12 Best Beaches in Malaysia
Known for its rainforests, orangutans, and vibrant cities, Malaysia is also home to some of the most stunning beaches in Asia. Whether you're seeking a private corner on quiet shores or palm-fringed beaches with plenty to see and do, Malaysia won't disappoint.
If you're daydreaming about turquoise waters and soft sands, check out our list of the top beaches in Malaysia.
1. Perhentian Islands
Once sparsely populated and mainly home to fishermen, the Perhentian Islands have become an important tourist destination in Malaysia—and while hotels and transportation are much better today than they were just a few decades ago, the islands are developing slowly, providing a very natural and still unspoiled beauty.
Deep turquoise waters, palm-fringed shorelines, and coral reefs rich in marine life (sea turtles, blue spotted rays, and clownfish abound here) are found everywhere, and trails cut through the thick jungle, connecting the different stretches of beach around the island.
Of the seven Perhentian islands, only the two larger are permanently inhabited. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking tours leave from these, and you'll also find organized jungle trekking and a number of accommodations to fit any budget.
The uninhabited islands offer some of the best snorkeling and softer sand and can only be reached via private boats and tours.
2. Kota Kinabalu
The capital of Sabah in the northern tip of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is right on the water and surrounded by the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, itself home to five islands with stunning sandstone outcrops, virgin tropical forest, and white sandy beaches that gently slope into the sea.
Gaya Island and Manukan Island are surrounded by beautiful healthy coral reefs that are perfect for snorkeling and diving. Sapi, one of the smaller islands, is quite busy during the day, but those camping there overnight will basically have the remote beach all to themselves.
Hiking trails crisscross through the islands and allow access to caves and forested cliffs.
If you're expecting high-end resorts and amenities, this is not the destination for you. The islands' facilities include a diving center, 20 bungalows, and a few places to eat—and while there's running water and electricity available, the connections aren't always stable.
For those looking for rustic beach life, however, the islands won't disappoint—and the relatively untouched beauty of the area is more than worth the small inconveniences.
3. Batu Ferringhi
A beach resort just outside of popular George Town, Batu Ferringhi was originally better known as a water sports destination, but the seafront and its beautiful long stretch of white sand have become a popular destination for all sun lovers.
Because of its proximity to a major city, the area attracts many local residents looking for a weekend getaway—but it's also a great destination for travelers who want to catch the waves but don't have time to make it out to the islands.
The well-developed beach here offers plenty of eating options, a quiet nightlife that mostly consists of live music and laid-back cafés, and a lively night market that sells everything from inexpensive souvenirs to traditional batik textiles.
A small town in the southernmost point of the Malay peninsula, Mersing is the main departing point for boats heading to nearby islands such as Pulau Rawa—a tropical island resort with blue waters that slope softly into the ocean and are perfect for swimming or just getting your toes wet as you walk on the powdery white sands. Pulau Rawa offers great snorkeling and diving opportunities but also chances to rent a kayak or try sailing.
Mersin itself has several beautiful, serene beaches just minutes from the center of town. Casuarina trees line up near the water, offering a break from the burning sun in the afternoons, and you can grab a quick bite from small shacks near the sand—but otherwise, the beaches remain underdeveloped and offer plenty of opportunities to be alone while digging your toes in the sand.
Air Papan, one of the most popular beaches in town, is almost deserted except for a few buildings dotting the sand in the distance.
An archipelago made up of 104 islands (including five that are only visible during low tide), Langkawi is essentially divided into two sections: the northern, more secluded islands, and the southern islands, which receive most of the international tourism.
There's something for everybody here—peace and solitude for those who just want their tiny corner of warm paradise, and lots of amenities for visitors who want to be entertained in between bouts of sun-worshipping.
Pantai Cenang, the most famous beach on the islands, is also the best developed—it has cafés and restaurants, plenty of shops to rent water sports equipment, sun loungers right on the soft white sand, and plenty of opportunities to catch a boat to island hop or try parasailing.
Pantai Tengah, right next to Pantai Cenang, has all-inclusive resorts and spas just steps from the crystal blue waters, while Datai Bay beach has a background of forests with plenty of trails for exploring.
A number of dinner and sunset cruises also leave from the beach, and visitors can arrange snorkeling on the popular Payar Island, a protected marine park famous for its multi-hued corals and rich marine life.
6. Tioman Island
The entire surface of Tioman Island is a nature preserve surrounded by some of the whitest beaches in Malaysia. Although sparsely inhabited, the island receives lots of tourists who come here to snorkel and scuba dive—partly because Tioman is a duty-free area, so local prices are much lower than in other popular islands in Malaysia.
A densely forested island with spectacular coral reefs, Tioman also attracts surfers and nature lovers, who come here to see protected species and try jungle trekking.
Tioman suffered a mass coral bleaching in 2010 that affected or killed sections of its coral, but the protected status of the island has helped the coastline recover, and the remaining coral is still in good health today.
