Where: Perhentian Islands, Terengganu, Malaysia
When: April – October
Happenings: Azure waters, soft sands, scuba diving and a multi-colored marine life
Remember to bring: your snorkel set
Where It’s At
With a sun-drenched tropical climate, extensive coastline and numerous islands dotted around the peninsular, it is unsurprising that Malaysia’s beaches are famous across the world. White powdered stretches, smooth-pebbled expanses and more unusual black volcanic sand lead onto the South China Sea and Andaman Sea, while lush tropical forests are never too far from the water’s edge, home to a multitude of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered.
The most famous beaches now often belong to resorts that are out of reach of many budget travellers. Still, there are plenty of smaller, lesser-known beaches that offer equally beautiful vistas to the larger resorts.
Perhentian Islands (the ‘Stopover Islands’)
These two islands – Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil – are located twelve miles off the mainland, from Kuala Besut. Azure water and soft sanded beaches are a haven for budget travellers, with Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil being the most popular. Booking in advance is advisable in high season.
Perhentian Besar is the larger island and has slightly more sophisticated accommodation and tranquil beaches to Perhentian Kecil. Northern Beach is regarded as being the best, but is dominated by the large, expensive Perhentian Island resort. Around the headland of this beach is the government rest house, which allows people to camp on its stretch of beach.
This is a much-favoured location for scuba diving, as the west coast is often too polluted or has too much sediment. Turtles are the main attraction, but there are also parrotfish, triggerfish, butterfly fish, stingrays and a multitude of other marine life. Forest walking and lazing around are the main activities on land. Both islands close down during the monsoon from late November to mid March.
It is very difficult to get alcohol in the Perhentians, which lie off the dry state of Terengganu. If you cannot go without, take your own. It is also a bit of a problem changing money – only the larger hotels will cash travellers’ cheques, at a bad exchange rate.
Other reputed beaches in Malaysia include:
This west coast island in the very north of Malaysia is popular with both tourists and locals alike for spectacular beaches and its status as a duty-free island. The main town of Kuah is excellent for stocking up on cigarettes, alcohol and other goods, which are often cheaper than in the airport.
Pantai Cenang in the south west is one of the most popular beaches, where most of the cheaper accommodation is based. The beach is less than a mile long, with a sandbank that appears at low tide from which you can inspect the local sea life, including tiny transparent crabs that traipse the sea’s edge at night. Tanjung Rhu is another stunning stretch.
A few beaches on Langkawi have black sand, not through dirt, but as a result of the volcanic activity that used to occur on the island.
Excursions available include an informative and interesting ecotourism tour through the mangrove swamps and along the coastline, and a trip down to the island of Pulau Payar. This is a marine park that allows diving, snorkelling and glass-bottom-boat trips. December to May is the recommended time to visit, although in July or August visitors are greeted by the incredible sight of huge numbers of baby sharks entering the shallow bay to feed. It may be wise to steer clear of the water itself at this time, as the babies can still cause a bit of harm with a scratch!
Stunning golden beaches, thick tropical jungles teeming with wildlife and sparkling water have made Tioman Island a very popular beach resort. There are some signs of over-development, but the kampungs retain a rustic feel.
Beach bums delight in the small, postcard-perfect beaches; nature lovers can explore the lush undergrowth and bathe in waterfalls; golfers can take advantage of excellent courses in an exotic location; and scuba divers can explore a wealth of sea life in crystal clear waters. The Berjaya Tioman resort provides modern conveniences in this tropical location, while at the other end of the scale try Kampung Juara to get away from it all, which has very basic accommodation but a truly beautiful beach.
Turtle Beach & Golden Beach
Both these beaches require permits to visit and are somewhat off the beaten track, but are well worth the effort to get to. Situated in Similajau National Park in Sarawak, all that needs to be said is that both these beaches completely live up to their names. The park itself covers twenty miles of gorgeous beaches and cliffs with a host of tropical wildlife and fauna to encounter and some beautiful waterfalls and jungle streams to enjoy. April to September is the optimum time to visit the area.
The definitive guide to Langkawi, containing pretty much all you need to know about getting to and around the island. Accommodation and some tours can be booked online.
Online reservation of Langkawi hotels and apartments, Langkawi map, travel tips and an event calendar.
The information on this website needs updating, but the site still gives a good visual introduction to Tioman Island.