Sure, Indonesia and the Philippines may top the list when it comes to sheer numbers of tropical islands, but what you may not know is that neighbouring Malaysia is also home to its own share of beautiful coral-fringed islands that just beg for Robinson Crusoe-like holidays. If you’re seeking a quick and easy sun, sea and sand escape from Singapore, look no further than these tantalizing tropical isles in Malaysia.
Located just off the northeast coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are small specks in the sea that offer sugary white sand beaches, jungle-clad hills and relaxed vibes. The two major islands are Pulau Perhentian Besar, which offers family friendly mid-range to high-end resorts, and Pulau Perhentian Kecil, better known for its backpacker ambiance. Days spent on the Perhentian Islands consist of sunbathing on the sand, hiking cool jungle trails, snorkelling in the clear waters and scuba diving to see reef sharks, coral gardens, sea turtles and more.
How to Get There: The only way to get to the Perhentian Islands is to take a speed boat or ferry from Kuala Besut. The boat ride takes approximately 30 - 45 minutes, and once on the islands you can take water taxis to the different beaches and between the various islands.
For utter seclusion and serenity, Rawa Island is a good bet. This stunning island has only two intimate resorts, and it is located in a protected marine park, so the waters here are crystal clear and teeming with colorful fish and corals. The white sand beach fronting the resorts is soft and inviting, the tall coconut trees provide shade and ideal spots for hammocks, and there is a steep jungle trail that you can climb to the peak of the island to take in the panoramic views of the neighbouring islands and the expansive east coast of Malaysia.
How to Get There: To get to Rawa Island, head to Mersing and grab a 30-minute speed boat or a 1-hour ferry. During the rainy season (March to October), boats may be in short supply, so be sure to check schedules well in advance.
Situated off the west coast of Malaysia, Pangkor is part of a group of islands where you’ll find small fishing villages, sublime beaches and calm waters. Pangkor is the main island, and it offers affordable accommodation and the two main draws of lovely Nipah Beach and Coral Beach. Adventurous types can do a 4-hour uphill trek through the jungle to spot birds and wildlife, while the more sedentary at heart can relax on the golden sands and snorkel in the clear blue water. If you’re feeling extra posh, make your way to the neighbouring privately owned Pangkor Laut and splash out on designer digs in a luxury resort.
How to Get There: Ferries to Pangkor and Pangkor Laut leave from Lumut, and the trip takes about 35 minutes. Guests who book into the gorgeous Pangkor Laut Resort also have the option to book a private speedboat that will whisk you straight to the resort’s jetty.
Pom Pom Island
Just a tiny speck of white sand amid coral reefs in the Celebes Sea, Pom Pom is a great escape for those looking for seclusion and superlative scuba diving. You can walk around the entire island in under an hour, and as you do you’ll see empty stretches of sand, clear turquoise waters and maybe even a turtle or two as they return to the island to nest. Even better, there are no villages or shops on the island—only one tranquil resort—so you really will feel as though you have the whole place to yourself.
How to Get There: Fly into Tawau Airport on the southeast coast of Sabah, and then head to Semporna and catch a boat to Pom Pom. If you stay at Pom Pom Island Resort, they will arrange the transport from the airport all the way to the resort and back via car and boat.
Pulau Tioman sits just off Malaysia’s eastern coast and is aptly called a tropical island paradise for its lush jungles, beautiful beaches and turquoise waters teeming with marine life. True, the island does see its fair share of tourists, but it’s big enough to accommodate them all and still have secret spots where you won’t see another soul. Outdoor types will love hiking, snorkelling, surfing and playing golf, while those looking for total relaxation will find plenty of lovely resorts where you can recline in the sun next to the pool.
How to Get There: Getting to Tioman from Singapore is not the easiest thing to do as there are no longer any direct flights from Singapore or KL. Therefore, you will either have to take a private car or bus into Malaysia and then board a ferry to Tioman from either the Mersing Jetty or the Tanjung Gemok Jetty. The drive is about 4 hours and the ferry takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.
You can find something to please everyone on Langkawi, as this beautiful west coast island has a good mix of natural and manmade attractions like long sandy beaches and jungles, posh resorts and spas, seafood restaurants, duty-free shopping and fun activities for kids at the aquarium, bird park and eco-park. Be sure to take a cable car up Gunung Machinchang to see incredible views all the way to Thailand, and get off the beaten path to see waterfalls, mangroves and traditional villages.
How to Get There: There are daily direct flights from Singapore to Langkawi with AirAsia, Tigerair and Silkair. The flight takes about 1.5 hours and lands at Padang Matsirat where you can get car rentals or book taxis to destinations around the island.