Jan 19 2012

Best beach break destinations from Kuala Lumpur

Published by at 1:02 pm under Kuala Lumpur excursions

Whatever the tourism authorities would have you believe, Malaysia does not do beach half as well as Thailand, particularly for the independent traveller. But the country does have some very attractive beach destinations, such as tiny Pulau Rawa, part of the same chain of east coast islands as Pulau Tioman.

Hurrah for Rawa, until you see the prices.

Hurrah for Rawa, at least until you see the prices.

Pulau Rawa is one of the few islands in Malaysia with crunchy white sand and crystal clear water. But the experience comes with a price — in fact some of the most predatory pricing in Southeast Asia. Rawa only has two resorts, both of which charge astonishing amounts for their compulsory full board packages.

At Alang’s, the “cheaper” option, A-frames go for a whopping 1,430 ringgit for a two-night weekend break (including meals and boat transfers). That’s the equivalent of more than 7,o00 baht a night, for a basic fan hut with a cold shower. Off-peak rates for a two-night break (again including meals and transfers) at the island’s only other place to stay, Rawa Island Resort, start at 1,880 ringgit.

Location, location, location.

Location, location, location.

Although Rawa is one of the most extreme examples of poor value in Malaysia, affordable beach accommodation aimed at independent travellers is thin on the ground, whatever destination you pick. Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Cherating are the most geared up for backpackers on the east coast, but accommodation, transport, food and drink, are all appreciably worse value than islands just across the border in Thailand.

Pound for pound more expensive than gold.

Pound for pound more expensive than gold.

An added consideration is the northeast monsoon, which shuts down much of the east coast from November to March. Although Rawa Island Resort stays open all year (in theory), during the monsoon you have to phone one day in advance to make sure the boat service from Mersing (5-6 hours by bus from KL) is running.

Stormy times during the east coast monsoon.
Stormy times during the east coast monsoon.

If you are not picky about having crunchy white sand, or crystal clear water, then Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Langkawi are the best bets for a beach break on the west coast.

Pangkor is not a bad destination at all mid-week, particularly Teluk Nipah, which has the bulk of the backpacker accommodation. Plenty of places offer simple but pleasant rooms, for less than 100 ringgit a night — outside weekends and school holidays that is, when the island is absolutely mobbed. It’s a short walk from Nipah to neighbouring Crystal Bay, one of Pangkor’s best beaches. The island is easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur (a 3.5 hour bus journey to Lumut from Puduraya, a short ferry ride over, and a minibus to Teluk Nipah).

Solitude comes at a price.

Solitude comes at a price.

Langkawi is undeniably beautiful, but unless you can afford to stay at the plushest resorts, the best stretches of sand are out of bounds. The two most popular beaches, Pantai Cenang and Pantai Tengah, are certainly not unpleasant. But anyone looking for that perfect, tropical beach experience, will be sorely disappointed.

Pantai Cenang looking its best.

Pantai Cenang looking its best.

Flying is by far the most convenient way to get to Langkawi from KL, with Air Asia having the best prices, and most regular service.

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6 Responses to “Best beach break destinations from Kuala Lumpur” ...

  1. StanleyHiuon 19 Jan 2012 at 1:35 pm

    In term of diving, it will beat any Thailand islands. You may explore top spots like Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Rendang. Best would be East Malaysia – Pulau Sipadan follow by Pulau Mabul. Beaches are pristine; crystal clear water. Marine life flourishes!

  2. sparkyon 19 Jan 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great thanks – for the info.
    I have not been to the beaches in Malaysia… what are the highlights when compared to the Thai islands?
    I know the food in Malaysia is great….but that can be enjoyed in KL.

    Should I miss these altogeather and continue onto Thailand – again?

    Thailand is great value….


  3. Paton 19 Jan 2012 at 3:36 pm

    The diving can be world class, particularly off Sabah. As far as beaches go, I would always choose Thailand over Malaysia. Which does not mean that Malaysia does not have plenty of nice beaches, just that the overall experience in Thailand is better… better food, better value accommodation, more relaxed vibe, cheaper beer.

  4. StanleyHiuon 19 Jan 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Hey! Why not try this if you hv d luxury (“time!”) There is a island called Koh Lipe. May take a 30min speed boat from Langkawi island. Do bring ur passport as it belongs to Thais! Island is not big and no hustle of Phuket but full of beautiful sandy beach lines and the cafe/restaurant along the middle crossing of island. For diving, would recommend go on board for a few days as dive sites along the island are overfished.

  5. Paton 19 Jan 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I have to disagree about Ko Lipe – it’s probably my least favourite Thai island. Overpriced, over-touristed, and extremely noisy (thanks to the constant longtail boat traffic, which also makes swimming a real pain). Straight choice between Langkawi and Lipe, the former wins every time. Nicer than both, and in the same bit of sea, is Ko Karutao, amongst the best Thailand has to offer.

  6. Samon 23 Jan 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Hi Pat and Stanley,

    Just in case you want more info on Ko Lipe Stanley/Sparky, we’ve just updated our info, launch page here:

    Pat, Ko Tarutao, we loved it too… it’s pretty special.


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