When I travel abroad, my route is usually Cebu-Kuala Lumpur-somewhere. It is the most convenient and the most affordable for me. Kuala Lumpur has some of the biggest airline hubs in Southeast Asia, that’s why. During my fifth time in Malaysia, this time with Tobias, we decided to explore the eastern part of the country. We traveled to Tioman Island, and these are the loose observations we had witnessed on the island. You can take this an updated travel guide to Tioman Island.
1. Mersing-Tioman Island boat schedules depend on the tide.
Mersing, a three-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur, is the common jump-off point for Tioman Island. There are many ships and boats that ferry tourists and locals alike to the island. Oftentimes, the passenger boats have similar schedules for their departure to and from Tioman Island. Everything depends on the month’s high tides. Go Visit Tioman posts the boat schedules every month.
If you are staying in Mersing for a night (we stayed for three nights), double-check the schedule with your hotel personnel. Because number 2.
Cost of the one-way ticket per person (as of February 2017) is 35RM.
2. The shipping companies can cancel boat trips anytime they want.
That’s a bit of exaggeration. Shipping companies just follow the words of the coast guards, really. We traveled to Tioman Island on the tail-end of the rainy season (February), and we got stranded on the island for three more nights because there were no passenger boats from and to Tioman Island. The alliance of hotel owners called some people in Mersing and pleaded for us. The locals said they were around 150-200 tourists stranded on the island (it sounded bad, but it wasn’t really) I mean, we are on the beach, getting lazier and fatter by the day!
The situation was shitty for some who had some flights to catch in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
3. There are up to 12 jetties on the island.
You should know where on the island you are staying. We stayed in Air Batang area, so we got off at Air Batang. The most popular pick is Tekek, the so-called center of the island. Next is Juara, which is located on the side of the island and requires a 4WD to reach. We did not make it to Salang, but it seems that it has the best beaches.
4. Forget boring rooms, chalets are the trend on the island.
Chalets are everywhere! Most of them could not be found online, unfortunately. Most resorts on Tioman Island have private chalets with private bathrooms and terrace.
We stayed in ABC Chalet and Restaurat, located at the end of Air Batang. It is the most affordable we found online, 110RM/night at that. But if you have the patience to scour the village for the best chalet deals, then not booking anything online is always a good option.
5. There are no roads that connect all villages.
Air Batang and Tekek are connected by a tiny cemented path passable by bicycles, tricycles, and motorbikes, but only bicycles can pass through the metal bars found at the end of the boardwalk near the Marine Park. Tekek and Juara have a one-lane road only accessible with 4WD. If you are crazy enough, you can do it with a manual motorbike. Juara is a nice place to check out; if you are not confident with your driving skills, you can always opt for a 4WD tour. It costs 150RM for two.
6. Fact 4 gives birth to a creature named sea taxi.
If you do not have the time to trek through the jungle to reach the next village (say, Air Batang to Salang through the dirt path in the jungle takes 2 hours/one way), your hotel can always arrange for a sea taxi or you can join a boat tour around, which costs 60RM-75RM/per person. The island’s terrain makes decent roads impossible, I guess. Too many hills towering behind the chalets and houses.
Cars only exist in Tekek and Juara.
7. It takes naïve courage and confidence to drive a motorbike from Tekek to Juara.
Naïvely, we did. The first rental shop declined us after learning our destination. Could not speak English, the local owners just said, “Juara? No, no.” We were ill-equipped, information-wise. We eventually found a rental shop that says okay for 60RM (expensive compared to Vietnam and Philippine rates). We had the motorbike until 630PM.
We did not know then that the road is rather very steep (36-47degrees) and curvy, the worst combination for someone who just had his first experience with manual motorbikes in Mersing!
Although we rented a manual motorbike, I had to get off three times, so the motorbike could make it through.
Well, Tobias weighed 100kgs, so it is like there are three humans on one motorbike.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you ever embark on the same craziness, make sure the motorbike’s breaks work properly. Here are some more fun things to do in Pulau Tioman.
8. The island has two functional ATMs located in Tekek.
If you run out of cash, which most likely happens when you get stranded, don’t worry. There are two functional ATMS located in Tekek. You cannot possibly miss them. They stand side by side along the road near the airport.
Most establishments—restaurants and hotels—only accept cash as a mode of payment. Some diving shops accept credit cards.
9. Diving is the main reason tourists come here.
Beach-wise, it is hard to top my homecountry’s—the Philippines. We came here with one reason in mind—to dive. Our last dive was in Vietnam almost two years ago. So we had to do a refresher course, which costs 160RM/person on top of the cost of our 1 dive trip.
We dove with B&J diving center, which is slightly more expensive than other diving shops. The crew is seasoned. We explored the Pirates’ Island, a five-minute boat trip from Air Batang.
The current was strong, the visibility crappy. But despite that, we spotted some eels and beautiful coral formations. BJ’s house reef has some good stuff too. Spotted our first blue-spotted mantra ray! Yay!
When is the best time to visit Tioman Island? Ideally, in summer. And by that, we mean April and May.
10. There are cats everywhere. I mean, everywhere!
It takes 15 minutes to reach Tekek from Air Batang on foot. But it took us 30 minutes. Well, you know, cats are everywhere. It seems like each household has a furry friend or two. And you cannot possibly ignore them when they lounge by the tiny path. Oh those sleepy eyes, those very bitable paws, those pinkish snouts! Grrrr, they make me so gigil!
Our resort alone has at least five cats. Three of them accompanied us to our chalet!
11. There are many monkeys. Cats are cuter, still.
If you have been to Bali (Indonesia) and Batu Caves (Malaysia), monkeys would not be new to you. The ones on the island are wild and not fed. You can find a lot of them on the Tekek-Juara road junction. They are not violent. They are like your old grandpas lounging by the road, having fun by simply looking at motorists passing by.
You can spot some too on your way to Monkey Bay— a secluded beach somewhere between Salang and Air Batang.
12. There are two waterfalls, some mountains, and endless secluded bays.
If you ever go to Juara, you can stop by at Alis Waterfalls, which is just a five-minute walk from the road. There is nothing spectacular about it, a waterfall is waterfall. Seeing one always makes one happy. Or it is just me? Asah Waterfall, located at the southern Tioman Island, is only accessible by a boat and a bit of trekking.
Talking about trekking. It is one of the pleasurable adventures on the island. I have heard you can spot the elusive and massive rafflesia in the wilderness of Tioman Island. This rare species isendemic in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Lazy and fat, we only made it to Monkey Bay and Alis Waterfall.
So, that’s it, pansit! If you have some fun facts and observations on Tioman Island that we missed, please leave a comment, so we can update the list. Or if you have any questions that we haven’t covered here, leave us some things to do before heading to bed. 😛
Typing this on a bus to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh,