Top sailing locations in Malaysia

Whether you love sailing under canvas or by motor, on small craft or large, independently or on a charter, the extensive coastline of Malaysia offers a wide range of sailing experiences and interesting ports of call.

From the popular waters along the coast from Langkawi and the multi-cultural attractions of Penang Island to the exotic seas around Malaysian Borneo, there is much to explore.

There are bustling ports with wonderful street food and fresh seafood for sale. And there are deserted beaches and quiet coves for peaceful anchorage.

Here we review three top sailing locations in Malaysia.

West Malaysia: Sailing from Langkawi

Langkawi is actually a cluster of approximately 100 islands and here you will find some of Malaysia’s most exclusive resorts, including the one on Pulau Pangkor Laut, and duty free shopping.

The main island has an international airport and at least three yachting marinas but most of Langkawi’s islands are uninhabited and perfect for island hopping under sail or motor.

One island worth exploring is Pulau Tajal, which has magnificent scenery of sheer rock cliff faces rising from clear water while Langkawi sea eagles soar overhead. On land you may find sea otters, monitor lizards and the rare spectacled languor.

Between Port Dickson and Penang you will see the pretty village of Pulau Ketam, built entirely on piles over a mud flat so that villagers have to get about by boat.

Sailing towards Pangkor the island of Pulau Angsa is a picturesque sight with its lush jungle covering and tall lighthouse.

A cruise under the massive bridge that connects Penang Island with the mainland is also an experience not to be missed. The Penang capital Georgetown has a vibrant mix of old and new culture and architecture, as well some of the world’s most famous street food.

East of Malaysia: Tioman Island and more

The location for filming the famous musical film ‘South Pacific’, Tioman Island is just off Peninsula Malaysia’s east coast.

The island of Tioman is just one of a group of nine that are part of a Marine Reserve protecting stunningly abundant coral reef life. There are many top dive sites to explore with up to 30 metres visibility in places and white, sandy beaches to enjoy.

View of Panuba bay, Tioman. Pic: Ferrazo.

Unforgiving jungle interiors and steep granite cliffs mean that many areas of these islands are only reachable by boat. Where there are resorts and restaurants the atmosphere is very relaxed.

If you’re sailing among these paradise islands you can access the pristine and uninhabited islands to the north-west, particularly Suribat and Sembaling for sunlounging and snorkelling.

Even further the remote islands of Aur and Pemanggil are very undeveloped but boast impressive dive sites.

It’s not just the sea life on show; protected wildlife such as mouse deer, macaques, binturong, slow loris and brush tailed porcupine are all to be found on these islands.

Sailing Malaysian Borneo

Malaysian Borneo is rapidly becoming a popular sailing and cruising destination, with its varied scenery, friendly people and plenty of places to stop and explore.

There are good marinas with yachting facilities at Sutera near Kota Kinabalu (the capital of Sabah province), Labuan, Kudat and Miri (all in Sarawak province).

Sunset at Kota Kinabalu. Pic: Eric Lim Photography.

Sabah is the most northerly part of Borneo and off the coast sailors will find tropical islands and coral atolls surrounded by the clear waters of the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea.

The three small islands of Pulau Tiga have mud volcanoes that erupted, forming the islands only 100 years ago.

On islands such as Pulau Silingaan you can see turtles laying eggs or baby turtles hatching and entering the sea at certain times of the year.

On Borneo itself there are luxuriant jungles, rivers leading to a mountainous interior and a wealth of wildlife. In Kinabalu National Park there are a range of nature experiences from hiking in the mountains to seeing the world’s largest flower.

Sabah enjoys relatively calm weather as it is outside of the typhoon belt.

The northern tip of Borneo. Pic: Tony Jones.

The coast of Sarawak closer to Peninsula Malaysia also offers excellent sailing. Anchoring off the village of Santubong to travel in to the capital of Kuching is a great stop off. The local laksa is not to be missed, especially washed down with the Sarawak rice spirit tuak.

The Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre offers one of Malaysia’s best experiences of seeing orang-utans and Bako National Park has incredible jungle and hiking.

Sailors can also explore the vast river and delta system of the Batang Rajang in Sarawak.