Pulau Tioman - Pahang Malaysia
The beginnings of Tioman
Imagine... A long time ago, when the world was filled with strange plants and creatures, shrouded in thick fog, ...where lands were vast - covered in ice and the sea levels were low. The islands on our east coastal shores were peaks or slopes of mountains, majestically overlooking the rough, pounding waves far below.
Then the earth started to warm up and the ice began to melt. Low lying areas were flooded and peaks were isolated from the mainland and so became islands.
Tioman today sits 30km away from the mainland.
39km long and 12km wide, Tioman was once a monsoon shelter for merchant ships, war ships, a haughty bunch of pirates and a few families of fishermen. The first written record of Tioman was found in the journals of Arabic merchants who came this way some time before 1,000AD. The Indian, Persian and Chinese traders followed suit.
When the South China Sea route was &;discovered&; by eager merchants from China, many locations along the Malaya Peninsular finally opened to traders. One of them being Tioman. Not only was the island a perfect shelter from the monsoon storms and an ideal place to stopover for fresh water and wood, but the people also traded with these foreign merchants. The Chinese wanted sea produce and camphor wood; the Indian traders loaded their ships to the brim with betelnut, found in abundance on the island whilst the Arabs were in search of scented woods (such as aloe wood, camphor and sandalwood), for ivory and ebony, rice, gold and bamboo. The seafarers also used the island as a navigational marker - the point to turn north east for Cambodia upon identifying the island. It was noted now from abundant evidence that many of these traders set up camp at Nipah beach.
But it was not all dandy for Tioman. In 1830, pirates marauded the island and took away 70 locals for the thriving slave markets. Fear sent the remaining villagers scampering off to the mainland leaving the island uninhabited until 15 years later when the waters in the area were rid of pirates.
Slowly, villagers trickled back and life returned to its island pace. However, in 1926, an outbreak of malaria killed many islanders and once again, the island was abandoned. Many of the homes of villagers were left derelict and the lands that they made a living from were reclaimed by the jungle. During the 2nd World War, a small detachment of the Japanese army was sent to set up a watch base on Tioman. After the war, Tioman fell into oblivion until it was rediscovered by movie makers. Fame and fortune followed suit and Tioman became the Paradise Island of Bali Hai in the musical &;South Pacific&;. The listing as one of the top ten islands in the world by TIME magazine in the 1970&;s made the island popular beyond its dreams and visitors have been pouring in since to savour that little piece of island paradise.
Tiong- Man (My bird)
The island was so-called Tiong-man by an early island inhabitant. &;man&; means &;My&; in island dialect and "Tiong"; means mynah bird. The local islanders love keeping Jungle Mynahs ; unfortunately for these birds, they can never keep themselves away from trouble and because they are masters at mimicry, their skill has become their curse.
Tioman has a wonderful flora and fauna diversity. Biologists have found the forested area on the island similar to that on the Peninsular but yet with subtle differences. Perhaps with the absence of large predators, species on the lower ranks of the food chain were able to flourish in this relative isolation. Most common are the macaques, pythons, mousedeers, monitor lizards and flying foxes. A recent study noted that 22 amphibian, one non-marine turtle, 32 lizard and 26 snake species contribute to the fauna on Tioman where its interior encompasses 5 major vegetation zones and is ideal cover for such a big variety of species on an island. The mangrove swamps on Tioman are one of the last remaining original swamps that used to be aplenty on the mainland but has since been cleared for development. These swamps are incredibly rich with fauna: land and water.
Once upon a time, a beautiful dragon princess left China on a journey to Singapore for her scheduled wedding. The journey was long and towards the end of her flight, she grew very tired. She noticed a beautiful island through a thin veil of clouds below and decided to rest her weary body for the night. She lay down gently to the caress of the sea and the cool sprinkle of the waves. So enchanted was she that she stayed forever and ever, never leaving her beloved island. The high ridge takes the form of her backbone and the clouds that circles around the twin peaks on the Western ends are said to be smoke breathed from her nostrils. The early Chinese traders referred to Tioman as the 'island with 2 horns'.
|Women travellers please take heed!
If you're travelling on your own or with a few fellow women travellers, please try not to take privately arranged snorkelling trips or tours while on the islands. Private boat operators may approach you and offer cheaper rates than what the resort can offer, but it is at your own risk. Best to stick with the resorts and make sure that the boatmen that is providing the service from the resort is validated by the resort itself. There have been several unpleasant accounts of harrassments and indecent proposals.
