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10 best road trips for beaches in Malaysia

Malaysia is awesome for road trips and all roads seem to lead to stunning beaches. Conquer mighty Gunung Ledang, wander through densely forested Endau Rompin National Park and chomp down on the the country's most sumptuous dishes in Penang and Ipoh before sunning yourself on a beautiful stretch of sand on Pulau Pangkor, Langkawi, Pulau Redang or idyllic Pulau Tioman or even take the plunge and go diving with dugongs in Sabah. Skyscanner brings you our best 10 road trips for beaches in Malaysia.

West Malaysia

The roads leading out of Kuala Lumpur take in some gorgeous countryside including high mountains, mysterious caves and elephant inhabited jungle. There are amazing opportunities for chowing down on great seafood but before you set off on your peninsula road trip, bear in mind the weather; on the east coast you’ll need dodge the North-east monsoon from November to February and divers will want to give the west coast a miss during the rainy season from September to October when the visbility is poor.

1. Best road trip for mountain climbers and escape artists: Kuala Lumpur to Pulau Sibu

Highlights: Muar food delights, climbing Gunung Ledang, Pulau Sibu

Suggested time: 5 days/4 nights

Total distance: 388km

Muar food delights

Get up early for a smooth drive down the AH2 highway to Muar. If you get there too late, you might miss some of the town’s best culinary offerings so get down there early with the promise of an afternoon nap to make up for lost zeds. Keep eye out for Muar laksa, fried carrot cake and amazing Muar otak-otak and enjoy poking around the colour coordinated shophouses while you burn off your excess calories. In the evening head down to Tanjung Emas Recreational Park for a riverside stroll and pop your head into the food court for a scrumptious assam pedas dinner.

Climb Gunung Ledang

Wake up early the next day for the drive to Tangkak, keeping your eyes peeled for signs showing the way to Taman Negara Gunung Ledang. You’ll need a guide for the walk up the mountain as though it only stands at 1276m, there have been climbing fatalities on some of the rocky sections. The climb takes at least 6 hours and rewards with amazing views, wildlife and a splash around in a waterfall on the way up.

Island tranquility on Pulau Sibu

With aching legs drive on down to Tanjung Leman and hop on a boat for the short hop over to beautiful Pulau Sibu. The island is blissfully quiet with no roads and only one small village, which is home to around 40 families. The coastline has a number of resorts dotted around it where you can enjoy maximum relaxation, amazing views and a spot of diving before settling down for a night under the starry skies with a bottle of something special.

Find out more about climbing Gunung Ledang here

Where to stay in Muar: Muar Trader’s Hotel: A short walk from Muar’s Tanjung Emas Recreational Park, this place is all about location. Rooms from RM117.

Book Muar Trader’s Hotel here

Where to stay in Pulau Sibu: Seri Pacifica Resort. Enjoy a bit of sweet isolation at Seri Pacifica with 53 air con rooms, pool and bar and a good beach mere steps away. Rooms from RM350

Book Seri Pacifica Resort here

Read more: Top 5 road trip itineraries within Malaysia

Beach with island in background
Rest those aching legs on Pulau Sibu. Photo credit: Phalinn Ooi Flickr

2. Best road trip for walks in ancient forest and island bliss: Kuala Lumpur to Mersing and Pulau Tioman

Highlights: Waterfalls and jungle treks at Endau Rompin National Park, Mersing seafood delights, Pulau Tioman

Suggested time: 5 days/4 nights

Total distance: 350km

Explore Endau Rompin National Park

Break up your drive to the beach with a stay at Malaysia’s second designated national park, Endau Rompin, by heading out of Kuala Lumpur for the 4-hour drive to the park entrance at Kahang. The park is ripe for off-the beaten-path exploring and contains some of the planet’s oldest jungles, amazing waterfalls and isolated Orang Asli villages. Hop on a boat for the glide upriver to the Orang Asli settlement of Kampong Peta before embarking on a jungle trek not forgetting to keep an eye out for marauding elephants.

