Tioman Island

The largest island on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Tioman is also by far the most famous of them all. The island's beauty has long attracted visitors to its shores and captivated the imagination of countless others. The distinctive triple mountain peaks, combined with the shape of the island itself, gave rise to the myth that the island had once been a dragon princess who was captivated by the tranquility of her surroundings that she decided to stay on, thus becoming the island. While the myth certainly is nothing more than a fancy tale, the island's beauty is something that is very real indeed.

Large parts of the island are uninhabited and the local population is limited to several villages along the coast. Tioman Island is a superb destination for snorkelling and diving, offering numerous sites in the waters surrounding the island as well as the eight smaller islands nearby. Lovely coral beds and an astounding variety of marine life turn every excursion underwater into an undersea adventure filled with unique encounters and experiences. These sites are carefully conserved and are the highlights of the Tioman Island Marine Park. Ship wrecks have also been sunk in the waters within the marine park as fish habitats and to enhance the diving experience.

The island also has many beaches, long stretches of white sand ideal for a lazy day of lounging and swimming. Bearing creative monikers such as Monkey Bay, Juara Beach Panuba Beach, and ABC Beach, each stretch has something unique to offer visitors. For those who love to party by the beach as the sun goes down, Salang Beach with its trendy nightspots is the place to be to dance the night away. During the day, the pleasant village lifestyle is a soothing contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life as the islanders go about their daily business.

The island has duty free status, so shopping can be quite a pleasant experience, with items like chocolates, alcohol and cigarettes being inexpensive compared to other parts of the country. One little condition though, most duty free goods are allowed off the island only on certain conditions, so be sure to enjoy them while visiting Tioman Island!

Lankayan Island

Located north west of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea is Lankayan Island, a tiny island with white sandy beaches and swaying casuarina trees. It takes approximately an hour and a half via speedboat from the town of Sandakan to reach Lankayan Island. This island was declared a part of the Suguds Island Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) on 13 October 2003. Lankayan Island is a great spot for whale shark sightings as well as green and hawksbill turtles as they come ashore to nest every year. Vast empty beaches and fascinating coral life fringe the island with warm open waters inviting divers to come and explore the mysterious world of marine life.

In the recent years the island's popularity has increased immensely as an ideal spot for macro diving. Macro diving presents a rare opportunity for the divers to catch some of the more bizarre and unusual marine life around in this area. As it is one of the marine conservation body, all resource harvesting, like commercial fishing, have been prohibited from this area. This subsequently allowed marine life and the coral ecosystem around the island to recover, making it the perfect place for macro divers to observe its inhabitants in their own world. Lankayan Island offers an amazing variety of macro marine life, rivalling even the likes of Mabul and Kapalai Island.

Another highlight at Lankayan Island are the wreck diving sites found scattered around the coastline. Lankayan Island has a total of 14 dive sites up for exploration, including the famous Lankayan Wreck, originally a sunken ocean-going fish-poaching vessel. In a twist of fate, what was previously a threat is now home to many different species of fishes from small glassfish, harlequin ghost pipefish, painted frogfish to giant grouper and marbled stingrays. Other dive sites like the Mosquito Wreck, which was once a part of the Mosquito Fleet maintained by the Japanese during World War II, are worth visiting as parts of the vessel is still intact, and is home to an abundance of barracudas, tropical grouper series and the occasional manta ray.

Divers will be delighted to know that Lankayan Island is also known as a good spot for reef diving, offering an opportunity to see fantastic corals like Lettuce and staghorn corals, anemones and fish life – clown fishes, sea horses, shrimps and porcelain crabs to name a few. One of the dive sites, known as Jetty Wreck, is actually an artificial reef made from the wreck of a small fishing boat. Home to beautiful blue spotted stingrays, cuttlefish and scorpion fish, it is located right in front of the jetty and is a good spot for night diving. Jawfish Lair, one of the best loved dive sites in Lankayan, is where divers can see an amazing sight – a resident male yellow jawfish carrying a mouthful of eggs until they hatch.

Lang Tengah Island

A beautiful island not far from the coast of Terengganu, Lang Tengah Island is an up and coming Malaysian beach destination. Though not many tourists may have heard of this island, it is slowly but surely gaining the interest of divers and travelers in search of places that are off the beaten track. The population on the island is rather small, with most residents being employed by the resorts which operate on the island. This, along with the small number of visitors, is a significant factor in the sustainability of the island's immaculate beaches, tranquil surroundings and thriving coral reefs. Most of the visitors return to the island time and time again as its seclusion evokes a sense of privilege and exclusivity for them.

