Don’t want to spend mega bucks but want a secluded gorgeous island holiday anyway? Head to one of Malaysia’s better kept island secrets, Tioman island. It was voted in the 1970’s by TIME as one of the world’s most beautiful islands. One would think that there would be not much to do but laze around in tropical paradise but you would be surprised at high levels of activity that can be accomplished in redolent looking beach havens. But yes that too. We spent the first couple of days doing nothing but plucking rambutan fruit fresh off the tree and gorging on them while lazily flopping around its many alluring beaches.It is the perfect vacation getaway to simply unwind.
Depending on your budget and need for seclusion you can hop off at different drop off points the ferry stops at at the island.The island is home to eight villages spread across its coastline that you can choose from. You can catch the ferry run by Bluewater Express at Mersing, on the east coast of the mainland which is the jumping off point to reach Tioman. There are several bus connections from Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere to this otherwise nondescript town. There are three ferry services everyday in either direction from Mersing to Tioman and back.
Tioman is known for its white coral reefs and falls in the confines of Mersing Marine Park. Its beauty is also to do with its abundant natural forest cover. We chose to stay at Air Batang (aka ABC) on its West Coast which has a cluster of budget sea facing cottage accommodations. The village itself is also not as commercial as the nearby Kampung Tekek. Kampung Tekek not only has the only air strip in all of Tioman but also has a large jetty to accommodate boats and yachts. With all the commercialization and development, the village of Tekek is less pretty than rest of the island. But being a short 30 minute walk away from Air Batang it does have some advantages. Penny pinchers usually trudge from Air Batang to Tekek to buy cheap alcohol ( some beer cans are priced at less than a dollar or 2.5 MYR) at the two duty free shops near the airport.
Also, you can trek through jungle from one side of the island starting in Tekek to the other ending in Juara on the east coast of the island. The 7km trail follows the the thick black cables of the power lines running through the island. Follow the power lines and you wont get lost. Alternately, a paved road runs between Tekek and Juara. You can hitch a lift most times with four wheel drives for a nominal price. Juara itself is more secluded than anywhere else on the island. People live in extraordinarily simple huts all along the coast line. Apart from almost abandoned pristine azure blue beaches, it is also home to a turtle conservation project.
We used a 4 wheel drive one way and hiked the route on our way back from Juara to Air Batang via Tekek. In between the two villages,, we stopped at a very pretty waterfall. A cushioned trail made of abandoned tires leads you straight to it from the road that runs between the two sides of the island.
The Northern side
For more golden sands, one can trek from Air Batang to Monkey Bay. And the name is no misnomer. You can almost always find a gaggle of unruly monkeys here. From here you can continue onwards to the village of Salang. Salang is the go to for most snorkeling and diving trips. Your hostel/hotel in Air Batang can arrange the boat trip for you. You can also shop around for better prices. There are plenty of tour operators sprinkled around the island.
The boats usually stop off at tinier nearby uninhabited islands. The one we stopped at had a crystal clear sky blue lagoon. The warm sea and cool breezes make you want to float on your back contemplating the beauty of the world but after a good half hour we decided to explore the island itself. We found a barely used staircase through thick jungle that allowed us access after a 40 minute trek up to a research station of sorts on top.
Though it didn’t exactly offer us the best views, it was fun trudging through the greenery. After, we snorkeled around other tiny islands, sometimes snorkeling all the way around them spotting all manner of colorful fish and sea creatures. We even managed to spot a black tip reef shark and a school of sting ray. After a full day of activity, we headed back from near Salang ( where the tour also stops for lunch) back to Air Batang by the motor boat we had come on.
Back in Air Batang, even as we got off the boat we got invited to an impromptu cook out that almost everyone got invited to. Passersby are usually hailed to sample barbecued fish that you can catch and cook to kick off a random island party. As the sun set in different hues of pink, with cheap beer, fresh food and scintillating conversation we sat back to soak in even more of what has been touted as one of the world’s most beautiful island. We couldn’t agree more.
Feature image- Tioman island. Image courtesy – haveseen/Shutterstock.com