Tioman

The southern mountains of Tioman

Tioman (Malay: Pulau Tioman) is a small island, 20 km long and 12 km wide, located off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia.

Understand

Map of Tioman

Tioman is in Pahang ("East Coast") within the Mersing Marine Park, which contains less commercial islands such as Sibu Island. The primary gateway Mersing is in Johor ("South").

Tioman’s beaches were depicted in the 1958 movie South Pacific as "Bali Hai". In the 1970s, Time magazine selected Tioman as one of the world’s most beautiful islands. The densely forested island is still sparsely inhabited. Also it is surrounded by numerous white coral reefs, making it a haven for scuba divers from around the region.

Already the most commercially developed of Malaysia’s eastern islands, a controversial RM 40 million marina project for Kampung Tekek, complete with 175 m cargo jetty, now threatens to speed up the pace of development on Tioman considerably. However, visitors with an aversion to such progress can avoid this part of the island and stay elsewhere without any impact.

You will find enormous monitor lizards across the island, sifting through the rubbish piles looking for food. There is also an abundance of domestic cats.

Rubbish control on the island is still in a development stage, apart from in some of the resorts. So expect some less than pristine circumstances, but there is no doubt that at June 2011 places such as Air Batang are making progress on this front, encouragement required.

Get in

No matter which way you choose to arrive, a marine park fee of RM25 should be levied on all visitors to the island. For the ferry travellers, pay it right at the ferry port in Mersing.

By ferry

Most visitors arrive by ferry from Mersing on the mainland. Bluewater Express operates the ferry services and its boats are fast and comfortable taking approx. 1 hr 20 min to the first jetty. This ferry is now the only option, the smaller and faster services being cancelled because of safety concerns after a tragedy. Unfortunately in countries that cannot afford to patrol their regulations well, some ferry companies overcrowd their vessels. If you ever feel uncomfortable boarding a vessel for any reason, refuse. A good way to avoid this is to avoid the last vessel as it is always the busiest. The boat is sometimes boarded by the Malaysian coast guard but it appears that the operators are aware of when this will take place and take pains to follow the rules only on those days.

Coast Guard boards Tioman ferry for safety check

There are one to three services per day in each direction, depending on tides. Bluewater Express charges RM35 (RM45 on public holiday) for an adult ticket, RM25 for a child ticket (babies in arm free, as of last info) and deposit travellers at Tekek, Air Batang and Salang. The ferry operator tends to leave Mersing when the tide is high enough, when there are sufficient passengers aboard, or perhaps they are waiting for a connecting bus. Hence, it may not always be possible to strictly adhere to the timetable and you should leave sufficient buffers (1-2 hours) or prepare yourself to spend a night in Mersing.

In Mersing, the ferry port is about 1 km down the river from the bus terminal. Face the river and go right. Follow through the commercial centre of Mersing, past the stadium to river mouth. The bus may also drop you off at the corner where a conveniently located travel agent will attempt to sell you accommodation on the island. It may suit some to make a booking in the town before going to the island, others may prefer to take their chances and check out the offerings there.

If the afternoon ferry (4:30PM) is not running, one may have to stay in Mersing, which can be a fairly low expectation affair, depending on demand. Suggestion is to head straight to the ferry terminal, buy a ticket and worry about other matters later. Alternatively, you simply buy your ferry tickets in advance at Tioman Ferry Tickets , so your ferry seats are guaranteed. If you are not heading for the island, boats are available for private boat charter, scuba dive, fishing & Islands Tour along Jalan Dato Onn, Mersing.

Some ferries also depart from Tanjung Gemuk to the north of Mersing.

During the monsoon season (late Oct to mid Feb) the ferries run much less frequently and exceptionally bad conditions may shut them down completely for several days or weeks.

Since 2004, there are no direct ferries to/from Singapore’s Tanah Merah ferry terminal available.

If you are coming from Johor Bahru with the bus of 2:30PM or later, there is a big chance to have no more ferry when you arrive and you will be force to take a night at Mersing. Enjoy it and take time for shopping as it will be more expensive on islands. Most shops will be close in early morning (before 10AM), but some restaurants serve all night long.

By dive operator

Many dive operators in Singapore operate their own trips to Tioman, and this would usually include taking a bus from Singapore to Mersing, then boarding the ferry for Tioman in Mersing. While it might be more expensive, this would probably be one of the most hassle-free ways to visit Tioman.

