Fringed by sparkling turquoise water, curtains of gently swaying coconut palms and blissfully soft, white-sand beaches, Malaysia’s islands are text-book tropical idylls. The numbers of visitors to them has risen in recent decades, but even the most popular retain considerable charm and atmosphere – in marked contrast to the more crowded holiday enclaves of neighbouring Thailand.

The finest on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia are, by general assent, to be found at Pulao Langkawi, 30km off the shore of Kedah. The islands of the east coast are harder to reach, though worth the trouble for their breath-taking scenery – both above and below the waterline. Among 64 volcanic islets comprising the Seribuat Archipelago, Pulao Tioman holds some exquisite beaches, eclipsed only by those of the nearby Perhentian Islands, twin jewels of the Terengganu coast.

Across the sea in Borneo, the shoreline of Sabah is generally much wilder. Within easy range of the airport, Gaya Island’s rainforest hideaway resort makes a perfect first footfall. But for those with the time and resources to venture to the far northeastern tip of the island, the rewards are access to some of the world’s richest tropical marine reserves – Sipadan, Mataking and Mabul Islands – where you can dive four or five times daily on amazing reefs with huge shoals of barracuda and turtles.

Other Destinations for Beaches and Islands

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