Colourful Motel, Pantai Cenang, Langkawi
It is difficult to imagine a more idyllic escape than Langkawi, 104 tiny islands that shoot up out of the deep blue Andaman Sea, offering divine beaches, coral-reef diving, jungle walks and accommodation that caters for every budget, from total luxury to funky backpacker hostels like Colourful Motel. The motel is more Sergeant Pepper psychedelic than plain colourful, and the young owner, Che Mad, has also named each of his four rooms after sportscars like Porsche and Ferrari. Don’t expect to be pampered though, as the accommodation is basic, but clean, with private bathroom and air con. Pantai Cenang beach is one of the most beautiful on Langkawi and also a party haven, with bars, barbecues and live bands playing by the water. Next door is one of the most famous Cenang nightspots, the Babylon bar, which can be great if you want to hear live reggaebut not so good if you’re looking for a quiet nights sleep.
• +60 17419 0007, no website. Doubles from M$120 (around £24), room only
Most travellers drive over to Langkawi’s idyllic beach to admire the fine white sand and incredible limestone outcrops by the water’s edge, stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort, or set off at the river jetty for a tour of the steamy mangrove wetlands. But those looking for an eccentric attraction head straight for Scarborough, a fish and chips restaurant on the beach; alongside it are two holiday caravans for rent, which Anglophile owner Param Dhillon claims are the only ones in Malaysia. The scene is quite surreal, with a mixed bunch of tourists and locals tucking into cod and chips, while savvy travellers book a stay at the caravan (which comes with all mod cons, including air-conditioning). Walk out the door and you’re right on a paradise beach fringed with coconut trees that seems to stretch forever. The price is not that cheap, but the caravan can sleep four which makes it a great family option.
• +60 4 959 4667, no website, £61 a night B&B (sleeps 4)
Lone Pine Resort, Batu Ferringhi, Penang
Batu Ferringhi – "foreigner’s rock" – is Malaysia’s oldest beach resort, and the Lone Pine was the first hotel to open here, back in 1948. It has recently been restored and transformed into a retro boutique property. Guests have the choice of staying in the original colonial building, with vintage furniture and album covers from the 60s and 70s decorating the walls, or in the new low-rise annexe, whose spacious rooms are bright and minimalist, many with balcony and sea views. You can walk straight on to the beach and relax under swaying casuarina trees, but the designer pool, lined with Arabian-style tents and comfy cushions, is even more tempting. The hotel has an excellent coffee shop serving local cuisine, plus a gourmet Japanese restaurant. At night the whole of Batu Ferringhi livens up with bars and clubs, and the Lone Pine’s Batubar has an inhouse DJ.
• +60 4 886 8686, lonepinehotel.com. Doubles from £94, B&B
Chymes, Tanjung Bungah, Penang
If Batu Ferringhi is a foreigner’s beach, then Tanjung Bungah is the favourite of Penangites, just a quarter of an hour outside George Town, the island’s Unesco world heritage site. Tanjong Bungah is one the most exclusive parts of Penang, with the coast road lined with towering luxury condominiums. But there are still a few stylish 1950s and 60s bungalows tucked away, and the enterprising Suan Bee Tan rented one three years ago, transforming it into an elegant B&B on the beach. Try to book a room on the top floor – Vanilla Black or Morning Dew – as they have sea views. The place is difficult to find the first time, but the bus stop is two minutes walk away and a ride into town costs 40p. There is a comfy lounge with satellite TV and a mah-jong table, while for breakfast you can choose between spicy Malaysian and an old-fashioned fry-up.
• +60 4 890 9088, chymeshotel.com. Doubles from£59, B&B
Maznah Guest House, Cherating, Pahang
The east coast of Malaysia is one long tropical sandy beach, stretching 400 miles from the Thai border in the north down to Singapore, with dozens of islands that are perfect for scuba diving. Cherating, in Pahang, was one of the first locations to attract backpackers, and Cik Maznah opened her guesthouse back in 1989. Her homestay is in the main village, but the beach is only two minutes away, and Maznah has maintained the standard of her accommodation while the hippy beach huts by the bay are run down. Guests can choose simple huts with a fan and shared toilet, or modern bungalows with air con and private bathrooms.
