Tioman, The Other Side of Malaysia
Nursing a severe case of sore feet and maxed out credit cards thanks to the endless shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur, Tunali Mukherjee packs off to the secluded island of Tioman for some much needed TLC, only to discover a side of Malaysia that few experience.
Tioman. A thousand clichés come to my mind when I try to describe this tiny island paradise on the Eastern coast of Malaysia. Pristine, virgin beaches. Vast, azure sky. Crystal-clear, deep blue sea. Yet, Tioman is everything but a cliché.
Tioman exudes adventure. From the time you step into the twenty-odd seater, twin-propeller jet plane that gets you to the island from mainland Malaysia, to the time you first lay your eyes on her, she is an enchantress who will be what you want her to be. Tioman is as luxurious as it gets.
The airport looks more like a resort, the immigration counter (you can fly in directly from Singapore) and the defunct Duty-free store, the only give-away. She also likes getting straight to the point. Step out of the airport and you can instantly run into the marina and plunge into the depths of the South China Sea.
Much like making friends with a Gemini, you have to decide which ‘side’ of Tioman you want to befriend. There’s a luxurious side, complete with beautifully landscaped resorts, swimming pools, chauffeur-driven pick-ups and yachts that will take you island hopping. And then there’s the backpacker’s side. The side where power failures turn into candlelight dinners with the locals, where everyone on the island knows your name and where losing your belongings on the beach is all but impossible. This is also that side of the island where locals have fought long and hard to keep it the way it was since the very beginning. And they’ve pretty much succeeded. So be prepared to walk several kilometres a day to get from one part to the other, because cars are unheard of. (You can cheat, however, and hitch a ride on motorbikes which the locals ride to and fro.) In fact, this island epitomises ‘The Beach’ that author Alex Garland described in his book—every bit the island paradise that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character lusted after in the movie.
Needless to say, this was the side I chose.
Here, every room is a room with a view and it’s ridiculously cheap (unless, of course, you choose to stay on the other side of the island, with the high-end luxury resorts). For a few hundred more, you can even get yourself an entire cottage with private access to the beach. Befriend the owner of the hotel (who will eventually also turn out to own the best bar and restaurant on your side of the island) and in typical Malaysian style, he will extend his hospitality to more than just housekeeping.
Depending on how good you are at making friends, you can find amazing deals on snorkeling and diving trips (worth every paisa, regardless of how much you’re paying!)
Every conceivable shape, size and colour of fish in existence can be found here, so take your time snorkelling and soak in the sun on the white-sand beach. Be sure to include your guide in your adventures. My guide-turned-friend dove deep down to the sea bed and picked up a beautiful piece of coral for me to take home as a souvenir. He also waited by the hotel while I packed and had lunch, and then dropped me to the airport in a speedboat, at no extra cost!
Up, Close And Personal With Nature
The long trek towards Juara will take you deep into the heart of the tropical Malaysian jungle, towards a village which ranks high on authentic Malay food and a turtle conservation centre. A word of caution—the trail is tougher than expected, with sharp climbs, insects and the hot sun beating down, but keep walking and you will be rewarded with the most beautiful sights of a lush green forest.
Carry a towel, because when you finally come across the beautiful waterfalls on the trail, it’s going to be hard to resist a dip in the pools. You don’t need to hike all the way back again. Just hop on to a taxi-boat and let it take you on a trip around the island, back to where you began.
While Tioman is a perfect destination for an adventurous and romantic getaway, it’s only for fans of physical activity and raw nature. Moniter lizards roam freely on the island. And while I revelled at the sight of these cold-blooded reptiles, if you aren’t a nature lover, you could have your vacation ruined by the sight of these huge reptiles.
Visit Tioman with an open mind and strong shoes to match and you’re in for an experience of a lifetime. Did I mention that Tioman is one of Time’s Top 10 most beautiful islands in the world? Go experience this paradise for yourself and you’ll see why it has also remained on the list for more than a decade.
Where to stay:
Luxury: Several high-end luxury resorts like Berjaya and Japamala are available on the southern side of the island. Deals start at Rs 8,000 onwards per night.
Mid-range: Various mid range resorts like the Impian Inn are available on Genting islands. Rs 3000 onwards
Budget: Beach-facing hotels and cottages like Nazri’s resort, Bamboo Inn, ABC Chalets and Panuba Inn are available on the northern side of the island. Rs 800 onwards.
Where to eat:
You don’t need to look beyond your hotel if you’re staying in a luxury resort at Tioman, but if you’re looking for a more local experience, share a beer with the owner of the smaller shacks on the beach. Each shack has its menu proudly displayed on the side, but don’t forget to ask them for the day’s special. The South-East Asian cuisine is to die for, and so is their version of cold coffee sweetened with condensed milk. Vegetarian food is very easily available, but those finicky about sharing kitchens may have to go hungry. Oh, and do give the western cuisine a wide berth.
Packages to Malaysia:
Bangkok to Singapore on a Shoestring
14 Days, Bangkok to Singapore
Starting Rs 1,09,080/-
Wonders of Borneo
12 Days, Kota Kinabalu to Kota Kinabalu
Starting Rs 2,44,120/-
Colours of Asia – Singapore to Bangkok
14 Days, Singapore to Bangkok
Starting Rs 1,44,400/-