Tioman (Malay: Pulau Tioman) is a small island, 39 km long and 12 km wide, located off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia.
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. The marina is finished and the jetty is under construction. 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 and in the kampongs you will often see them 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 Batong are making progress on this front, encouragement required.
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 hour 20mins 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.
There are three services per day in each direction, but tidal issues (or lack of passengers) may cause cancellation. Bluewater Express charges RM 35 (RM 45 on public holiday) for an adult ticket, RM 25 for a child ticket (babes in arm free, as of last info), and departs from Salang at 07:15 am, Panuba at 7.30am etc etc and at noon, and picks up travellers all the way down the coast. It should be noted that apart from the first sailing of the day, the ferry operator tends to leave Mersing when it is deemed that there are sufficient passengers, or perhaps they are waiting for a connecting bus. This has the effect of making the timetables vague at best. If you are planning onward journeys based on these timetables, then leave sufficient buffers (1-2 Hours).
In Mersing, the main bus terminal is about 1000 metres up river from the ferry terminal. From the terminal face the river and go right. Follow through the commercial centre of Mersing, past the stadium to the ferry terminal. 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 offering on the island. In the instance where 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. 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.
During the monsoon season (late October to mid/late February) the ferries run much less frequently and exceptionally bad conditions may shut them down completely for several days at a time.
Since 2004, there are no direct ferries to/from Singapore's Tanah Merah ferry terminal available.
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.
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.
No matter which way you choose to arrive, a marine park fee of RM5 should be levied on all visitors to the island. In practice, ferry passengers are not charged. Transfers can be arranged directly with resorts.
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-existant 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.
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 length of Air Batang area. 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.
The rough concrete track was started by the Japanese in WWII and was re-opened several years ago. It follows the main electricty cable across to 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, but be aware that the savvy tourist usually pays no more than RM100, and the local rate is RM80 (total per vehicle). It takes 45 min and is an interesting, steep and hairy ride.
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 RM10-15 per person and is much cheaper than the private speedboat services.
Speedboats charge about RM50 for a single trip, while 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.
There are 4WD "taxis" from Tekek to Juara. They may ask for RM 75 (single person), RM 120 total (two persons) or RM 35 each (min. 4 persons). But be careful if it has been raining, the jeeps are likely to get stuck along the way, which involves the calling of some friends of the driver and lots of wasted time spent on a slippery jungle-road. Also note that these jeeps are not always available; they are available at the drivers' discretion.
Don't be forced into using those who tout directly outside the airstrip. Slow down to local pace and take your time over everything.
There are several jungle treks , following the power lines, which connect the Kampungs.
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. To reach the waterfalls, just follow a marked path for about 30 min. The path starts at the south beach, next to the turtle breeding farm. Opposite of the great rocks, which lie on the beach. The path is marked by the bottoms of cans, nailed to the trees and painted yellow and red. At the beginning of the path there are three such signs at a tree. If you walk along the only concrete road towards south to the turtle breeding farm, you can not miss it.
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".
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).
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 "Portugese 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. Some of the best locations are as follows.
For those who are surf junkies, Tioman receives swells up to 2 m from the South China Sea. However, they only come during the wet season which is from November to March and only hit the eastern side of the island.
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" (past the hospital and school) and at the airport. Other villages such as Paya and Salang have small outlets.
However, do note that 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.
ATM is available at Tekek. From the wharf go left, the bank with the attached ATM is on the left of the road about 250 metres on.
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 cheap (between RM3-10 normally). 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).
The 1.5 l bottle of water costs RM4 (Dec 2010), some places offer refill with locally filtered water for RM1-2. Canned soft drinks are about RM 2.50, beer starts at RM2 (Tiger beer at local shop), but note that you cannot take/consume alcohol in some restaurants.
Village restaurant at Coral Reef Holidays the most Malay and western food also good view (by the beach)
There are several places to eat in Kampung Genting.
If you want nightlife and atmosphere, there are some bars between Tekek Village till ABC which serve everything from cheap beer to cocktails and most do bonfire nights on the beach on occasions.
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).
Tioman, with only two small resorts, the beach and a creek. Nipah is the right beach for people, who want to get away from it all because there is not even a public telephone! The atmosphere is laid back and relaxed, most of the travelers are backpackers who put up at Nipah Beach Chalets. The second resort - Nipah Paradise - is a paradise for the backpackers. It offers small cheap challets. The nice owners offer a two days trekking tour through the jungle to the peak of Gunung Kajang, Tioman's highest peak (1038 m).
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).
Now, in Tioman, does not have television available without satellite except TV3, the only way is setting up a satellite.