• +60 9 581 9359, no website. Doubles from £5
Holiday Villa, Cherating, Pahang
The Malaysian owners of Holiday Villa hotels have opened urban resorts as far away as Paris and London, but their first, on Cherating’s long beach, remains a pet project.The grounds are a tropical garden of exotic plants and flowers. Guests can choose a room in one of two modern blocks separated by a pool with the sea just 100 yards away; or one of the Eastern Pavillions, two-room suites with private plunge pool.
• +60 9 581 9500, holidayvillahotelcherating.com. Doubles from £37 B&B, Eastern Pavillions from £122
Tenggol Coral Beach Resort, Tenggol island, Terengganu
Tempting islands are dotted all along the east coast, many of them renowned dive centres. Tenggol island is one of the lesser known destinations, popular more for day trips on fishermen’s boats out of the bustling port of Dunggun. There have always been a few basic A-frame huts on Tenggol’s beach, but in April of this year the Coral Beach opened up. Run by two young Chinese dive enthusiasts, Markus and Jeff, the resort is definitely not luxurious, but the 20 wooden chalets – a mixture of four-bed and doubles – are comfortable, with air con and private bathrooms. Running along the water’s edge, the chalets resemble a private village, with hammocks strung between palm trees, an open air restaurant and bar, and boats moored ready to explore the coral reefs for scuba and snorkelling. The price may seem expensive, but it is an all-inclusive deal, covering the 45-minute speedboat journey to and from the mainland, plus meals. The basic price quoted includes snorkelling, with prices rising for dive packages.
• +60 1 2218 7705, www.tenggolisland.com. From £57pp, transport and meals included
Angullia Beach House Resort, Marang, Terengganu
The Angullia has been welcoming travellers for over 24 years, and it is easy to see the reasons for its success. The prices are extremely reasonable – £5 a night for shared dorms, with the choice of beach chalets to kampung-style houses in the sprawling gardens. A beach cafe is open during the day, and a lively restaurant at night specialising in Malay curries and freshly-caught barbecued fish. For snorkelling and scuba, local fishermen go for day trips to the reefs around nearby Kapas island
• +60 9 618 1322, facebook.com/Angulliaresort. Doubles from £20 room only, dorms from £5pp
Bubu Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Terengganu
High up the coast towards the border with Thailand, the islands and marine park of Perhentian are among Malaysia’s most popular destinations. Of the two main islands, Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil ("big" and "small" Perhentian), the latter has the better choice of accommodation. Most of the action is on the white sand Long Beach, where there are plenty of very simple chalets – check out Mohsin, Matahari and Moonlight Chalets – where a bed costs £6-10 as long as you are prepared to live without air con, share a bathroom and are not too picky about cleanliness. Bubu is the only proper resort, perfectly placed right on the beach with 38 rooms, many with balconies looking over the water. Bubu’s owner also has a funky restaurant in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, so the food here on Perhentian is one of the big attractions, including barbecues on the beach.
• +60 9 691 1333, buburesort.com.my. Doubles from £61 B&B
Japamala Resort, Tioman island, Pahang
If there is one beach resort worth a splash-out – and break the £100-a-night limit for this series – then it is Japamala, on the island of Tioman, designed to disturb the island’s natural beauty as little as possible by dynamic Italian-Malaysian couple, Federico Asaro and Maple Loo. Pulau Tioman is a paradise hideaway where the legendary Hollywood movie South Pacific was filmed.Although the island now has its own airport, a choppy, much less expensive, three-hour ferry also links it to Mersing on the East Coast. For budget stays, there are simple huts, chalets and dive centres, fun bars and simple restaurants around Air Batang and Salang beaches. Japamala is far from the crowds, accessible only by boat, along a cliffside covered with dense rainforest, looking out over the South China Sea. A long wooden pier across the water leads to the resort’s gourmet restaurant, while of the 13 chalets, some are surrounded by jungle, others are perched treehouse-style above the canopy.
• +60 9 419 7777, japamalaresorts.com. Doubles from M$660 £135, B&B
Car hire was provided by carrentals.co.uk. Flights from London to Malaysia with Malaysia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com). For low cost internal flights, visit fireflyz.com.my and airasia.com