Salang is on the northernmost end of the island and is the beach most frequented by backpackers and independent travellers looking for a spot of diving, plenty of nightlife and cheap accommodation.
Salang has changed quite a bit since the early days. As more people arrive, more development occurs. That would not be difficult to comprehend for, during holiday seasons and school holidays - this place can be a nightmare. Local and Singaporean holidaymakers, make a beeline for the island as it is still relatively cheap to weekend on the island. Bookings must be made in advance or else you may have to end up sleeping on the beach. Everywhere you turn ….people all around…on the beach, in the shops, at the restaurants, in the water!
Then just as sudden as they appear, the holidaymakers ebb with the seasonal tides back to the mainland and their homes. The throbbing dies down and the islanders return to their idyllic way of life once again.
Despite the ‘tourist pressure’, Pulau Tioman ; and Salang beach especially has managed to retain its island beauty that many daydreamers have come to expect but expect only as an island visitors’ destination where fun also comes in the form of music and boisterous nightlife.
At time of visit, a new concrete jetty has already replaced the quaint wooden jetty that has served the tiny village community and its guests for so long. Along with that, the local authorities have just built a large food court by the side of the jetty, expecting more local tourists to visit Salang in the coming holiday seasons. Little by little, Salang is losing its fishing village charms, catering more towards its new found economy. Along the 700m stretch of beach there are pubs, restaurants offering western, Thai, Chinese and local food, supermarkets, Ramly burger stalls (local burger outlets) and dive shops.
end of season at Salang ~ not a visitor in sight
Settled comfortably amongst these establishments are chalets catering to a variety of budgets and creature comforts. The prices range from RM25/-(US$7) for a basic hut with fan and attached bathroom to RM100/-(US$27) for a chalet with TV, fridge, hot water, attached bathroom and air-conditioning. The chalets are nothing to write home about but are comfortable enough for a good snooze after the day’s dive, snorkelling and other strenuous activity and even from the evening storms.
NB Salang Beach has its good and bad sides. There are travellers who absolutely love the place for its cafes and hang out 'pubs' and there are others who cannot stand it - the noise, the crowd, the rubbish strewn along the way. So for those of you who want to see Tioman for what it is - head for Juara or ABC but for those who are just on the route most recommended as must do & see by guide books, Salang should be as much trouble as you'd want to get yourself through for an island holiday. For divers, Salang would be the choice as most of the better dive sites are closer to Salang. More on dive rates go to : B&J Dive Centre
If you prefer to stay at Salang but want that bit of quiet time, then go to the far end of the beach - towards Salang hut and Ella's Place Although the beach is a little rocky and narrow, it's not as crowded as on the other end closer to the jetty but dont expect anything more than the very basic of basic accommodation..
Food on Salang Beach
Salang Dream RestaurantHas western and local food and in the evenings, barbeque is very popular with guests. Anyone eager to catch up on news, the restaurant tunes into CNN most of the day. Steaks are available during peak season between June and August
Salang Indah RestaurantSame owner as Salang Indah Resort. Housed in a grotesque building with balustrades all round, smack in the middle of Salang beach. Thankfully the only such development on the beach so far. Serves Malaysian, Thai, Western and Chinese cuisine and offers plain pancakes, Ice-cream and fresh fruit juice. Reasonable.
Salang Chinese RestaurantA spacious restaurant towards the southern end of the beach which caters more to locals and Singaporean guests.
The White HouseThe last restaurant on this southern end, just before Ella’s place is painted green and serves fresh coconut juice and delicious fresh seafood - barbequed with home made spicy sauces to dip. The prices here are good and hospitality is great. Bring your own beer which you can buy from the pub nearby (next to DiveAsia). Can’t miss this place. A simple villager’s house, a couple of tables under the coconut trees and a small open hut for the barbeque pit. Coconut juice goes for RM3 per coconut.
- ElectricityAvailable 24hours. 240V
- Telecommunications and internetAll local cellular services can be received on most parts of the island except the craggy areas and remote beaches or on the mountain top.
internet services are available at most larger hotels and resorts and some restaurants too.
- Money changersAvailable at Salang Indah and Khalid’s place but as expected, you will get poor exchange rates.
- LanguageEnglish spoken
- Other amenitiesThere are a number of supermarkets around selling general needs , mineral water, snacks and some toiletries.
Laundry services are available for RM5/kilo
Snorkelling gear is available for rental with the inclusion of a RM50 deposit per set from independent operators. The set rental varies from RM8 to RM12 per day.
