Malaysia is full of island paradises. Some are easier to get to, some are pretty commercial, and others are super remote. But the three most popular islands for a short getaway in Malaysia are Langkawi, Perhentian and Tioman.

All three are vastly different from each other, and all have pros and cons. Luckily for me, I’ve been to them all and luckily for you this blog compares them!

Whether you are looking for a short getaway in Malaysia for family or budget weekend getaways for couples, I’ve got you covered.

So which island is the best getaway in Malaysia? Keep reading… but first, a map.

1. Location and ease of getting there

langkawi marina

Hands down, the winner is Langkawi. No matter where you are coming from, unless it is Borneo or somewhere on the east coast, getting to Langkawi is a piece of cake.

I’m always ready for a short getaway in Malaysia for couples, and Langkawi is perfect.

From Penang, it is just a 17-minute flight (I’ve waited longer for my luggage in the Penang airport than that!).

It’s also a short trip away from KL; the flight is only an hour.

There are also ferry options from Penang, Kuala Kedah and Kuala Perlis. I’ve taken the car ferry over, but not the people ferry from Penang. I’m not a fan of listening to or smelling other people’s vomit, so I steer clear. But the car ferry was easy and not a barf bag in sight.

As for Tioman vs. Perhentian, they are both a bit of a challenge, but Perhentian wins (unless you are coming from Johor Bahru).

We drove to the Kuala Besut jetty from Penang in 6 hours; it’s about the same from Kuala Lumpur. But the ferries run very often and regularly until about 4 pm. When they fill the boats, they go. Depending on which island you are going to, the ride from the jetty to the islands takes between 30-45 minutes.

Getting to Tioman from Penang is an 8-hour drive (4.5 from KL). You have to leave at Oh-dark-thirty to get to the island the same day if you can get an afternoon ferry. The ferry times are inconsistent best. Somedays there are 3 options – others only 1. It is a 1.5-2 hour ferry ride depending on where you need to get off. And the entire system isn’t as clear cut as it is in Perhentians, but that is a whole different blog.

2. Ease of getting around the islands

View of Skybridge Langkawi Itinerary

My number one vote goes to Langkawi again.

Langkawi is the only island of the three that you can drive all the way around on a scooter or car. Scooter hire is cheap at only RM25 a day. If you don’t want to rent a scooter or a car, there are Grab taxis everywhere.

Second place goes to Perhentian.

There are no cars in Perhentian, but the sea taxis are plentiful and everywhere. However, the cost adds up, and the price doubles after 7.

There are a couple of roads in Tioman but not worth renting a scooter or car for. Especially when the cost to rent a scooter for a day is RM100. Again, there are sea taxis, but not that many, and because everything is far apart, it gets quite expensive.

3. Best ocean for diving and snorkeling

puffer fish with bright coral tioman

Tioman takes the cake here! Hands down.

Mark and I have dived and snorkeled in Mexico, Jamaica, Bali, Bahamas, Hawaii, and Kota Kinabalu. We have never seen such incredible marine life and coral.

Sadly, most coral these days is bleached and broken, and there was a little of that in Tioman, but on the 3 trips we took, the coral was so vibrant. The entire ocean floor, as far as the eyes can see, covered in mauve, cerulean, pale pink, bright purple, and cobalt blue coral formations.

It’s the kind of stuff you see in the National Geographic documentaries. I never thought I would see that in real life.

nemo clownfish hiding in coral tioman

We also saw blacktip reef sharks, turtles, nemos, parrotfish, pufferfish, schools and schools of other fish unknown to me.

Second place def goes to Perhentian. We saw loads of gorgeous fishies and a grouper that could swallow me whole. No joke. However, there was so much broken and dead coral that it was heartbreaking. It was everywhere. Even washed ashore on a lot of the beaches.

Langkawi really has no diving/snorkeling worth a mention unless you hop a boat to the Pulau Payar Marine Park an hour away.

4. Most activities other than water sports

Langkawi is the winner here. My itinerary for what do in Langkawi details it all out.

I’d say there is a tie for second place in this category.

tioman (landscape) short getaway in malaysia

Both the Perhentian islands and Tioman have good hiking and jungle trekking. But because Tioman is so spread out and not easy to get from place to place, your options are more limited to whatever area you are staying in.

