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Global Connections

Sweden and Malaysia's island paradises

By Matthew Knight for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sweden and Malaysia both have islands which are feted by tourists
  • Tens of thousands of islands can be found off the Swedish coast
  • Malaysian islands home to some of the best beaches and diving spots in the world

(CNN) -- With its freezing, dark winters and summer days that in the north of the country that literally never end, Sweden wouldn't appear to share much in common with the equatorial heat of Malaysia.

But both country's coastlines are home to some of the world's finest island groups.

Sweden

Sweden's 7,000 kilometers of coastline has a wide variety of archipelagos. Huge clusters of islands can be found off the northeast and south eastern and western coasts.

They range from the largest, Gotland -- around 50 miles off the south east coast, which is blessed with some of the country's best beaches -- to tiny barren outcrops that are home to nothing more than a few shrubs and plants.

The Stockholm Archipelago, for example, has over 24,000 islands, but only around 1,000 of these are inhabited.

Sailors, canoeists, campers and fishermen all stream out from the mainland during the spring and summer to make the most of the unique environment.

The beaches, fishing ports and forests of Grinda are popular with tourists, as is the historic island of Fejan which sits on the edge of the open sea.

The West Coast Archipelago, situated off the coast of Gothenburg, includes the small but idyllic islands of Styrso and Vinga -- which is home to a famous old lighthouse.

The High Coast is in the northeastern province of Angermanland includes a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lying in the Gulf of Bothnia, its islands have been shaped by glaciation and glacial retreat.

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Malaysia

Thirty miles off the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia is Langkawi -- one of Southeast Asia's most popular holiday destinations.

Turquoise seas and white powdery sands fringe the island which will satisfy most tourists. But venture inland and another paradise awaits you with acres of densely forested hills and paddy fields to explore and admire.

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Travel 100 kilometers south to find Penang Island in the Straits of Melaka. Known as the "Pearl of the Orient," it was once an important strategic trading post for the British East India Company. It is Malaysia's fourth largest island and its historic capital Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On the other side of Peninsular Malaysia you'll find Tioman, a small island nestling in the South China Sea.

The beaches are exceptional but the island is also home to over 12,000 hectares of tropical forest which rise steeply from the shoreline. It was also the setting for the 1958 Hollywood musical "South Pacific."

Sipadan is Malaysia's only oceanic island rising 700 meters from the sea floor in the Celebes Sea off the coast of East Malaysia. Legendary oceanographer once described the tiny 12-hectare island as "an untouched piece of art."

It remains one of the best diving locations in the world. The island is home to a bird sanctuary and divers can look forward to seeing turtles, barracudas and swirling schools of jack fish.