You would only probably hear of Pulau Tioman if you are (1) Malaysian as it’s in Malaysia, (2) based in Singapore as it’s one of the best and ‘private’ beaches that’s easily accessible from SG, or (3) that well read and/or well traveled that you’ve been here or planning to go here because you’ve read and heard good stuff about the island.
In the 1970’s, Time Magazine selected Tioman as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. And because of its lack of easy access, the island remains unspoiled, free from commercialism and radical development for tourism.
If you are the type who is into pampered luxury, then Pulau Tioman is definitely NOT the place for you. Given, there are a few good luxurious resorts on the north and north-western part of the island. But if you want to rough it up a bit, enjoy the sun and sky to its fullest without having to bump into the tourist crowd and just laze around, not feeling guilty for doing nothing,(I think this is how Pulau Tioman is meant to be enjoyed.) then it’s best to ditch those resorts and head on over to Kampong Juara, a little seaside village, nestled in a quiet cove, at the eastern part of the island.
The only way to this part is through the jungle road across the island on a rented pickup truck (you should have it arranged with your host. Renting a motorbike will probably cost around S$50).
We stayed over at River View which is situated at the northern part of the Juara beach. It is just next to the mouth of the river, and the beach isn’t that far away from your chalet. At low tide, you can see a whole stretch of pure, white sand and come high tide, the water is just so near, it would seem that the waves are calling out to you from outside your doorstep. It has its own quiet charm. It is an unconventional place to stay as the owner doesn’t encourage touristy privileges like karaoke by the beach, heavy drinking, loud music, a/c, etc. They don’t provide food since you can easily buy stuff from the convenience store nearby, or eat out at those local restaurants who serve pretty good local and international fare for a very cheap price (our usual meal cost about S$10 – and that’s for the two of us). Drinks are no problem because you can pretty much help yourself with tea, coffee, milo for free and the fridge is stocked up with cold drinks which you can pay for when you check out. They do also provide bread and spreads for free if you get a bit hungry in between meals and other freebies such as bug spray (which you will need because of the sand flies) and sun block, free use of kayak, books (you should return it to their library after use of course), and a lengthy and interesting conversation with the owner. The place is operated by John Amos, a 60-year old British ‘hippie’, who was once a sailor and is passionate about protecting the environment and preserving the beauty of this part of the island, and his wife, Zara, a charming local who was born and raised in Tioman. The couple are well known in the island for their drive to make that part of the island as less commercialized as possible and for their project, the Juara Turtle Center.
If you are not satisfied with lazing around all day by the beach – careful of the sand flies – there are still plenty of things to do here. You can go kayaking (in Riverview it’s free but other chalets rent if for S$10 per hour or so.) Most interesting to go kayaking on the river as you might chance upon a python or two hanging on the tree branches. There are also a few group tours that offers snorkeling and island hopping services for only S$50 per day.
Try visiting the Juara Turtle Project and see if you can help out not just through donations but for a longer term like staying in and helping patrolling the beaches for nesting turtles, etc. Check their site for volunteer programs.
Ah, trekking. You may also go on trekking to the waterfalls. But please, don’t be fooled by the Have Fun sign! We’ve tried it and we’ve never reached the falls despite walking for two and a half hours. The trek to the falls should just take forty-five minutes to 1.5hours, depending on your speed. The trail is marked by red cans nailed to the tree and red arrows painted on rocks and trees, every 10 meters or so (I suppose). It’s a really rough trail, and the marks are getting less and far apart from each other the deeper you get in to the woods. I think we were that close to the falls (you can hear it loud and clear) but we can’t find any more red cans or arrows so we decided to ‘abort the mission’ and go back. Now going back is trickier as there are no marks at all and you’d have to check around trees every now and again to confirm that you’re going the right way. After four hours of walking we finally reached ‘civilization’ and swore that we won’t go back for that falls – ever – even if we’re with a guide.
I’ve always considered myself as a country/mountain girl. Going up a mountain or going on a trek is not new to me. I can take a long hike up a hill in just my shorts and fit flops. But having experienced this, getting lost in the woods, I might think twice into going on a trek – especially with just a tank top, shorts and Havaianas on. From this experience I have learned that Havaianas are the worst footwear ever made and to not trust maps that say ‘follow the rocks and the trees’.
Despite not seeing the falls and getting lost in the jungle, my holiday in Pulau Tioman has been one of my best (beach) holidays ever. So if ever you find yourself itching for a beach holiday (of course, only if you’re near like somewhere in Malaysia or SG), ditch the touristy beach destinations and go to Pulau Tioman.
How to go: You can either fly from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Changi Airport by Berjaya Air. Or take the ferry from the province of Mersing, Johor, Malaysia.