By plane

Tioman Airport (IATA: TOD), also known as Pulau Tioman Airport is located next to Tekek village (Kampung Tekek).

The sole commercial operator to the island’s small airstrip near Tekek is Berjaya Air , which flies 48-seat Dash-7 turboprops from Kuala Lumpur (60 min; RM214 one-way; daily) and Singapore (35 min; RM240 / S$111 one-way; daily peak season, several times a week during the monsoon season). Discounted fares are available if booked online more than 3 days in advance, and may be available if booked in a package with accommodation.

Maximum baggage weight is 10 kg. Excess baggage charges seem to depend on how many passengers are on the flight.

Airlines Destinations
Berjaya Air SingaporeChangi Budget Terminal
Kuala Lumpur—Subang Airport T3 (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport)

The landing at Tekek involves a tight banking to avoid one mountain, a right-hand tight turn, then a relatively quick drop onto the airstrip which is at the base of Gunung Kajan, another mountain. Since the airstrip has been extended this is no longer the hairy procedure it once used to be. The flight from KL takes around 1 hr.

These flights use the secondary airports of Subang (IATA: SZB) in Kuala Lumpur and Changi Budget Terminal in Singapore (IATA: SIN), so factor in transfer time from KLIA/Changi when making your plans. As a general guide, allow 1 hr on the road to travel between KLIA and Subang.

Transfers can be arranged directly with resorts.

By yacht

Tekek now boasts a recently built harbour with substantial wave break walls. The Tekek anchorage does not look like the nicest part of Tioman to hang about in, especially given the carefully chosen high intensity sky polluting orange lights installed in abundance. With any luck for all residents and visitors to the island the usual non-existent standards of maintenance will apply and these lights will fail over time.

NB: The map shown on this page has an incorrect scale shown; as an estimate, the distance between Kg Paya and Kg Bunut on the west coast is 1 kilometre.

Get around

A motorbike on one of the roads on Tioman

Local transport is by bike, cars at Tekek, and by boat. A concrete road runs through Tekek, extending from the Berjaya resort in the south, past the airport, and to the northern end of Tekek village. There is a concrete path running the 800 m of Air Batang area and believe it or not: the Air Batang locals bought about 20 scooters and drive up and down this 800 m that ruins the calm for the tourists. Elsewhere there are almost no roads on Tioman. Cars may charge around RM20 for the short distance from the end of Tekek jetty/parks info office to the airport and up to RM120 for the biggest distance with a minimum of 2 or 4 passengers.

The east-west concrete track was started by the Japanese in WWII and was re-opened several years ago. It follows the main electricity cable between Tekek and Juara. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is required. When you arrive you may be asked for up to RM175 to charter a whole vehicle to take you across. In May 2012 chartering a whole vehicle from Juara to Tekek cost RM60, though individual passengers in shared vehicles were quoted as RM35/head. It takes 45 min and is an interesting, steep and hairy ride.

By boat

By far the best and cheapest way of hopping from one village to the other is to use the Mersing/Tioman ferry service. On its way to and from Mersing it goes between Salang in the north and Genting in the south. The ferry will take you to most villages between from RM20 per person (for the Bluewater ferry) and is much cheaper than the private speedboat services. As of July 2011, the ferry operators do not appear to be charging for the island-hopping.

Speedboats charge from about RM20–60 for a single trip, depending on the destination. For example, a speedboat from Salang to Tekek will cost about RM30, but a trip from Salang to Juara will cost about RM60–100. Although you can try to negotiate, they know full well that they're the only game in town (unless you hike). A single trip by boat as far as from the west coast to the east coast is RM150 and can be shared if there are more passengers. Expect to pay double at night.

By jeep

There are 4WD "taxis" from Tekek to Juara. They may ask for RM75 (single person), RM120 total (two persons) or RM35 each (min. 4 persons).

Don't be forced into using those who tout directly outside the airstrip. Slow down to local pace and take your time over everything.

On foot

There are several jungle treks , following the power lines, which connect the villages. Depending on your condition and preferences, it could be better to have walking/trekking shoes and long pant.

Monkey beach
Boat at Salang

See

Juara

The local village is spread back from the little track which follows the line of the sea. People live all over the place normally in simple huts. The tourist huts and accommodation is within 20 m of high water mark.

