Malaysia isn’t the first place that comes to mind when contemplating a sailing holiday, with most people opting to head to Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines instead. When it comes to the typical image of the tropical island surrounded by beautiful blue sea, Malaysia really has so much to offer.
Sailing here is considered to be relatively straightforward, although it’s sometimes difficult to spot reefs at anchorage areas and charter companies do advise you to anchor by 5pm. The sea can be unpredictable.
There are two types of ‘sailors’ on holiday. There’s the type who gets right into it – hoisting sails, figuring out where to go and has probably done a sailing course or two; and the other who likes the idea of sailing but just wants to sit around tanning and sipping sundowners. You can indulge in both of these here.
If you plan to sail with children, remember that safety must be a priority, specifically for the younger ones. Always ensure they have their life jackets on and keep an eye on them at all times when out at sea.
Langkawi and beyond
A good place to start is in Langkawi. It’s a short flight away and there are a couple of yacht charter companies that can organise anything from daily jaunts around the surrounding islands to longer trips that cross the border into Thailand. Sailing holidays are usually group or family affairs – it’s not exactly the ideal break for a single person unless they’re really trying to get away from something!
Next, you have to decide what kind of boat you want to charter and this depends on what kind of holiday you want. If you want to practise your sailing skills or have people in your group who have experience, a bareboat charter is most appropriate. If you want an extra pair of experienced hands onboard, a skippered boat is ideal.
An archipelago with 99 islands to explore, sailing around Langkawi gives you access to some truly wonderful scenery. A short sail away from Langkawi is Pulau Dayang Bunting (Island of the Pregnant Maiden), the second largest island in the archipelago. This will give you a small taste of how easy it is to get around these waters.
What most people do is spend a couple of days around Langkawi before heading across the maritime border into Thailand. Koh Lipe is approximately 30 nautical miles away and located near the Tarutao National Park, which means that the islands in this area are uninhabited. Koh Lipe has safe anchorage and can be your base as you embark on day sails to the surrounding islands, where you’ll literally be the only one on the beach on most days.
And that’s the beauty of sailing – the ability to get away from the crowds and see things from a different perspective. The waters surrounding these islands are that mesmerising shade of blue and green, unique to tropical seas and when the weather is good, this is some of the best sailing to be had in the region.
You can also sail from Langkawi to Penang; while the waters on this route aren’t very inviting, it’s a full day’s journey and a good opportunity for you to practise your skills or learn from the skipper.
On the east coast of the peninsula is Pulau Tioman, which is one of the most visited island destinations in the country. Visitors usually arrive via ferry from Mersing and head straight to their hotels on the popular beaches. Diving and snorkelling are what they come for, but this is also a great sailing destination. The difference between Langkawi and Tioman is that there aren’t many charter yachts available on the island, which means you have to book a boat and it will be brought to the island.
Tioman is part of the Seribuat Archipelago, off the east coast of Johor. There are 64 islands to explore and while Tioman is actually part of the state of Pahang, it’s the most famous of the islands here. This means that all the other islands don’t see many visitors making them an excellent choice to visit by boat.
Start by heading to Pulau Renggis, which is a tiny island just off Tioman. Sail through to Pulau Rawa, Tengah and Besar, which are famed for their powder-white beaches and amazing underwater life. Smaller islands like Pulau Tinggi and Pemanggil also deser ve a stop, especially if you appreciate the tranquillity of islands that don’t see many visitors.
Not all these islands offer accommodation, so knowing you have a comfortable cabin to return to at the end of each day is a bonus.