Mersing seafood heaven

When you’ve had enough of the jungle get back on the road for the short drive to Mersing and the ferry crossing to Tioman. Depending on the ferry schedule, you might have to stay here for a night, which is no disaster as the town is quiet and charming and there are a couple of chilled beaches nearby – Air Papan and Penyabung. In Mersing, make sure you pay a visit to Loke Tien Yuen for a seafood extravaganza.

Dive with turtles off Pulau Tioman

You’ll need to leave your car behind for the next step of the adventure as you head over to Pulau Tioman, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Enjoy walks through the densely forested interior to the stunning quiet beach at Kampong Juara, bathe in jungle waterfalls or snorkel in the emerald waters off the island with turtles and dive with reef sharks. This island is truly a slice of heaven.

Where to stay in Pulau Tioman: Paya Beach Resort. This good value resort is on the beach, has a spa, pool and lots of tranquil beach and jungle views to help you forget city life. Rooms from RM193

Book Paya Beach Resort here

Book Endau Rompin accommodation and guided trek packages through Johor Parks here.

Diver and turtle underwater
Dive with turtles in the emerald waters off Tioman. Photo credit: Benjamin Hollis Flickr

3. Best road trip for camping, east coast beaches and seafood gluttony: Kuala Lumpur to Pulau Redang.

Highlights: Gunung Senyum caves, Teluk Cempedak seafood, Kuala Terrenganu specialities and snorkelling off Redang

Suggested time: 6 days/5 nights

Total distance: 476km

Caves and camping at Gunung Senyum

Enjoy a lazy long drive out towards Kuantan and stop off for a few hours in Temerloh and head up towards Jengka Forest Reserve to explore the Gunung Senyum cave system with at least 20 cool caves to delve around. If you have a tent, you can spend the night here.

Mellow east coast vibes at Teluk Cempadak and Kuala Terrenganu

Head on east towards Kuantan before continuing to the mellow beach at Teluk Cempedak. Here you can walk along a boardwalk to another beach at Missionary Bay or just lie back and enjoy the sand, the sea and the breeze. There are a number of fishing villages around here including Beserah where you can enjoy fresh seafood delights and pick up a jar or two of local sambal belacan. Continue following the coast north to enjoy the beautiful beach at Marang. For those in need of a bit of city energy, stay overnight in Kuala Terengganu and enjoy the overwhelmingly peaceful atmosphere, tiny Chinatown and local delights such as nasi dagang and keropok lekor.

Pristine snorkelling at Pulau Redang

Drive 30km north to the jetty of Merang for the ferry over to Redang where you can lounge on white beaches and swim with schools of fish. Snorkelling is the most popular activity in Redang so grab your mask and head over to the reefs off Pasir Panjang for a few beautiful hours communing with nemo and friends.

Where to stay in Teluk Cempedak: Hyatt Regency. A stone’s throw from the gorgeous beach, 3 restaurants, golf course and an outdoors pool makes this the best bet on the beach. Rooms from RM450.

Book Hyatt Regency here

Where to stay in Kuala Terengganu: KT Traveller’s Inn. Bargain budget digs in the heart of charming Kuala Terengganu and most importantly, a short walk from some of the best food options in town. Rooms from RM91.

Book KT Traveller’s Inn here

Where to stay in Redang: The Taaras Spa and Beach Resort: Treat yourself to a little pampering at this resort with a private beach, spa and beach bar perfect for a sunset cocktail or two. Rooms from RM455.

Book The Taaras Spa and Beach Resort here

Read more: Driving holidays from Kuala Lumpur: 5 vacation ideas

Rice, fish and curry sauce
Get stuck into a plate of fragrant spicy nasi dagang in Kuala Terrenganu. Photo credit: Alpha Flickr

4. Best road trip for spa lovers, quality resorts and great local food: Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi

Highlights: Ipoh resort, Penang beaches and hawker food, Menara Alor Star and Langkawi

Suggested time: 5 days / 6 nights

Total distance: 494km

Pampering and food treats in Ipoh

This road trip is long but unhurried so take it easy as you cruise up the AH2 towards Ipoh. Below, we have provided a top hotel recommendation on the edge of town for spa relaxation and pampering, but don’t forget to take one of the guided walks around Ipoh’s amazingly well-preserved Chinatown and look out for the eight murals painted on some of the city’s landmarks by renowned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. You can gorge yourself on some of the city’s finest fare including chicken and beansprouts, Ipoh sar hor fun and salted chicken. Coffee fans will want to pop into one of the city’s many coffee shops for an Ipoh white coffee. We recommend Nam Heong on Jl Bandar Timah for a sublime caffeine lift.

