Escape to your own country

 

Flying can be expensive, troublesome and even frightening to some people, so we can totally understand how some people might be put off travelling. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a luxury beach holiday from the comfort of your own country!

This list of stunning island getaways don’t require you to fly from the Malaysian Peninsular and are just waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a local or a tourist to Malaysia, this list of islands will have you making plans to visit them now. 

1. Pulau Perhentian (Besar & Kecil), Terengganu

 

 

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A favourite amongst holidaymakers, Perhentian is synonymous with peaceful local island escape. Perhentian comprises of two islands off the North-East coast of Peninsular Malaysia; Besar (Big) – a ‘family’ island with a more relaxed ambience ideal for couples with children, and Kecil (Small) – home to a quaint fishing village and popular with the younger backpacking crowd.

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Whether you’re looking for the air-conditioned luxury of a resort, a cosy chalet or rustic beach-front lodging reminiscent of a Robinson Crusoe adventure, you can have yourself a piece of paradise.

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Sunny skies, lush jungle, white sand and crystalline waters will leave you in awe and chase away your worries. If you’re feeling energetic and are keen to explore, it is easy to follow paths/trek to neighbouring bays. Snorkelling off the beach or dives in open water are both impressive and memorable in Perhentian.

Note:

  1. Perhentian is closed to tourists during the monsoon season (November to mid February).
  2. This is the ideal place to get your diving license.
  3. The islands are not far apart and getting from one to the other is as easy as renting a kayak or paying a boatman to help you across.
  4. There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you bring enough cash to last your trip.
  5. Credit cards are accepted at some of the larger resorts.
  6. You can usually organise the ferry/boat transfer through the resort you will be staying at.
  7. Don’t lose your ferry ticket as you need it for the return transfer from the islands to the jetty.

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get a bus to Jerteh bus station (approximately 7 hours) and travel by taxi to Kuala Besut jetty.
  2. Take a boat taxi/ferry to the islands (approximately 45 minutes).
  3. Drive from K.L. via the Karak Highway – heading in the direction of Kuala Terengganu – to Kuala Besut jetty (approximately 7 hours).
  4. Take a boat taxi/ferry to the islands (approximately 45 minutes).
  5. Get an overnight KTM train to Tanah Merah station (approximately 12 hours), and then take a taxi to Kuala Besut jetty (approximately 45 minutes).
  6. Take a boat taxi/ferry to the islands (approximately 45 minutes).
 

2. Redang, Terengganu

 

 

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The azure waters of Redang island off the coast of Terengganu are abundant with marine life and dazzling hues of undisturbed coral, providing an idyllic setting for divers and snorkellers alike.

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Home to two historic shipwrecks, the H.M.S. Prince of Wales and the H.M.S. Repulse, the area surrounding Redang is gazetted as part of the Terengganu marine park and as such, fishing is not permitted within a 3.2km radius.

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When you’re not bobbing about in the water, you can go for a hike and maybe even spot a few monkeys, monitor lizards and fruit bats. Fun fact: Redang was the charming island featured in Hong Kong romantic comedy film, Summer Holiday (2000), which starred Taiwanese heartthrob Richie Jen and Cantopop star Sammi Cheng.

Note

  1. As the island is located within a marine park, a fee of RM5 is collected from all visitors.
  2. You can usually organise the ferry/boat transfer through the resort you will be staying at Redang is closed to tourists during the monsoon season (November to mid February).
  3. There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you bring enough cash to last your trip.
  4. Credit cards are accepted at some of the larger resorts.

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Kuala Terengganu Tanjung bus terminal (approximately 7 hours).
  2. Make your way to one of two jetties, Shahbandar jetty (the closest from the bus terminal – approximately 15 minutes walk) or Merang jetty (approximately 40 minutes taxi ride), and take a boat/ferry to the island – 1 hour and 15 minutes or 40 minutes, respectively.
  3. Drive from K.L. via the Karak Highway and East Coast Expressway to Kuala Terengganu (approximately 3 and a half hours).
  4. Make your way to Merang jetty and take a boat/ferry to the island (approximately 40 minutes).
  5. Get an overnight KTM train to Tanah Merah station (approximately 12 hours), then get a taxi to Merang jetty and take a boat/ferry to the island (approximately 40 minutes).
 

