[Updated 19 February 2021]
Malaysia is blessed with some amazing islands with white sandy beaches and beautiful waters. While there are many islands located across the country, for those in peninsular Malaysia, there's a special appeal to the islands located on the east coast in Pahang and Terengganu. From the popular Redang and Tioman islands to other gems like Perhentian and Kapas islands and other more unknown places like Tenggol and Gemia islands, there's so much beauty to explore. We've rounded up a list of East Coast islands you need to tick off your bucket list!
P.S. Do note that visits to all East Coast islands are dictated by the yearly monsoons, which happen roughly from around late October to early March. During this time, given the severity of the weather, many of the island resorts are closed to guests and not ideal for tourists.
1. Tioman Island (Pahang)
Starting our list is the sole non-Terengganu entry, Pulau Tioman! This island off the coast of Pahang is a much-loved travel destination for locals and international visitors alike. Formerly a monsoon shelter for fishermen, pirates, merchant ships and naval ships, this idyllic nature reserve is a stunning attraction, with its own mountain (Mount Kajang) and clear
What makes Tioman so appealing is probably the great mix between stunning waters and other beautiful nature spots - from snorkelling and diving and other water activities like kayaking to jungle-trekking, cycling on the islands wide trails, or checking out the beautiful Mukut waterfalls, there's plenty to do.
The island is mainly accessible by ferry from Mersing. The ferries make different stops around the island, so ensure that the crew knows which stop you should be dropped off at. There are resorts on various beached around the island, so do check with the resort on the boat arrangements!
2. Redang Island (Terengganu)
Famous for the marine park where you can swim with fish and other sea creatures, there's hardly a reason not to spend a few nights in Redang if you ever head up to the East Coast. The common misconception around Redang is that it's a lone island but it's actually an archipelago! It consists of nine islands, namely Lima, Paku Besar, Paku Kecil, Kerengga Besar, Kerengga Kecil, Ekor Tebu, Ling, Pinang and the main Redang island itself. Redang is definitely a family-friendly island, with the marine park (or more specifically, Pinang island) suitable for snorkelling or playing by the beach for
kids. In addition, the island is a little more developed than the other nearby islands so you can look forward to more comfortable accommodations instead of the usual wooden chalets.
Redang is home to The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort, famous for being a luxurious haven to enjoy the beauty of the island. But there's also a wide variety of other resorts
that cater to every budget!
To get to Redang, most travellers head to the Shahbandar jetty or Merang jetty in Kuala Terengganu. Some resorts operate their own ferries which usually leave from Merang jetty and brings you directly to the resort. Other resorts will make use of the public ferry which leaves from Shahbandar jetty to the Kampung jetty in Redang, after which you will transfer to other boats heading for the resorts.
3. Perhentian Besar & Perhentian Kecil islands (Terengganu)
Split into two islands - Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, the Perhentian islands are quickly becoming a popular island destination after the likes of Redang and Tioman. Perhentian is known as one of the top diving destinations in West Malaysia, and it's no surprise why. The array of marine diversity and clear visibility makes it a haven for scuba divers and underwater photographers. The island also
gets visits from turtles all-year-round! There are accommodations available on both islands, ranging from backpacker resorts to more mid-range offerings.
One spot on Perhentian Kecil that has become popular is the old jetty near the windmills that have been installed on the island. Known as Windmill Point or simply windmill Perhentian (or in Malay, kincir angin Perhentian), getting there requires a 30-minute uphill hike from Long Beach (Pantai Panjang). It's a moderate workout, but the view at the top will be worth it! You'll find a long series of stairs descending down to sea level - there's an abandoned jetty at the end. Do note that the condition of the stairs and jetty is pretty unsafe as it hasn't been maintained, so you're not advised to take the stairs down. But even just the view from the top will be magnificent!
The nearest jetty to the Perhentian islands is in Kuala Besut, and the journey takes about 30 - 45 minutes by speed boat and 1.5 hours by slow boat.
