Blog: Tioman Island
- We caught the speedboat over, which was indeed extremely speedy, although a consequence of this was that it catapaulted us through the water in a roller-coaster-esque fashion, resulting in everyone's bags being soaked. When nearing the island, we realized we had no idea about any of places on it, and even less of an idea where we should get off. So we just stayed on, following the lead of the majority of people on the boat, which thus left us to get off at Salang Beach, which was thankfully the most popular. Saying that, you can walk the length of the beach and the settlements in about 30 mins. This did feel like quite a long time as we dragged our bags up the beach in an attempt to find some accomodation. This was hardly an ordeal, however, as we found a little hut with a double bed, mossie net, and bathroom right on the beachfront, for 20 Ringit a night at Ella's Place.
- Immediately we set out in search of a dive centre to enquire about undertaking our advanced water course (bitten by the dive bug!). There were quite a few on offer, but Fisherman Dive Centre enticed us - Mazlan, the instructor, signed us up for a course that we could start the next day, and with only us on it, for the meagre price of 700 Ringit. Awesome! He gave us our text books, which we diligently set about reading, along with books we'd hired for a stupidly low price from a bookshop. Firstly we had to find an appropriate paradisical setting, however. We decided Monkey Bay was a good enough option - reachable only by water taxi, or a slightly treacherous hill climb and then descent. There wasn't a decision to be made - we ploughed up the hill, in boiling weather once again, with the additional error of wearing flip flops and thus slipping everywhere.
- The bay was completely worth it, paradisical in every sense; practically deserted, with calm, emerald green waves lapping the white sand, tickling our feet as we lay in the sand. The heat was frazzling me so I swiftly moved into a hammock, conveniently hanging under a tree, and began reading and soaking up the serenity of it all. Despite the shade, I reckoned intermittant dips in the sea were still necessary to keep cool, and the water was beautiful, but incredibly salty!
- We opted to head back to watch the sunset from Salang beach, but the clouds put pay to that idea, and instead we had to settle for watching giant lizards crawl in and out of the small stream running parallel with the sea. We then went for dinner at one of the few restaurants on the beach, at which I made the schoolboy error of ordering a curry way too hot for me to devour, much to both mine and the waiter's evident disappointment!
- The next day marked the first day of our advanced open water course. I began to appreciate the facilities of the Koh Tao dive centre as we had to kit up on the floor of a tiny dive boat, rocking from side to side in the open sea, and then enter the water while precariously balanced on a ridge delineating the boat's sides. The first dive was our deep dive (30m) at Fan Canyon. 30m is the depth that nitrogen narcosis can supposedly occur, causing divers to undertake foolish behaviour, and thus at 30m we performed a maths calculation to show us how our thought processes are slower at that depth. Lucy got hers wrong anyway, so I guess it affected one of us :P The vis was pretty good down there actually, and we saw some good coral. Between this dive and our second, the multi-level dive, we had lunch - awesome noodles! - and then moved over to Kador Bay near Coral Island. The second dive was really good also, I really felt like I was getting way more used to being underwater now, plus we saw a moray eel. Back on the boat I was starting to get a bit seasick so was relieved when we arrived back on shore. In the evening we were joined by a Malaysian bloke, Jack, doing his divemaster course at our school, for dinner, and then went on to a bar for some (unsuccessful) darts playing with the locals.
- Last night's activities meant we had to get up early to do our dive homework (tut tut), and then we grabbed a brekkie of pineapple and honey roti (Malaysian pancake) before rocking up for our morning dives, both of them being shore dives. We kitted up and headed over to the jetty for our buoyancy dive, and it was so amazing how, once actually fully explained to us, and with proper control, you could actually master your buoyancy underwater, and manage to hover wherever you wanted. It was like something clicked, and now diving had gone from awesome, to absolutely unreal! This feeling was further emphasized on our second dive, the navigation dive, as we applied the buoyancy skills with a natural ease, whilst also mastering the use of the compass. We then went for lunch with Jack and spent the arvo on the beach, swimming, and dozing in hammocks, reading my book.
