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12 Best Islands In Malaysia For An Unforgettable Vacation

Malaysia is home to thousands of islands and each of them has a personality more vibrant than the last, offering some of the most fabulous escapades in Southeast Asia that can make even the most seasoned traveler’s (yours truly included) heart skip a beat. Some of these islands are well-known, others not so much, and still others are so remote and tiny you can’t even see on the map. So, whether you’re craving the bustle of beachside bazaars or the solitude of secluded shores, here are the best islands in Malaysia for an unforgettable vacation.

An Overview Of Malaysia’s Archipelago

Malaysia’s archipelago features two major landmasses—Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia—separated by the shimmering South China Sea, with an assembly of smaller islands dotting its maritime borders. Peninsular Malaysia rests on the Malay Peninsula, cradled between Thailand, Singapore, and across from Indonesia’s Sumatra, while East Malaysia sprawls over northern Borneo, fringed by Brunei and Indonesian Borneo​​.

Spanning 330,803 square kilometers, Malaysia’s terrain is a blend of coastal plains ascending into hills and mountains, creating a diverse backdrop that hosts a multitude of environments. While Peninsular Malaysia accounts for roughly 40% of the country’s land, East Malaysia claims the remaining 60%, with a combined coastline stretching 4,675 kilometers, the 29th longest in the world​​.

Now that we covered some basics, let’s see which are some of the best islands in Malaysia for your next update. 

Langkawi: The Jewel of Kedah


We’re starting this list of the best islands in Malaysia with Langkawi, affectionately dubbed ‘The Jewel of Kedah’, is the poster child for tropical escapades in Malaysia. Here’s a quick guide to this archipelago’s sparkle:

  • Archipelago Anatomy: Langkawi is a cluster of 99 islands, with the main island sharing the name. It’s a duty-free haven, so shoppers, rejoice!
  • Geopark Galore: It’s home to Southeast Asia’s first UNESCO-listed Geopark, boasting geological wonders that go back a whopping 550 million years.
  • Beach Bliss: The coasts are a beach bum’s daydream – think Pantai Cenang and Tanjung Rhu, with their powder-fine sands.
  • Aerial Adventures: For a bird’s-eye view, hop onto the Langkawi SkyCab cable car and glide over rainforests.
  • Bridge in the Sky: The SkyBridge is not just an engineering marvel but also your “walk in the clouds” experience.
  • Waterfall Wellness: Chase waterfalls like the Seven Wells or Temurun Waterfall for a splashy detox.
  • Cultural Concoction: Delve into the local lore at the Rice Garden Museum or the Eagle Square.

Looking for a place to stay in Langkawi? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Luxury: The Datai Langkawi – Secluded within a rainforest, this resort offers a tranquil luxury experience with stunning views and a private beach.
  • Mid-range: Berjaya Langkawi Resort – Nestled amid tropical greenery, it provides a picturesque retreat with a variety of recreational activities.
  • Budget: Gecko Guesthouse – A favorite among backpackers, this guesthouse offers a laid-back atmosphere just a short walk from the beach.

The Perhentian Islands: Budget Traveler’s Dream

Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands, a duo of island gems nestled in the crystal-clear waters off the northeastern coast of Malaysia, are every budget traveler’s dream come true. Here’s why:

  • Affordable Accommodation: Shack up in beachfront hostels or cozy bungalows without breaking the bank.
  • Underwater Wonderland: Don your snorkel or scuba gear to mingle with a kaleidoscope of marine life; the coral reefs here won’t charge you a viewing fee.
  • Beach Hopping: With no cost to sunbathe, the islands’ white sands are your budget-friendly canvas for relaxation.
  • Jungle Trails: Hiking through the islands’ lush interiors is free and filled with the rich currency of nature’s tranquility.
  • Culinary Delights: Savor local dishes at roadside stalls where flavors are high and prices are low.

Looking for a place to stay in the Perhentian Islands? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Luxury: BuBu Resort – Combines luxury with a pristine beach setting for a memorable stay.
  • Mid-range: Perhentian Island Resort – Offers a great balance of comfort and access to the island’s natural beauty.
  • Budget: Abdul’s Chalet – Known for its hospitality and excellent location by the sea.

