With soft, powdery white sandy beaches and almost untouched natural surroundings, Lankayan Island or Pulau Lankayan is a secluded paradise found in Sabah, East Malaysia (Borneo). Lankayan Island is ideal for those who seek a romantic getaway or for those who wish to dive in its pristine waters away from the masses. 

Lankayan derives its name from a Sulug word, lakian, meaning final or last of the series – a fitting name for this remote Malaysian island in the Sulu Sea. It is located in the northeast and is part of the Coral Triangle region. The Coral Triangle is in the western Pacific Ocean and includes the waters of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.


aerial view of lankayan island the gem of borneo sabah
Aerial view over Lankayan Island

There are no other inhabitants of this paradise island in Borneo with the exception of those from the one and only eco-friendly Lankayan Island Dive Resort. It was built with sustainability in mind and is instrumental in having the surrounding waters protected and declared a national marine park.

boardwalk with malaysia and sabah flags towards chalets in lankayan island borneo
The boardwalk from the jetty to Lankayan Island Dive Resort


Made out of local wooden materials to blend in with the natural surroundings, each of the 24 beach front chalets at Lankayan Island Dive Resort have private balconies that overlook the white sandy beach and crystal clear ocean. All chalets offer direct access to the beach which is in fact just at your front door step. Rooms include a mini refrigerator, hot running water, and a coffee maker. Power outlets are compatible with 220V or 110V appliances. 

Although situated on a remote island, this resort offers modern amenities and an open-terrace restaurant and bar. Internet is also available at a fee for those who cannot live without technology.

There is a marine conservation fee of MYR25 for each guest staying at the resort. This fee is collected by Reef Guardian to help protect and maintain the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area.

Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area

Conservation efforts have made Lankayan Island one of Borneo’s best dive destinations by maintaining the pristine condition of its reefs and by protecting its rare and endangered marine life.  In December 2001 the Malaysian government declared Lankayan one of three islands constituting the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA). The other two islands in the SIMCA are Billean and Tegaipil, both equally as remote. Fishing and removal of corals are prohibited in the area. 

Over 600 species of reef-building corals, over 2,000 species of reef fish, 25 species of seagrass and algae, seven species of giant clams and six of the seven marine turtle species have been found and recorded around Lankayan Island. These include two species of marine turtles and the manatee.

turtle hatchery netting in lankayan island dive resort
Learn more about the life cycle of sea turtles at the on-site hatchery

Visitors to Lankayan Island Dive Resort may spot the huge and harmless whale shark from March through May.  As part of the Sea Turtle Corridor, Lankayan Island is a regular stop for Green and Hawksbill turtles. From June through September, sea turtles come through Lankayan to nest and the resort’s guests can request that they be woken up or contacted if the turtle hatching occurs during their stay. Throughout the year, the island’s colourful reefs are home to a wealth of marine life.

What to Do in Lankayan Island

It is without a doubt that Lankayan Island has one of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Sabah. These two activities will definitely be the highlights of your stay here. With its world-class coral reefs and pristine clear waters, there is much to see around the island. Just stepping onto the shore for a quick swim is equally as amazing with marine life all around you. 

scuba diving map of dive sites around lankayan island in borneo
There are many places to scuba dive around the island

For snorkelers, the shallow house reefs at Lankayan Island is perfect for spotting baby blacktip sharks and Nemos. For the avid scuba divers, there are over 32 dive sites to choose from including several wrecks and numerous small reefs that surround Lankayan Island. Divers also get unlimited self-guided shore and night dives in front of the in-house scuba center, where you can also rent necessary equipment.

You May Also Like : Perhentian Islands: Paradise Islands in West Malaysia

hammock tied on trees on lankayan island with white sand and blue sea
Laze away on the hammock by the beach

Those who wish to stay dry can explore the 2km coastline of white sandy beaches, work on the perfect tan, daydream under the palm trees or get onto a kayak and view the magnificent underwater life from above. 

Enjoy amazing sunsets in the evening and watch nature come to life on Lankayan at night with dancing fireflies and swooping fruit bats around you. 

Click here to discover the Top Things to Do around Lankayan Island & Sandakan

How to get to Lankayan Island

Getting to Lankayan Island takes a fair bit of time but it is well worth it. The closest mainland town from the island is Sandakan and fortunately, there is an airport there. Once at the airport, there will be a transfer from the airport to Sandakan PSR Jetty, located near Sandakan Post Office. This journey will take 20 minutes.

Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines flies daily from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.

Lankayan Island can only be reached by a 90-minute speedboat ride from Sandakan. Speedboat transfers and hotel pick-up/drop-off is included in your package with the dive resort. Plan your trip to arrive by 9 a.m. or earlier, otherwise you will need to spend a night in Sandakan and only transfer to the island the next day.Transfers to the island depart at 10:00am but do check with the resort on the possibility of arranging for other timings. 

If you decide to travel from Sandakan to the Philippines or vice versa, there are also alternatives by ferry.

The island is situated east of Sabah

Best time to visit

Lankayan Island remains open throughout the year and you can opt to dive at anytime as visibility is generally good when there is no rain.

March to October is dry season and probably the best time to visit Lankayan Island is between August and September with milder temperatures averaging around 27°C in the day 23°C at night with high visibility underwater when there is no rain.

Water temperature ranges from 25°C to 31°C although in the dry season, water temperatures may rise up to 30°C.

Is Lankayan Island safe?