The best time to visit the island is March to October, as the monsoon rains hit the island hard during the rest of the year, and many hotels close for the season.
The Bachok area is located right on the South China Sea and attracts lots of tourists not only because of its beautiful sandy coastline but also for its dense jungle-covered hills, perfect for hiking in a more rural area with plenty of local flavor.
The town's main beach is Pantai Irama ("beach of melody"), which attracts many locals, and it's often lively with music or special events during the weekends. On weekdays, however, you might as well have the entire coastline to yourself—a quiet place for a long walk on the sand and a cold drink.
8. Tanjung Bungah
Not far from George Town on Penang Island, this is considered one of the main beach destinations for those looking for an active holiday. Whether you want to jet ski, kayak through the islands, parasail, or try scuba diving and snorkeling in a chill atmosphere, Tanjung Bungah is the beach to beat.
Surrounded by world-class resorts, high-end restaurants, and all the shopping you can possibly want, this is not a beach for quiet contemplative walks, but one for adventure and excitement.
The Tanjung Bungah Market, visited by both locals and tourists, is a great place to grab a quick souvenir, but also the perfect destination to try some authentic Malaysian cuisine without inflated touristy prices.
For something unique, the Penang Toy Museum, considered the largest of its kind in the world, is just minutes from the beach and a great place to visit regardless of how old you are.
9. Redang Island
Crystal-clear waters, healthy colorful coral, and the softest white sand you can hope for might explain why Redang Island is a sun-lovers' favorite. While monsoon rains keep the island pretty much closed between October and March, the rest of the year, the all-inclusive resorts here are always full.
Pasir Panjang Beach has the most upscale accommodations and a palm-fringed coastline that seems to go on forever, but Teluk Dalam is the beach to visit if you want a more secluded area and quiet mornings. Teluk Dalam does come alive in the afternoons, when there are often impromptu beach soccer or volleyball games and sometimes live music.
Redang Island plays an important role in the survival of endangered sea turtles, and much of its marine waters are now protected. This actually benefits the many diving sites around the island, as they are maintained carefully, and the coral reefs are in great health.
The mainland coastal town of Semporna is the main gateway to a number of islands—some of which have their own accommodations and some that make for perfect day trips from town.
Sipadan Island, for example, is completely surrounded by long stretches of picture-perfect golden beaches and home to one of the world's most diverse marine habitats. Kapalai Island, on the other hand, is a tiny, secluded island with only one resort but plenty of beautiful coral, perfect for diving.
For the ultimate in luxury scuba diving, Mataking takes the top spot. Not only does the island have some of the most pristine beaches in the area, but this island is also the private property of The Reef Dive Resort, which offers exclusive diving and snorkeling trips and the world's first underwater post office.
11. Port Dickson
Beaches dot the entire coastline of this beautiful town, just one-hour drive away from Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. The beach here extends for an impressive 18 kilometers, reaching from the sleepy Tanjung Tuan village to the coastal village of Tanjung Gemuk.
The five-star Admiral Marina & Leisure Club is one of the most stunning docks in the country and often sees not only cruises stopping here, but also regattas and sailing events.
Highly developed, clean, and beautiful, the beaches in Port Dickson have it all. Pantai Cermin, with sands that are almost orange, is one of the quieter beaches and a perfect place to catch the sunrise.
Tanjung Tuan is even more secluded and can only be reached after a short hike through thick jungle—and although swimming here isn't recommended because of the sharp corals, it's the perfect place to relax and even visit a historical lighthouse.
If you want amenities and easy access, Teluk Kemang beach, right in town, is your best option. Water sports are popular, and you'll find many places to grab a snack or rent equipment or even your own gazebo. Popularity means crowds, however, so don't expect solitude here.
Pantai Cahaya Negeri, another popular town beach shaped like a crescent moon, has a wooden bridge connecting it to a second island covered in mangroves and quiet areas for an evening walk.
12. Pangkor Island
A resort destination that's heavily forested but surrounded by a powdery gold, sandy coastline, Pangkor is a duty-free island—which means more affordable accommodations and shopping opportunities. Pangkor is just three hours from Kuala Lumpur, making it a popular weekend destination.
Pasi Bogak is the most developed beach on the island, with plenty of resorts near the shore, coconut trees for some welcome shade, and several kilometers of unspoiled beauty and soft, blue waters to swim in.
Teluk Nipah is a quieter beach, secluded in a tiny bay and often completely deserted in the mornings. If you don't just feel like laying on the sand all day, Teluk Nipah is a good place to rent a boat or kayak to explore the waters and islets around or to try one of the local food stalls selling traditional noodle dishes.
A 30-minute boat ride from the coastal town of Lumut, Coral Beach is the hardest to reach of all the beaches here, but the extra work is more than worth it. With no Jet Skis or loud music, this is the perfect destination to enjoy the swaying palms—a pristine beach of powdery white sands and turquoise waters that offers plenty of privacy and untouched beauty.