Tioman is paradise on earth. The small Malaysian island offers unparalleled tranquillity with sandy beaches, undisturbed nature, welcoming locals, and activities enough to thrill you for a good while
I have a short video sequence on my desktop computer named Paradise.AVI. It is a 360 degree view of a beach on Tioman Island, Malaysia. It shows greens hills with tropical vegetation and a completely deserted sandy beach. The only sign of civilised life is a bundle of clothes on the water’s edge where I left it before entering the unbelievably clear water. Tioman was different from any other tropical island I have visited. It did not just numb the stress from my big city life, it completely removed it.
A coach from Singapore brought a friend and me to the ferry terminal in Mersing, a small town on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, after a 3 hour drive. We treated ourselves with the direct coach that costs SGD 25 (about £ 10) per head, but a seat in a coach from the bus terminal in Johor Bahru, named Larkin, could have been ours for only MYR 16 (just under £ 3).
The one-hour crossing in the aggressively air-conditioned ferry took us to our resort, the Panuba Inn, on a beautifully sunny day. The cabins at the inn were simple and clean and came with comfortable beds, hot showers, a fan and a private balcony overhanging the rocky coast. The best part was undoubtedly the stunning view of the endless azure sea and the lush tropical vegetation on the island coast.
Panuba is, like many other places on Tioman, only accessible via boat or by one of the small jungle trails, which criss-cross the island. Without any previous experience of such adventures we put on good footwear and set out to the neighbouring village of Ayer Batang (occasionally called Air Batang). The hotel staff told us it would take us about an hour to get there but we reached our destination in half that time. Trekking through the humid wilderness was a rather sweaty experience despite the fact that the temperature was bearable due to the airy island location. Walking, and occasionally climbing, along these little paths was both exiting and beginner-friendly. Families with little children chose to go around the island by the taxi boat, which was available upon request through the hotel staff.
The island’s capital is called Tekek. This is where the island’s only cash machine and a small pharmacy are located. The island’s airport, a dirt strip with a wobbly fence around it, offers an excellent chance to see small propeller-driven planes take off and land. Nearby, a hand painted sign indicates the start of the trail that runs across the island from Tekek to Juara. This neat jungle path lead us to spectacular views and brought us up close with colourful beetles and butterflies, giant squirrels, wild monkeys and a variety of exotic birds.
All to ourselves
I quickly noticed how remarkably few tourists we met on the island and how well they behaved. We were greeted with smiles from the friendly and English-speaking locals as we walked through the villages. Playful kids surprised us with homemade wooden guns before wheeling off on their tiny tricycles. We patiently waited when a gigantic lizard lazily crossed the street in front of us. We almost felt at home.
We spent many hours walking in soft sand and swimming in calm, temperate water. A quest to find a place called Monkey Bay led us to the previously mentioned paradise beach. We had about 200 meter (650 feet) of sandy beach all to ourselves. The place seemed untouched and the only footprints we saw were our own. We snorkelled for hours on a coral reef with an abundance of sea cucumbers, out-of-this-world looking sea urchins, various kinds of colourful fish, transparent eel-like creatures and even squid.
Lie back and don't think of home
In Ayer Batang we both received fantastic massages for an unusually low price. Being long-time fans of Malaysian gastronomy, it was no surprise to us that the restaurants on the island offered heavenly food and fresh juices. We spent a few nights enjoying a Tiger beer or two in Salang, the northernmost village, and realised that both locals and tourists had dreamy eyes and permanent Lisa Mona smiles. We heard their stories of other activities available at the island, including rock climbing, scuba diving, guided tours and even golfing. Characteristic for them all was this excessive calmness that encompassed everybody and everything on Tioman Island.
I am confident that my heart rate was slower when I left Tioman than it was when I arrived. Visiting the island was a truly extraordinary experience and I sense the intense tranquillity every time I watch the short video. It makes me smile over the fact that I am so fortunate to have this precious memory.