Monkey Bay ( Telok Berus)
Moving south over a relatively wide headland which can be trekked from the southern end of Salang beach, there are two relatively secluded bays with white sandy beaches . Monkey Bay is quite popular with the snorkelling tours and sometimes can get a little too crowded but otherwise is a nice spot of lonely beach. Monkey bay has a small river and shaded areas for a picnic. Sea taxi’s can drop you off if you prefer not to trek but will cost you RM25 per person per way (min 2 pax)
Panuba Village (Kampung Penuba)The next beach south from Monkey Bay is Penuba with only one resort; built on the hill slope facing the sea. This resort has been commended by many for their sound efforts in environmentally conscious activities. (boy, do we need more of that on Tioman!)
ABC ( Kampung Air Batang)
The other popular backpackers’ beach around this side of the island, ABC is wonderful towards the end of the season somewhere around end October when some days there would be only a handful of visitors. It was so peaceful with the season out that a large python was even spotted lazing under a tree close to the bridge leading up to Bamboo Hill Chalet when we last visited!
ABC seems to have a more relaxed atmosphere as compared with Salang and is a little more spread out along the way. The beach is wider, but unfortunately a lot of debris from the sea washes onto the beaches and it is common to find shards of broken glass embedded in the sand. Please be careful. But the snorkelling and diving off the beach is simply sublime! The corals and inhabitants are very much alive and well out there despite the everyday pressures of visitors.
ABC is a long beach area lined with basic and standard chalets all the way from the Southern end at ABC(air batang chalets) to the northern end just before heading off up the hill to Tekek.
Food on ABC
Local lad watches as dad prepares food at the restaurant
Most restaurants here do not serve beer and other alcohol but you can pick some up for RM7(US$2) per can at Bamboo Hill Chalet . The government intends to make Tioman Duty-Free, just like Langkawi and that means that taxable items such as alcohol, cigarettes and some fashion wear will be cheaper than on mainland.
- ABC restaurantIs a favourite place with backpackers and guests from Bamboo Hill Chalet. The food is reasonable and seafood fresh as it should be. Prices are a little steep but okay for island prices.
- Nazri’s Place II; Hijau restaurantOpen for breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between too but was closed for renovations during our stay. Has a pretty, laidback ambience and is set on the 2nd floor of a wooden house. A good view of the sea from the balcony. Serves western, local and barbeques. Staff friendly and helpful.
- Murals on the wall restaurantFunny, we enjoyed the food so much that we even forgot to ask for the name of the restaurant. Cant miss it though, the walls are splashed with all sorts of brightly painted murals and did I mention that the food is good? Seafood was fresh, prices were reasonable and juices fresh. The fish and chips were delicious and fish platter fresh and juicy, the burger was tender, not overcooked. Good meal, pleasant ambience and good service.
- Nazri’s Place restaurantReputed to have the best food in town and has a more kampung feel to the place.
From ABC, a short climb over the headland of Tg Mesoh takes you to Tekek, where the island airport is situated. Immediately after descending, a visitor centre sits forlornly in a corner and is open to public, providing some basic information on the marine inhabitants in our warm waters.
From here, it is another 45minutes or so to Tekek centre on a slow stroll.
Along the way, there is a road leading into the interior that leads to Kampung Juara on the other side of the island. This trek takes some 2 to 3 hours there and then you can catch a sea taxi back from kampung Juara if you intend to visit. But bring lots of repellent with you! There are plans to actually open up a proper road to connect Juara with Tekek in the near future. This may eventually effect the serenity of Kampung Juara, unfortunately turning it into another Salang. Please see Juara page for more.
Closer to Tekek jetty a row of food stalls line the way, selling mainly local dishes like nasi lemak, roti canai, fried rice, and drinks. Over a bridge there is a 2-storey building selling souvenirs and more food and to the left of this is the airport.
Just a stone’s throw from the bridge is also the islands only clinic.
From the clinic, the road leads all the way to the upmarket Berjaya resort with its own private beach and golf course.
But for those of you who prefer the homey approach to a holiday, there are a number of small resorts and hotels on the way.
Food on Tekek
There are local food outlets closer to the Tekek jetty or a few Chinese seafood restaurants on the way to Berjaya Resort, towards the southern end of Tekek. Otherwise, there is always the resort restaurant.