3. Lang Tengah, Terengganu

 

 

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Halfway between Perhentian and Redang is the lesser-known and tranquil island, Lang Tengah. If you’re looking for a quiet and secluded spot to collect your thoughts and just enjoy nature, this is probably a good choice for you.

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No surprise, this is another preferred diving location! There’s not much to do around the island, other than some light hiking or a bit of kayaking. When in need of a change in scenery and activity, tourists can easily hire a boatman to take them island hopping.

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Note

  1. You can usually organise the ferry/boat transfer through the resort you will be staying at.
  2. Lang Tengah is closed to tourists during the monsoon season (November to mid February).
  3. There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you bring enough cash to last your trip.

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Kuala Terengganu Tanjung bus terminal (approximately 7 hours).
  2. Make your way to Merang jetty (approximately 40 minutes taxi ride), and take a boat/ferry to the island – 1 hour and 15 minutes or 40 minutes, respectively.
  3. Drive from K.L. via the Karak Highway and East Coast Expressway to Kuala Terengganu (approximately 3 and a half hours).
  4. Make your way to Merang jetty and take a boat/ferry to the island (approximately 40 minutes).
  5. Get an overnight KTM train to Tanah Merah station (approximately 12 hours), then get a taxi to Merang Jetty (approximately 1 and a half hours).
 

4. Tenggol, Terengganu

 

 

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Another of this state’s gems, found in the southern region of Terengganu Marine Park, is a sensational location for seasoned divers – with 25 diving spots around the island; the most popular being Batu Chanang, Tokong Laut (also referred to as the ‘Highway’), Tokong Burung and Coral Garden. Whale sharks (the holy grail of scuba diving) are sometimes seen at certain sites such as Tokong Timur, between August and October.

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Spectacular rocky cliffs and lush virgin rainforest set this island apart from other nearby islands. Relaxation is not a choice, it’s a natural condition when staying on this island. Tenggol is situated 14 nautical miles from the quiet fishing town of Kuala Dungun and quick trips from the island are possible when tourists want to get more of a taste of the local life.

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Note

  1. Snorkeling is also good, though if you’re not looking to dive at all/much then perhaps Perhentian or Redang is better suited to you.
  2. Tenggol is closed to tourists during the monsoon season (November to mid February)
  3. There are no ATMs on the island so make sure you bring enough cash to last your trip.

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Kuala Terengganu Tanjung bus terminal (approximately 7 hours).
  2. Take another bus to Kuala Dungun.
  3. Make your way to Dungun jetty and take a boat/ferry to the island (approximately 1 hour).
  4. Drive from K.L. via the Karak Highway to Kuala Dungun (approximately 4 and a half hours).
  5. Make your way to Dungun jetty and take a boat/ferry to the island (approximately 1 hour).
 

5. Kapas, Terengganu

 

 

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Just 5km from the mainland, not far from Kuala Terengganu, lies Kapas Island – a small, picturesque (and less crowded) island. Known as a relaxed getaway with impressive diving opportunities, including a World War II shipwreck, the island gets its name Kapas (which means ‘cotton’ in Malay) from its soft, white, sandy beaches that are fringed by shady palm trees. Snorkelling around Kapas is excellent, with extensive coral and marine life in calm, shallow waters.

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There are various other activities to enjoy, including kayaking, windsurfing, beach volleyball, beach football and jungle trekking, fishing and squid catching (an activity the island has made itself well known for).

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Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Kuala Terengganu Tanjung bus terminal (approximately 7 hours) and then a taxi to Marang – not to be confused with Merang – jetty (approximately 30 minutes).
  2. Take a boat to the island (approximately 15 minutes). Drive to Marang via the East Coast Expressway in the direction of Kuantan, then take the coastal road (Highway 3) North towards Kuala Terengganu.
 

