Famous for tourism and for having a lower tax system than the rest of the peninsula, the Langkawi archipelago is the most visited by Malaysians on this list. I recommend renting a motorbike and visiting the island or doing one of the island hoppings. It is also very popular to get on the famous cable car to enjoy the views.
How to get there: Direct Flight from Kuala Lumpur or ferry from Kedah
This was a great surprise for me since it almost never appears promoted as an interesting island. If you are looking for a paradise island with white sand beaches it may be better to continue reading as Pangkor does not stand out for that reason. However, if we are looking for an island much more authentic with small local populations and that at the same time is mixed with beaches and a tropical environment, you will surely love it. By simply renting a motorbike, you can easily tour the entire island and visit its “floating” mosque or its multiple restaurants and beaches. Interestingly, hornbill birds are very easy to spot, not a common thing in the rest of the country. Next to the main island is a much smaller one with luxurioius accommodation.
How to get there: Ferry from Lumut, (Lumut can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur)
This couple of islands is without doubt the most popular option in terms of foreign and especially European tourism. The truth is that it is understandable since almost everything can be done between the two of them. Normally the smaller island (Perhentian Kecil) attracts a younger and backpacker crowd while the larger one (Perhentian Besar) has more families and honeymoon couples. I personally stayed at Perhentian Kecil (the little one) and I was able to dive, walk through the jungle and party until dawn. The large also offers more options for longer walks in the jungle.
How to get there: Ferry from Kuala Besut, (Kuala Besut can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur or easily by cheap flights front either the international or domestic airport flying to Kota Bharu)
The island of Lang Tengah is one of those destinations that you would never go to if nobody recommends it as it practically does not appear in any guide or recommended in any itinerary. However it is a beautiful and very wild island. Accommodation options are limited to a few hotels with a very good price-quality ratio. On the other hand, there is not much more to do than to lie on the beach and enjoy the tranquility.
How to get there: Ferry from Merang Jetty, (Flight to Terengganu front either the international or domestic airport in Kuala Lumpur or Penang and then ride 45 minutes to the jetty).
Redang is a very popular island too and it has a large number of tourists. It could be said that the few accommodation options are much more expensive than in the rest of the islands in this list. However when I visited the island I found a campsite that was in front of the sea and that I could not have found in the classic hotel booking pages. It is also a very famous diving destination.
How to get there: Ferry from Merang Jetty as well as to go to Lang Tengah, (Fligh to Terengganu front either the international or domestic airport in Kuala Lumpur or Penang and then ride 45 minutes to the jetty) and also from Terengganu directly (Shahbandar jetty).
Kapas is a very beautiful island with practically no infrastructure. Like most of the other islands there are no roads on the island and all transport is done by small paths or directly through the beach. The island itself has a few hotels and a fantastic campsite. It is an extremely simple option but there is a very good atmosphere and it is easy to meet other travelers. Otherwise the island is mostly empty and you will enjoy feeling like a castaway.
How to get there: Ferry from Marang Jetty (do not confuse with Merang, as this one is some kilometers to the south) that can be reached by flying to Terengganu as well.
When to visit
Due to the different monsoons that affect the country it is important to plan when you are going to visit the islands since for much of the year one of the two coasts of the peninsula is affected by the rains. Furthermore, often during the rains the islands are «closed» and there are no boats to get to them. For the western coast islands it is recommended to go between December and February while for the eastern islands between May and September.
In Malaysia you can find many islands and although Perhentian, Langkawi or Tioman are the most obvious options, I encourage you to discover the least known ones. And of course, if you have time to go to Malaysian Borneo you will find hundreds of other islands, Malaysia is a paradise to discover.
Other islands in peninsular Malaysia:
East: Tenggol, Tioman, Aur, Sibu, Tinggi, Rawa …
West: Ketam, Sembilan …