ClinicThe health clinic opens Monday - Thursdays 8.00am - 1.00pm
2.00pm - 4.30pm
Fridays 8.00am - 12.45pm
2.45pm - 4.30pm
Saturday 8.00am - 12.45pm
Sundays/public hols closed
Genting is not a routine stop for most travellers and if anything, the resorts here take on package bookings rather than walk-ins. Hence, most guide books opt to give this place a miss. However, there a a couple of resorts along the Genting stretch and beyond that cater more to guests who are seeking solitude and relaxation.
The new management for what used to be Koko's has set up Japamala Resort and is now open for stay. With its own wooden jetty and a spot of clean sandy beach, this place is probably the best bet for an amorous holiday. Not to mention that the owner of this resort has 2 very successful Thai and Indochinese concept restaurants in KL so there really is no need to worry about the standard of food here. Another very secluded and often not mentioned place to stay is Minang Cove Resort. Although not on the Genting stretch of beach itself, Minang Cove advises guests to request for boat drop-offs at the Genting jetty and from here, their personal boat will speed customers to the resort.
Visiting Juara after Salang, ABC and Tekek feels alien. None of the annoying din from rows of resorts and chalets, no big restaurants and cafes, no hordes of tourists - well, except for the occassional local student packages arranged by a few of the resorts closer to the jetty. Juara maintains the village life feel that most of Tioman's main tourist destinations have lost. Getting to Juara is not easy nor cheap though. As single travellers, many actually attempt to cross the Tioman hills via a trek that has been carved into the belly of the island. The trek runs from Tekek to Juara and takes approximately 2 1/2hours to complete. According to travellers who we met whilst staying at Mizani's, the most affordable way round it would be to dump most of your heavy gear at Tekek. A few left their heavy rucksacks with dive centres which they dived with and trekked over with overnighters. The trek can get pretty tricky at some parts where incline can be as steep as 75 degrees. Once you get to the peak, coming down over the Juara side is sort of aided by a concrete path winding all the way to Juara town.
The road to Juara is already open. Using much of an old open path hacked through the jungle during the 2nd World War by the Japanese, this new road connects Juara to the back of Berjaya Resort in Tekek. However, what is a road looks more like a dried up stream. It's bumpy, it's treacherous and it's narrow. When we went again (August 2004), we took the a 4WD jeep for RM35 per person per way. And a wise choice too. Along the way, we saw people falling off their motorbikes and hurting themselves pretty badly. Although there are motorbike 'taxis' for hire at RM25 per person per way, we suggest that you pay a little bit more for a jeep hire. Only thing is that for jeeps, you may have to wait for some time for seats to fill before they leave. Ask around at the jetty for the jeep to Juara or call the owner Kennet at 013 - 780 9543.
Although this beats having to pay RM160 per boat per way to Juara , we hope that with this move, massive development at Juara will not happen for another 5years or so....
Another route to Juara would be to hire a sea taxi for about RM150 - RM160 a boat from Salang or Tekek which will take you right to the resorts' doorstep. The going rates fro sea taxis are a little strange - if a minimum of 2 persons charter a sea taxi across to Juara, it'll cost RM60 each person. However, if it is more than 2 persons then they charge RM30 to RM50 per person depending on the numbers. The boat ride takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour from Salang or Tekek depending on the weather.
There are quite a few ready places to stay at Juara. Closer to the jetty are resorts catered to local tourists who come to Juara on package deals. Further up the beach are a few laidback resorts such as rainbow chalets and bushman's chalets. Across the headland there is Mizani's Place and Lagoon. Mizani's Place has 6 basic chalets and Lagoon caters mainly to International School Students on Field Trips.
Mizani's is the place to chill. The beach is clean and wide enough for a good stretch and the hospitality is great. Yan, the new owner of Mizani's has only been operating the chalets since August last year (2003). An ex-international airline pilot, having run a dive centre at Perhentian Kecil for 3 years and gone on a soul searching sabatical in Bali for a year, Yan has finally found his calling back home. SURFS UP!! Can you imagine Pulau Tioman as a destination for the surfing community??!! Well, that's going to happen here on Juara. 15-footer waves, rough seas - monsoon season. According to Yan, the monsoon season between November and January can catch pretty good surfing waves and already the local surfing community is beginning to show up for the rush. This is his busiest season. When the rest of Tioman goes into a hibernation, Juara will be rocking with rough waves and surfers. Yan's new set up at Mizani's will be called Basics and will include a surfing centre and a small relaxed cafe and that according to his schedule should be ready by October 2004.