Tioman Island: The Hollywood Backdrop

Tioman Island

Tioman Island, affectionately known as ‘The Hollywood Backdrop’, is a star-studded slice of paradise on the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Its claim to fame? A starring role in the 1958 movie ‘South Pacific’. Here’s the scoop:

  • Cinematic Shores: The beaches are some of the most beautiful ones in Malaysia and are often featured in movies (local and foreign alike).
  • Dive-In Theaters: The surrounding waters are a diver’s dream, with coral reefs playing supporting roles to a diverse cast of marine life.
  • Nature’s Green Room: Venture inland for an audience with waterfalls and monitor lizards—the island’s own celebrities.
  • Cultural Cameos: Traditional villages offer a glimpse into the island’s soul, far from the scripted tourist traps.

Looking for a place to stay on Tioman Island? Here are a few suggestions.

Redang Island: Marine Paradise

Redang Island best islands in malaysia

Next on our list of the best islands in Malaysia, we have Redang Island, or as sea turtles like to call it, “Home Sweet Home,” is an aquatic utopia off Malaysia’s northeastern coast. Here’s a dive into what makes Redang the treasure trove of the sea:

  • Powdery Beaches: The sand here is so fine, it’s like Mother Nature uses it for her skincare routine.
  • Under the Sea: The coral reefs are like underwater cities bustling with clownfish, baby sharks, and other marine metropolitans.
  • Jungle Jams: On land, the jungle treks are soundtracked by nature’s symphony—perfect for your inner Mowgli.
  • Dive-In Service: Redang’s dive shops are as plentiful as beachside coconuts, ready to gear you up for your next underwater adventure.

Are you looking for a place to stay on Redang Island? Here are a few of our favorite hotels.

  • Luxury: The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort – Known for its crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches, it’s a slice of paradise.
  • Mid-range: Laguna Redang Island Resort – Features modern amenities with traditional Malaysian design elements.
  • Budget: Redang Paradise Resort – A cozy and affordable choice for beach lovers.

Mabul Island: The Muck Diving Capital

Mabul Island

Mabul Island, the darling of divers with a penchant for the peculiar, boasts a reputation as the ‘Muck Diving Capital’ of the world. Here’s what makes Mabul the underwater equivalent of a treasure hunt:

  • Tiny Treasures: The seabed is a microcosm of marine oddities—where tiny critters steal the spotlight away from their larger counterparts.
  • Village Vibes: Above water, the island’s heartbeat is its stilted villages, offering a slice of local life amidst the dive resorts.
  • Walkable Wonderland: Small enough to explore on foot, every path in Mabul promises a story and a sea view.

Are you looking for a place to stay on Mabul Island? Here are a few of our favorite hotels.

  • Luxury: Mabul Water Bungalows – Offers a luxurious stay in overwater bungalows with world-class diving facilities.
  • Mid-range: Smart Divers Resort – A diver-centric resort with comfortable accommodations and easy access to dive sites.
  • Budget: Spheredivers Homestay – A budget-friendly homestay offering a genuine island experience.

Sipadan: The Legendary Diving Mecca

tropical islands in Malaysia

Sipadan Island is the only oceanic island in Malaysia and its unique location makes it one of the best diving spots in the world. I remember my diving instructor said that there are more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species and I regret to this day that I didn’t have a waterproof camera. That was definitely my best diving experience so far and this island was one of the things I wish I knew before visiting Malaysia.

  • Marine Magnetism: Dubbed the ‘Underwater Eden’, Sipadan is on every diver’s bucket list for its unparalleled marine diversity.
  • Exclusivity Underwater: Now a protected site, it’s like an exclusive club for fish and divers. No overnight stays mean the coral is as pristine as a VIP lounge.
  • Ring of Reefs: The island is encircled by coral so lush, it puts the most extravagant flower bouquets to shame.

Tenggol Island: The Untouched Retreat

Tenggol Island

This list of the best islands in Malaysia can’t be complete without at least mentioningTenggol Island, the hidden gem of the South China Sea, a place where the word ‘crowded’ is as foreign as a snowstorm. Here’s the lowdown:

  • Secluded Shores: The beaches here are so exclusive, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a private party.
  • Dive into Solitude: With waters teeming with life, yet far from the madding crowd, it’s a scuba sanctuary for those in the know.
  • The Island Less Traveled: Tenggol’s off-the-beaten-path vibe means you can truly unplug and recharge.

Are you looking for a place to stay on Tenggol Island? Here are a few of our favorite hotels.

  • Luxury: Currently, Tenggol Island is better known for its mid-range and budget dive-centric accommodations.
  • Mid-range: Tenggol Coral Beach Resort – Delivers a secluded and intimate experience with traditional wooden chalets right on the beach.
  • Budget: Smaller dive lodges offer simple stays for those looking to maximize their time underwater.

