With a number of long weekends this month and the next, many Malaysians are aching to satisfy their wanderlust and head off for a badly needed vacation. After all, with so much time spent indoors over the past few months, a change of environment is welcome.
While overseas travel is out of the question because of Covid-19, the question that should be asked is why leave the country at all? Malaysia has a great many sights to visit and explore, from museums to vast parks.
Some of the country’s best sights are found off its coasts, in the form of beautiful islands with long stretches of sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters.
Unspoilt and far away from the chaos of the city, these islands offer tired Malaysians a well-deserved respite and a chance to enjoy life and nature.
Just imagine sitting back and relaxing with the sand between your toes, the sun shining bright overhead as the waves gently caress the shore.
Planning your vacation already? Here are some islands well worth a visit:
1. Pulau Tioman, Pahang
Located off the eastern coast of the peninsula, Pulau Tioman is a wondrous island with lush jungle and coral reefs, both teeming with life. Unlike many of the country’s other holiday islands, Tioman has been left relatively untouched in terms of development.
This means there are unlikely to be outstanding restaurants or teeming nightlife, so one can truly experience the tropical island paradise that it is, with coconut in hand.
Snorkelling or diving are popular here and one may spot some turtles swimming gracefully through the abundant coral reefs dotted around the island.
While there’s an airport here, it should be noted that the only access currently is by ferry from Tanjung Gemuk or Mersing.
2. Pulau Redang, Terengganu
Long a popular destination for divers and snorkelers, this island off the coast of Terengganu is rightfully renowned for its white beaches and blue waters.
It is part of the protected Terengganu Marine Park and, as such, the natural treasures of the sea around the island are well-preserved.
Close to Pulau Redang are two historical wrecks that divers can access – the warships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, which were sunk by the Japanese during World War II.
Pulau Redang is surrounded by eight other islands, and it is common for tourists to go island-hopping to explore what they have to offer.
Apart from underwater exploration, turtle watching is available at the Pasir Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary, which has a Marine Park Centre to educate visitors on the importance of turtle conservation.
3. Pulau Rawa, Johor
Often overlooked by travellers and unknown to a good many Malaysians, Johor’s Pulau Rawa offers all the luxuries of a tropical paradise, with fewer tourists to boot.
Accessible by ferry from Mersing, this island is surrounded by the warm waters of the South China Sea and often draws Singaporeans wishing for a change of scenery.
Located at the centre of the island is a hill that is very climbable for tourists and provides an excellent spot to admire the view, perhaps of the sunrise or the night sky.
The island boasts two resorts, which have villas and chalets directly facing the sea and steps leading straight down onto the sandy beaches.
There is nothing more dreamlike than waking up one morning and throwing open your door to feel the warm sea breeze brushing against your face.
4. Pulau Pangkor, Perak
While far less isolated than the previous entries, visiting Pulau Pangkor is never a bad idea as the island offers a little something for everyone.
It is somewhat developed with quiet villages, narrow roads and a single-street town centre, which gives visitors a lot of quaint places to explore.
The island also has a lot of natural sights to take in, and the surrounding waters are suited for a variety of water activities such as kayaking and fishing.
Not to forget, the jungle that covers much of the island is home to a great many hornbills, so don’t be too surprised to find these oversized birds perching on the telephone wires.
The island also holds some value for history buffs, with the ruins of a Dutch fort built in 1670, still open to curious visitors today.
5. Pulau Sipadan, Sabah
Not mentioning this heavenly island paradise would be a crime as Pulau Sipadan is internationally known as one of the best diving spots in the world.
It is an interesting place geographically – it is the top of an extinct, ancient underwater volcano that rises 600 metres above the ocean floor.
Large turtle populations throng the waters off the island as do thriving coral reefs teeming with other sea creatures such as sharks and manta rays.
The few resorts that were once built there have been closed since the early 2000s due to environmental concerns, but accommodation can be found on the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai.
It should be noted that the number of daily dives is limited by regulation and divers interested in exploring Pulau Sipadan’s reefs must apply for a permit through a dive centre or resort.