Shining amidst translucent waters off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, TIOMAN ISLAND is every island buff’s dream destination
Tioman is the largest among a group of more than 60 volcanic islands in the South China Sea, located off the southeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia. During weekends, recreational divers from the mainland and Singapore flock to the island in droves to dive the crystal-clear waters and explore the coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Non-divers can go snorkeling, explore waterfalls and jungle treks under the shadow of the twin peaks of Gunung Nenek Semukut and Gunung Batu Simau. For those who just want to relax, a visit to one of the idyllic local villages, a walk along the beach during sunset or stargazing at night can be a memorable experience.
The pear-shaped island, which TIME magazine at one time described as one of the world’s most beautiful, has a link with Singapore that goes back to mythical times. Legend has it that a dragon princess from China, on her way to visit her prince in Temasek (Singapore), stopped to rest at Tioman. While taking a breather, she was so captivated by the beauty and charm of the island that she decided to forgo her rendezvous with the prince to spend the rest of her life on the island, offering shelter to weary seafarers. For thousands of years, Chinese, Arab and European trading ships have enjoyed her protection while making a stopover here for fresh water, coconut and wood.
THINGS TO DO
If you love the outdoors, Tioman will not disappoint. The island, only 12km wide and 39km long, is small but it has mountains, waterfalls, several resorts and endless stretch of white sandy beaches. If you’re adventurous, you can trek from one village to another. Start early in the morning as it gets dark inside the jungle by late afternoon. A popular trekking path is the one that connects Tekek with Juara village on the east coast.
Along the way, you will be passing a natural habitat filled with flora and fauna. You might want to visit the waterfalls at Mukut where the Hollywood box-office hit South Pacific was filmed.
If you’re interested in diving, there are several dive centres around the island that take divers out to popular dive spots. On a good day, visibility can stretch beyond 10 metres underwater. Beginners can also take a three- or four-day crash course to get a diving certificate. However, you need not be a diver to enjoy the colourful coral reefs and marine life. Most of the resorts and chalets offer snorkel gear rentals.
Golfers can swing into action on the 18-hole international course at Berjaya Tioman Resort. Some of the resorts have facilities for windsurfing, banana boat rides and beach volleyball, among others. You can also negotiate with the local boat owners to take you out fishing, island hopping or just a sunset cruise.
GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND
The easiest and cheapest way to get from one part of the island to another is to hop onboard a Blue Water Express ferry. To visit other places on the island, you could ask your hotel to arrange for a local boat operator to take you. There are also foot-paths which connect some of the villages on the island. If you enjoy sunsets, you might want to stay on the west side of the island in villages such as Panuba, Salang, Air Batang (ABC), Paya, Genting and Mukut. If you’re an early riser, you would be in a better position to catch the sunrise on the east side of the island at Juara village which is quieter.
WHERE TO STAY
If you have money to splurge, JapaMala Resort (www.japamalaresorts.com) should be top on your list. However, to get from the resort to other spots on Tioman island, you would need to take a boat ride.
At the mid-range, Berjaya Tioman Resort (www.berjayahotels-resorts.com), the largest on the island, offers good value for money. If you’re staying at Berjaya, do check out the small Renggis island directly opposite the dive centre which is a great spot for snorkelling.
At the budget end, you can find great deals at Panuba Inn Resort (panubainnresort.com), Bamboo Hill Chalets (www.bamboohillchalets.com) or Swiss Cottage Tioman (swiss-cottage-tioman.com). Panuba Inn is a secluded resort on the north-western side of the island with its own private beach where you can catch spectacular sunsets or walk to the nearby Air Batang village. Swiss Cottage, at the southern end of Tekek beach, is a popular choice for divers as the Tioman Dive Centre is located there. Most of the budget chalets are on the west side of the island.
WHERE TO EAT
Most of the resorts have their own restaurants or beach bars. Food on the island is slightly more expensive by local standards as supply is mostly shipped over from the mainland. Resort operators take advantage of the fact that you’re stuck on the island with basically very limited choices. For cheaper alternatives, you might want to check out the restaurants and cafes at the local villages. The perfect island experience would to be a combination of sun, sea and reggae music while chomping on a local Ramly burger downed with coconut juice.
WHEN TO GO
Other than the monsoon months between November and February when it rains frequently and the sea becomes choppy, Tioman enjoys good weather throughout the year. The island gets busy during weekends with groups of divers from Singapore while weekdays are quieter.
The road trip from Kuala Lumpur to the Mersing jetty is between four and five hours. From Singapore, it’s a three-hour drive to the jetty. Buses run regularly from both cities. At the jetty, you can pick the ferries operated by different operators but generally it takes between two to three hours to reach the island. If you don’t mind paying a slight premium, take the Cataferry (www.cataferry.com) which departs from the jetties at either Tanjung Gemuk at Kuala Rompin or from Mersing.
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