If Vietnam has the East coast stretching from the North to the South along the country’s length, Malaysia is known as an island nation with more than 870 beautiful islands. It has not only crystal blue sea, white smooth sand, golden sunshine, lush forests & mighty mountains, but also lively ocean world with large coral reefs and countless colorful marine life. There are not only coastal fishing villages but also many ancient temples, old towns reflecting Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-ethnic culture.
Each island in this country has its own characteristics, creating excitements and leaving great impressions for visitors. Perhaps, the common feature is the hospitality, the honesty and warm welcoming of local islanders.
Langkawi is endowed with its spectacular natural landscape of mountains, forests and the sea, as well as the convenience of a bustling city and duty-free shopping heaven. Penang is known as the cradle of culture and cuisine. The tiny Pangkok Laut is nestled quietly on the west coast as a lavish hideaway retreat. The East coast with Redang, Perhentian, Tioman and numerous islands are truly Malaysia’s paradises thanks to their white sand, clear turquoise sea and a vivid under-the-ocean world .
Malaysia’s paradise islands
Langkawi – The most famous but not the most splendid island
Located in the Northwest of Malaysia, bordering Thailand, Langkawi is probably the most famous island of this country. In addition to easy access thanks to its international airport and ferry, Langkawi is a spectacular combination between the alluring natural landscape and the modernity of a city. The long coastline with 99 small islands, mountainous scenery and lush tropical forests intertwined with bustling shopping malls, historical and cultural sites have made a name for Langkawi. However, in my subjective opinion, if talking about the beach & the sea, this is not the most splendid island.
For those who love the sea, they come to Langkawi to enjoy the soft waves, snorkel to see the corals and the colorful fishes, or simply just chill out in the fresh sea air and admire amazing sunset. Running Jetski or taking a boat to stroll around the small islands are also popular activities there. Langkawi beach is not excellent because the sand is not white and smooth. Depending on the season, there are many seaweeds making the beach look unclean.
For nature lovers, Underwater World Aquarium, Wildlife Park and Bird Paradise or Kilim Eco Forest are places not to be missed. The transparent glass of Sky Bridge connecting two mountain peaks will bring you the suspense and excitement while watching panoramic Langkawi at 660m above sea level.
To explore the culture and local life, let visit Rice Museum and Oriental Village, where you can learn on how to transplant rice and watch traditional Malaysian performing arts. Eagle Square with a huge sculpture of a wingspan eagle overlooking the sea is one of the iconic relics associated with the history of Langkawi, to understand why this island is also known as Eagle Island .
For food lovers, tasting street foods at the night markets (Kuah or Pantai Cenang) is an interesting experience. From original Malay to Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisines, all dishes are cheap but delicious, reflecting the country’s multi-ethnic culture.
In addition, in recent years, the boom of duty-free shopping centers has attracted a large number of visitors to Langkawi. Not as luxurious and glorious as the ones in Kuala Lumpur, Coco Valley, Jetty Point or Langkawi Parade have great diversity at affordable prices, especially all are tax-free.
- Popular activities: Relax on the beach and water sports, shopping, sightseeing, enjoy street foods.
- How to get there: There are currently no direct flights from Vietnam’s major cities (Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi) to Langkawi, have to transit in KL or Penang. Total flight and transit time is at least 4 hours (for Ho Chi Minh City) and 7 hours (for Hanoi) with Malaysia airline, at airfare from $180- $250. Other airlines have longer waiting time at KL.
- Time to visit: You can go to Langkawi at any time of the year, spending at least 3 nights (excluding travel time).
Penang – The cradle of culture & cuisine
Perhaps Penang is the only island in Malaysia famous NOT for its beautiful beaches. Located on the West of Malaysia, once was a British colony, influenced by Chinese culture brought by Fujian immigrants, Penang is fascinating fusion between Asian traditions and western classic architecture, holding colorful stories of an eventful history.
The harmony of religions is clearly reflected on one road (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling), where you can see holy temples, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples and mosques. It is impressive with the number of museums in George Town, such as Upside-down museum, 3D Trick Art museum, Wonder Food museum, Glass museum, Toy museum, Islamic museum…
As a culinary paradise of Malaysia, Penang has many famous dishes from all over the region. From national dishes such as Char Koay Teow stir-fried noodles, Assam Laksa fish noodles with special sour and sour soup, wonton noodles or cendol desert, to Nyonya’s sophisticated dishes and fussy meals like Rojak… all can be found in Penang.
- Popular activities: shopping, wondering in George town, visiting museums, enjoying featured Malaysian foods from all regions.
- How to get there: From Ho Chi Minh City, you can fly directly to Penang by Air Asia, flight time is 2 hours at the price from $120. From Hanoi, you have to transit in Kuala Lumpur with total travel time of 6 hours, and the ticket price is from $180.
- Time to visit: You can go to Penang at any time of the year, spending at least 3 nights (excluding travel time).
Redang – The paradise of the sea
Pulau Redang is the largest of the nine islands in Redang Marine Park, located on the east coast of Malaysia. The first impression of the island is its unique turquoise water, crystal clear to the bottom, with soft waves rippling to a long white sandy beach.
Not only having alluring beaches, the ecosystem under the ocean with large coral reefs filled with marine creatures is truly a natural gift of Redang. Just facing down the water with a snorkel mask, you can see colorful fishes swimming around your legs. If you are professional, you can join scuba diving to play with amazingly vivid coral reefs, meet charming clown-fishes or big shoals of golden fishes and swim with gentle sea turtles.
Redang is also one of the few islands where the onshore ecosystem is equally rich. There are many trekking routes through the forests and the mountainsides, which are mostly easy, from 500m to 3km. You can spot animals from indoors to giant lizards, monkeys, butterflies and colorful birds, surrounded by a world of diverse plants and rare orchids.
