The Malaysian islands are way too overlooked, IMO, when it comes to travel destinations in Southeast Asia.
I don’t know if it’s because travelers don’t know they exist or because, out of the 800, they don’t know how to choose which island in Malaysia is the best.
But you’re telling me that with 800 islands, you were only planning on spending a few days in Kuala Lumpur and then heading to Bali? Well, not if I have anything to say about it! I won’t let you go another second without including at least one of these islands on your Malaysian trip.
Whether you’re headed out on a honeymoon and are looking for somewhere to get cozy with your hot new wife, or you’re looking for that perfect backpacker island that always seems to keep travelers longer than they intended, I’ve got something for you.
Here are the 9 BEST islands in Malaysia that are going to have you rearranging all of your travel plans.
Best Islands in Malaysia
Flights and ferries away from the city’s hustle and bustle are some of my favorite memories during my Malaysian trip, and I’m pumped for you to add these islands to your itinerary.
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1. Langkawi Island
If you’ve heard of any of the Malaysian islands, it’s more than likely Langkawi. It’s definitely the most popular island in Malaysia, and it’s easy to see why. The range of this island is unbeatable.
During your trip, I highly recommend experiencing the incredible eco-resorts of Malaysia that make this tropical escape just unforgettable.
- Why visit: Perfect for everyone, gorgeous beaches, stunning waterfalls, rainforest adventure… the limit simply does not exist!
- When to visit: January-March
- How to get there: To reach Langkawi, you can take a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur, or you can train to Alor Setar and then continue with a boat ride from there.
Whether you’re living that shoestring budget or you want some luxe in your life, Langkawi has it. If you want days roasting on the best Malaysian beaches or mornings flying high above the rainforest on a zipline, Langkawi has it.
Maybe you want the most delicious street food at a night market or to enjoy 5-star dining at a luxury resort. Langkawi has it.
I repeat—THE RANGE. The island is literally set up for its visitors to have a great time, regardless of what they want out of their vacation.
2. Penang Island
Penang’s beautiful neighborhoods have rich history, with its colonial architecture and cultural fusion. It’s an incredible place to chill for a couple of days.
If you love tasty food and getting mixed up in the local life and culture, then Penang Island needs to be on your radar.
It’s known as the food capital of Malaysia and maybe even all of SEA. Yeah, you won’t find better food in Thailand. Trust me on that one!
- Why visit: Food paradise, colonial architecture, street art, cultural blend
- When to visit: November-February
- How to get there: You can reach Penang Island via Malaysia’s bus system, or you can train or fly from Kuala Lumpur.
For those looking for that perfect Instagram story update, the street art scene goes hard. You’ll find colorful murals and sculptures scattered throughout the island to capture some Insta-worthy shots, so make sure to bring along your camera!
I know I didn’t mention beaches once on this island, but if you catch a bus out of the main town of Georgetown, you’ll be greeted with some beautiful secluded beaches. Georgetown is a great place to stay due to its connectivity to the rest of the island. I’d recommend Eastern and Oriental for its old-world charm and unique interior style.
3. Rawa Island
After seeing one of the most gorgeous blue beach photos on Pinterest a few years ago, Rawa Island has been on my bucket list, and I’m happy to announce it was worth the hype (and wait!)
Rawa is one of the best islands in Malaysia to reach from Singapore. So, if you’re in Singapore and need a quick beach getaway, Rawa is your girl. The island is tiny and feels very exclusive. Because of this, it’s a little bit more expensive than the other islands on this list.
- Why visit: For a luxurious private beach escape with pristine beaches, clear waters, and a peaceful atmosphere.
- When to visit: May-August
- How to get there: To reach Rawa Island, you have to catch a boat from Mersing Jetty. If you’re traveling from Singapore, the journey involves a 3-hour drive to Mersing Jetty followed by a 30-minute boat ride.
Everything here just feels so beautiful—the community, the soft white sand, insanely clear waters. Most of the bungalows are right on the beach, making it the perfect place to have a morning sunrise swim.
4. Perhentian Island
Alright, backpackers, it’s our time to shine! Perhentian Island is the perfect mix of nice places to stay, chilled-out vibes, and amazing diving spots.
With its two main islands, Perhentian Kecil (small island) and Perhentian Besar (big island), you can take your pick depending on what type of trip you’re looking for. If you’re looking for all-night parties and a day-drinking sesh, then my vote is for the small island!
- Why visit: It’s a backpackers’ paradise with affordable accommodation, party vibes, and relaxing days on the beach to nurse a hangover.
- When to visit: April-September to catch the high season. There’s something going on every night.
- How to get there: To reach these islands, you’ll have to take a boat from Kuala Besut, accessible from Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu Airport.
Along with epic vibes, Perhentian Island also offers some incredible diving adventures in Malaysia. Explore vibrant coral reefs, swim with turtles, and maybe even spot a whale shark. The amount of sea life is out of this world, and during the summers, the visibility is A1.
5. Tioman Island
If you’re looking for that sweet escape that island dreams are made of, then make your way to the most beautiful island in Malaysia, Tioman.
Over 50 years ago, in 1970 (OMG, how was that 50 years ago), Tioman Island was voted as one of the most beautiful places on earth by Time magazine, and while a lot has changed since then, tourism has definitely popped up. All the essence of what made this island gorgeous still stands today.