Similar to Redang and Perhentian Island, Lang Tengah Island is a great location for diving. The colorful variety of corals and marine life within the waters outlying the island make this experience a memorable one. Big shoals of snappers, fusiliers and rabbitfish, as well as bamboo sharks, turtles and shovel nosed rays have been spotted around the island. One interesting experience divers may encounter whilst admiring the underwater world is how indifferent the fish are towards the presence of the divers. The fish seem to have no qualms about coming close to the divers. This rare occurrence really makes the diving experience at Lang Tengah Island even more special. There are 12 diving sites located all around the island, with depths ranging from 7 to 26 metres. As Redang, Perhentian and Bidong Island are all located nearby, it is possible to head out to these islands for a full day of diving as it takes only 30 to 45 minutes to reach the dive sites by speedboat. There are also a few shallow bays that are really good for night diving to observe crustaceans and nocturnal reef life.

One of the better known diving sites in Lang Tengah Island, Batu Kuching, is a good place to see glass sweepers, wrasses, butterfly fish and snappers. This dive site obtained its name, which means 'rock cat' in English, from a boulder perched on top of other boulders which resembles a cat. Terembu Kuning has a rocky outcrop which gently slopes into the sea bed at about 20 metres. The hard corals that can be found here makes it a great spot to see groupers, barramundi cods as well as nurse sharks. Another favourite diving site on this island is Karang Nibong Laut, which is an underwater mound with piles of big rocks spread on a sandy area. Some of the beautiful marine life spotted here includes bamboo sharks, often seen sleeping under these huge rocks as well as some nudibranches and moray eels.

Perhentian Island

Lying just off the north eastern coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are perhaps one of the country's most well known secrets. Ringed with exquisite coral reefs, the islands are an unparalleled oasis of natural beauty and calm, a perfect destination for anyone in need of some solitude and tranquility.

The five islands that constitute the Perhentian Islands – Perhentian Besar, Perhentian Kecil, Susu Dara, Serenggeh and Rawa – are part of the Redang Island Marine Park. Consequently, the islands' natural beauty has been unmarred by the excessive development that marks so many tropical resort locations. Bereft of commercialised activities, visitors to the islands are treated to the many wondrous sights of nature. Nature hikes through untouched virgin forests filled with a myriad of wildlife and snorkelling and diving explorations through coral gardens home to frolicking marine creatures showcase the very best nature has to offer at these islands.

The islands represent the ultimate escape from modern life, a way of existing entirely off the grid. The idyllic pace of life and the seclusion adds to the tranquil and calm atmosphere. Many of the islands beaches are just perfect for an afternoon of basking in the sun, especially Pasir Panjang beach on Perhentian Kecil, with its powder white sand and perfect azure waters.

The islands are also an important nesting site for turtles, although the number of nests has declined in recent years. Conservation efforts led by governmental and charitable organisations have stopped the decline and aim to rehabilitate the sea turtle population that uses these islands as a spawning ground, and offer visitors the unique opportunity to see and experience these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.

Langkawi Island

While the eponymous Pulau Langkawi is the largest and most densely populated, Langkawi consists of no less than 99 islands (or 104 at low tide), each with exquisite beaches which must be seen to be believed.

Beaches like Tanjung Rhu have gained reputations as some of the most picturesque in the world. Kept free from waves and wind by a bay, Tanjung Rhu is an oasis of calm. Boating trips to some of Langkawi's smaller islands can be made from Tanjung Rhu, or you can even walk across the snow white sand to some of them at low tide!

One of the many beautiful beaches that Langkawi is famous for

For a more lively escape, Pantai Cenang is the beach for you. With a wide range of resort hotels and shopping destinations, Pantai Cenang is the liveliest spot in all of Langkawi. Play on the beaches by day (all manner of water and beach sports are always on the go), and experience the best in Malaysian nightlife by evening.

If it's peace and quiet you're after, then Langkawi has the ideal secluded paradise in Pantai Kok. Nestled beneath a forested mountain range and miles away from the cares and hubbub of the city, the soothing sands of Pantai Kok are ideal for a romantic getaway or just a break from the hassles of life.

Or, for the best of both worlds, visit Pantai Tengah. With a pleasant mix of the activity of Pantai Cenang and the serenity of Pantai Kok, Pantai Tengah has become quite popular with families looking for a vacation spot with something for everyone. Take in live music at one of the beach front bars, or sample local cuisine at the many restaurants, such as the Lighthouse, which offers weekly Malay cooking classes designed for tourists.

No trip to Langkawi would be complete without a brief trip away from the beaches, and up the mountain of Gunung Mat Chincang to take in the majestic Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells) waterfalls. Take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain, catching a majestic birds-eye view of the beaches of Pulau Langkawi along the way. Then, watch as seven freshwater pools flow into a single, breathtaking torrent of water down a rock face. Other waterfalls, like Temerun, Durian Perangin and Lubuk Sembiland can also be found in the lush jungles of Palau Langkawi's mountains.

