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Malaysian islands for every budget

Though the islands of its northern neighbour Thailand may be more famous, Malaysia’s hundreds of islands are certainly just as pretty. These islands are less busy than those across the border and also easily accessible. Relax on a tropical beach, explore the rainforest, soak up the culture of colonial towns, breathe in clean mountain air and snorkel among beautiful coral: Malaysia’s islands offer all this and more.

Malaysia has 878 islands, ranging from the inhabited and accessible to the lonely and remote. Along the west coast of the peninsula you can find the popular island of Langkawi, with tropical beaches and luxurious resorts, and also the island of Penang, with colonial architecture and pristine rainforest. The Perhentian Islands on the east coast offer inexpensive accommodations and a relaxed atmosphere. All of this within a few hours from Kuala Lumpur!

A tropical beach in Malaysia
A tropical beach in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

Deluxe Four Seasons resort on Langkawi

For pampered travellers: the carefree island of Langkawi

Langkawi is the quintessential tropical island with a turquoise ocean, swaying palm trees and white sandy beaches. Locals make a living catching fish, planting rubber and growing rice. Tourism is also an important source of income – after Penang this is the most popular island of Malaysia. Most visitors never venture out into the mountainous interior, overgrown with dense tropical rainforest and full of waterfalls, monkeys and monitor lizards. They travel here to relax in one of the super deluxe beach resorts, such as the Bon Ton with 8 exclusive guest villas, or the Four Seasons with its infinity pool and spa.

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Pulau Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia

For backpackers: laidback Perhentian

Two islands for the price of one: Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil are located on the east coast of the Malaysian peninsula, just below Thailand. These 2 islands are bathed by the crystal blue South China Sea and offer great diving and snorkelling spots that are mostly accessible from the beach. While the former island, 'Big Perhentian', attracts mostly families, ‘Small Perhentian' is popular among backpackers. The islands have a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, beautiful white sandy beaches and affordable hotels and guesthouses. However, do note that most places are closed during the monsoon season (October-March).

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Snorkelling around the Perhentian Islands

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Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
The hills surrounding Penang

For culture and nature lovers: Penang

The turtle-shaped island of Penang is also known as 'The Pearl of the Orient’. This is no exaggeration: the British-colonial architecture has earned capital Georgetown a UNESCO World Heritage site designation. Stroll through the fragrant markets and visit the colourful temples; Penang also has some of the best cuisine in Malaysia. The east coast is densely populated, but the west coast is much less busy. The entire north-west corner has just been preserved into Malaysia’s newest national park with a tropical rainforest and the largest Buddhist temple in the country. Take a trip in a cable car to the top of Penang Hill or enjoy the beautiful unspoiled beaches.

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Penang, Malaysia