Not that we haven’t said this enough, but Malaysia is home to some of the most spectacular beaches and island getaways in Southeast Asia, if not the world. Think azure waters, powder-white sand beaches, and the best part, much lesser crowds compared with our neighbour’s party beaches. And, many of them are located in Terengganu, in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia overlooking the South China Sea. With that said, for your ease, we’ve gathered some of the finest and lesser-known islands off the coast of Terengganu, and what best to do there. Enjoy!
Best for scuba diving: Tenggol Island
Diving into the depths of South China Sea to discover amazing marine life (and the adorable nudibranch) in shipwrecks and house reefs sounds like a dream for every scuba diving enthusiast. With over 20 dive sites to choose from, Tenggol is on top of our list as one of the most beautiful dive locations in Malaysia. As there are only a few resorts located on Tenggol, we suggest booking your transportation and accommodation in advance. Check our website to explore your options.
Star quality: Swim among whale sharks! They are often seen at certain sites between August and October each year.
Best for turtle-watching: Redang Island
Redang Island is the largest of nine islands that form a government-protected marine sanctuary park. Its crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches need no further introduction but, did you know it is also an important conservation site for sea turtles?
Star quality: SEATRU Turtle Lab at The Taaras Resort in Terengganu not only employs marine biologists to observe and optimize turtle growth, they even have a lab that gives guests the opportunity to engage with the biologists onboard.
Best for soft-as-cotton, white sandy beaches: Kapas Island
With its soft, white sand, it’s no surprise how this island, which means Cotton Island in Malay, got its cotton-candy name. Laze on the beach all day or snorkel among colorful tropical fish during midday. Love the sea? This beachfront hotel on the island may be just the right one for you.
Star quality: Perfect island to do nothing, but if you feel you have to, spot the nemo fish in its natural habitat, and even a reef shark or two when you dive!
Best for a mix of nightlife and family fun: Perhentian Islands
Pulau Perhentian, which means “stopover island” in Malay, has excellent underwater seascapes for snorkelling and scuba diving. Made up of two islands, Perhentian Besar is where the bigger resorts are and more suitable for fun, family activities, while Perhentian Kecil is more geared towards backpackers with more budget options for both food and accommodation. Can’t decide? Maybe our options will help.
Star quality: Perhentian Kecil is considered the rebel island for its nightlife and bars for a state that is known for its more conservative Islamic practice.
Best for remote relaxation: Lang Tengah Island
Often overlooked for its small size, Lang Tengah is your perfect, quiet getaway. Accessible via a 30-minute boat ride from the Merang jetty, Lang Tengah has only a handful of resorts, but with equally pristine views of the sea and some of the best snorkelling and diving spots. Explore your options here.
Star quality: You’ll get the sense that the island is all yours.
Best for a bit of history: Bidong Island
Bidong Island is most famous for once housing thousands of South Vietnamese refugees between 1978 and 1985 after the Vietnam War. The refugee camp has been closed since 1991, but some remnants remain on the island. Some local tour operators will happily take you there for a fee. Keen for a day trip? Check out other places to stay nearby.
Star quality: Due to its lack of development, many of the dive areas around the island are untouched. Noteworthy is the Blue Garden, a dive site full of blue anemones. At dusk, the anemones close their tentacles and their bodies give off a glowing blue light.
Best for cultural experiences: Duyong Island
The epitome of an idyllic, Malay village, Duyung (or Duyong) Island has some of the most traditional daily scenes of local life, architecture, as well as boat-making workshops. Don’t miss the Duyong Art Fest in April, an annual art event showcasing the traditional anyaman or weaving craft, and a marketplace at the jetty selling various traditional Terengganu food and products.
Star quality: Its picturesque wooden houses. Look out for the Duyung Old Fort, which was built in the 1920s. Word has it, its walls were constructed by bricks made with a concoction of fine sand, lime, honey and egg white!
Best for a romantic rendezvous: Gem Island
If you’re looking for a private, romantic getaway, Gem Island is truly a gem of an island (pun fully intended). Gem Island Resort & Spa is the sole resort operator here, and offers villas with balconies looking out to stunning views of the South China Sea. Check it out here.
Star quality: If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to witness the rare, giant leatherback turtle come ashore to lay eggs.
Useful tips when island-hopping in Terengganu:
In Terengganu, weekdays begin from Sundays to Thursdays, while weekends are Fridays and Saturdays to observe Muslim afternoon prayers. As such, offices and banks are generally closed on Fridays and Saturdays as well.
Check the weather
Most resorts are closed for the monsoon season from November to January. Waters are at its calmest between April and July. Sightings of certain marine life are more common in certain months. For example, green turtles usually nest in August, while September is probably the best month to spot migratory whale sharks.
Adhere to marine park and regulations
Tourists are prohibited from buying souvenirs made of corals, shells and other marine animals such as starfish, as they are protected wildlife. If you are found in possession of such items, you will be fined up to RM5,000. Dead corals may sometimes be found washed ashore, but they should be left alone.
Mobile phone coverage may get spotty but it is generally adequate, especially on bigger, more developed islands. Keep some cash for emergency purposes, as some islands do not have ATMs. Power supply may be limited, and generators provide most of the electricity on the islands. Power outages may occur, and in many cheaper chalets, power is only provided at night.
Ready for some sea, sand and sunshine? Map out your Terengganu trip with Traveloka. Don’t forget to share your cool, fun moments by tagging us @TravelokaMY on your Instagram shots. We’d love to see them!
By Imara Natchiar