3 amazing tropical islands in Malaysia you didn’t know about

I decided to choose Semporna as the last stop of my 3-month Southeast Asia backpacking adventure. I know chances are, you never heard about this place and are wondering why would I even choose to visit. The reason is I’m not a fan of mainstream places and I am always looking to visit places other travelers would skip. And I keep finding really beautiful places, that are not on the tourist map. Just like the tropical islands in Malaysia featured in this article. 

For the record, I visited Langkawi, the Perhentian Islands, and Kapas and they are amazing, but a bit too crowded for my taste. I also visited Bohey Duland, Mantabuan, and Sipadan, all near the port city of Semporna on the island of Borneo and I can claim that they are just as beautiful as Malaysia’s most touristy islands. I reached Semporna by bus from Kota Kinabalu that usually takes around 8 hours. After reaching Semporna I was easily able to book my cruise to the first Island: Bohey Dulang. There’s not much to do in Semporna and the few people that come here only use it as a transit point to some of the islands.

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.tropical islands in Malaysia

Where to stay tropical islands in Malaysia

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

 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.

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. tropical islands in Malaysia

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, puffer fish, and the very rare black coral.

tropical islands in Malaysia

Sipadan

Sipadan Island is the only oceanic island in Malaysia and its unique location makes it one of the best diving spots in the world. You can find some unique species that can only be found here. 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 water proof-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 for the first time. I discovered this island during my second visit.

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.Tropical islands in Malaysia

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.  

Don’t expect bars and parties, you won’t find them here. But if you’re looking to get away from all the problems and relieve your stress, I would strongly recommend you to visit these islands. And get used to people waiving hands at you as there aren’t many tourists that come here. As you can see, Malaysia has so much to offer even outside of the famous touristy places. If you’re interested in seeing this side of  Malaysia, check out Guide2travel’s adventure in the Malaysian rainforest.

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 Booking.com coupon to save 15% on all accommodation options in Malaysia.

For the best island hopping tours in Malaysia, check out Intrepid and save 15% on your first booking.

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 eNTRI visa on this website quickly and hassle-free.

Enjoyed this article? Then, you’ll probably like my article about hidden islands in Croatia too.

unknown tropical islands malaysia

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23 thoughts on “3 amazing tropical islands in Malaysia you didn’t know about”

  1. Looks like some awesome islands guys! Amazing. I vibe with you on traveling a little off of the beaten path. I like Phuket and Bali and all those islands but even in those spots, I stray toward the Bukit in Bali, or on the Southern tip of Phuket, where things are a bit more quiet. Beyond that though, I prefer places like Koh Lanta in Thailand, and these gems appear to align with Lanta in the quiet, serene department.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan, thank you for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I also prefer the more quite places or I like visiting the mainstrteam places in the off season. I find that much better 😀 And yeah Koh Lanta truly is an amazing place!

      Reply
  2. I seriously didn’t hear about those and they look amazing. I bet there are plenty of other I haven’t heard about and half of them look like a paradise. I am putting this post in my bookmarks maybe I will go there soon.

    Reply
  3. You were right, I had never heard of these Islands until now. Thanks for putting them on my radar. Doing nothing but scuba diving, hiking, island hopping and then going back to stay in the all inclusive resorts. My kinda relaxing holiday.

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  4. Malaysia is really high on my list, firstly for the amazing cuisine, but also I’m seeing and reading more about the beautiful country, not least these glorious islands. It’s great to read your three suggestions for less crowded islands, of the three I think the volcanic Bohey Dulang appeals the most, though the other two are very striking and the diving opportunity at Sipadan appeals.

    Reply
  5. I could look at these pictures tropical islands throughout the day. Agree with you that it’s so much more fun to visit offbeat tracks which are not on tourist map. I love reading your blog for the same reason because you always have such great insights on some of the unknown non-touristy wonders

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    • Thanks, Sinjana. Trust me, it’s super easy to be a photographer on these islands. The water color is amazing and there aren’t many people around, which is always great for taking awesome photos.

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  6. Three months of Southeast Asia backpacking adventure would have been super fun! I would be in the same category of not knowing about these three tropical islands of Malaysia, though have been in the country for quite some time. Actually, no one suggests visiting Bohey Dulang, Mantabuan or Sipadan Islands. But to be honest, we did not venture towards Semporna at all. Thanks for the tip on ATMs. As you mention about here, I think the party scene is not very high even in other beach places in the country. I would let our friends who are still in Malaysia know about these so they have an option for a relaxed get away!

    Reply
    • That’s true, Navita no one really talks about Bohey Dulang. Maybe because there aren’t any places to stay around but these islands are perfect for one-day trips. It can’t get too crowded because the number of daily visitors is limited 😀 that makes them the perfect destination for a relaxed getaway

      Reply
  7. Post like these make us see places in a country which are less touristy and are so helpful. Wish I had read this before my trip which was purely kl and Langkawi only. Bohey Dulang Island looks like the most beautiful Island one can experience. Im a sucker for white sand and blue waters and this really has some jaw-dropping beaches. It’s a bit tough to get to looks like but worth it completely. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  8. 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.

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  9. 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!

    Reply
  10. 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!

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply

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