Malaysian island hopping with the family

Malaysia's islands make for the perfect family holiday. Photo: iStock

Running away to a dreamy tropical island is child’s play for Aussie families, with three irresistible Malaysian escapes that pack sunny days with snorkelling safaris and beachside dining, low-cost luxury and seamless island accessibility parents will appreciate.

With quick, extremely affordable connecting flights out of Kuala Lumpur to the rest of Malaysia, pack your bags for the Perhentians, ride a ferry to coral-fringed Tioman Island or experience a Borneo island escape off Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.

Pristine waters of The Perhentian Islands. Photo: Getty Image

The Perhentian Islands
Famed by pristine dive spots and straight-off-the-sand snorkelling, the Perhentian Islands are an idyllic family holiday destination in the country’s far north east. Two coral-girthed isles with jungly interiors offer rooms with sea views, and beaches where kids can build sandcastles while you unwind over a candlelight dinner.

Perhentian Kecil, the smaller island of the two, provides budget-busting beachfront bungalows, while luxury takes a step up on Perhentian Besar. Have fun in the water as a family at Shark Point where harmless blacktip reef sharks congregate close to shore or rent a sea kayak to explore secret coves.

Even your small entourage can join snorkelling safaris to nearby islands of Lang Tengah and Redang, or volunteer with Ecoteer to experience Malaysian village life and aid island conservation projects.

Essentials: From Kuala Lumpur fly to Kota Bharu, take a taxi to the port at Kuala Besut (1 hour) and continue by speedboat to the islands (30 minutes). The Perhentian Islands is the perfect retreat for the entire family. The Perhentian islands experience a heavy monsoon season between October and March, and most of the islands are essentially closed off to tourists. The best time to visit the islands is between April and September due to the warm weather and limited rainfall.

Snorkelling fun for the kids. Photo: Getty Image

Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
Want to eyeball the world's largest fish? Between November and February in the protected waters off Kota Kinabalu, plankton blooms attract krill and enormous whale sharks that provide thrilling snorkelling encounters for you and the kids.

Accessible by fast ferry in under 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, five coral-fringed islands within the marine sanctuary provide a family-friendly mix of resort accommodation, snorkelling trips and learn-to-dive adventures.

Take the kids kayaking through the mangroves on Gaya Island where you can spot Proboscis Monkeys. There are several protected species of mammals on the island, including the binturong, long-tailed macaque, slow loris, black giant squirrel, red giant flying squirrel, mouse deer, brush-tailed porcupine, and common palm civet, from a total of 45 species of mammals and 138 species of birds.

After this, ride a 250 metre-long zipline across the sea to the popular coral-fringed Sapi Island.

Essentials: Boats from Kota Kinabalu’s Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal access all islands, every day. Sabah is desirably hot and humid year-round, with highest rainfalls from November to April when whale sharks arrive.

Tioman Island Photo: iStock

Tioman Island
Tempted by the thought of wanderlust diving, nightly seafood barbecues and a breezy bar at sunset for sipping tropical cocktails whilst being able to entertain the kids? Tioman’s turtle-shaped isle showcases the laid-back side of Malaysia, surrounded by blue-green waters and located within easy reach of Johor Bahru.

With a mountainous interior and dozens of remote beaches to explore, Tioman Island is equipped for families, with some hotels providing pools and playgrounds.The gorgeous, Wide Beach at Juara on Tioman Island’s Eastern side offers ultra-affordable beachfront rooms on a picturesque bay that’s ideal for kids.

Ride a boat to Asah Waterfall, visit Juara Turtle Project’s hatchery and education centre, and spend time snorkeling at Monkey Bay or nearby Coral Island. Little ones keen to stay dry will love feeding the fish that gather beneath the jetty near Kampung Air Batang otherwise known as ABC (or jump in and watch them scatter!)

Tioman Island has a hot and humid climate, with sunny afternoon and warm evenings but cool nights. The tourist season peaks between May and August, with the monsoon season from October to January, bringing heavy rainfall and strong waves. During this time ferries run once a day, while only selected large hotels will open.

Essentials: Drive to Mersing from Johor Bahru for the ferry ride to Tioman (2-3 hours by boat).

A family holiday to Malaysia costs little in return for the priceless memories with your family. Find the best deals and book your next family getaway with AirAsia .