- Why visit: Beach days galore!!
- When to visit: May-September
- How to get there: To reach the island, you can take a bus, car, or taxi to either the Mersing or Tanjung Gemok ferry terminals. From there, you can catch a ferry.
White sandy beaches guarded by rows of palm trees from the roads. The clearest water you’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s crystal clear! This is the type of island that’ll make you want to turn your phone off for a few days and just relax on the beach.
Okay, maybe you won’t want to turn your phone off because you’ll need some pictures of you drinking out of a coconut, but you get my point!
In terms of accommodation on Tioman Island, I’d defo recommend 1511 Coconut Grove. It has such a wonderfully serene and quiet location and the staff really do go the extra mile here.
6. Kapas Island
This laid-back little darlin is one of my absolute favorite islands in Malaysia. It has some of the most beautiful white sand I’ve ever seen on a beach. After I learned that Kapas means cotton, I realized it has the perfect name for the soft white sand along the coastline.
If you’re looking for a slow trip spent laying in the sand, swimming in the ocean, and reading a good book, then you’ve found it—because that’s just about all there is to do here. And I love it!
- Why visit: A laid-back beach vacation without a worry in the world. (And that’s why you visited Malaysia at the first point, right?)
- When to visit: March-October
- How to get there: Take a boat from Marang Jetty
Kapas Island is what I would consider still quite hidden; the massive tourism boom hasn’t hit it yet, and it’s glorious. I highly recommend this island to any backpackers who are looking to get lost on an island for a few days (or even weeks).
7. Pangkor Island
Pangkor is one of the smallest islands in Malaysia, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty.
And I’m talking about it all—the untouched nature is beautiful, the people around the island are beautiful and don’t even get me started on the delicious seafood. There’s no better way to experience this than to stay with the locals and fully immersing yourself in their culture.
- Why visit: To escape the city for a few days and enjoy an island with a true local touch.
- When to visit: June-September
- How to get there: To reach Pangkor Island, you’ll need to take a bus from Kuala Lumpur or Penang to Lumut. And then jump on a ferry to the main island.
The 8 km of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters are reason enough to visit Pangkor Island. But if you need more, you can also explore the island’s historical landmarks, such as the Dutch Fort and Fu Lin Kong Temple.
And don’t forget about the Malaysian food! The local seafood dishes here are a must-try, especially the famous grilled fish. I seriously don’t know what they season it with, but the charr on this bad boy will seriously have you licking your fingers.
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8. Redang Island
Redang Island is the best island in Malaysia for those who love a good resort vacay. It offers the perfect balance of a laid-back beach vacation and modern luxury amenities.
You can have your morning coffee by the pool, enjoy an afternoon massage, and then a sunset swim in the turquoise waters. Sounds like a good day to me!
- Why visit: Live the resort life and get away from backpackers and budget travelers
- When to visit: September-December
- How to get there: Take a 2-hour ferry from Shahbandar Jetty or a 45-minute boat right from Merang Jetty.
You won’t find any backpackers in Redang as it pretty much only has upscale resorts. There also isn’t any public transportation, so I mean it when I say you really should love the resort life if you choose the island in Malaysia.
But this doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time in the pool. The coastal areas have stunning coral reefs, and you can book a snorkeling or diving trip to get out and explore the untouched underwater paradise of Redang Island.
9. Mabul Island
It doesn’t get much better than Mabul. It’s one of the best Malaysian islands to visit for sea life. Mabul Island is an exciting destination because it’s the jumping-off point for diving at one of the world’s best dive sites, Sipadan Island.
- Why visit: One of the best places in Malaysia for diving and snorkeling
- When to visit: April-June or September-November
- How to get there: It’s not the easiest to get to, but it’s worth it! Travel to Tawau Airport from Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu by air. Upon arrival at Tawau Airport, your resort will arrange a land transfer to Semporna, followed by a speedboat journey to Mabul Island.
While Mabul doesn’t have the most pristine beaches in Malaysia, it surely is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in the country. It’s a small island and is mainly used as a base for divers before they head off to Sipadan Island for the day.
But the island also has some really unique attractions, such as the “sea gypsy” village. This community lives on stilts above the water and is fascinating to visit.
If you have good vibes, they might offer you some coconut—if not, well, sorry. Maybe you should do more yoga. haha just joking!
Don’t Forget Insurance for the Islands!
Getting some good travel insurance is ESSENTIAL. Don’t be silly – insure yourself!
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
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Final Thoughts on the Best Islands in Malaysia
I know, I know—you’re welcome! You had no idea that you would need a full six months to take in all the beauty that Malaysia has to offer. I mean, it’s not every day you discover a country with such diverse cultural influences and insane islands.
But seriously, if you’re only in Malaysia for a week, or you don’t have a time frame (backpackers, I’m looking at you), it would be an actual tragedy for you to miss out on these amazing islands in Malaysia. So you have to promise me to at least stop at one!
I can hear you now. “Which one, then? you gave us so many?!”
You’ve really backed me into a corner, but if I could just go to one island in Malaysia, I’d be catching a boat to Kapas. It has everything an island hopper could want. The beaches are unreal, the locals are friendly, and it’s not expensive. Plus, the laid-back vibe is just irresistible.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!