Top 10 Islands in Malaysia

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Pangkor Island, Malaysia
Pangkor Island

Malaysia is a land of islands, sea and incredible countryside. Surely one of the most beautiful countries on earth, its islands are stereotypical of most people’s idea of a tropical island paradise. There are 878 islands to choose from so picking a list of the best 10 Malaysian Islands is no mean feat. There are far too many absolutely beautiful islands to simply pick them on beauty alone, so the list hopefully represents islands that combine that beauty, with ease of travel, accommodation possibilities and other factions that help in choosing the right holiday destination. The beaches here rival the best in the world, the best beaches in Thailand, for example, are legendary, but Malaysia’s are just as good. The Malay word for island is Pulau. Malaysia easily rates alongside the very best islands and beaches in the world.

1. Pulau Tioman

This is just about everyone’s idea of a topical island paradise. It is one of the best known islands in the world, without people actually realising it. Tioman was the setting of the 1958 classic musical film South Pacific. Surrounded by coral reefs and home to much amazing wildlife, like monitor lizards, it is stunningly beautiful. Selected by Time magazine as one of the most beautiful islands on earth, it is one of the centres of Malaysia’s scuba diving scene, providing as it does, almost perfect diving conditions.

Tioman Island, Malaysia
Tioman Island offers the epitome of peace and tranquility

2. Pulau Perhentian

These are actually two islands Perhentian Besar (“Big Perhentian”) and Perhentian Kecil (“Small Perhentian”). The Perhentian Islands are the best places to go for backpackers. Incredibly beautiful, they have plenty to see and do and cheap accommodation is easy to find. Both islands are extremely pretty, fringed by white sandy beaches, and surrounded by crystal clear water. The reefs here play host to a myriad of coral, jellyfish, sea-turtles, small sharks and reef-fish. As well as having some of the best beaches imaginable, the islands are also covered in wonderful tropical jungle.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
The wonderful waters surrounding the Perhentian Islands

3. Pulau Pangkor

The name means simply beautiful island and they were not being pretentious, this is one of the most idyllic spots on earth. Its quiet atmosphere and gorgeous beaches, including Niphah Bay, Teluk Belanda, Pasir Bogak and Coral Bay, provide one of the most stunning backdrops for any holiday. There are beautiful temples on the island and the remnants of a old Dutch fortification sheltering an historic rock known as Tiger Rock. Many of the worlds celebrities are regular visitors, Sting and Keira Knightley being regular visitors. The world famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti is said to have burst into tears, he was so overcome with the beauty of the place. Inclusion on any list of Top 10 Malaysian Islands is a given.

Pangkor Island, Malaysia
Stilted beach houses on Pangkor Island

4. Pulau Redang

This is one of the largest of Malaysia’s islands and is located off the east coast of the country. This is a real paradise, with distinctive white sand and the cleanest of waters. The surrounding coral reefs are ideal for snorkelling and the abundance of tropical fish, baby sharks and other sea creatures make for terrific diving. Snorkelling is very popular and it is easy to hire equipment. Although much of the interior is impossible to get through, there are many trekking routes. Pulau Redang is a superb holiday destination.

Redang Island, Malaysia
The purest of sand and the lush greenery of Redang Island

5. Pulau Layang-Layang

One of the more unique locations on our list of the top 10 Malaysian Islands, Layang-Layang is quite simply a coral reef with a landing strip. Completely isolated 180 miles off the coast, it is the epitome of tranquil, languid settings. It is surrounded by the purest of sea waters and in places the sea floor drops to over 6500 feet. Layang-Layang makes it on to many list of the world’s top 10 dive sites, picking up the nicknames “Wall Diving Mecca” and “Big Fish”.

Layang-Layang, Malaysia
Sea birds abound on and around Layang-Layang

6. Pulau Langawi

Pulau Langawi is the largest of the islands that make up an archipelago rather than an island, made up of 99 small islands in the Andaman Sea. It makes it on to this list as it is simply too important to leave off. It has become Malaysia top holiday destination and not without good reason. Close to the Thai border it has a population of 65,000. There is much to do and see here. Tourists enjoy taking the cable car ride to Ganging Mat Chinchang and walk over the Sky Bridge. This offers incredible views over Thailand.

Langawi Island, Malaysia
Langawi Island so peaceful in the evenings

7. Pulau Sipadan

The subject of a legal wrangle between Malaysia and Indonesia, it was not until 2003 that an International Court finally rules that the island belongs to Malaysia. To say that the Malaysians were relieved would be an understatement. This is quite possibly the most important dive site in the world. The surrounding waters are absolutely teeming with life. It is home to over 3,000 species of fish, hundreds of species of coral, many rays and sharks and large populations of both green and hawksbill turtles.

Sipadan Island, Malaysia
Children sail out from their stilt homes on Sipadan Island

8. Pulau Mabul

Just 10 miles away from Sipadan is the tiny island of Mabul. In the 1970s it was merely a fishing village but in the 1990s it started to gain recognition as a tourist destination. The indigenous population is only 200 people and more than half of them are below 14 years of age. It is now really just a dive site location. This is a centre for MUCK diving as it is called, where divers sift through the sediment at the bottom of the ocean floor, looking for the amazing creatures found in the muck.

Mabul, Malaysia
There is nothing quite like a Mabul sunset

9. Pulau Penang

The Pearl of the Orient as it is known, is home to probably the finest street food in the world. It would be worthy of inclusion into the list of the top 10 Malaysian Islands on that fact alone. However Penang is much more than that. This is by no means a beach type paradise island, though it does have beaches. It is though the island that has the most cultural interest in the country. The island is packed full of terrific old colonial buildings, has a great café scene and as previous mentioned has the most unbelievably good street food.

Penang, Malaysia
Penang Island from the air, makes an impressive sight

10. Pulau Kapas

The name translates as Cotton Island and refers to the soft white sand which makes up its beaches. The island is just off the mainland coast of Malaysia by Marang, and makes a superb getaway from the hustle and bustle of mainland Malay life. Not as well known as the others on this list of the best Malaysian islands, it is slowly gaining the recognition it so deserves. This is another good dive site and local shops sell jewellery made from old porcelain, salvaged from nearby shipwrecks.

Kapas Island, Malaysia
Blue sky, golden sand and crystal clear waters, it has to be Kapas Island