- As dusk approached we kitted up for our night dive, while the rest of the island was gearing up for the Salang beach party, as part of the Tioman dive festival. We walked down the jetty to enter the water from there and were greeted by a load of party goers that had caught the boat over from other beaches. Anyway, we entered just as the last slithers of sunlight were fading into oblivion, and found it to be quite relaxing diving at night, as if it was just us and the unspoken aquatic life in the whole ocean. Vine, the divemaster, pointed out all manner of aquatic life to us, including luminous plankton, an omninous looking stingray, a crab, and shrimp. The experience was completely unique and quite an honour really, and we emerged delighted with it all, and the fact that we'd passed our advanced course. It was starting to get pretty nippy though, so we ran back to the hut for a shower and change of clothes, ready to hit the beach party in celebration! We had a celebratory meal with Jack, Vine and Mazlan first, and then hit the bar for the obligatory game of round the clock darts, and then over to the beach where we were dancing and cartwheeling like lunatics around the fire to Metallica and Green Day (when the cantankerous sound system was working) with countless unknown Malay blokes.
- The party continued into the early hours at a bar up the other end of the beach that was open till god knows when. Saying that, the omninous rumble of thunder and the whistling of wind through the islands trees around 3am prompted me to make a dash for home, falsely believing that a great storm was about to break out. Oh well, it was good to stretch my legs for a bit anyway!
- There was muchos sleep to be had the next morning, followed by more lazing around on the beach, soaking up the sun, and swimming in the sea, hovering over the coral formations, hypnotized by the colourful fish darting around them. The water was so clear, and the experience so captivating that this amused us for hours on end. We made time to return to the dive centre and collect our certifications, and bumped into Ben and Keren, who we'd met on Koh Tao whilst doing our open water course. After our awesome experiences on the advanced course, we convinced them to do it aswell! They were somewhat more easily convinced given that they loved the trekking in Chiang Mai which was also on our reccomendation!
- The sunset was stunning that night, although I think it came out in the picture looking even better than I realized it looked at the time.
- sampled yet another Malaysian delicacy for dinner, and then went to watch The Longest Yard on the big screen at one of the restaurants with some of the crew.
- The next day, our last full day on both Tioman, and in Malaysia, and indeed Asia, we undertook a "round the island" tour, with our guide Terry, on his slightly vunerable looking boat. It took us a tumultuous 30 minutes to get to our first stop, Juara Beach, on the east side of the island, after passing miles of coastline completely unhabitable due to the rocky terrain protruding out into the side, leaving no conceviable building sites. The beach was indeed beautiful yet deserted, lined with palm trees and unripe coconuts. We swam out to the rocks and briefly climbed aboard to chat to an English bloke who was fishing for his tea. The island wilderness was quite chilling, it was like a bit of a ghost town over there, yet the beach and surrounds were so idyllic. I can only think it was the hassle of getting there that caused its loneliness.
- Anyway, back on board with Terry, the next stop was Mutuk waterfall. The cliffs surrounding this place were eerily mirred by mist, much like on Lost, and the track up to the waterfall itself also resembled a ghost town somewhat, with abandoned huts and what not. It was more of a rocky waterfall than the Thai ones we visited, with the water winding its way through the rocks instead of free-falling. We took the liberty of having a little dip before hopping back on board.
- Somewhat starving at this point, the next stop demanded our attention nevertheless. At Ringgis Island we went snorkelling and it was astounding beautiful - the best coral I've ever seen, entirely mesmerizing. The myriad of colours, and variety of coral and fish on display was otherworldly. The crocodile-nosed needlefish were the best - swimming precariously close to the surface, I was perpetually scared of running into one of them and being sliced in two! I spent quite a lot of time duck diving down to get a close up of the coral (which my ears didn't like!), my favourite being the black stuff with electric yellow ridges, and the bright blue flower-esque small coral resting on rocks. There was a lot of fire coral, and all so shallow so the vis was outstanding, perfect for snorkelling, although I would have loved to have dived there and just circled around the coral, close up. The schools of fish were also incredible - simulating a kalidescope-esque image in which they circled around us, only to universally flutter away if we made a sharp movement.