Juara is a very quiet beach at the east coast especially in the off season, when almost nobody is there. There are three rivers coming from the mountains, delivering cold freshwater to the beach, a chilling alternative to swimming in the sea.

A path leads to waterfalls in the jungle, which is nice for a swim and climb over the large rocks.

The place itself is divided into two beaches that are separated by a small hill, which is said to be the "origin" of Tioman. Some locals say: "you have not been on Tioman, if you did not stand on these rocks".

Do

Scuba

Scuba facilities are readily available, and the diving is reasonably good, especially in view of the proximity to Singapore. Most villages have a variety of dive shops. Padi Open water courses average at about RM990 (4 day course), and for licensed divers each dive is roughly RM90). You plan to dive and are travelling with small budget? Go to Air Batang (ABC) since accommodation is about RM30 and not RM40 like in Salang.

Snorkelling

Perhaps the most popular activity for visitors is snorkelling. Most resorts can arrange for speedboats or seabuses to take you to the beaches and small uninhabited islands nearby (such as Pulau Tulai, aka "Coral Island") and Renggis island where the snorkelling is at its best. The water is almost pristine save for the occasional litter. Just be careful of the small jellyfish, as they can pack a sting, and try not to lose your rental gear or you'll be subject to the renter's arbitrary fines. However, snorkelling is fantastic in front of most beaches and can rival that of any snorkelling trip at a fraction of the cost. However, do note that the beaches are home to several "Portuguese Man of War". These prickly creatures tend to rest on rocks and if snorkelling in shallow waters, one should be especially careful of not coming in contact with these. They pack quite a sting and might require medical attention. Snorkellers who are squeamish about brushing against thick clouds of jellyfish in the water (as can happen in the May-September period) can try wearing a long-sleeved shirt or a rash guard when snorkelling. Alternately, you can rent a wetsuit from one of the dive shops if you're not comfortable with the jellies. You can rent snorkelling equipment for about 15RM/day (mask, scuba, fins). Some of the best locations are as follows.

Surf

For the surf junkies, Tioman receives swells up to 2 m from the South China Sea. They only come during the wet season (Nov – Mar) and only hit the eastern side of the island.

Trek

Asah Waterfall

Buy

Tioman is a duty-free zone and offers a good selection of alcohol and cigarettes at very cheap prices. The main outlet is "Vision Duty Free"

All the other villages have small outlets, but no alcohol can be found there.

In case you intend to purchase alcohol or cigarettes and carry them into neighbouring Singapore, then you would need to pay duty on these goods and hence the cost advantage vanishes. Refer to Singapore customs website on duty free allowances; the Singapore authorities can be pretty strict, always declare tobacco and alcohol to Singapore customs officials and be prepared to pay high duty or dispose of the items.

One ATM is available at Tekek:

Eat

Depending on where you eat, food can be quite expensive on Tioman, compared to other places in Malaysia. Western food can be up to RM15 per plate, whilst local food is cheaper (between RM8-12). Especially if you eat at the restaurants attached to the resorts and chalets, you should plan around RM 30+ per day (good breakfast, lunch and dinner). "Street food" in the form of fried rice or burger booths can be found everywhere, but the opening times are unclear.

During Ramadan, most of the restaurants around the island are closed for lunch.

The 1.5 l bottle of water costs RM4, some places offer refill with locally filtered water for RM1-2. Canned soft drinks are about RM3, beer starts at RM3 (Skol Beer at local shop), but note that you cannot take/consume alcohol in some restaurants.

Genting

Juara

Food options in Juara are not particularly exciting. As everywhere on the island, the prices are a bit high.

If you are staying at Juara Mutiara, avoid the buffet-style breakfast they try to sell you, one look at it will tell you why - and yes it is possible to just book a room, at a discount, without any food included. While they don't sell alcohol, they are ok with BYO.

There is also a Chinese restaurant which has a great view from its veranda overlooking the beach, so even if you don't feel like you want to eat there its a great place to have a drink before dinner. The food is decent, but relatively pricey for what it is. The beer selection is good, from RM3-7 per can/bottle, and drinks arrive ice-chilled - always a bonus in the tropics.

Salang

The food in Salang is similarly priced and there is a variety of western and local fare. For those who enjoy seafood there are numerous barbeque restaurants offering freshly caught fish, shrimp, squid and crabs, these begin opening around 7pm.