- Popular activities: water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling, Jetski riding, paragliding, surfing, kayaking, swimming or chill out at the beach. There are many dive shops with similar price, approx $60/ dive (if you have diving license). Or you can go trekking in many routes, organized by some hotels on the island.
- How to get there: Going to Redang is time consuming because there is no direct flight to the island. The nearest airport is Kuala Terengganu. From Vietnam, you have to fly through Kuala Lumpur, at least 4 hours (from HCMC, including transit time). Then take a taxi to Shahbandar jetty or Marang jetty to take the ferry to Redang Island. Ferry time is 1.5 hours.
- Time to visit: Malaysia’s east coast is most beautiful from March to October. The remaining months have heavy rain and strong monsoon, so most of the resorts and hotels are closed. You should spend at least 2 nights (excluding travel time) in Redang. If you do scuba diving, you should plan a 24-hour surface interval before boarding a plane.
Perhentian – The paradise under the sea
Located on the east coast, not far from Redang is Perhentian Island, more pristine and rustic. Known as the “The paradise under the sea”, Perhentian offers breathtaking scenery deep in the sea (from 10-40m), with colorful coral reefs, underwater cliffs, caves and wrecked ships.
Without smooth, clean white sandy beaches, the service and infrastructure are quite basic, Perhentian is still a popular destination for those who really love the sea and diving. The water is so clear and calm that you can easily see the school of fishes swimming near the shore.
It is also a professional training and diving hubs since it has great marine environment for all levels of diving. The water is warm, the visibility is good and the current is not strong. I got my PADI Open water license there after 5 days of study and practice. Coaches are long-time dive masters, most of them Malaysians. There are also a few foreigners who travel and stay on the island for a long time.
- Popular activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, or chill out at the beach.
- How to get there: Going to Perhentian is time consuming because there is no direct flight to the island. The nearest airport is Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu. From Vietnam, you have to fly through Kuala Lumpur, at least 4 hours (from HCMC, including transit time). Then take a taxi or bus (1-5-2.5 hours) to Kuala Besut, then take a boat to Perhentian (normally arranged by the hotel).
- Time to visit: similar to Redang.
Tioman – Pristine & peaceful
Tioman, located in the southeast of Malaysia, was once voted as one of the world’s most beautiful islands in Time magazine in the 70s. Now, Tioman is still a memorable destination because of the tranquility of deserted beaches, white sand and clear blue water, tropical forests, small fishing villages and a vividly colorful underwater world.
Walked through a small forest, I came to a coastal fishing village. The landscape there is as similar as Cu Lao Cham in Central Vietnam. The beaches are endowed with green coconut trees and the shady road to the village looks peaceful.
I rewarded myself with a tree house overlooking the coast in a famous resort. The private beach of the resort is deserted and serene on a sunny day. When the night comes, the sunset is gorgeously reflected on the glass of wine in a floating bar on the beach.
- Popular activities: water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, swimming or chill out at the beach. Moreover, you can walk through the lush forests to fishing villages and experience local life.
- How to get there: It is the most expensive and time consuming to get to Tioman. From VN, you have to fly to KL. From there, if traveling by air, there is only the Charter flight (small aircraft) of Berjaya Air, departing from Subang airport. This flight is quite expensive (~ $ 250), does not fly frequently, hence you have to buy tickets in advance and find suitable connecting flight from Vietnam. This is also the smallest aircraft that I’ve ever traveled (only 10 passengers and 2 pilots) in my life. If you can’t buy a plane ticket, you can take the bus from KL (7 hours) to the Mersing jetty, then take the ferry for another 1.5-2h to get to Tioman island.
- Time to visit: similar to Redang.
Pangkok Laut – a lavish hideaway
Pangkor Laut is a tiny private island located southwest of Pangkor Island, Malaysia. The whole area of the island belongs to Pangkor Laut Resort with a large green space, including the amazing Emerald Bay strait, natural beaches, a Spa Village, forest trails and countless romantic spots. to watch the sunrise or sunset.
Pangkor Laut là một hòn đảo tư nhân bé xíu nằm phía Tây Nam của Đảo Pangkor, Malaysia. Toàn bộ diện tích đảo này thuộc về Resort Pangkor Laut với một không gian xanh rộng lớn, bao gồm eo biển Emerald Bay tuyệt vời, các bãi biển thiên nhiên, một Làng Spa, những đường mòn trong rừng và vô số những điểm lãng mạn để ngắm cảnh bình minh hay hoàng hôn.
As a luxurious resort, rooms or villas are built based on the natural scenery of the island, or at least try to preserve the most natural features, even on high hills, by the sea or on the sea. Residents of this jungle-filled paradise also have fruit bats, hornbills and white-bellied sea eagles
Là một khu nghỉ dưỡng sang trọng, các phòng hay biệt thự ở đây được xây dựng dựa trên quang cảnh thiên nhiên vốn có của hòn đảo, hay ít nhất cũng cố gắng gìn giữ những nét tự nhiên nhất, cho dù trên đồi cao, bên bờ biển hay trên mặt biển. Cư dân trên thiên đường phủ đầy rừng rậm này còn có cả những chú dơi ăn quả, chim mỏ sừng và đại bàng biển bụng trắng bay.
- Popular activities: Chill out on the beach, or enjoy luxurious service of the resort like massage, spa, sunset cruise.
- How to get there: The only way to get to Pangkor Laut Island is a 4-hour drive from KL and a 20 minute express boat.
- Time to visit: visitors often go on weekends, stay at least 1 night.