WITH DOZENS OF ISLANDS TO CHOOSE FROM IN MALAYSIA, DAVID BOWDEN TAKES A LOOK AT SOME OF THE BEST SPOTS TO ESCAPE TO WHEN ISLAND LIFE STARTS CALLING.
One of the most popular tourist activities in Malaysia is to head off to explore some of the scores of islands that dot the nation’s coastline. For some, this simply means setting off to a resort to chill out around the pool and soak up the sunshine, while for others it could mean undertaking exciting recreational activities such as jungle trekking, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, jet skiing, or one of several wildlife encounters.
Islands such as Langkawi, Tioman, and Labuan are duty free, so shopping adds another dimension to the holiday experience there. Penang Island includes the historic port and city of George Town, so heritage, culture, food, and shopping complement the beach resorts that line the Batu Ferringhi strip.
Malaysia has an island to suit almost every mood and budget. Here are some favourite islands on the West Coast, East Coast, and off Sabah in East Malaysia that are worth exploring.
Langkawi, Penang, and Pangkor are the main islands off the West Coast of the peninsula. While it’s easy to fly to Penang and Langkawi, there are only limited flights to Pangkor, and many choose to drive and then catch a ferry to the island. For those flying in from overseas to visit Pangkor, the alternative is to travel from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in a limousine for the four-hour journey.
There are two main islands in the Pangkor group, with Pangkor Island itself being more popular with locals and budget travellers, although there are a few upmarket resorts here. The smaller, private island of Pangkor Laut is home to the acclaimed Pangkor Laut Resort and, as the only resort on the island, guests are guaranteed an exclusive and private holiday. Accommodation on Pangkor Laut ranges from water chalets and poolside retreats to rainforest locations, and the resort is popular with honeymooners who often book into one of the 22 spa villas to enjoy regional therapies. Emerald Bay, on the island’s forested western side, is the best of the Pangkor beaches.
The less-visited East Coast, fronting the South China Sea, includes many islands such as Tioman, Redang, and Perhentian. Islands such as the Perhentians are very laid back and appeal to budget travellers and divers. Accommodation here is simple, but the clear waters are some of the finest in the region.
The islands off Johor (Aur, Rawa, and Sibu) are ideal for those who want to really escape crowds, as are Tenggol and Kapas to the north. Facilities on these islands are usually good, and most have resort developments. The water quality is better in the more remote islands, with diving visibility around islands like Tenggol and Aur being some of the region’s best. Colourful coral reefs and waters teeming with marine life lure divers who take advantage of the competitively-priced diving trips offered at various resorts.
This part of Malaysia is known as the nation’s cultural heartland, and plenty of tourists flock here. Some islands of the East Coast effectively close down in November and December due to the monsoon, but expect mostly fine, sunny weather for the rest of the year.
Turtles are one of the most exciting sights in the waters around Redang Island, especially when these endangered marine creatures come onto the beaches to lay their eggs. Visitors can to the island on Berjaya Air from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, or catch a ferry from Merang, just north of Kuala Terengganu. The largest resort on the island is the 273-room Berjaya Redang Resort and is located within a coconut plantation along the picturesque Sultan’s Beach, while the Laguna Redang Resort offers similar facilities but on a smaller scale.
From a distance, Tioman looms on the horizon, its twin mountain peaks rising high above the forests. The island’s unhurried pace of life – there are virtually no roads or vehicles – appealed to those who filmed South Pacific way back in 1958. Not much seems to have changed since, and the most convenient way around the island is still on small boats. That said, there is now a rough track across to the remote Juara Lagoon Resort, where an isolated, relaxed ambiance awaits. Juara Lagoon Resort is also offers outdoor education programmes and has various marine turtle conservation initiatives.
Many travel to Tioman to dive or to learn to dive, while others simply check into one of several small resorts or into the largest of them all, the Berjaya Tioman Resort, which has a comprehensive selection of facilities including an 18hole golf course that skirts the island’s coastline. A more idyllic break can be found in JapaMala, an exclusive, boutique on a deserted beach.
Experienced divers visit Tioman to admire its colourful coral reefs, swim-throughs, and wreck diving, but the island also attracts amateurs. It’s possible to learn to dive with just a few days of lessons, and the clear waters and experienced dive masters working on Tioman make it an ideal place to learn. Check out B&J Diving Centres, located in both Kampung Salang and Air Batang (ABC), for dive courses and trips conducted by experienced PADI-certified instructors.
There are various islands around Sabah, and Sipadan and Lankayan Islands are in the sights of most divers while Turtle Islands National Park is a personal favourite as turtles land here each night to lay their eggs along the sandy foreshore.
The three small islands in the Sulu Sea that constitute Turtle Islands National Park are, as the name suggests, famous for their Green and Hawksbill Turtles, and all are managed by Sabah Parks. Overnight visitor numbers are limited to just thirty and, once the sun sets, park rangers lead tourists to watch the turtles land on the beach to lay their eggs, before taking visitors to the hatchery to release baby turtles.
While new eggs are being placed in the hatchery for protection, older ones can be seen hatching and their hatchlings emerging. The evening’s highlight is when visitors assist in the releasing of the hatchlings, and it is a great way for families with young children to get close to nature. Accommodation on the island is managed by Sea Quest in Sandakan.
This island off the east coast of Sabah is Malaysia’s only deep water island, and has long been considered by diving luminaries (such as the late Jacques Cousteau) as being one of the top ten dive spots in the world; not bad for a mere speck in the Celebes Sea. Cousteau called it “an untouched piece of art,” and though it has now been well and truly discovered by the diving fraternity, it remains in a pristine state, especially as there is no longer any accommodation on the island (divers have to stay on nearby Mabul or Kapalai and commute daily to the island). Permits are required for diving and dive times are allocated, and this can get a little complicated, so carefully select the dive operator with whom you dive. There is little here to appeal to non-divers but those who enjoy going under rave about the drift walls, turtles, school fish, sharks, and rays.
TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PARK
The Sabah capital of Kota Kinabalu is blessed in having the five protected islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park located just offshore. Admiring the islands at sunset from resorts located in the Sutera Harbour integrated complex is a moment to cherish, while visiting the islands during the daylight is very easy. Small boats ferry visitors from the Jessleton Pier to the islands throughout the day for nature walks or snorkelling in the shallow waters surrounding each of the islands.
There is some limited accommodation available on the five islands, with two resorts on Gaya Island including Gayana Eco Resort; a well-established five-star hideaway. Another stylish option is Manukan Island Resort, which is located just 15 minutes by small boat from Sutera Harbour Resort on the mainland. This resort features seaview accommodation including double-storey beach lodges surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.
GET ON THE WEB
Tenggol Island ;
Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park:
Turtle Island National Park:
This article was written by David Bowden for Senses of Malaysia.
Source: Senses of Malaysia Nov-Dec 2012
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