Tekek

Village restaurant at Coral Reef Holidays the most Malay and western food also good view (by the beach).

Drink

If you want nightlife and atmosphere, there are some bars between Tekek Village till Air Batang which serve everything from cheap beer to cocktails and most do bonfire nights on the beach on occasions.

Air Batang

Genting

Juara

Tekek

Sleep

While the most commercialized of Malaysia's east coast islands, Tioman has yet to be invaded by mass tourism on the scale of Penang or Langkawi and there are plenty of cheap beds to be found. However, if heading for anywhere other than the backpackers' villages, reservations are advisable as getting to some of the more remote kampungs can be a hassle. Note that some places stay open year round, but many close for the monsoon season (typically end of October to mid/late February).

Budget

Most of Tioman's backpacker accommodation is to the north of the island, with numerous budget chalet operations clustered around Salang and Air Batang (sometimes also referred to as ABC - although this is the name of the resort at the northern end of the beach, not the beach itself), and to a lesser extent Tekek. Dorm beds start about RM 20, single rooms (huts) around RM 40 and up.

Tekek

Air Batang

Salang

Juara

A quieter beach on the east coast, also has a selection of budget rooms at similar prices. Surf season from November through February (monsoom).

Mid-range

Practically every kampung on the west coast of the island has a self-styled resort or two. A typical air-conditioned chalet will set you back in the vicinity of RM 100, although significant discounts can be negotiated in the off-season, in package deals or just by showing up and smiling. In off-season it is advisable to just show up and pick the best and cheapest spots. Genting resorts are largely owned and operated by friendly local fisherman families. For the support of the local community, you are likely to have a chance to pick the best fish at the beach in the evening and have it prepared by the women.

All rooms come with air-cond, water heater, in-house coffee-making and basic amenities. Impiana Inn is also the first and only Tioman resort with hemodialysis facility.

Splurge

Connect

Internet

Wifi is not well provided for on Tioman. The accommodation places that do provide it often only cover the restaurant area and even then it can be painfully slow. If internet is important to you, better to bring you own via your mobile phones sim card provider.

Telephone

Most, but not all, of Tioman has cellphone coverage. Celcom, DIGI and Maxis coverages are available but may be limited due geographical conditions. You can buy prepaid SIM cards from the shops at Tioman or at the airport. Malaysia Communication and Multimedia Commission's new regulation (MCMC/G/06/06 dated 5 June 2006) , prepaid registration is mandatory, expect a day or two for line activation.

Tioman advertises that it has a number of payphones that can be used upon purchasing a phonecard, and a lot of travellers buy the cards before realising that none of these phones work.If you want to call home, a lot of chalet complexes offer international call services at a price, otherwise consider using skype via the internet (call credit can be purchased online in order to call regular telephones thru skype).

Television

Now, in Tioman, does not have television available without satellite except TV3, the only way is setting up a satellite. On Salang, the 4 S Cafe (which is in fact a bar) and the Salang Dreams Cafe both have cable TV. Ask nicely, and you might get the staff to change the channel - though watching TV is usually low on the list of things to do in Tioman.

Stay safe

There have been repeat outbreaks of Sarcocystosis, a rare and poorly understood parasitic tropical disease, amongst travelers to Tioman, particularly in 2012 (100+ cases) and as recently as May 2014 (40+ cases). Sarcocystosis is not well known amongst physicians and is often mis-diagnosed. If you have flu-like symptoms and severe muscle aches after traveling to Tioman consult a tropical disease specialist immediately. Experimental treatment options with Cotrimoxazole and steroids are available.

Theft is not generally an issue in private rooms. One thing to watch out for is coral cuts, which are bacteria-laden and turn septic very quickly if not treated in good time. Bring sterile wound wash and antiseptic cream for coral cuts; wash and treat them immediately to avoid a nasty infection.

Watch out for the triggerfish as well; these little pointy-nosed fish are very cute but they do get territorial and attack swimmers during their mating season. The monkeys can be quite feral, and have been known to attempt to force open windows and doors to look for food, thanks to irresponsible tourists who insist on feeding the monkeys.

Some young men (in their 20s) may invite female tourists to have drinks. If you're not interested, politely but firmly decline their offer. There have been some rapes on this island.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, October 11, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.