Both Tioman and Perhentian have turtle sanctuaries, waterfalls, and quiet beaches to explore.

5.  Best nightlife for a short vacation in Malaysia

Langkawi is the clear winner here as well. If you stay in Cenang or Tengah, there are loads of restaurants and bars to hang out at. Since it is a duty-free island, booze is cheap and plentiful.

On Perhentian Kecil, Long beach is the only strip of nightlife. That being said, there are only a handful of places for dinner and drinks. We did see a pretty cool fire show one night, but overall, it’s pretty mellow and a great place to relax in Malaysia.

fire show perhentian kecil

Tioman is also a duty-free island. However, we only saw 1 duty-free shop, and it was pretty lame in comparison to those on Langkawi, as well as in most airports. We did find some unique bottles that we’ve never tried before, so that was a bonus, but don’t expect much. And the booze is more expensive than in Langkawi.

Regardless of the duty-free status in Tioman, it’s not easy to find restaurants that sell any beer, wine or liquor. You can take your own to some restaurants, but only if you also bring a cup and dispose of it afterward. The island is mostly Malay, which means they will not touch anything with alcohol, nor will they allow you to pour yours into one of their glasses. And they certainly, will not dispose of your empties.  

6. Best internet service on your Malaysian getaway

me standing in a heart on the beach:short getaway in malaysia

I’m gonna start with third place on this one… drum roll please… the loser goes to Tioman.

We stayed in Tekek and Juara, on opposite sides of the island. Neither area had internet. Really. None. And even the “free wifi” in the lobby of our chalets and hotels had little to none.

That being said, we had friends staying in another area called Paya, and they had WIFI.

We were told that the only cell services that work on the island are Maxis and Celcom; of course, we have Digi, so that didn’t help the situation.

Langkawi and Perhentian both have reliable internet.

7. When to go on your short getaway in Malaysia

perhentian landscape blue water, gree tree, boat: short getaway in Malaysia

Nov – Feb is the monsoon season for both east coast islands.

Tioman doesn’t shut during their monsoon season. In fact, it becomes one of Malaysia’s best places to surf. However, ferries are more infrequent. There is a possibility that you might get stuck on the island until a ferry can make the crossing (sounds like a barf fest waiting to happen). There is a Tioman surf festival in February.

Perhentian does close down during the monsoon season.

Since Langkawi is on the western side of Malaysia, it has the opposite rainy season. But it’s not as severe as the east coast rains, so the island never shuts down. Some months are rainier than others, but overall, you can go any time.

Where to stay on your tropical island getaway in Malaysia

me in a beach palapa: short getaway in malaysia

So here is the deal, Covid happened, and tourism around the world is at an all-time low. Malaysia is no different, and the hotel industry has taken a severe beating. Without hotel guests and tourism, most hotels can’t keep up with all the maintenance that is needed regularly.

We went on our east coast road trip after months of a shutdown, so I have to judge all the resorts on Perhentian and Tioman with a little grace and leeway.

What I’m trying to say is that not all the hotels are at their finest. They need some TLC.

That being said, I’m not sure the hotels would have been any different if we had visited a year ago before Covid.

Hotels in Malaysia aren’t known for maintaining the same standards from year one to year two to year three. We often try to stay in newer properties for that reason. However, one of the reasons we took this road trip was to spread some love to the local hotels. And that we did.

So, knowing all that… here is my list of hotels.

Where to stay in Perhentian Kecil

legs and hat on sun lounger: short getaway in malaysia

If you want to have any sort of nightlife, you really need to stay in Long Beach. If you stay in other areas, you are kind of sequestered there unless you want to take the sea taxis everywhere, which can be pretty expensive.

But Long Beach is beautiful, and the beach is clean, so why stay anywhere else?

There are a lot of super budget, no A/C bungalows in the area, which are not an option for us. There are also some guesthouses along the beach if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Or you can also rent a tent just off the beach for super cheap, but again, that’s not my style.

I am not a backpacker, flashpacker maybe, but tents and a shared bathroom? No thank you.

Bubu Resort and Villas

They have two properties that flank either ends of the beach: Bubu Villas and Bubu Resort.

We stayed at Bubu Resort, and it was def the nicest hotel we stayed in as they are a 4-star property.

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