“Well, just for fun and enjoy the beach and island,” I said. “But, your beaches in Malaysia are more beautiful with clearer waters and whiter sand,” she replied. “Oh, you think so?” I asked her, with mixed feelings of bafflement, some pride, and such embarrassment that a stranger from Europe would have more praise for the beauty of my own country while I often looked outwards to other countries. “Where would you go to, in Malaysia, if you could?” I asked her. “If I had the chance, I would go to Tioman Island,” she answered.
That got me thinking about perhaps visiting my own backyard the next time we were thinking of a beach holiday. We have been to Tioman Island twice since then - once not long after that chance of meeting with the Estonian and another time about three years ago, when my husband and I were attempting to get our scuba diving licence. In that space of about 10 years, I am glad to report that Pulau Tioman, especially Salang Bay, where we went to both times, has not changed that much. We did not get our scuba diving licence, though, but that’s a story for another day.
On one public holiday weekend - I remember that it was Deepavali, a celebration that our family does not celebrate - on one of those rare days where we had absolutely nothing to do, my husband and I decided that perhaps this would be the best time to visit Tioman. We had been discussing the idea ever since that chat with the Estonian lady and the island had always been at the top of our minds. I silently thank the friendly Estonian for rekindling my love for my own country and its own beautiful wonders of nature.
So, we packed up enough clothes for both of us and our then 2-year-old daughter for an overnight trip, went to pick up my sisters for extra company, and made the trip to Mersing, in the state of Johor.
The island of Tioman, or Pulau Tioman is actually part of the state of Pahang. However, as it lies on the border of the two states, and we were driving from the
centrally-located Kuala Lumpur, it was easier and quicker for us to drive to the coastal town of Mersing, Johor, than to the Tanjong Gemok ferry terminal, in Kuala Rompin, Pahang.
Our family trip to Tioman Island was memorable and adventurous. It took about 4 hours to reach Mersing and since we left quite late, it was already early evening when we reached there. Since we hadn’t booked any accommodations on Tioman Island, we decided to check-in at one of the budget hotels near the Mersing Ferry Terminal. There are numerous such hotels around the area, and we managed to find one that offered rooms at about RM70 per night. The rooms, of course, did not have the frills of your standard hotel but the beds and floors were clean and the shower head-strong, and that was enough for us. We just needed a place to sleep and bathe. The next day, we packed up, left unnecessary items in the car and took the first ferry out to Tioman.
Once the ferry leaves from the Mersing Jetty, it takes about two hours to get to Tioman. You’ll want to get in as early as possible, especially if you’re only planning on making it a day trip as the ferry only runs three times a day each way and you don’t want to arrive too late in Tioman. Ticket prices are about RM35 for adults and RM25 for a child, and you’ll also need to pay a Tioman island fee (RM20) and a Marine Park fee (RM30) at two other kiosks before boarding the ferry.
To spend two hours on the watercraft, some might opt to catch up on sleep if they can get comfortable enough, but you could also stand outside on the deck and just watch the waves. Before you know it, the ferry arrives at the first stop on Tioman island, which is Kampung Genting. After that, the ferry will be making stops at Kampung Paya, Kampung Tekek, Kampung Air Batang (also known as simply “ABC”), and Kampung Salang.
To be honest, the first time we went to Tioman, we had absolutely no idea which kampung, or village, to stop at. Good thing the hubby has always been a friendly sort and got to talk with one of the boat assistants, a local, and he recommended we stop at Kampung Salang if we were going there just for a day trip. If you have room reservations at resorts or hotels at the other villages, though, you can always take the ferry to get to Salang to enjoy its environment.
To this day, whenever I recommend friends and acquaintances to give Tioman a visit, I never fail to recount this first impression experience to them in hopes of influencing more visitors to visit this island. For me, being able to see the fishes directly without needing to put on a snorkeling mask, or get onto a glass-bottom boat and sail out to sea, is just an absolute wonder that places Tioman far above the others on my list. The fishes were there for us and our little toddler to enjoy right from the safety of the jetty.
Of course, fish-watching from the jetty wasn’t all Tioman or Salang had to offer. There’s also its vast stretch of silky, white beaches with sand so soft you almost sink into it. Splashing about in the water is pure pleasure. The waves are just nice for a dip. We frolicked in the water, enjoying it as much as any city-dweller with a penchant for beach getaways would. We made sandcastles and mermaid tails, drew our names in the sand and took photos. It was pure, unadulterated fun and to this day I would always associate Salang and Tioman with feelings of bliss and happiness.
After having a ball playing in the sand and surf, we washed up as much as we could at the public restrooms made available by the local dive proprietors and filled our hungry bellies at one of the canteens set up along the beach. It was just next to where we were playing in the water, so that was very convenient.
Close to 6.30 p.m., we then made our way to the jetty to wait for the final ferry going to Mersing, stopping on the pier every once in a while to take pictures and just enjoy the lovely evening with the sea breeze in our faces. Other than splashing in the water, visitors should experience snorkelling or scuba diving and explore views of the beautiful underwater scenery of Tioman which boasts coral reefs sizable enough to keep you entranced just by watching all that sea life while using up the oxygen in your tank. That’s just the beauty of Tioman - an island where you can just rest and relax, refreshing your mind away from the hecticness of the city or from thinking about work. It may be just a day trip, or you could spend a few days there, but it will forever leave you marvelling at the wonders of nature.
Several years after our first trip to Tioman, my husband and I went again with a couple of friends to get our scuba diving licence. As mentioned, Salang did not change that much in those seven or eight years, much to our delight.
This time, since the training and certification would take a few days, we stayed at one of the many chalets available for rent on the island. The room we stayed in was quite basic but neat and had clean, running water in the attached bathroom. We also managed to enjoy dinner on the island, enjoying the seafood that was understandably the main item on the menu and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the prices were not as exorbitant as you might expect on a vacation island. I recommend the grilled squid on Salang beach, just near the jetty, while a restaurant further inside the island is where you can head to for Malay dishes and be entertained by the live bands while eating.
Unfortunately, due to fatigue and lack of stamina, only one of us managed to get his diving licence at the end of our stay. Well, perhaps finally getting that scuba certification is a good reason for me to plan my next trip to Tioman!