Imagine white sand, turquoise waters and empty palm tree-fringed beaches. Malaysia has thousands of these islands, with many relatively unknown and off the tourist trail. Culture Trip presents the best hidden islands in Malaysia and a handful of secret beaches even most locals don’t know about.
Malaysia’s thousands of kilometres of coastline holds countless hidden coves and beaches. Dive into Culture Trip’s 10 favourite secret islands and beaches in Malaysia while the water’s still fresh.
A luxurious beach getaway on Tenggol Island (Terengganu)
Tenggol is the southernmost island in Terengganu State’s archipelago chain, stretching over the South China Sea. Unlike its neighbours the Perhentian Islands, this place hardly gets any visitors apart from a handful of locals. Expect ideal snorkelling conditions, daily whale shark tours and jungle trails. Culture Trip recommends Tenggol Island Beach Resort for a luxurious beach getaway. To get here, take a five-hour bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Dungan followed by a 50-minute ferry to Tenggol Island. It’s worth the long trip.
Twenty years ago, Rendang was among the most secret islands in Malaysia. But after featuring in Hong Kong hit movie ‘Summer Holiday’, the tourists quickly came over. Rendang Island shares the chain with both The Perhentians and Tenggol. But what sets this small archipelago apart is its world-class resorts. Rather than catering to a younger crowd of travellers, this place attracts more upscale tourists to lounge on their pristine sandy beaches. Head to Pasir Panjang beach on the eastern coast and take advantage of the perfect snorkelling conditions.
Terengganu’s Kapas Island is practically uninhabited compared to its neighbours. Only a handful of guesthouses and hostels line the empty coastlines, catering towards budget-conscious crowds. Forget luxury resorts, mass development and WiFi: Kapas is all about reflection and solitude. Expect vast coastlines, colourful coral reefs and crystal-clear waters. Culture Trip recommends at least two nights here to get the most out of one of Malaysia’s most secret islands along the eastern coast.
Gem Island (Pulau Gemia) bursts with marine life among its vibrant coral reefs. Palm trees line the soft, sandy beaches just a stone’s throw away from deep and lush jungle. While this might sound like many other islands in Malaysia, it lacks one crucial element: tourists. Apart from the handful of guests at the island’s resort and spa, you won’t see another soul. Ask locals in Kuala Lumpur and most won’t know Gem, making it one of the most secret islands in Malaysia.
Dazzling white-sand beaches, celebrity-favourite resorts and beachfront villas are three ways to describe Rawa Island. This tiny coral island off Johor State has just two resorts, alluring those looking for a very private retreat. Wake up to the sound of lapping waves and open the curtains to the empty white coastline. This piece of paradise comes with a high price tag and limited rooms that often sell out months in advance. Rawa is perfect for honeymooners or more affluent couples on a romantic getaway.
Stay in an overwater bungalow on Pom Pom Island (Sabah)
Pom Pom Island is the lesser-known sister of the world-famous diving hotspot Sipidan, along Sabah’s eastern coast. Set inside the Semporna Archipelago, Pom Pom allures domestic tourists for a quiet beach getaway. A handful of resorts with overwater bungalows (similar to those in the Maldives) stretch along the beaches. What makes this slice of paradise most appealing is the chance to snorkel with hundreds of fish and turtles. Book a night or two at the resorts, wake up and dive straight in.
Sarawak’s Tusan Beach near Miri doesn’t get many visitors apart from local families. Not many outsiders get to see the warm orange sand hugging the cliffs or photograph the unusual rock formation (resembling a horse bending down to drink the sea water). The lack of commercialisation plus the strange geological structures aren’t the only things that make this (somewhat) secret beach in Malaysia so special. When conditions are just right, tiny micro-organisms in the sea release a chemical into the water. This bioluminescence transforms the gentle inky waters into a neon blue oasis, creating the spectacular and very rare ‘Blue Tears’ phenomenon.
When you hear the name Penang, images of colonial George Town and street art might spring to mind. But hardly anyone (Malaysians included) can name the hidden Kerachut Beach. This remote beach sits some two hours along a jungle trail from Penang National Park’s main entrance. When you get there, you’ll find an empty soft-sanded coastline with yellow sandstone rocks bordering the jungle. Pro tip: Combine a day at Kerachut Beach with a trip to the nearby Pantai Kerachut Turtle Conservation Centre to learn about Penang’s turtles.
Despite a recent tourist campaign, Perak’s Pangkor remains one of the least-visited islands in Malaysia. The lack of tourism keeps their beaches empty and pollution-free. Coral Beach on Pangkor’s northwest coast combines stunning views of the islands towards the horizon with an unparalleled level of serenity. The few guesthouses fill the tiny streets across the road from the beach, with local-style cafés and restaurants overlooking the sea. Pangkor Island and Coral Beach are among the more accessible secret islands in Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur. Find out how to travel to Pangkor Island here.
Pantai Cahaya Bulan (Moonlight Beach) in Kelantan is among the most secret beaches in Malaysia. Hardly any Malaysians outside of Kelantan State have even heard of this hidden spot. Local families hit the white-sand shores for weekend barbeques. Apart from sunbathing and the views, tourists can take part in water sports and go horseback riding. But the highlight is the chance to see the dozens of colourful kites that showcase Kelantanese culture. Guesthouses and hotels lie within five minutes of Pantai Cahaya Bulan.