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.