Everyone loves lazing around the beach and Malaysia has some of the best beaches in the region. Interestingly, the best beach may not be the most picturesque with the finest sand and the clearest water. Maybe it’s the resort located there, the dishes served by beachside vendors, the range of watersports, the sunset, the people who share the experience with you or a combination of all of these or other factors. Here’s a list of beaches that make it on my list of Malaysia’s best, divided up into Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah.
Beaches are found on both the east and west coast of the peninsula although those located on the east are generally considered to be the best. The busier and more populated west coast does have some excellent beaches on the islands of Langkawi and Pangkor. While those in Penang are visited by many, the resort pools are where most holidaymakers head. There are many beaches fronting the South China Sea on Malaysia’s East Coast. Visitors could choose a number of beaches on islands like Perhentian, Tenggol, Kapas, Tioman and those on the handful of Johor islands. As a general rule, the beaches on the islands of the East Coast are better than those along the coastline here.
Redang Island is popular because it is one of the biggest and is accessible by boat and direct flights from Subang in Kuala Lumpur. The kilometre-long stretch of beach called “Sultan’s Beach” is now mostly occupied by Berjaya Redang Beach Resort (www.berjayahotel.com) and they have various accommodation options. The waters are very clear and the sand incredibly white and it’s a safe haven for kids.
Hollywood put Tioman Island on the map in the 1950’s. Located to the south of Redang Island, Tioman was chosen as the mythical Bali Hai for the film South Pacific. It’s one of the country’s better known islands despite being laid back with just one international property and a designer boutique resort. From a distance, the twin peaks of Gunung Kajang and Bukit Nenet Semukut loom high above the beaches. Tioman’s waters are its biggest draw, but there are adventures on the land as well. The South China Sea is home to many types of hard coral and fish. The small settlements on Tioman are mostly on the protected northwestern side although there are a few chalets at Kampung Juara on the eastern side. Many guesthouses and resorts close down between November and February when it’s wet, windy and the seas are rough. Tioman does however remain accessible even during off-peak periods but the journey can be a little rough. During this time, flying in on Berjaya Air (www.berjaya-air.com) makes good sense. Some of the chalets are so close to the water that guests can actually swim from their verandah into the water.
Apart from the Berjaya Tioman Beach, Golf & Spa Resort (www.berjayaresorts.com) there’s JapaMala and clusters of simple chalets offering great value-for-money. JapaMala (www.japamalaresorts.com) is in a league of its own and with just a handful of chalets located by a remote and peaceful beach, it appeals to those who appreciate intimate accommodation,rustic charm and isolation. Relax in their Samadhi Spa or dine on Indochinese cuisine in the restaurant.
Further south, Sibu Island is well worth visiting with boat transport from the mainland being the only way of accessing all the islands in Johor. Once you check into Sea Gypsy Resort & Spa (www.siburesort.com), you are miles from the stresses of everyday life and the 350m-long beach here is safe for kids and a playground for various watersports like sailing, diving on the artificial house reef or further afield with Dan’s nasty Frogmen, kayaking or paddle skiing. Stay in traditional Malay houses made from timber and attap and enjoy drinks in Dan’s Dive Bar.
Langkawi is arguably Malaysia’s premier West Coast island destination with facilities ranging from an international airport to duty free shopping and several luxurious resorts. There are a number of picturesque beaches here from Pantai Cenang to Tanjong Rhu, Burau Bay and Datai Bay. Pantai Tengah earns extra points as it is quiet and yet accessible for those who may not be staying at one of the resorts along the beachfront. Stay at the Frangipani Langkawi Resort & Spa (www.frangipanilangkawi.com) and relax under tall shaded coconut trees. Enjoy a variety of watersports or take a sunset cruise around the offshore islands. Don’t miss the afternoon sunsets which are usually quite spectacular across the Andaman Sea.
Further south, Pangkor Island has its many fans especially well-heeled travelers whose resort of choice is Pangkor Laut (www.pangkorlautresort.com). One of the many superb beaches here is Emerald Bay rated by some to be one of the world’s best beaches. The name is derived from the colour of the water and is distinctly different to those on the east coast. The coastal tropical rainforest lines the beach and provides excellent shade for those who just want to laze around in the sand.
Kudat, on the northernmost tip of Borneo is one of Malaysia’s best kept secrets. Few visitors make it this far north and then mostly to visit the tourist attraction of the northernmost tip of Borneo which is a little way out of Kudat town. However, look beyond the somewhat grand celebration of “northernness” to the long sandy beaches, rolling surf and foothills with commanding views and relatively untouched coastal rainforests. Holiday here on Pantai Kalampunian in complete isolation far from the cares of the world and stay in simple B & B accommodation or drive out to the beach each day from Kudat. You may need to enlist the support of Sabah Tourism (www.sabahtourism.com) to make this a seamless holiday.
There are few beaches in the region with such fine white sands as the mere speck of Lankayan Island situated in the Sulu Sea to the north of Borneo. Being a 90-minutes journey by fast boat from Sandakan, it’s one of Malaysia’s quietest outposts with just a handful of beachfront chalets. Step from your chalet out into the shallow turquoise waters of the reef surrounding the island and observe black-tip sharks come into the waters off the restaurant for their lunchtime feed.
The diving here is very good and this is what attracts most visitors. Accommodation in Lankayan Resort (www.lankayan-island.com) is very comfortable considering the isolation and the specks in the distance are islands belonging to the Philippines.
Other beaches to investigate in Sabah include those on the five islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. The two preferred beaches are those on Sapi, Gaya and the main island of Manukan. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (www.suterasanctuarylodges.com) provide comfortable accommodation on Manukan while the deluxe Gayana and Bunga Raya Resorts (www.gayana-eco-resort.com) on a near-private and beautiful beach on a remote part of Gaya Island.
Sadly, the mighty rivers that flow from Sarawak’s interior into the South China Sea don’t create the idyllic beaches that can be found elsewhere in Malaysia. Those around Damai Beach, less than one hour’s drive from Kuching, are the best of the bunch. The Damai Puri Resort & Spa (www.damaipuriresort.com) has two pools from which to choose and there’s a spa to soothe the excesses of the sun.
Head west out of Kuching towards Lundu and you will discover some rather acceptable beaches near Gunung Gading National Park and Tanjung Datu National Park. Check in to Ocean Beach Resort (T: +606 2452 245) near Pandan as well as a few around Semantan.