Penang: The Island of Multicultural Delights

Penang at night

Penang, often hailed as the culinary capital of Malaysia, is a smorgasbord of history, food, and culture and of course, one of the best islands in Malaysia to visit for your next holiday. Here’s what makes it the island of multicultural delights:

  • Historic Georgetown: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a living museum splashed with street art, where every corner tells a story.
  • Culinary Crossroads: From street-side char kway teow to elegant Peranakan cuisine, the island is a foodie’s dream with a taste of the diverse ethnic tapestry.
  • Cultural Melting Pot: Temples, mosques, and churches coexist, each with a tale, making Penang a vibrant mosaic of Malaysian society.

And let’s not forget our favorite accommodation properties in Penang…

Kapas Island: The Cotton Island

kapas best islands in Malaysia 2

Kapas Island, known locally as ‘Cotton Island’ for its soft white sands, is an idyllic retreat off the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s a place where:

  • Sandy Serenity: The beaches are as soft and inviting as cotton, perfect for sun worshipers and sand castle connoisseurs.
  • Underwater Canvas: The clear waters paint a perfect picture for snorkelers with vibrant marine life just below the surface.
  • Laid-back Lifestyle: Time seems to slow down, inviting visitors to relax in hammocks and enjoy the island’s unhurried pace.

And let’s not forget our favorite accommodation properties in Kapas…

  • Luxury: Kapas Island is known for its rustic charm, with boutique mid-range resorts like Kapas Turtle Valley.
  • Budget: While Kapas Island tends to skew towards more rustic and budget-friendly options, smaller guesthouses and beachfront chalets offer basic amenities in an idyllic setting, perfect for travelers looking to disconnect and enjoy nature’s simplicity.

Pulau Pangkor: The Beautiful Island Escape

Pulau Pangkor

Best Islands In Malaysia That Are Often Forgotten

Now that we covered some of the most visited Malaysian islands and before completing this list of the best islands in Malaysia without mentioning a few underrated Malaysian islands that you won’t find in most tourist guides…

Bohey Dulang Island

Located around  25 km away from Semporna lies, in my opinion, the most beautiful Malaysian Island. Bohey Dulang is actually formed from the remnants of an ancient volcano and the Island is basically a hill filled with lush jungle surrounded by jaw-dropping beaches. The crater on which the island was formed is now flooded with seawater, creating majestic 25 meters deep blue lagoon.

tropical islands in Malaysia

The first thing I did after reaching was hiking to the top of the hill. It takes about 45 minutes-1 hour to reach the top and the view is astonishing. Hearing the stories of other travelers about the view at the top of Bohey Dulang was one of the main reasons to add this stop to my trip. And it sure fulfilled my expectations. I’ll just let the photo speak for itself. Bohey Dulang is called the pearl of Semporna for a reason.

Where to stay?

There are a couple of Island Resorts on the island and they feature luxury beach villas, water villas, and traditional camping wooden houses. All arrangements include food as well, as there aren’t any restaurants on the island.

tropical islands in Malaysia

There aren’t many activities that you can do around; it’s mostly hiking, scuba diving, bird watching, and enjoying the peaceful, laid-back vibe of the island. Bohey Dulang is the definition of an ideal vacation place, to rest both, your body and your mind and to get away from everything.

Mantabuan Island

Lastly, we round up this list of the best islands in Malaysia with Mantabuan. Only 2 km away from Bohey Dulang you will find the smallest island in Malaysia but be careful; it’s so small you might miss it because it’s barely visible on the map. Mantabuan is home to one of the most beautiful photo spots in Malaysia. If you stand in the right angle, you can have a photo of you literally hugging the island.

tropical islands in Malaysia

Pulau Mantabuan looks like a place that came out of a dream, with the sandy beaches and all the palm trees. Besides that, there’s literally nothing else on the island. The island is so small you can walk through it in 10-15 minutes and capture it whole in a single picture frame.

tropical islands in Malaysia

Mantabuan is basically a long sand road in the middle of nowhere separating the two sides of the sea. When walking around the island, the only people you will see there are sea gypsies living in traditional wooden houses. There’s around 30 of them. Some of them also live in boathouses and I had the chance to stay in one of those! That was an amazing experience. 

So that’s the only accommodation option, unfortunately. But since the island is so small, spending a day here and going back to Semporna or Bohey Dulang would be enough. Also, just like Bohey Dulang, this is a great place for scuba diving. Marine life found in the area includes crocodile fish, sea turtles, pufferfish, and the very rare black coral.

tropical islands in Malaysia

Anyway, the number of divers daily is limited to 120, because Sipadan is a protected site, so if you want to go diving, do the booking in advance. And plan your time accordingly because the diving site is open from 8 AM to 3 PM. So you’d need to leave the island at that time because if you don’t, chances are you might not be able to find a boat to go back. And there aren’t any restaurants or shops on the islands anymore, as the local government is keen on preserving the island.