Hawker feasts and laid-back beach life in Penang

The highway leads north to Penang and the popular beaches of Batu Ferringhi. Here you can enjoy beach massages, water sports, trips to Penang National Park or take day trips into bustling Georgetown to explore the heritage architecture and binge on Malaysian treats such as char kway teow, Penang Hokkien mee and fresh fried oysters.

Towering views and Langkawi’s inviting beaches

Cross the 15km Penang Bridge and continue north for a brief stop in Alor Star where you can go up to the top of the Menara Alor Star for amazing views and don’t forget to ask a local to point you in the right direction for a bowl of laksa Telok Kechai. Leave the car in Kuala Perlis before crossing over to beautiful Langkawi where you can choose to lounge on the beach, take a cable car for spectacular island views or learn about rice cultivation at the Leman Padi Rice Garden. Those looking for quiet beaches and beautiful surroundings should head to Tanjung Rhu with its limestone cliffs, long sandy beach and mangrove forest making it a perfect place to linger for a while.

Where to stay in Ipoh: The Banjaran Hot springs Retreat. Go on! Live a little! Splash out on unrivalled comfort on the edge of Ipoh with this 5-star retreat overlooked by karst limestone cliffs and a host of amazing facilities. Rooms from RM1336.

Book the Banajaran Hot Springs Retreat here

Where to stay in Penang: Golden Sands Resort. With the hawker delights of Georgetown a mere 20-mins drive away, you can take your time away from city life and soak up Batu Ferringhi’s mellow vibes and attractions with a stay at this top-notch family option. Rooms from RM408.

Book Golden Sands Resort here

Where to stay in Langkawi: Bon Ton Resort. Eight gorgeous traditional Malay-style villas a short walk from Langkawi’s famed Pantai Ceneng, the Bon Ton is regularly named as one of the top 100 hotels in the world and with its amazing restaurant and intimate ambience, it’s easy to see why. Rooms from RM640

Book the Bon Ton Resort here

Street sign with street art of coolie
Get lost in the streets of gorgeous Georgetown. Photo credit: Don Wong Flickr

5. Best for a quick getaway and small town Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur to Pulau Pangkor

Highlights: Sekinchan rice paddy and Pantai Redang, Pulau Pangkor

Suggested time: 3 days / 2 nights

Total distance: 219km

TVB fame and vast rice paddies in Sekinchan

Sekinchan, a provincial town a couple of hours drive along the west coast from Kuala Lumpur, gained fame among Hong Kong TVB drama fans as the town’s Pantai Redang was used as setting in the Outbound Love. The beach here has amazing sunsets and the area around the town is famed as one of Malaysia’s main rice producing areas, so don’t forget to take some snaps in the vast paddy fields. Grab a plate of tasty fresh seafood before hitting the road for the drive north to Lumut, jumping off point for trips to Pulau Pangkor.

Pulau Pangkor sunsets and fishing villages

The island was formerly a refuge of pirates but now is one of Malaysia’s better known tourist hot spots. There are plenty of activities to keep you bust here including trekking in Bukit Teluk Segadas, visiting traditional fishing communities or lounging on one of the islands many beaches. The most attractive beach is quiet Coral Bay with its clear water and amazing orange sunsets.

Where to stay in Pulau Pangkor: Pangkor Laut Resort. Award-winning resort perfect for a special treat with gorgeous rooms, water activities and full spa for a bit of pampering. Rooms from RM932.

