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Five Of The Best Islands In Malaysia

By Ryan Merrifield

Posted: 6th March 2015 11:37

For a tropical getaway in Southeast Asia, few can deny the lure of Malaysia. From stunning beach paradises to world-renowned diving spots, Malaysia has something for every visitor; however, with 800 islands to choose from, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start! To help you find your island paradise, The Luxury Travel Guide has created the definitive guide to island living in Malaysia. 

For Culture & Food – Pulau Penang

This turtle-shaped island (one of Malaysia’s more populated and developed) isn’t called “The Pearl of The Orient” for nothing. Thanks to its colonial history, inhabited by people from all over Asia and Europe, this is the best place to go for your cultural fix. The large Chinese population of Penang has resulted in the island being dotted with Buddhist temples. Some highlights include the Kek Lok Si (Temple Of Supreme Bliss), often claimed to be the largest temple in South-East Asia, and the Fu Xing Gong (Snake Temple), a temple built to honour the monk Chor Soo Kong, and known for attracting vipers.

But this only tells part of Penang’s story. The island’s multiracial population sees the Chinese temples rub shoulders with Indian temples, mosques and churches. This diversity even spreads to the cuisine, with food from around the world served at all hours everywhere on the island, from prestigious restaurants to local street vendors showing off their wares. Recent development has also turned the island into a haven for shoppers, with an increase in the sale of jewellery, clothes and local handicraft at competitive prices.

For Diving – Pulau Sipadan

Often referred to as one of the best scuba-diving locations in the world, Sipadan is home to reportedly 3,000 species of marine life. The entire island and its surrounding waters are classed as a nature reserve, which has allowed the marine population to thrive, providing some of the best undersea views in all of Malaysia. While there are diving spots throughout the country, few come close to the majesty of Sipadan. Even the notoriously hard-to-please Jacques Cousteau was won over.

While the island itself has no resorts due to its protected status, there are regular diving trips out from nearby Mabul, Kapalai and Semporna. However, early booking is required because only 120 divers are allowed near the island in a single day, and all divers must be accompanied by guides and follow strict rules. Among the more notable sights on a dive at Sipadan are Turtle Tomb, a winding network of underwater caves, the Hanging Gardens coral reef, and Barracuda Point, where divers can often spot large shoals of barracuda swimming in tornado formations. 

For Wildlife – Pulau Tioman

According to legend, Tioman was formed when a dragon princess journeying to Singapore took comfort in the warm waters of the South China Sea and became an island in order to offer the same comfort to travellers. While it certainly was considered a perfect pit-stop in the past, today it’s the large wildlife population that’s most likely to attract travellers. Covered in dense forest and sparsely inhabited by people, Tioman is an excellent spot if you wish to explore the natural world.

Aside from the abundant marine life in its surrounding waters, Tioman’s rainforest is also worth exploring. A wide variety of mammals live on the island, such as unique species of the slow loris, the black giant squirrel, the mouse deer and the brush-tailed porcupine, and it’s also one of the few places where you may still be able to spot the binturong, an endangered creature similar to a small bear. Other endemic species to keep an eye out for is find the Tioman walking catfish, often spotted on the rainforest trails, and the Kajang slender little frog, which can be found in the island’s cave network.

For Scenic Beauty – Pulau Pangkor

While initially an island dedicated to fishing and seafood production, in more recent years Pangkor has become a major tourist destination for its stunning views. While the smaller nearby island of Pangkor Laut boasts one of the most unique and beautiful resorts in the world, the main island of Pangkor can certainly rival it for scenic beauty.

While fairly developed due to the rise in tourism, Pangkor has retained much of its tiny fishing village atmosphere, since the fishing industry continues to thrive, and visitors to the island may be able to see the fishermen at work while they soak up the sun. Nature-lovers will also be very happy here due to the presence of hornbills and sea turtles, especially in the aptly-named Turtle Bay, where turtles can often be seen laying their eggs.

However, the beaches of Pangkor are its main draw, with the two main beaches being Pasir Bogak to the south-west and Teluk Nipah to the north-west. These are exactly the kind of beaches that come to mind when you think of a tropical paradise – pristine white sands and spectacular sea views. The surrounding waters are also dazzlingly clear and perfect for snorkelling.

For Relaxation – Pulau Tiga

For those who want to truly relax and get away from it all, Tiga is ideal.  Best known as one of the locations for the popular television show Survivor, Tiga is a volcanic island largely uninhabited aside from its two resorts. This is a great place to go to escape from civilisation for a while, with the island offering up beaches, diving, and wildlife. 

The dense vegetation of the island allows for extensive hiking opportunities, with many trails winding their way through the jungle. Among some of the wildlife here are sea snakes, particularly on the adjacent Snake Island, and if you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a proboscis monkey, a rare sight due to their extremely endangered status.

But if you need a single reason to visit Tiga, it’s the natural mud baths. A side effect of the island’s formation from a trio of volcanic eruptions, the mud baths are constantly refreshed with warm mud bubbling up from geothermic vents. Perfectly safe and unquestionably tempting, a relaxing mud bath is also claimed to be good for the complexion. 

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