Island Hopping in Malaysia: Tips, Tricks, and Itineraries

Tropical islands in Malaysia

Ready to island-hop around Malaysia’s sun-drenched archipelago? Here’s your essential guide to navigating these tropical jewels with style and savvy:

Planning is Key: Chart your course based on weather patterns and tourist seasons. The West Coast shines from November to August, while the East Coast dazzles from April to September.

Pack Wisely: Embrace the island vibe with minimal luggage. Quick-dry clothing and reef-friendly sunscreen are musts.

Transport Tips: Ferries are your aquatic chariots. Always check the schedule in advance, as the sea doesn’t wait for anyone.

Itinerary Ideas: Combine the tourist hotspots with hidden gems. Langkawi for luxury, Perhentians for budget bliss, and Sipadan for diving divinity.

Stay Informed: Keep tabs on the weather and local news. The sea is as unpredictable as a durian’s smell.

When To Visit The Best Islands In Malaysia?

Planning your island getaway to Malaysia? Here’s a quick guide on the best times to visit:

  • West Coast: Langkawi, Penang, and the Perhentian Islands shine from November to August. Dodge the monsoon and soak in the sun!
  • East Coast Esapes: For the East Coast islands like Tioman and Redang, plan between April to September. Blue skies and calm seas await.

If you are visiting these last two islands, make sure you get enough cash. Go to the ATM in Semporna if needed. None of the islands don’t have any ATMs and unfortunately or not, many other things as well, such as restaurants, bars, etc.  

Few tips for the end:


If you are visiting these places, make sure you get enough cash. Go to the ATM in Semporna if needed. None of the islands don’t have any ATMs and unfortunately or not, many other things as well, such as restaurants, bars, etc.  

Helpful resources for island hopping in Malaysia

If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Malaysia or around the country, use this special offer to save 25% on all Qatar Airways flights.

Searching for cheap accommodation options? Use my coupon to save 15% on all accommodation options in Malaysia.

To save money on buses, ferries, vans, and trains in Malaysia, get 5% off when booking with 12goasia and for more info check out our 12go Asia review here.

Last but not least, don’t forget about the visa. Most people can stay in Malaysia visa-free for at least 14 days but if you need a visa, you can get an entry visa on this website quickly and hassle-free.

Enjoyed this article? Then, you’ll probably like my article about hidden islands in Croatia too. Did you ever visit any of the best islands in Malaysia? Which one would you want to visit? Let us know in the comments! 

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Friday 26th of March 2021

Hi...! You are looking so cool in this beautiful place and its a fantastic place for a family trip. I will add these Malaysia islands in my planning list and in my child vacations we will visit here with my family. Thanks for this useful article with all of us.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 21st of April 2021

thank you, Peter, I really appreciate it.


Friday 5th of April 2019

Malaysia is an absolute beauty, the more you get to explore it, the more you will be enchanted. While you are on your Malaysian tour, don't forget to mark on the best tropical islands and make a memory of a lifetime.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

I definitely tried my best to do that, Rajeev :)

Medha Verma

Sunday 25th of November 2018

Malaysia seems to have some fantastic islands! You're right, I've never heard about any of these; I am guessing they're more awesome because they're not so popular and thus, more remote! Bohey Dulang Island seems to be my favourite, I mean, look at those views! With not much to do in terms of activities, I see it as the perfect destination for a relaxing vacation!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 25th of November 2018

Definitely, Medha! Bohey Dulang is my favorite too and I really hope you get the chance to visit it.


Saturday 24th of November 2018

I love visiting small islands like these because they are so much better preserved, and it's a nice break away from the hustle and bustle of most resort/party beach towns. I think I might get a little antsy after staying here for a couple of days, so I would probably limit my stay to just one night. Great finds - I've marked them in my map for next time!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 25th of November 2018

Thank you, Diana. I'm glad you could get some new suggestions for your next trip :)


Thursday 22nd of November 2018

I've never been to Malaysia so it's probably not a huge surprise I haven't heard of any of these, but they all look amazing. Definitely on the list for some time in the near future. Always good to get some helpful tips for help get off the beaten track a little.

Passport Symphony

Friday 23rd of November 2018

Thanks, Paul- I hope you get the chance to visit some of these in the future