Tioman Island, Malaysia
It’s while I’m scrambling over rocks, jumping between boulders, that I wonder if this was a good idea. I’m in the middle of the jungle, I haven’t seen anyone else the whole time, and I’ve lost the path. The compass on my phone tells me I’m walking the complete different direction to what I thought.
As I grab onto a narrow tree for support, I feel a sharp pain on my hand. I swear under my breath (instinct – there’s no one to hear me) and hope it’s not one of the spiders I’ve had to brush aside as I crashed through their webs. I look at my fingers and see a large ant on there. I shake it off and see some blood where it had been. Bloody hell.
This is supposed to be a relaxing place – that’s what Tioman Island is known for. So how have I ended up in this situation, lost and alone, worried that if I slipped down one of these rocks I would only be found by spiders who would slowly eat me alive.
I guess I thought a jungle hike would be like it was on the Perhentian Islands where I was a few days ago. But the paths here are not nearly as well-trodden or as easy to navigate.
I guess it makes sense. Although there are a lot of similarities, this is a very different place.
Tioman Island is off the east coast of Malaysia and it takes about two hours to get here on a ferry from the mainland. But, unlike the Perhentian Islands, it’s also accessible by plane (although there are currently no regularly-scheduled flights). There’s a small airport at the main city of Tekek for those who don’t want to spend too much time getting here. There are also roads – another big difference. Around Tekek, cars drive between different parts of the town. In some of the smaller developed parts, the roads are only wide enough for motorbikes. But it’s enough to change the connectivity of the island. When you can get around some parts with a vehicle, the walking tracks are a lot less important.
From Tekek, there’s a short coastal path to the area where I’m staying, which is officially called Air Batang but is colloquially called ‘ABC’. Everything is within about 50 metres of the coast, along which stretches a long beach, occasionally broken up by rocky outcrops. There are some houses for locals who live here but most of the buildings are bungalows for tourists or casual restaurants, shops and a few bars. Like much of Malaysia, the bars are limited because of the predominance of Islam – there’s even a large sign near the jetty warning Muslims that if they buy or sell alcohol they could face three years in gaol or six strokes.
A lot of the shops are offering snorkelling tours and there are also a few dive centres here. It’s a popular spot for those who like to spend their time under the water and I notice a pool at one of the centres where people are learning how to use the equipment. Boats take people to other parts of the island or to spots offshore where there are good diving and snorkelling sites.
There’s a fair amount to see right off the beach, though. When I get back from the jungle (yes, I did make it out alive) I go for a dip to wash off the sweat from the humidity under the trees. I have my goggles with me and, as I swim around, I see all sorts of colourful fish in the water.
The accommodation at Tioman Island offers something for every type of traveller. Even here at the ABC beach there’s a range from backpacker dorms to luxury chalets. At other parts of the island you can find even more exclusive resorts. Some of the travellers I meet are hardcore divers who are here for a week to focus on that. Others just want to have a few days of fun or relax in the sun away from the country’s big cities.
I’m starting to realise that Malaysia’s islands are one of the big drawcards for a trip to the country. It sounds like something that should be obvious but I had always thought about the culture and the nature on the mainland. But places like Tioman Island offer a tropical getaway that has the best things of the islands in somewhere like Thailand, without the negatives. It doesn’t have the overdevelopment and the hordes of tourists – and everything they bring. That’s not to say it’s not busy and certainly a lot of people come here. But you don’t find the large hotels, the chain convenience stores, the constant offers of massages.
Instead you get a genuinely relaxing experience with just enough infrastructure to make things easy and just enough isolation to feel like the rest of the world is a million miles away.
Perhaps I should be grateful I got lost in the jungle. It was a real adventure that’s hard to find on other Asian tourist island. But at least I had a bungalow and a beach to come back to.
How do you get to Tioman Island?
At the moment, there are no scheduled flights to Tioman Island so the only way to get there is by ferry. The ferries leave from the pier at Mersing (you can see the location on a map here). The schedule is different for each day because of the tides and the ferry company is terrible at making these times available online. You normally have to rely on one of the dive centres posting the schedule. Tioman Scuba should have the latest one here. The ferry costs 75RM return.
There are lots of buses that go to Mersing from different parts of the country. I would recommend booking a ticket in advance with Bus Online Ticket.
Where should you stay on Tioman Island?
Quite a lot of the budget accommodation options aren’t online and you’ll find them once you arrive on the island. But here are some places you can book in advance, for peace of mind.
If you’re looking to book a budget option in advance, you could try Cheers Chalet near Telek.
For one of the most popular places at ABC Beach, I would suggest the lovely ABC Chalet.
If you want something chilled, away from the busier parts, check out Beach Shack Chalet.
And if you feel like a luxurious splurge, have a look at either Bagus Place or Japamala Resort.