Blessed with 878 islands off its extensive coastline, Malaysia has a tropical getaway for every kind of sun seeker.
So whether you’re into water sports, a fan of observing marine life, or just looking for some downtime in the sunshine, there’s a patch of sand perfect for you. But with some 4809km (2989 miles) of coastline here, where to start? Right here. Read on for the nine best beaches in Malaysia.
Spot green sea turtles at Teluk Dalam Kecil beach on Redang Island
There isn’t a bad spot on Redang Island. Located in the protected Terengganu Marine Park, just off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, this speck offers everything you could imagine in a tropical paradise: white sandy beaches, wildlife-rich jungle, and thriving coral reefs teeming with large napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, and unicornfish. Since the island is also home to the largest green turtle rookery in the region, encounters with these appealing aquatic reptiles are pretty much a given.
Home to the exclusive Taaras Beach & Spa Resort, Teluk Dalam Kecil is the best beach on the island – a pristine paradise of cotton-soft sand, calm turquoise waters, and a curve of palm trees as a windbreak. But if you plan to enjoy the view underwater, Tanjung Tengah at Pasir Panjang Beach makes the best spot for snorkeling. It is also considerably livelier at night.
Head to Penarik Beach in Terengganu to Malaysia' undeveloped side
If anywhere captures the timeless charm of Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, Penarik Beach in Terengganu does. Undisturbed by mass development, this spot offers travelers an idyllic stretch of golden sand backed by the swaying coconut trees and traditional wooden houses – plus a glimpse into the quiet life of the local fishing community.
The most popular thing to do here is to enjoy the sea breeze with a serving or two of the freshly cooked celup tepung (seafood fritters) widely available along the beach. But don’t stop there: take the chance to also explore the nearby cultural attractions, including Terrapuri Heritage Village, a boutique resort that features restored centuries-old Terengganu Malay houses. Novice swimmers should beware that Penarik Beach has choppy waters and sudden drop-offs.
Juara Beach on Tioman Island is the best spot for surfing
Off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Tioman Island offers white beaches, crystal-clear waters, excellent snorkeling and diving, and a wide range of accommodations. Surfers will also love the waves that break along its shores.
On the island’s east coast, Juara Beach is beloved by beginner and seasoned surfers alike thanks to varying wave breaks. True beginners can also take surf lessons here. The best time to surf in Tioman is between November to March; a surf contest in January attracts surfboarders from across the world. Juara’s waters are also prime for stand-up paddleboarding.
Families should head to Rawa Island in Johor
Around a 30-minute boat ride from the port town of Mersing in southeast Malaysia and within the archipelago of the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park, Rawa Island is a postcard-perfect atoll ideal for families. It boasts two all-inclusive hotels – Rawa Island Resort and Alang’s Rawa Resort – located along the stretch of powdery sand beach.
Young guests will probably enjoy the waterslides by the beach the most, but try to encourage them to partake in a light hike along the Hilltop Walk trail behind the properties: The panoramic vista from the summit is equally gratifying. Soak in the holiday bliss further with a friendly volleyball game, kayaking, swimming, or lazing away in a hammock. Lucky guests might even get a surprise visit by the friendly peacocks that roam freely around the island.
Head to Tengah Island in Johor to just get away from it all
To access the unspoiled stretch of powder-soft sand that meets turquoise-colored water on Tengah Island in Johor, you will need to stay at the only property on this east-coast atoll: the eco-friendly Batu Batu. It charges premium rates – which only means fewer crowds, and an island that sustains a pristine condition.
The shallow water is calm and safe for swimming, with other activities including beach volleyball, canoeing, and jungle trekking. For something different, an onsite turtle-watching camp lets guests volunteer for conservation projects. Visit in late October and you may even get to see the turtles lay their eggs.
Cenang Beach on Langkawi has the best nightlife
Cenang Beach is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in the Jewel of Kedah, as the Malaysian archipelago of Langkawi is known. During the day, the beach teems with sun-seekers enjoying water sports from jet skiing to parasailing. But as the sun slowly sets, the open-air bars like the Kalut Beach Bar & Café welcome night owls with signature cocktails, live music, and fire shows.
You'll never be bored at the activity-packed Paradise 101 on Langkawi
A 5-minute boat ride from Telaga Harbour Marina, Paradise 101 occupies a private island that might also be the world’s ultimate beach club. Looking out at the Andaman Sea, visitors can pursue all sorts of activities to keep busy, whether it’s jet-skiing, kayaking, parasailing, zip-lining, or a romantic sunset cruise.
The island is also equipped with showers and changing rooms, prayer rooms for Muslims, cabanas, and lockers, ensuring all visits are stress-free. To wrap up your day here, be sure to dine in at the onsite OMG Restaurant, which takes advantage of the availability of fresh seafood and other local ingredients.
Honeymooners should head for romantic Mataking Island in Sabah
With its hundreds of well-preserved islands with silky soft sands and pristine waters, Sabah is a world-renowned beach getaway for good reason. To get off the beaten path here, you need to make your way to the secluded beaches of Mataking Island. Quiet and stunning, the atoll is ideal for honeymooners; in fact, many couples skip post-wedding travel and opt to have low-key marriage ceremonies here, too.
Mataking comprises two islands: Mataking Besar and the smaller Mataking Kecil, connected via a narrow sandbank during low tide. Diving and snorkeling are the favorite activities on the island due to the impeccable water visibility and thriving coral reefs. The island also has a lush tropical jungle for light trekking – and a spa for self-pampering afterward.
Lankayan Island in Sabah has the best beaches for snorkeling
Here, gorgeous blue waters extend far as you can see. The best part? The water visibility is so close to perfect that you can snorkel right off the beach, and encounter diverse marine species such as ribbon eels and black-tip reef sharks. Lankayan Island’s main draw might be the regular sightings of the majestic (and harmless) whale sharks between April and May. Spotting sea turtles is also common here as the island lies within the Sea Turtle Corridor, the migratory route undertaken by these inspiring animals every year.
You might also like:
The steps to this Malaysian temple got a rainbow makeover – and created controversy
Exploring Melaka City's regenerated riverside
'Ghosts are a big part of life in Malaysia': healing one year after losing my parents to COVID