Cherating Beach

White sandy beaches with casuarina trees swaying to the sea breeze, some with hammocks strung in between, all ready and waiting for someone to come along and laze the morning away. Cool waters invite the young and old to come in for a refreshing dip. Welcome to Cherating beach, located 50 kilometres north of the city of Kuantan, Pahang.

In recent years, Cherating's standing as the Malaysia's prime beach destination has been challenged as many tourists favour other locales that receive greater publicity and promotion. New beach destinations like Redang, Lang Tengah and Perhentian Island are a hit with beach goers for their beautiful and pristine surroundings. Despite this, many still opt to return to Cherating because of its breathtaking beaches and awesome waves. In fact, it is this same immaculate beauty that made Club Mediterranean choose this location as its first Asian base. Consequently, Cherating beach's identity seems to be intertwined with Club Mediterranean, unlike other beaches that develop an identity of their own.

Since the 1970s Cherating has been called a Surfer's Haven, a place where surfers congregate to test out the waves year after year. Facing the South China Sea, the waves are strong enough to appease a veteran surfer's appetite yet gentle enough for a beginner. The best time for surfing in Cherating is from December to January as the waves are highest in those months. The town's laid back style of living is perfect for those who are seeking to take a break from life. A wide range of accommodation, from budget hostels to luxury hotels, can be found at Cherating, making it even more attractive to tourists.

A quiet town Cherating may be, but it is not devoid of activities to do if riding the waves is not on your list. The Turtle Sanctuary located at Chendor Beach is open to visitors throughout the day and is a good place to learn more about the endangered turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs every year. Selected resorts along Cherating Beach offers its visitors a chance to watch turtle landing during the night. Other activities like a leisurely river cruise down the Cherating river during the day allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the mangrove forest wildlife. A cruise down the mangrove lined river at night gives visitors the chance to view nature's spectacular light show, where fireflies light up the mangrove forest like Christmas trees. There are also cultural demonstrations which introduce some of the traditional arts and practices of the locals, such as top spinning, kite flying as well as martial arts and batik making. For those who have been bitten by the batik making bug, head down to the Natural Batik Village located between Kuantan and Cherating Village. At the Natural Batik Village, tourists can witness how a simple piece of fabric is transformed into a work of art. One highlight not to be missed is the opportunity to design and make your very own batik.

Pangkor Island

Just 40 minutes away from the town of Lumut is Pangkor Island, one of the many famous tourist destinations in Malaysia. Don't be surprised to see many fishing boats at the docks as the ferry reaches the island's jetty. Though it is home to a few high end hotels, Pangkor Island is, at the heart of it all, still a fishing village. Here, one can observe the simple life of local fishermen as they head out to the sea to bring in their catch for the day. Even today, there are many of the residents in Pangkor Island who are still making a living from the sea.

Arguably, one of the best ways to tour the island is by renting a bicycle. Visitors can also rent mini vans or even motorbikes to go around the island. There's plenty to see and do on Pangkor Island if sunbathing is not your cup of tea. For the fishing enthusiasts, trips can be arranged to visit Pulau Sembilan, an uninhabited group of islands for some serious fishing. The journey to Pulau Sembilan takes approximately 40 minutes by speedboat. Canoes are also available for hire as well as jet skis. Certain parts of Pangkor Island and the other smaller islands host beautiful corals and reef life.

The founders of a local temple, Foo Lin Kong Temple, not only wanted to build a temple for the populace, but were also inspired by the desire to bring one of the world's seven wonders to Malaysia. Consequently, a mini version of the Great Wall of China can be found here within the grounds. This temple, built at the foot of Pangkor Hill, has a nice garden and a few fish and turtle ponds. There are also figures of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac and other mythical animals around the park, which make it an ideal location for some interesting photography.

Another one of the many interesting attractions on the island is the Dutch Fort, located south of Pangkor town at Teluk Gedung. Also known as Kota Belanda to the locals, this 300 year old fort was built by the Dutch in 1650 for storage and protection of its tin supplies from the sultanate of Perak. The locals were displeased with the methods employed by the Dutch and launched numerous attacks on the fort. Undeterred, the Dutch came back to the island in 1670, wanting to rebuild their fort and seek compensation for damages done. Unfortunately for them, their presence were never accepted by the locals and one last mounted attack in 1685 not only forced them to close down their headquarters permanently but also drove them away. Today, thanks to the efforts contributed by Malaysia's Museum Department who reconstructed the fort in 1973, visitors to the island can see and explore for themselves this relic from the past.