By Gordon Lethbridge
LAPPED by the warm South China Sea, the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia is essentially one long tropical beach. Life here is largely rural or reliant on fishing and is the best place to get into the fabric of local life.
The East Coast’s prime attractions are its beaches, unspoiled offshore islands and coral filled tropical waters. It was popular with backpackers and the coral filled seas attracted divers wanting to explore the many accessible reefs. Less developed than the ever-popular west coast, it still has plenty to offer the more discerning visitor.
Tanjong Jara, one of Malaysia’s top resorts, is built beside its own private beach. Accommodation is in spacious lodges set on lawns with sea views and surrounded by jungle. The premium accommodation is closer to the beach and each has a sunken outdoor bath. In addition to two pools, there is a spa complex offering mainly Malaysian inspired treatments. Activities include visits to local communities, jungle trekking, sea kayaking, diving and snorkeling trips and cookery classes. The restaurant specialises in Malaysian cuisine with an emphasis on seafood.
Awana Kijal Beach and Spa Resort is also on the east coast mainland. A large single hotel building, it overlooks a golf course and beach. There are a number of activities on offer including visits to local markets, a turtle sanctuary, jet skiing and the usual diving and snorkeling packages.
Off the east coast there are a number of islands that offer a laid back, barefoot experience. These are becoming more popular for those wanting a relaxing break especially after visiting the busy metropolis of Kuala Lumpur.
The Perhentian Islands are translated as “stopping point” and were used by traders between Malaysia and Thailand. Now it’s the tourists who “stop off”. The two islands Kecil (small) and Besar (big) were favoured by backpackers and there is still a fair amount of inexpensive accommodation on the island.
Most accommodation is chalet style. There are no luxury resorts on the island but the best is the Perhentian Island Resort sitting on a half moon bay of white sands with a reef close by. As there are no roads on the island access is by water taxi so this is a real get-away-from-it-all place to stay.
Redang Island is part of a nine-island archipelago marine park. More upmarket than the nearby Perhentian Islands it has superb diving and snorkeling much of it accessible from the beaches. The newest resort on the island is the 222-room Laguna Redang Resort. Accommodation is in two storey Thai-style buildings with good access to the beach.
The Sari Pacifica Resort and Spa is on the small island of Lang Tengah, part of the Redang archipelago. Elegance is a by-word here with accommodation in Malaysian kampung-style villas. Top of the range are the seafront villas which enjoy great sunset views across the headland. The diving and snorkeling here are superb. Jungle treks and island hopping are also on offer here.
Sibu Island off the coast of Johor is part of a group of 13 Islets that were gazetted as a marine park. Diving and snorkeling here are very popular and there are several diving schools offering internationally recognised PADI courses. The coral around the main island is considered to be some of the best on the east coast.
Among several accommodation options on the island is the Sibu Island Resort. It is an environmentally friendly place with its own desalination plant. Accommodation is in well appointed chalets set in lush tropical gardens with some right on the beach. As would be expected, diving is one of the main activities but it is also a great place to just relax.
Tioman Island is part of the same archipelago as Sibu Island and is the most commercially developed of the east coast islands. Its beaches featured as “Bali Hai” in the 1958 film South Pacific. A densely forested landscape, with few inhabitants and a plethora of reefs are what attracts visitors. It is also the most accessible of the islands.
The Berjaya Tioman Resort is an unpretentious and relaxing resort with an 18-hole golf course, Ayura spa and a diving school. Accommodation is in two storey chalets with the deluxe ones having direct beach access. Ten minutes away are several fully furnished apartments owned by the same company.
Also on Tioman Island is the intimate Japamala Resort. Service here is hard to beat and you are assured of individual attention. Only 12 villas, a stunning beach and fabulous restaurants make this a very attractive place to stay.
The east coast of Malaysia is easily reached by air from Kuala Lumpur and other Asia destinations. Visiting the islands involves a little more effort but is well worth it.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Gordon Lethbridge (UK)
Gordon is a freelance travel writer, blogger and photographer based in the UK who has articles published in numerous publications. He has also written or updated guidebooks to France, Austria, Singapore, Madeira and Birmingham for Michelin and Thomas Cook. His writing is also featured on his website www.travelunpacked.co.uk