Book Pangkor Laut Resort here

Read more: Fun car games to play with kids when stuck in traffic jams

Vast rice fields bisected by a stream
Visit the vast rice fields around Sekinchan to snap some beautiful photos. Photo credit: chee.hong Flickr

East Malaysia

With cheap car rental available throughout the country, fly-drive holidays are more popular than ever so take this chance to fly into East Malaysia and revel in the extraordinary wildlife and fascinating local culture before plonking yourself down on one of the region’s unspoilt beaches. Head to Sabah and Sarawak during the dry season from February to August to be sure of good diving conditions.

6. Best road trip for local tipples and diving with dugongs: Kota Kinabalu to the Tip of Borneo

Highlights: Gaya Island, Tuaran, Mantanai Island and the Tip of Borneo

Suggested time: 6 days/5 nights

Total distance: 182km

Pulau Gaya marine life

Head straight for the beach as soon as you hop off the plane with a gentle drive through Kota Kinabalu and a ferry ride to delightful Pulau Gaya. The island is a snorkeller’s delight with clear water packed with marine life from clownfish and sea snakes to freaky walking catfish. There are also a number of good jungle walks on offer though keep an eye out for cheeky monkeys.

Sabah food and drink specialities in Tuaran

Get back on the road and head to Tuaran, where you can get a glimpse of small-town Sabah. Tuaran is famous for its photogenic nine-storey pagoda and Bajau fishing villages. The town is also a good spot to pick up a few local delicacies such as amazingly delicious Tuaran mee, with egg noodles and sweet roast pork, and bahar wine, a palm toddy which is known to be high in anti-oxidents though also very strong and as it goes bad in less than 24 hours, drink up quickly!

Dugongs on Pulau Mantanani

Keep heading north and turn to the coast from Kota Belud to take the ferry across to idyllic Mantanani Island. This stunning island is famed for amazing sunsets, laid back ambience and is a popular spot for divers who come to dive the three wrecks that lie offshore. The waters around the island are also a well-known hangout for dugongs so keep your eyes peeled for an exciting encounter.

Wild sunsets at the Tip of Borneo

The final leg of this road trip heads to the far north of Sabah, the Tip of Borneo, where the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea meet. Come and walk along the long beaches here, indulge in a spot of fishing or sit back with a cold beer and enjoy the extraordinary sunsets in this most superlative of places.

Cheap flights to Kota Kinabalu

Where to stay in Gaya Island: Gaya Island Resort. Get straight off the plane and head to Gaya Island to get your blissful Borneo road trip off to a good start. This top quality resort lies within easy reach of great snorkelling in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and is a short boat ride from the urban delights of Kota Kinabalu. Rooms from RM909.

Book Gaya Island Resort here

Where to stay in Mantanani: Mari Mari Backpackers Lodge. This rustic and charming lodge is a blissful place to get away from hustle and bustle. Bring a book, find a hammock and let your soul glow in the joys of the beautiful beach. All-inclusive packages from RM442.

Book Mari Mari Backpackers Lodge here

Where to stay in Bak Bak: North Borneo Biostation Resort. This is a great place for active types with various water sports on offer alongside fishing trips, cycling and endless walks along the long stretch of sand. Rooms from RM180

Book North Borneo Biostation Resort here

Dugong underwater
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a dugong or two off Mantanani Island. Photo credit: flicker Photos Flickr

7. Best road trip Survivor fans (and fresh air!): Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Tiga

Highlights: Papar, Crocker Range hiking and Survivor Island

Suggested time: 4 days / 5 nights

Total distance: 125km

Crocker Range hiking

Start your trip with the 40km drive down the A2 to the Papar and enjoy poking around the Chinese sundry stores and have a look at some of the beautifully painted blue shophouses, which laid out on wide palm-lined boulevards. Try and arrive here on a Sunday when the weekly Tamu is held and many of the local communities come to town to do business and have a gossip. From here follow the snaking road that winds its way up into the majestic Crocker Range National Park. The park is about twice the size of Singapore and with limited infrastructure, it’s great to get away from it all here with a pair of binoculars and a pair of good walking shoes. There are a few marked trails and if you’re lucky you might see and clouded leopard, sun bear or perhaps an orangutan. Keep up to date with your hotel about the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, which grows here and is worth an outing to catch a glimpse.