- Finally Terry took us for some lunch on ABC beach and by this point I realized it had been absolutely roasting all day and I was terribly sunburnt. The next place round the coast was Tekek - site of the only cash machine on the island, which I got off to use - where we saw a plane land, which was quite scary as it didn't look like the place was big enough to have a runway!
- The last stop was Monkey Bay again, although this time seen in a whole new dimension, underwater. Terry dropped us off far out in the bay and we snorkelled our way back past more coral. This coral was incomparable to that at Ringiss Island, but that point was negated by my spotting of a hawksbill turtle, which I proceeded to follow around for about 20 minutes, amazed at its appearance in such shallow water. It seemed unaware of my presence although I was really close, which I found quite strange. It stopped for a while, nesting in some coral, at which point I tried to find Lucy to show her, but no such luck. A glorious rainbow then appeared across the bay, which culminated in somewhat less glory in the form of showers, meaning Terry summoned us to return to the boat and then Salang Beach. Indeed, no sooner than we pulled up on the beach it started absolutely chucking it down with vicious thunder and lightening ensuing. The poor weather meant our last night was somewhat of a wash out in every sense, with most places being closed, and most people having retreated indoors, but this was immaterial as we'd had such a great day, for only 80 Ringit aswell.
- Monday was our last day in Asia, which began with us packing our things up whilst watching the sunrise over Tioman, and dreaming of Oz, yet being sad to leave Tioman, where we'd had such a great time and met so many people. We bought some green coconut pancakey things for brekkie and ate them on the 7.30 ferry back, which, being the slow boat, was a lot more comfortable than the one on the way over!
- Pulau Tioman is a small island located 32 km. Minang Cove, on Pulau Tiomanoff the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is some 39 km long and 12 km wide. Its beaches were depicted as Bali Hai in the 1958 movie, South Pacific. In the 1970s, TIME magazine selected Tioman as one of the world's most beautiful islands. Who were we to argue? Tioman Island had the added attraction of snorkelling off the beach and Minang Cove Resort seemed to promote snorkelling as well as being in a reasonable price range.
- The flight to Pulau Tioman was from Seletar Airport in Singapore. This secondary international airport is so small that we were only the second fare our taxi driver has ever delivered there. It turned out to be smaller than Tauranga Airport (and much smaller than Palmerston North International Airport). So how small was Berjaya Air's plane going to be? Turned out there were plenty of spare seats with only 10 of us on board.
- The next real excitement was the (international) landing strip at Tioman which Brian mistook as an agricultural strip for truly tiny planes, or as possibly even unused. He was impressed when the plane did a steep 180' turn and landed on a short runway with hills at each end.
- We then had to go through immigration into Malaysia, a booth on the veranda of the airport, then pay our dues for entering their national park. A well dressed welcoming man asked if we were heading for the Japa Mala resort, but sadly no - that was the more expensive option and we were flashpacking. We were met by a young local boy who was very helpful, but seemed not to speak much English and was quite shy.
- We were in for a 25 minute boat ride passing all the other smart resorts, making us feel a bit like passing the Ibis on our way to Hotel Central in Casablanca.We were met at Minang Cove by a friendly pommy manager with a laid back demeanour, and then showed a spacious tidy room sitting right over the shore. His parting comment was "we don't have room keys here; no-one's going anywhere." We felt relaxed already.
- The snorkelling was magical and just off shore from the beach we saw a big turtle. Another day Jen was spooked by oversized jellyfish with a body than a head, and on that day Brian snorkelled over some black tipped sharks. Whilst there Jen did her first ever scuba dive which inspite of some equalising issues, was great fun. Pity we couldn't catch the action on an underwater camera.
- Feeling guilty about our fitness, we started out on the "4 hour return" walk through the jungle to the next village or kampong, then onto the Tioman Waterfall. The walk to the kampong was in fact very overgrown, had broken bridges, and we did not really want to have to do the return trip. We spotted iguanas, and other exotic fauna but not the snakes that our fellow guests saw the next day. When we did the walk Jen didn't know there were 24 different species of snakes on Pulau Tioman. The happy ending to the story is that at the waterfall we met a group from Japa Mala, the smarter resort, who were clearly getting very well looked after, and hitching a boat ride back seemed like the only sensible solution.