6. Tioman, Pahang

 

 

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A densely forested and sparsely inhabited island located 32km off the coast of Pahang, Tioman is an ecological paradise with dramatic topography. It is reported to have been one of the filming sites for the classic Hollywood musical film, South Pacific, in 1959 and in the 1970s was named one of the world’s most beautiful islands by Time Magazine. Legend has it that this island is the final resting place for a mythical dragon princess who flew over the South China Sea en route to Singapore…

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Tioman has long been frequented for its magnificent emerald waters and surrounding coral reef (which make it a popular diving location), evergreen canopies, cascading waterfalls, granite formations and numerous authentic villages scattered around the island (each offering different atmospheres). The island’s impressive variety of flora and fauna, featured in National Geographic documentaries, make this tropical island a remarkable place to explore.

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Note: Monsoon season starts in November, bringing heavy rain and strong waves until January (surfing season). Best time to travel is mid February to October.

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Mersing (approximately 6 hours).
  2. Take a ferry/boat to Tioman (approximately 1 and a half hours).
  3. Drive to Mersing via the North-South Highway, exit at Segamat and continue east on route 50 to Kluang, then Mersing (approximately 4 hours).
  4. Make your way to Mersing Jetty Take a ferry/boat to the island (approximately 1 and a half hours).
 

7. Rawa, Johor

 

 

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Just 16km from Mersing town in Johor, sits the tranquil escape known as Rawa Island. There are two sides to the island; one featuring a rocky cliff face that plunges into the sea below (this side of the island is inaccessible but the waters surrounding it are a haven for marine life and therefore ideal for diving) and the other boasting beaches of powdery sands which appears postcard perfect.

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A private island owned by the Johor Sultanate, the island is part of the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park, is unspoilt and offers visitors the feeling of exclusivity as they enjoy the breath-taking views and snorkelling opportunities. If you’re looking to have a secluded weekend getaway, this is certainly the ideal place for you.

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Note: The islands exclusivity, with just two resorts to host visitors, the island can fill up with Singaporeans looking for a nearby retreat – so book early!

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Mersing (approximately 6 hours).
  2. Take a ferry/boat to the island (approximately 1 hour).
  3. Drive to Mersing via the North-South Highway, exit at Segamat and continue east on route 50 to Kluang, then Mersing (approximately 4 hours) and make your way to Mersing Jetty Take a ferry/boat to Rawa (approximately 1 hour).
 

8. Sibu, Johor

 

 

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Isolation = relaxation. Bask in the sun and admire the crystalline blue sea of Sibu Island.

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This idyllic escape is primed to become Malaysia’s preferred island destination, with several sandy beaches that provide the perfect setting for beach activities and pristine waters rich in marine life making it a fantastic snorkel and dive spot. Verdant greenery invites visitors to stretch their legs and go for a trek. This island is a favourite location for corporate retreats.

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Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Larkin bus station, Johor (approximately 4 hours).
  2. Head to Tanjung Leman by taxi (approximately 2 hours) and take a boat to the island (approximately 1 hour).
  3. Drive to Tanjung Leman via the North-South Highway, exit at Kulai and head towards Mersing and then follow signs to Tanjung Leman (approximately 5 hours).
  4. Take a boat to the island (approximately 1 hour).
 

9. Pangkor, Perak

 

 

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Just off the coast of Perak lies the mountainous Pangkor Island, one of Malaysia’s more populated islands (with approximately 30,000 people calling it home). Shielded by Sumatra, Pangkor’s weather is pretty much consistent throughout the year, making it a long-time favourite amongst tourists (locals in particular). Whilst the island is fairly developed, it doesn’t feel overcrowded and has all the key ingredients needed for you to unwind and have some fun.

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Sample the wide variety of amazing local cuisine, play a round of golf, take a stroll along its white sandy beaches or let loose and enjoy the watersports available on the island. Whilst Pangkor is not really known for great snorkel and diving opportunities, you can arrange to visit some of the nearby Sembilan Islands – also great for fishing and you can even find a couple of serene spots to chill out with a picnic. Tip: Pangkor is home to the Oriental Pied Hornbill so keep an eye out for this impressive bird during your stay.