Find Tribal Council on Survivor Island

TV fans will be well pleased with our final port of call – Pulau Tiga. The road winds back down to the coast at Kuala Penyu where you’ll need to hop on a boat for the short ride over to the island. Pulau Tiga, also known as Survivor Island, was where the first ever season of TV show Survivor was filmed. After you have tried to hunt down Survivor memorabilia and channelled Jeff Probst at Tribal Council, you can enjoy baths in bubbling mud, great snorkelling and trips over to nearby Snake Island where you can hang out with deadly banded kraits.

Where to stay in Crocker Range: Manis Manis Resort. Nature lovers flock here for access to the pristine trails of Crocker Range. Clean, cosy chalets with amazing views and barbecues at the Cinnamon Café. Rooms from RM200

Book Manis Manis Nature Resort here

Where to stay in Pulau Tiga: Pulau Tiga Resort. Simple chalets with loads of activities including snorkelling and mud baths with access to snake island. Packages from RM493.

Book Pulau Tiga Resort here

Orange sunset at beach with pier
_The beach views at Pulau Tiga are awesome. Photo credit: Travelling Louise Flickr_

8. Best road trip for wildlife fans: Sandakan to Sipadan

Highlights: Sepilok Orangutan Centre, Sungei Kinabatangan river cruises and Pulau Sipadan diving adventures

Suggested time: 5 days / 6 nights

Total distance: 305km

Little Hong Kong and feeding time with orangutans

If you are into nature, both above water and below, then this is the ultimate Borneo road trip for you. Start off in Sandakan, also known as little Hong Kong due to its large Cantonese population and celebrated seafood restaurants and dim sum houses, and head off for the 20km drive to Sepilok where you can watch orang-utans have a meal at the well-run Sepilok Oranguatan Rehabilitation Centre. It’s a bit touristy and you’ll need to jostle for perfect shot, but it gets you in the mood for spotting more of Borneo’s great wildlife.

Kinabatangan River Cruise

Continue down towards Sukau and book into one of the amazing river lodges that line the Kinabatangan River. This river, Malaysia’s second longest, is thought to have some of the greatest biodiversity in Sabah and a boat trip here will reward with amazing sightings of orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, bright blue kingfishers and many more. You can also visit many of the local communities that dot the river and learn how they live before hitting the road again for the scruffy town of Semporna, jumping off point for extraordinary underwater adventures in Sipadan.

Superlative diving off Pulau Sipadan

The island is thought to be one of the greatest dive sites in the world with extraordinarily rich marine life from a variety of sharks and turtles to huge swaying schools of fish. However, tourists are forbidden from staying on Sipadan and have to stay on one of the neighbouring islands such as Mabul or Kapalai, both of which have their own laid back beach charms and offer a variety of dive packages which include trips to Sipadan. A final note for underwater fans is not to turn up and expect to dive Sipadan; there are a limited number of permits issued daily so be sure to book your Sipadan adventure well in advance.

Cheap flights to Sandakan

Where to stay in Sandakan: Four Points. Enjoy swish modern rooms, cool bar with sea views and outdoors pool to soak away your worries. Rooms from RM204.

Book Four Points Sandakan here

Where to stay in Sukau: Borneo Nature Lodge. Located right on the river and designed sensitively to blend in with the surrounding jungle, this lodge offers great access to the wildlife on the Kinabatangan. All-inclusive packages from RM1202

Book Borneo Nature Lodge here

Where to stay in Mabul: Borneo Divers Mabul Resort. Traditional Runggus inspired rooms and décor, pool and beach bar and access to great diving at Sipadan and other nearby underwater hotspots. Dive packages available from RM1800

Book Borneo Divers Mabul Resort here

resort next to clear sea
This road trip promises to get you really close to wildlife. Photo credit: Benjamin Hollis Flickr

