Malaysia doesn't get immediately come to mind when thinking about sun 'n fun in South East Asia - places like Thailand and Indonesia are more immediate options. The country is well known for its wonderful cuisine, vibrant festivals, cultural diversity, and wildlife - after all, it is the only place alongside Indonesia where orangutans still survive. 

Yet, Malaysia doesn't disappoint even in the beaches and islands department! The East coast of Peninsular Malaysia has some true local gems, and several more islands can be found off the coast of Borneo, the large island shared between Malaysia and Indonesia. Sailing between Malaysia's best islands and beaches can be a great idea for a South East Asian sailing adventure - in this article we've listed our favorites, you just need to choose a few from the list and combine them together for a once in a lifetime experience, spending a week or more relaxing on white sand beaches and enjoying the company of locals. To make matters even better, Malaysia is quite affordable as well. If you've given up on the idea of sailing because of budget, you might find Malaysia to be a budget-friendly option!

A word of caution, make sure you plan carefully if you're traveling during low season - roughly between mid-October and mid-March in the Eastern part of the country, when the monsoons strike. There's also a smaller monsoon season between May and October, affecting the West, but it is usually far less severe. During the low season, rain is common, some resorts close completely, and some activities will not be available or will only be open for limited hours.

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Our Favorite Beaches and Islands in Eastern Malaysia


Borneo

Long known as one of the most exotic locations within Malaysia, Borneo is also home to some wonderful beaches, besides jungles and orangutans. The city of Kota Kinabalu, capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, is located just a hop away from Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, five islands with perfect white sand beaches just half an hour by ferry from the city, Also known for its modern atmosphere and excellent seafood markets, Kota Kinabalu is indeed a must stop location when in Borneo! On the other side of the island, located within the Indonesian region of West Kelimantan, Singkawang offers a more traditional atmosphere, with a peaceful atmosphere surrounded by beautiful clear waters.

Sipadan

Very well known by divers and marine depth-lovers worldwide, the island of Sipadan just off the coast of Borneo is basically one large beach, with a town in the center. Despite not being very large, it is the highest elevated island in all of Malaysia, rising 600 meters from the seabed - for this reason, the coral reef below the water level and the aquatic life are unlike any other. The island itself doesn't allow people to stay, but it can be visited as a day trip on your private yacht or catamaran. It is known for its large concentration of sea turtles and harmless sharks, and it's a popular spot for snorkeling, diving, swimming, and underwater photography. However, if you have your heart set on diving Sipadan make sure you plan accordingly, as only a limited number of permits are given every daty. 


Tioman

Located to the East of the mainland, Tioman Island is surrounded by the South China Sea and it is also known for offering some of the best diving spots in the world, with several diving operators on hand to help you plan an unforgettable underwater expedition. People who don't enjoy diving will enjoy the peaceful beaches and clear water - Kampung Tekek and Kampung Salang are two of the best beaches in Tioman, perfect for non-divers to relax and maybe enjoy a little snorkeling.


Redang

If you are looking for cool beaches surrounded by palm trees, overlooking pristine lagoons to swim in, Redang is the place to go. The island was recently involved in a conservation project, resulting in beautiful blooming corals that can be seen when snorkeling, scuba diving, or even just swimming. An added benefit is that this island is very affordable, making it one of the best-kept secrets in Malaysia, since it's usually outside of tourists' radars - meaning that if you decide to include it in your sailing expedition, you may have spectacular beaches all to yourself! For this reason, if you are looking for a party island, you might want to skip this one. On the other hand, the entire area is extremely family friendly and laid back, making it an ideal vacation spot for families with small children.


Perhentian

Very close to the Malaysian border with Thailand, the Perhentian islands are one of the best places to view coral and to stop en route from Thailand to Malaysia or vice versa. The two main islands, known as Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (translating respectively as 'big' and 'small') are very popular with tourists, and both offer a huge number of amazing experiences. Staying on Perhentian Besar is a bit more expensive, but the beaches are more famous and more activities are available. For anyone looking for a laid back atmosphere, Perhentian Kecil is a great option, and is generally just a bit less crowded. Both islands have sandy beaches with large rocks protecting small lagoons, lots of greenery, and surprisingly temperate climates.


Rawa

Made completely of coral, this South China Sea island is well known for its emerald water and white sand. Named after the white doves that live in the area, this secluded island is one of the most pristine in the world. There's a small rainforest perfect for hiking, while the cool waters offer an opportunity for even the most adventurous to calm down and enjoy themselves after a sweaty forest hike. Similarly to Sipadan, this island can only be visited as a day trip - but with your private boat, you'll be able to stay after the tourists have left!


Labuan

Surrounded by 6 smaller islands, this eastern Malaysian island is one of the best places to relax in Malaysia. The best beaches are located on the larger island, but the smaller ones are also great places to escape to, especially if you have your own boat! Labuan is probably a bit more developed compared to other islands, but it does offer a cooling breeze and flat land, a welcome break from the rolling hills and steep valleys found in other parts of the country. Locals recommend Layang Layang beach for the flat and sweeping planes it represents, Labuan Beach for the family fun atmosphere, and Pohon Batu Beach, because of its sheer beauty. All these islands are what would be described as 'picture-perfect', with palm trees, blue-green water, beautiful villas nearby, and more. Layang-Layang is the best known of the three, with many thousands of people visiting each and every year. However, the beach itself is very large, making it easy even during the peak season to get away from it all and really enjoy yourself on the beach.


Our Favorite Beaches and Islands in Western Malaysia

Penang

At the north of the Malaysian Peninsula, Penang is usually visited for its excellent street food and local festivals, not really for its beaches. The island is also home to some of the most interesting temples in the world and great seafood - the only beach worthy of this name is Batu Ferringhi, where the tropical rainforest blends into a spice garden and the regular winds make it an ideal location for water sports. Batu Ferringhi is also a popular place for sunbathing, relaxing after a long day shopping or eating, and catching up with friends or loved ones, in an unpretentious atmosphere. 


Langkawi

Not an island itself, but an archipelago of 99 different islands in the northwestern part of Malaysia, Langkawi truly has a lot to offer. To give you an idea, there's a cable car ride that takes you straight to a beach, rice paddies that blend into jungles and then to beaches, a 3D museum, and lots of hiking opportunities on the main island. With your own private charter, it will be easy to go beach hopping, accessing multiple islands at a time and ensuring you get the most out of the area. Langkawi is one of the places in Malaysia where you could spend a week or more and not get bored.


Pangkor

Many people have visited this western island over the last 400 years, with the ruins of Dutch forts and ancient temples dotting the area. Nowadays, Pangkor is one of the few islands in Malaysia offering overwater bungalows, making it perfect for honeymoons or romantic breaks. In Pangkor, Pasir Bogak is one of the most popular beaches, because of its secluded nature and the soft and beautiful sand that makes up the most of it. Couples should visit Taluk Nipah, Coral Bay, and Pasir Giam,  ideal places to get away from holidaymaking crowds. Nearby there are also shops, romantic restaurants, and even the opportunity to arrange sunset sailing excursions. If you're planning to pop the question, look no further!

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