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Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Lumut bus station (approximately 4 and a half hours).
  2. Head to Lumut jetty and take a boat to the island (approximately 15 minutes).
  3. Drive to Lumut via the North-South Highway, exit at Bidor and follow signs to Sitiawan and Lumut (approximately 4 hours).
  4. Take a boat to the island (approximately 15 minutes).
  5. Take an ETS (Electronic Train Service) train to Batu Gajah (approximately 2 hours) and take a taxi to Lumut Jetty to get a ferry to the island (approximately 15 minutes).
 

10. Langkawi, Kedah

 

 

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Easily one of the most famous Malaysian islands, Langkawi has risen as a star on the tourist vacation map and it’s no wonder why. This island has it all; emerald sea, white beaches, mangroves, water sports, romantic dinner cruises, lush greenery, waterfalls, fantastic dining options and numerous vantage points to admire the phenomenal sunsets. Whilst Langkawi is not known for incredible snorkel and dive opportunities, it is possible to arrange a boat trip to nearby islands to do so.

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If you’re seeking a luxurious holiday somewhere that enables you to drive around (in a rental car) exploring, then this is the island you need to travel to. Wherever you stay on the island, it’s worth visiting Langkawi’s busiest strip, Pantai Cenang for the food and lively ambience.

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You would be a fool not to head up to the Langkawi Sky Bridge (a 410ft-long curved pedestrian bridge, 2300ft above sea level) over Mount Mat Cinchang. Start the adventure at Oriental Village, take a cable car and enjoy the views to the top, which include the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls and verdant rainforest.

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Note: Langkawi is very close to the Thailand border and the nearest Thai island, Koh Lipe, is just 30 minutes away. It wouldn’t hurt to give that island a visit too!

Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to Kuala Perlis (approximately 8 hours) and take a boat to the island (approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes).
  2. Drive to Kuala Kedah via the North-South Highway, exit at Alor Setar Selatan and then follow signs to Kuala Kedah (approximately 6 hours).
  3. Take a boat to the island (approximately 1 hour and a half hours).
  4. Take a train to Alor Setar station, and then get a taxi to Kuala Kedah Jetty in order to get a ferry across to Langkawi.
 

11. Penang, Penang

 

 

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We couldn’t possibly make this list without mentioning one of the best and most obvious driveable island holiday destinations – Penang! The island’s rich cultural heritage is its biggest draw. You may be looking to have a memorable island getaway that doesn’t leave you feeling isolated from the urban world, somewhere that is a hive of activity yet still offers you the laid back break from the daily grind. Well, Penang actually presents you with all that and more; think palm-fringed beaches, quaint fishing villages, mountainous jungle, street art, night markets, cultural museums, preserved old shop-houses, rickshaws pedalling by and sensational cuisine.

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Wonderfully diverse in a multitude of ways, this island is a fascinating fusion of East and West, embracing modernity whilst simultaneously retaining and honouring its unique old world charm. The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ is famous for its food (you couldn’t possibly visit this place without sampling some of its mouth-watering hawker fare), much of which can be found in the heart and soul of the island, Georgetown – a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Heritage Site.

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This island is a must-visit destination; you simply can’t afford to not experience it!

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Getting there (from KL)

  1. Get an express bus to KOMTAR or Sungai Nibong bus station (approximately 4 and a half hours).
  2. Get a taxi to wherever you need to get to on the island.
  3. Drive to Penang Island via the North-South Highway.
  4. When you get to Butterworth (approximately 4 hours), cross the Penang bridge or take a historical ferry (with your car) to the island.
  5. Take a KTM train to Butterworth (approximately 6 hours). Hop on to the ferry, nearby the train station) and head to the island.
 

Island escapes

 

Whenever life gets a little bit too hectic and city living overwhelms us, we all seem to start fantasizing about being transported to a tropical paradise where the sound of crashing waves and glorious sea breezes greet us in the morning. Stop dreaming… Start living! Scenic drives and train rides through quaint rural villages are great ways to ease into holiday mode and experience parts of the country that you would otherwise never see. Road-trip, anyone?