schools and places to rent snorkelling equipment. The waters are on the warmer side and are home to sea turtles and many shark species, ensuring that’ll you’ll discover something new on your underwater expeditions. Other amenities are few though, so be prepared to spend most of your time in the water.

For nature lovers: Tioman

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Juska Wendland, Snorkeling @ Tioman, via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

This small little island packs a punch, particularly because of the many smaller islands surrounding it, nine of which comprise the Marine Park Centre. Covered in sandy white beaches and lush jungles, Tioman offers quite the experience for travellers interested in exploring nature. You can also learn more about protecting the area’s fragile sea life. A simple snorkel and you’ll see sea turtles, reef sharks and colourful coral reefs. The island is also home to waterfalls and mountains, making it paradise for nature lovers. More adventurous travellers can try one of several jungle treks offered, each well marked out and with varying degrees of difficulty.

For solitude seekers: Palau Pangkor

This small island has been left relatively untouched, producing a scenic escape for busy city dwellers with its quiet atmosphere and gorgeous beaches, such as Niphah Bay, Teluk Belanda and Pasir Bogak. The Malay villages are nearly exactly the same as they were in the past, with little changed in the way the houses look and how the villagers go about their daily activities. For an even more off-the-grid experience, visit during the week when the area clears out and offers an even more secluded experience. Those with more cash to spare can spend time at the privately owned neighbouring island of Pangkor Laut, which reportedly has celebrities fans including Keira Knightley and Sting. The renowned Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, is said to have been a frequent guest, so much so that the Pangkor Laut Resort named a suite after him.

General tips on visiting Malaysia

Here is a general guide to what to know about island hopping in Malaysia:

  • You can only access a number of islands by plane. If you have time to spare, book your flights in advance and save a bundle.
  • Between the islands in the east and the islands in the west, the ones in the east of Peninsular Malaysia are known more for snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities.
  • Monsoon season can cause the waters to be very rough. The western islands are generally immune to the monsoon, but for the eastern islands, the monsoon period is from October to February, and resorts on the islands may remain closed.

What’s your favourite destination in Malaysia?

Main image: istockphoto/Brusonja

Which Malaysian island should you visit? was last modified: August 31st, 2016 by Kai Lun
Author: Kai Lun (20 posts)

With a penchant for the path less trodden and chasing anything that's out of the ordinary, Seow Kai Lun (call her Kai Lun) is a keen observer and documenter of the world, working to share her experiences as a travel writer. Follow her on Instagram @skailun.