Winter is coming. So it’s the perfect time to start planning your winter getaway. And if it’s a little sun-seeking you are after, what better place to do so than Malaysia, which is blessed with some of the most spectacular beaches on the planet.
With almost 900 scattered islands, and a vast 5,000km coastline on both sides of the Malaya Peninsula and along the coast of Borneo, the country offers beach holiday destinations to suit every taste and budget. In fact, the biggest challenge for many travellers might simply be choosing where to start. In which case, here are Tourism Malaysia’s top picks of the best beaches across the country to make the decision a little easier, offering up everything from eco-nature exploring, world-renowned diving and snorkelling, resort swimming and watersports – or simply the opportunity to slow down and make the best of your holiday.
Batu Feringghi Beach, Georgetown, Penang
For five star luxury Batu Feringghi beach ticks all the boxes. Not far from the pulsing metropolis of Georgetown, on the island of Penang, it is home to some of Malaysia’s best luxury beach resorts. As one of Asia’s famed capitals for exotic cuisine, this island will send your taste buds into orbit. It also has a generous stretch of pristine sand well worth enjoying at the buzzing beach of Batu Feringghi. As you travel further west, less developed areas like Monkey Beach in the north-east of Penang National park will also appeal to those wanting to escape the crowds. The tranquil coves at Teluk Bahang and Tanjung Bungah, and Jerejak Island, just off the south-east coast by boat, also offer secluded tranquility. Even better, Batu Feringghi is not overly affected by the monsoon season, making it a great year-round beach destination.
Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Only a few world cities are fortunate enough to have a quality beach on their doorstep. Just 10 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, the cosmopolitan capital of Sabah on the north eastern tip of Borneo, Tanjung Aru is a playground for many locals, from early morning joggers to sunset lovers. While many beach destinations promote wonderful sunsets, the claim here is well justified. Views extend from Tanjung Aru Beach, looking across the shimmering South China Sea to the nearby offshore Gaya Island group.
Tanjung Aru Beach is only 1,500m long but, with its generous low tides and shaded public areas, it’s a great spot for picnics or eat-ins at the northern end, where a golf course, sailing club and a private resort are located. Kayaks, windsurfing and jet-skis are on offer for day visitors, and the beach has a genuinely friendly feel to it where mixing it up with a veritable melting pot of beach goers is encouraged.
Telok Pandan, Bako National Park, Sarawak
Situated on the stunning north west coast of Borneo, around the capital of Kuching and beyond, are some spectacular natural beaches, rich in both heritage and environment – and an astonishing abundance of marine and coastal assets.
One of the best ways to experience Sarawak’s ecotourism attractions is to explore the beaches and jungles of Bako National Park where it’s not unusual to hear a greeting from the iconic Proboscis monkeys, rustling high above in the trees that line the beach.
Secluded Pandanus Bay (Telok Pandan) is one of the best places to soak up the magic of Bako National Park, with its weathered sea stacks, teeming jungle foreshore and panoramic lookout. While April to October weather is usually clear, between November and March monsoon conditions (and fewer tourists) can be expected. This is, however, a location that can be explored by avid nature lovers 365 days a year. Some visitors thrill to this jungle-meets-sea environment when the heavens open and torrential rains fall, creating gushing streams and waterfalls.
Pangkor Island, Lumut, Perak
Just a 10-minute boat ride from the laid-back naval town of Lumut, this small, sparsely populated, tropical island in the Straits of Malacca was once a shelter for bands of wild pirates. Now the treasure lies in the sands along its cluster of safe beaches on its quiet west coast. Teluk Nipah (Nipah Bay) offers universal appeal for most visitors. Located on the north-western side of the island, it’s well-shaded, with generous open space, hawker eateries and watersports, along with some good budget, beachside rooms. The beach is lined with Casuarinas and palm trees, which rustle gently in the tropical breeze.
Coral Beach just north is also an option as a quieter spot and an undeniable part the appeal here for holiday-makers is the way it almost encourages laziness. Both of these west-facing beaches overlook the two small, uninhabited islands of Giam and Mentagor. Located on the far north west tip of Pangkor, Teluk Belanga caters for more upmarket tourism, with a private jetty and 4-star resort. And for divers, the Pulau Sembilan group of nine islands lie 27km south, offer crystal clear waters, marine life and secluded coves.
Pasir Tengkorak Beach, Langkawi, Kedah
Anyone who adores beautiful beaches and luxury hotels and resorts will love Langkawi. The island’s outstanding geological landscapes have also earned it the geo-park title by UNESCO – making it the only geo-park in Southeast Asia, and one of only 50 worldwide.
Arguably the best beach on an island famed for them is Tengkorak Beach or, literally translated, ‘Sands of the Skull Beach’. Pasir Tengkorak is often overlooked by tourists who settle for the famous Cenang Beach on Langkawi’s southern side. However, as locals will attest, it is simply beautiful and beautifully simple, surrounded nature for 360 degrees. A standout attraction is the spectacular, Temurun waterfall nearby – an ancient 200m, three-tiered cataract, which is one of the highest beachfront waterfalls in the world.
A great option for casual picnics and stretching out on a towel for a few hours, this pocket-sized beach is unlikely to become overcrowded, except on weekends. It is nestled between two small headlands and the waterfall is only a few minutes by car to the west or a 15-minute trek.
Coral Bay, The Perhentian Islands, Terengganu
The Perhentian Islands, two small, relaxed islands that border south-east Thailand, are an attractive alternative destination to Bali or Thailand without the tourist hordes. The beaches on both islands are many and varied, but all exude a quiet jungle beach vibe and are surrounded by clear azure waters and clean white sand. Perhentian Besar (meaning large) and Perhentian Kecil (small), offer a wide range of semi-secluded budget resorts nestled in accommodating coves.
The best of the beaches is Coral Bay, which has its own jetty and a great selection of nature trails nearby, leading to such climbing highlights as Lighthouse Towers, where the daring dive into the waters below. The Perhentian Islands offer a tranquil coastal retreat and some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Asia that is guaranteed to refresh the senses.
Teluk Kemang Beach, Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan
How could four-and-a-half million visitors to this beach every year be wrong? This jewel in Port Dickson’s beach crown so typifies the authentic Malay lifestyle that, not so long ago, Teluk Kemang was proclaimed the country’s only ‘National Beach’. And 50,000 Port Dickson locals are justly proud of the title.
While so many beach destinations around the world promote themselves as ‘uncrowded’, Port Dickson actually capitalizes on its famed popularity and the squeeze of beach lovers who flock to its long white sandy stretch each holiday and weekend, year after year. Port Dickson is a perennial favourite for Malay amilies and travellers in the know. Just around an hour’s escape from the heart of bustling downtown Kuala Lumpur by car, this safe and hugely popular location attracts up to 80,000 tourists a day in peak season. If your plan is to find a picnic place on the beach to sample the exotic flavours of the beachfront hawker eateries, it’s likely you’ll have neighbours close by. This is your chance to get to know the friendly Malaysians at the beach.
Malaysia is one of the world’s most visited countries for good reason, and its stunning beaches are a big part of that appeal. So kick off your shoes, feel the sand between your toes and wade into Malaysia’s best beaches.