Lankayan Island in the Sulu Sea is very close to the Phillippine border and the Mindanao area where terrorist groups have succeeded in kidnapping tourists in the past. However, guests to the island can rest assured as there is a permanent military base on the island with at least 30 soldiers discreetly stationed at all times to protect its guests. Sea traffic is also prohibited after dark around the area ensuring the island’s safety. During the speedboat transfers to and from the island and on dive trips,  you will be escorted by armed personnel for added security.

Is Lankayan Island child-friendly?

Yes, Lankayan Island is child-friendly. The island has a safe area for snorkelling near the jetty for children, a turtle hatchery to learn more about turtles and shallow, calm waters. Older children can learn how to dive and accompany their parents. However, children must be supervised by their parents at all times around the sea as there are no lifeguards stationed.

*Pictures by Pulau Sipadan Resorts & Tours

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  • This article is an amazing read – I had no idea there was such a secluded paradise in Sabah! It sounds like Lankayan Island is a great destination for those who are looking for a romantic getaway or for some amazing snorkeling and scuba diving. I’m definitely looking into booking a holiday here soon!

  • Its a beautiful getaway. Honestly i had to google the place first to lookup where exactly it falls. And a NO locals beach–worth thinking

    • sunstylefiles

      Thanks for your feedback. We will look into incorporating a map in the post to make it easier for our future readers! Have a lovely sunny day x

  • Wow! What a lovely getaway in the lap of beautiful nature. Lankayan Island looks so beautiful and pristine. I love its tranquil vibes – a perfect place to unwind.

  • storiesnimages

    Wow – definitely need to add this to my bucket list! I love sea turtles and it’d be great to see them in person. The water looks so clear – I’m glad you made the comment about snorkeling and scuba, as I’d love to try them both!

  • Borneo is like heaven on Earth… This place and your pictures are just too beautiful! I really hope I’ll visit it one day!

  • I never heard about this place before, but I had been to Maldives and I know the feeling of having beach for yourself. I would love to go here some day.

  • Pujarini Mitra

    I haven’t heard of Lankayan island but now it is in my list. A truly tropical paradise, what fun it would be to dive here!

  • I visited Borneo Sabah side few years ago and it was such an adventure for me. I didn’t know about Lankayan island though. Now that I do will definitely visit it on my next trip.

  • Wow, Lankyan is truly such a beautiful island! Lankyan Island Dive resort seems to be like a dreamy place to stay in with all the beautiful views of the 24 beaches, specially from private balconies. It’s also interesting to know that we can explore Marine life from the sea there. Thanks for introducing me to this beautiful island. Will have to plan a trip there soon 🙂

  • This island looks beautiful! We love to snorkel and hopefully one day, diving too so I’ve added it to my snorkel bucket list! Seeing the baby sharks and hatching turtles would be absolutely phenomenal!

  • Wow this looks really lovely. I lived in SE Asia for a long time but never got here, guess I will have to return.

  • WOW! We have been to Borneo but not to Lankayan Island so far and this post nudges us. Food to know about the safety concerns being answered as well as one wpould rely on first hand experience any day! We remember being asked the same question when we were Backpacking North East India and know for sure how safe it is to do so. Look forward to visit this paradise soon! Love… Backpacking Series

  • With such emerald water and glittering sands, Lankayan Island really looks like a paradise. the article is really useful. The island is a true gem and would definitely like to visit it.

  • Sulie Loves You

    Oh wowww. I have never been to Borneo, but I should! I’m not that far away. The aerial shots are awesomeeee. You should tag @wedroneasia on instagram too.

  • A highly informative and educative post! I am glad you have touched upon all the concerns that a potential tourist like me shall have. Be it safety or internet connection or the open terrace garden! It is truly a sustainable tourist island! Thanks for a wonderful read.

  • Oh my goodness! This place is paradise! We spent almost a year in Southeast Asia, but never made it so Borneo. I was sad we missed it then, but now I think I HAVE TO plan a trip back! Thanks for sharing!

  • A sustainable tourist island…impressive! I wonder if there’s a cap on the number of people that can visit at a time to prevent over-crowding. It’s a bit scary about the military base and the prevalence of kidnappings, though. There are only 30 soldiers but terrorists can come in hundreds if they know there are foreigners from countries that can pay expensive ransoms. So sad, the state of the world right now.

    • sunstylefiles

      There are also naval ships nearby so all is good and there hasn’t been any incidences on that island to date. As for a cap, there’s only one resort on the island so the maximum is what they can accommodate.

  • Looks stunning. I love the article and the photos you have got me sold

  • It’s so interesting to me that there are no locals on this island. Instead, it’s just an island solely for tourist. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it’s sure going to get me to think lol.

    • sunstylefiles

      Haha well most tourists are actually locals who visit the island for diving or for a family getaway and you have local staff working there (not forgetting the friendly military personnel).

    • Hi! In SE Asia (Malaysia no exception) it’s often more practical to zone a marine park, and site eco-resorts, in islands that do not already have a village (perhaps due to things like lack of building materials, or low amounts of fresh water, etc.). It is much easier to enforce environmental and building regulations on a single new resort, than a longstanding civilian population used to their own ways. Also much easier to constrain development to stay within the ecosystem’s carrying capacity.

      Sometimes this is not possible, of course, since usually people already live within productive yet critical reef habitats. A lot more advocacy, with more mixed results, is required to transition villages into more sustainable management of their reef resources.


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