Yan has quite a few place that he may want to share with his guests but not the entire world. When word gets out on Tioman about how pretty and pristine a place is , local authorities make it into a tourist attraction which eventually becomes a tourist dump. So if you really want to work out more than a tan whilst on Tioman - there's a nice little freshwater pool up in the mountains where not many people know about. The trek is not easy though - roughly 45minutes of uphill climb. Markers leading to the pool also disappears parts of the way, so listen out for gushing water and follow in that direction. The river is a good place to observe a bit of Tioman wildlife - snakes, lizards, monkeys, lots of spiders and insects. Take the little green 'free-for-all boat' left there to paddle into the river. Unfortunately, it's a little leaky so you may have to bail water along the way if you don't wish to sink with the boat.
If diving is something you've come to Tioman for, then try out Bushman's Dive Centre. There are a few chalets to stay there to but the owner says that he can only accommodate maximum 10 divers per trip as he has limited tanks and equipment. The food here is cheap and there's also cheap duty-free beer available.
CONSERVATION WATCH!The other interesting thing that's been happening over at Juara is the sighting of Leatherback Turtle landings. Only thing is that when word gets out that the turtles have been coming up the night before to lay eggs, the next morning nests would be ransacked and turtle eggs - sold in the market by the villagers. So, if you do visit Juara and have the chance to witness turtles coming to shore, keep it to yourself - that may help save the species. Leatherback turtles disappeared from our shores some years ago and their comeback is a big relief. Unfortunately, education on conservation issues in Malaysia is almost non-existent and so, the villagers are not to be blamed for their ignorance. What could be a little worrying though is the apparent evidence of firearms used here for hunting in the jungle. Favourite game meat is the mousedeer which is a protected specie in Malaysia.
There have been cases that visitors to the island have had a chance to go hunting in the jungle for a fee. The danger of this is that these villagers may not have the proper training to use these rifles and can be a danger to themselves let alone anyone else they bring along with them on trips. The main source of income on Juara is surprisingly - rubber. Rubber plantations are seen along the interior. Income for them may be supplemented with other illegal activities such as collecting Giant Clams for processing into ornamental pieces. The clams are sold to middlemen in Mersing and Singapore. The same goes for collection of birds' nest deep in the caves within the jungle cover of the island. Unlike monitored birds' nest collection sites such as at the Niah Caves in Borneo, illegal nest collectors do not wait until the young leave their nest before collecting. They toss fledglings out of the nests, leaving them to die on the dank, slithering floor of the cave.
I guess many of us in Malaysia have read about the development plans that are in store for Pulau Tioman. The local media has taken concerns of Tioman's villagers and resort operators and blown the news into gigantic proportions. There has also been an overwhelming response from the local public as well as from abroad, voicing their concerns over the project. And guess what, for the first time in the plight of preservation and conservation in Malaysia, things seem to move towards a more positive scenario. Thing is, development if monitored and controlled is a good-to-have. However, development in the scale of a 127,000 sq metre marina, 30m wide at the tip , stretching 175m into the sea over a fragile reef system below is something worth questioning. This project is reported to provide yacht docking areas, an administration building, water breakers and a cargo jetty. The general hue & cry is why on Tioman and why destroy an ecosystem that visitors travel halfway around the world to see, for the sake of another multi-million ringgit project that has been approved by the state government in hope of luring an elite group of visitors to our shores.
Tioman's plight was brought to the attention of the Sultan of Pahang whose recent visit to Pulau Tioman has placed a stop work order on the proposed RM40million marina project at Tekek until the Marine Department completes its report on the project.
Of course there are pending issues that authorities need to address regarding development on Pulau Tioman itself such as waste management, schools and educational programmes for kids, monitoring and organising the ferry operators, and ensuring the development on the island blends in with its natural beauty. Areas which can be looked into would be the protection of the unique ecosystem on the island and its surrounding waters. The island could in fact be promoted as a nature sanctuary, providing nature activities from jungle and mangrove trails to mountain trekking - of course there must be training and educational programmes open to villagers who would wish to become rangers. Examples of well managed ecotourism programmes would be, for example Bako National Park and Mulu National Park in Sarawak.
Pulau Tioman needs controlled development to provide for the increasing influx of tourists and travellers who visit the island for the purpose of experiencing the island's unique aura. Maintaining and nurturing the island's natural abudance is it's salvation.
News has it that the tioman marine project has again resumed its work order.