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 hidden 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 Dulang, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 for the first time. I discovered this island during my second visit.
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.
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 waving 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.
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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 know that any of these hidden islands in Malaysia existed? 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.
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.
Wednesday 10th of April 2019
I definitely tried my best to do that, Rajeev :)
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!
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!
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.
Friday 23rd of November 2018
Thanks, Paul- I hope you get the chance to visit some of these in the future