9.Best road trip for weekenders: Kuching to Bako

Highlights: Santubong river cruise, Kuching food scene, Bako National Park

Suggested time: 3 days / 2 nights

Total distance: 90km

Kuching treats and cat statues

This road trip is ideal for long weekends and is more of a local potter than an epic open road extravaganza. Fly into Kuching and enjoy the buzz of this wonderful town and its cat museums, rakish colonial history, well preserved heritage architecture and Chinatown. Foodies won’t be disappointed with the local fare so hunt down Sarawak laksa, the local take on mee jawa and make sure to search for restaurants searching Iban and ethnic minority fare (Top tip: head to Dyak on Jalan Simpang Tiga for an amazing selection of Sarawak Iban and Kelabit dishes).

Santubong sunset river trips

Once you’ve popped your last piece of local kue lapis in your mouth head off for a sunset river cruise down the Santubong River. The boat glides past small village communities and cheeky gangs of proboscis monkeys keep an eye on proceedings from their perches in the trees. The silence is occasionally broken by rare Irrawaddy dolphins breaking the water and as the sun sets, you’ll see deadly crocs on the river bank slipping into the water to look for their dinner.

Bako walks and island isolation

Wake up early and drive up to Bako National Park for a day or two of hiking in this stunning natural wonderland. The park has gorgeous sandy beaches and weird rock outcrops jutting out of the sea, a result of centuries of coastal erosion. There are headlands to conquer and waterfalls to splash in, and if you fancy being a bit Robinson Crusoe, hire a boat to take you to Pulau Lakai, where you’ll be left with the wind, your thoughts and the ripples of waves dancing on your toes.

Cheap flights to Kuching

Where to stay in Kuching: Village House. Located in Santubong, a 25 minute drive from Kuching, this retreat has a pool, plenty of ethnic flourishes and hammocks to laze away the day. Rooms from RM123

Book Village House here

Proboscis monkey
You’ll see plenty of proboscis monkeys on your Kuching trip. Photo credit: Christina Gallivan Flickr

10. Best road trip for Rafflesia hunters, culture vultures and chilled beach vibes: Kuching to Lundu

Highlights: Sarawak Cultural Village, Gunung Gading National Park, Lundu beaches

Suggested time: 4 days/3 nights

Total distance: 101km

Music and dance at the Sarawak Cultural Village

Wake up early after your flight into Kuching and pop up to Damai Beach for a quick poke around the Sarawak Cultural Village. Here you can learn about the ethnic minorities of Sarawak, see some of their traditional arts and visit traditional houses. There are twice daily dance and music performances that will inspire you as you cruise the roads of Sarawak.

Rafflesia hunting at Gunung Gading

From Kuching drive east until you get to the Gunung Gading National Park. The park was primarily gazetted as a reserve for the world’s biggest flower, the amazing Rafflesia, which most commonly blooms for very short periods during the wetter months of the year (November to February). However, if your luck is out, don’t fret because this national park has some great walking trails to a number of towering peaks and cool wildlife to see on the way including porcupines, civet cats and all sorts of creepy crawlies.

Chill to the max at Lundu

From here the road leads to Lundu, a sleepy town in Sarawak’s wild west, not far from the border with Indonesia. The town has some nice shop houses and a laid-back feel and is close to a couple of super chilled beaches. Siar Beach and Pandan Beach are both lovely stretches of sand with clear water alongside small fishing communities. You might be invited to join in with some of the local community activities such as fishing or exotic sounding “jelly fish scooping’. These aren’t the glam beaches of Bali or Boracay but offer perfect little getaways to spend some time away from the madness of the modern world.

Where to stay in Lundu: Pandan Gold Coast Holiday Villa. Laid-back resort with pool and restaurant a stone’s throw from the beach. Rooms from RM250.

Book Pandan Gold Coast Holiday Villa here

fishing boat with village in the background
Join in with community fishing activities in Lundu. Photo credit: Christian Gullivan Flickr

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