4. Gemia Island (Terengganu)
Gemia Island is a small privately-owned island located near to Kapas island. Home to just one resort, the Gem Island Resort, it's the place to go to for that East coast
island visit without the crowds! This private island getaway has 45 seafront villas wrapped around the coastlines of the tiny gem of an island. The resort offers half board (includes breakfast and dinner) and full board packages (all meals provided) - they currently have special Post-COVID packages
, so do enquire with them to find out more!
You can reach the island from the Marang Jetty by either taking a drive there through the scenic East Coast roads or by local carrier flights to Kuala Terengganu, which is located 30-40 minutes away from the jetty. A 15-minute boat ride will then take you to the private island.
5. Kapas Island (Terengganu)
Pulau Kapas is less commercialised compared to Redang or Tioman, and as a result, still retains most of its old-school island charm with small chalets and an easy-going pace. This is the place to totally relax and enjoy the pristine sandy white beaches with a bit of snorkelling and hiking 😊 The white sandy beaches of Kapas island have walking pathways that connect one beach to another, making is a great way to spend your morning or evening for a leisurely stroll.
Kapas island is also a great place to go
hiking. You can go jungle trekking through the forest, or head to a new spot that's becoming iconic to the island - Bukit Singa or Lion Hill! Similar to Windmill Point on Perhentian island, getting there is not the easiest task, but doable for those willing to make the trek, with a super lovely pay-off at the end in the form of some amazing scenery. To note, there is no established hiking route, so visitors who head there have to follow the rocky coastline, with some sections requiring trekkers to wade through water. But you have an easier option too - for those who want to skip the hike, you can take a boat out there, provided that it's not during low tide.
Visitors to Kapas island must take a boat from Marang Jetty in Kuala Terengganu. From Marang Jetty, it takes about 10 minutes to reach the island.
6. Tenggol Island (Terengganu)
Looking for something off the beaten path? Then Tenggol island may be the place for your! This island located closer to the south of Terengganu's coast is more known among divers looking to explore the beautiful dive sites surrounding the island. While divers previously made day trips to Tenggol, there are now
two resorts open there - Tenggol Coral Beach Resort and Tenggol Island Beach Resort. Best of all, these resorts don't just cater to experienced divers, but welcome anyone looking to snorkel or dive at any ability level! It won't be a luxurious getaway as the resorts offer more laid-back, affordable accommodation, but for sea-lovers, it'll be an awesome experience to explore the untouched beauty of this east coast island.
Visitors make their way to Tenggol island by ferry from Kuala Dungun - it takes about an hour to get there from the mainland by boat. For those flying to Kuala Terengganu, you can get a taxi or bus from the airport to Kuala Dungun (about an hour's journey).
7. Lang Tengah Island (Terengganu)
Lang Tengah Island is situated between Perhentian and Redang Island. The island has plenty to offer from stunning white beaches (it's been called the Maldives of Southeast-Asia!) to island activities, but it is known for being a popular place for turtle sightings and nesting. It's home to one of Malaysia's top conservation programs, Lang Tengah Turtle Watch. The organization has plenty of volunteers who come from all around the world and stay at the island for a minimum of one week and
help out with programs such as guarding turtle nests, and turtle survey work.
There's a small number of resorts available on Lang Tengah, from the mid-range D'Coconute Lagoon to the more upscale Summer Bay Lang Tengah and Seri Pacifica. So whichever your budget you'll find the perfect base from which to go out and do all your favourite water activities like snorkelling, diving and more. Similar to Kapas island, visitors to Lang Tengah get there via boat from Marang Jetty. It takes about 30 - 45 minutes to get there.
The east coast islands have a certain charm and beauty that is calling to be explored. And as Malaysian start travelling within the country, it's the perfect opportunity to explore these gems that we're blessed to have in our own backyard!