Malaysia is often underrated when it comes to islands. It has some of the best islands in Southeast Asia, but also one of the worst. Warning: a rant is coming…..
Perhentian Kecil: The worst island in Malaysia (and maybe even Southeast Asia)
From a distance Perhentian Kecil looks pretty good, but once you walk down Long Beach you start to see its “no makeup” face, and it isn’t pretty. There is trash everywhere, the beach is full of cigarette butts, there are far too many tables, chairs, and shacks on the beach and the water is full of boats. The water looks good from a distance, but once again, when you actually get in it isn’t particular clear (or clean, probably). The accommodation is basic to say the least and really overpriced and so is the food. Coral Bay wasn’t quite as bad but it’s still not somewhere I’d choose to stay, and to get there from Long Beach you have to walk for about 10 minutes past even more trash. I wouldn’t complain so much about all the rubbish if I (and every other visitor to the island) didn’t get charged a RM 5 conservation fee. I have no idea where that money is going, but it’s definitely not going towards keeping the islands clean.
Perhentian Besar, the bigger island, looked a bit better but everything I read online told me that Long Beach/Coral Bay are the places to go. Maybe they were, but just like Madonna, Perhentian Kecil has had its day and should quietly retire.
And now it’s time for the best islands in Malaysia. I can’t separate them because they all offer completely different experiences, so you can make your mind up about which one you’d choose.
Langkawi is probably the most popular island in Malaysia. It gets plenty of local (and Singaporean) tourists and most of the island is catered towards them, and not backpackers. There are a lot of expensive resorts but you can find cheap accommodation, food and activities at Pantai Cenang.
Langkawi is the best choice if you need to be kept busy. There are boat trips, waterfalls, hiking, pretty much any water activity you can think of and a highly rated cable car. Alcoholics will also love Langkawi, as drinking there is cheaper than almost everywhere else in Malaysia.
Penang is the island you’d want to wash up on after being lost at sea for a few months. You’d be hungry, but Penang would have you covered. It’s known as the food capital of Malaysia (and maybe Southeast Asia) and if you are in any way a fan of Malaysian food you’ll love Penang. The main city, Georgetown, is one of the more interesting Malaysian towns; it features plenty of colonial architecture, and old Chinese shophouses and temples. If you want to get out of the city, head to the Penang National Park and take a walk along the coast. There are some surprisingly good beaches and it’s always nice to do a bit of jungle walking. (The photo at the top of this post was also taken in Penang, at the national park)
Pangkor would have to be the most unglamorous of Malaysia’s islands, but that ends up being part of its charm. The island is famous for its dried fish (which is horrible, in my opinion) and it’s best to avoid the areas where it’s produced because the smell is pretty awful.
Rent a motorbike and get out into the countryside and you’ll see an unspoilt island that’s ready to be explored. Pangkor attracts backpackers looking for a cheap getaway, but from what I saw tourism really hasn’t hit the island hard at all. Go to Pangkor if you want to get back to basics and away from the tourist masses.
Tioman: One of the best islands in Malaysia!
Tioman is probably my favourite island in Malaysia. Salang, the village I stayed at, had a really nice beach and some of the clearest water I’ve seen in Southeast Asia. Find the right spot, walk out to around chest height and you’ll be surrounded by fish; there isn’t any need to go snorkeling. It’s a small village with laid back atmosphere and is a great place to relax. You can walk for about an hour through the jungle and you’ll end up at Monkey Beach, another stunning beach with water full of fish. If you are looking to relax on a great beach, choose Tioman.
Further reading: Looking for more information about travelling in Malaysia? Check out this guide over at Travelfish.org
So, which of these islands would you like to visit? Please don’t say Perhentian Kecil! I haven’t been to any of the islands off Borneo, so this list is only compiled from islands off peninsular Malaysia, if you have been to any other islands in Malaysia, let me know how they were!
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