Malaysia is well known for its cultural and ecological diversity and this is reflected in its abundant and unique islands. From the borders of Southern Thailand to the edges of Borneo, Malaysia’s 874 islands are as distinctive and memorable as the local cuisine. Island-hopping here may require more than a speedboat, but the richness of experience and understanding of this wonderful country more than makes up for the distance travelled.
Here is our pick for the best islands to hop between on a trip to Malaysia. Scroll down for more depth tips for island hopping Malaysia.
Langkawi is actually an archipelago, just 30km of the North-West coast of Malaysia, made up of 104 separate islands. The main island is incredible popular but large enough to still find your own slice of quiet paradise, complete with beachfront accommodation options to suit every budget. Its interior jungles are packed full of activities, including hiking, biking, . Langkawi is also a duty-free island, so a great place to get some shopping done!
How to get to Langkawi
The easiest way to get to Langkawi is to take a quick one hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. A ferry from the mainland, Alor Setar, is an hour and a half, reachable from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Thailand by bus and train.
Certainly the most unique of all the islands on this list, Penang is a must-see on any trip to Malaysia. Also known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is full of enough charm and attractions to keep you busy for days. Plus, it is considered the foodie capital of Malaysia!
Georgetown, the vibrant island capital, is known for its Chinese heritage and the modern street art hidden around every corner. It is a fantastic place to simply wander, in between food stops sampling Malay and Chinese delicacies. Kek Lok Si and Penang Hill are two areas worth stepping outside of Georgetown for.
How to get to Penang
Connected to the mainland by multiple bridges, and with its own international airport, it is the easiest island to get to from almost anywhere in the region.
These two tiny islands, off the North-East coast, are often considered some of the most beautiful in all of the Malaysian Peninsular. Barefoot paradise is the vibe here, with Perhentian Besar upping the luxury game slightly with more luxury resorts. Both islands have fantastic dive schools, chilled out beach bars and cheap local food stalls. While boat trips around the area are popular, snorkelling right off the beach can still bring you face to face with incredible sea creatures like baby reef sharks and colourful parrot fish.
How to get to Perhentian Islands
To reach Perhentian Kecil and Besar, make your way to Kota Bharu by air from Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere and then drive to the Kuala Besut harbour to catch a ferry. Alternatively, you can travel by bus to the North-East coast on an inexpensive 7-hour bus.
Tioman Island is one of the most popular islands of the South East coast of Malaysia, lying 56km off the peninsular. The star attraction is the diving and snorkelling opportunities around the island and surrounding smaller islets. With few paved roads and clean, white-sand beaches, Tioman has a relaxed vibe despite its large size, and hiking inland to jungle waterfalls is a highlight. Like Langkawi, Tioman Island is also a duty-free island.
How to get to Tioman Island
Tioman is serviced by a small aiport and multiple daily direct flights from Kuala Lumpur. By road, it takes around 5 hours to reach Mersing from Kuala Lumpur and 3 hours from Singapore. The ferry from Mersing takes around 2 hours.
There are three main reasons travellers visit Malaysian Borneo: to see the orangutans, to hike Mt. Kinabalu and to dive in some of the world’s most pristine marine habitats. If the latter is your calling, you are likely headed to Sipadan Island; a place consistently rated in the top three dive sites worldwide.
Visiting Sipadan means staying on the neighbouring islands of Mabul or Kapalai, for at least 4 days, and acquiring a permit. These are limited to 120 per day; thus, diving here requires more planning than any of the other islands on this list. You can organise all this with your dive shop.
How to get to Sipadan Island
To reach Sipadan, you will need to make your way to Semporna. You can reach neighbouring Tawau by air from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, or head to Semporna direct by bus from elsewhere in Malaysian Borneo. Ferries to Mabul and Kapalai from here take around an hour.
We hope you enjoyed this island hopping Malaysia guide and that it helped inspire you to add some or all of these islands onto your dream Malaysia itinerary. Get in touch with our Malaysia experts for fully-customised itineraries and advice.