Malaysia is home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world, with sprawling white beaches and crystal-clear waters, making them the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. From the ever-expanding metropolis of Kuala Lumpur to rural villages, beaches complete with crystalline warm waters, and tropical rainforests teeming with wildlife, you can experience the best of all worlds here. For many, a vacation in Malaysia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to at least one of the many islands in Malaysia for a taste of paradise. Although many of these islands are popular diving and snorkelling destinations, there is still a little something for everyone! Check out some of the best islands (pulau in Malay) and hidden gems that Malaysia has to offer.
1. Pulau Rawa
Sixteen kilometres off the coast of Mersing is Pulau Rawa. The island is famed for its white coral sand, tall palm trees and coral reefs with neon-coloured fish and other exotic marine life. The crown jewel of the Seribuat Archipelago, Rawa – a private island owned by family of the Sultanate of Johor, is perfect for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. With only two accommodations to pick from, Rawa Island is an unspoiled coral island, with its white sands and swaying palm trees. The coral garden teeming with fish and marine life, from coral reef fish to Pelagic fish is a surprise for many people. You may see it all but nothing is to be touched, and not even dead shells can be taken. While this is not the place for serious water sport enthusiasts, Rawa is still surrounded by clear, coral-rich water so some of the activities one can do at this idyllic island include snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, or just relaxing on a hammock with a good book.
Getting there: The only way to get to Rawa Island is by boat, normally from Mersing, a town in the northeast corner of Johor.
From Mersing, Rawa Island is a 30-minute speedboat ride or a one-hour ferry ride.
2. Pulau Tiga
Pulau Tiga (Three Island in Malay) is one of a group of small uninhabited islands in Kimanis Bay off the western coast of Sabah. The island was formed when an earthquake on Mindanao caused a volcanic eruption near Borneo and over the next four decades, when subsequent eruptions developed two more islands, the three islands joined together to become one, hence the name Pulau Tiga. Today, the Tiga Island Park is protected by the Malaysian government. The island is 607 hectares in size and has a couple of active mud volcanos at the highest part of the island. Just a tiny obscure blip before 2000, Tiga Island rose to fame when it was chosen as the setting for the first season of the “Survivor” reality show. Despite its Hollywood connections, Pulau Tiga remains an off-the-beaten-path destination with only a small group of tourists visiting the island each year. Home to several endangered species, the island also has a network of nature trails for nature lovers. For the adventurer-seekers, the island of Kalampunian Damit is also nearby, which is also known as Snake Island for the hundreds of sea snakes that inhabit the island.
Getting there: Make your way to the district of Kuala Penyu and hop on a boat to Pulau Tiga. Kuala Penyu is 120km from Kota Kinabalu.
3. Pulau Kapas
Pulau Kapas, translated to mean Cotton Island, is a small island off Marang in Terengganu. Many people attribute the name of this island to the pure white beaches that are the trademark of this island. This little haven just off the Terengganu coast, measuring just over 2km long and 1km at its widest point, is a pleasant getaway for the locals during weekends and also tourists who want to do a spot of snorkelling and other water-related activities. What deserves special mention is that on the edges of the island, colourful reefs extend out into the deep, blue sea where a host of marine life continues to build and live in these rich, exuberant gardens of the sea. As a marine park, the coral reefs and its marine inhabitants have been given full protection from any adverse activity that may destroy their habitat, and that includes fishing. The reefs host an abundance of beautiful coral inhabitants such as the parrotfish, pufferfish, angelfish, damselfish, eels, giant clams, rays, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. As such, Pulau Kapas is a great place to indulge in snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, and other water-related activities.
Getting there: You can take a 20-minute boat ride from the village of Marang.
4. Pulau Mabul
Located only about 25 minutes by speedboat from the famous Sipadan Island, Pulau Mabul has slowly emerged from the shadows of its famous counterpart to gain its own recognition as one of the best muck-diving (a term used to describe limited visibility dives at shallow sites with usually sandy bottoms) sites in the world. Pulau Mabul, a small oval-shaped island fringed by sandy beaches and perched on the northwest corner of a larger 200-hectare reef is home to a local fishing village, and of course dive resorts. Pulau Mabul is also renowned for its amazing array of macrolife, making it an underwater photographer’s dream location to capture some of the rarest ecological species on film. Flamboyant cuttlefish, blue-ringed octopus, spike-fin gobies, frogfish, and moray eels are just some of the spectacular critters you will encounter beneath the waters of Pulau Mabul.
Getting there: From Kota Kinabalu, it is a 55-minute flight to Tawau and then an hour’s drive to Semporna. From here, Pulau Mabul is another 45 minutes by speedboat.
- Krabi: The Perfect Island Getaway
- 8 Islands to Check out in Johor
- Three East Coast Islands You Should Visit in Malaysia
Source: The Expat magazine November 2015
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