Pulau Tioman – South Pacific in the South China Sea

Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island) lies 40km or so off the East coast of Malaysia and can be reached by high-speed ferry that runs several times a day from the port of Mersing. The West coast is inhabited for most of its length, and there are numerous small villages with very basic “chalet” type accommodation and also a couple of plush but not cheap resorts for those with deeper pockets. I stayed for a week and a bit in Salang Sayang in the North West of the island, in what I would call a shed-with-a-bed (with shower and aircon) for around £20 a night. Fan-only chalets can be had for around £15.

The interior of the island is still relatively impenetrable mountain and rain forest, except for a couple of recognised trek routes up and over from the West coast to Juara on the East. Even if trekking through jungle is not your thing, the wildlife around the coast is interesting and accessible. Long-tailed macaque monkeys are everywhere. They can be entertaining and amusing but also mischievous and larcenous so care is needed. Monitor lizards are easy to spot in the many creeks that feed into the sea. Bird life abounds – around the coast I filmed white-bellied sea eagles and purple herons among others. The interior of the island is a haven for creepy-crawly lovers with fascinating  insect life and 25 species of snake – including pythons and the king cobra.

Apart from two good days diving, one off Pulau Tulai, a smaller island to the West and the other around Tioman itself,  I just chilled out, swam, read a book and finished most days by eating good seafood, including local caught barracuda, at one the good choice of beach bar cum barbecues that operate in the evening. I was befriended by a young Canadian couple on a back-packing honeymoon who were living in a nearby “shed”.. This seems typical of the friendly atmosphere on Tioman. As Neil Diamond once wrote, the sun shines most of the time and the feeling is laid back.

I made another friend on Tioman. A “polydactyl” cat I named Polly (yes predictable I know). These are cats with extra toes, or sometimes opposable “thumbs”, as with Polly. This is said make them more adept at climbing and catching prey, and has apparently made them popular in times gone by as ships cats. She followed me about, and I gave her the occasional scrap, and I was sad to have to leave her behind when I left.

The beaches (which were used in the 1958 film South Pacific) are pure white, and littered with sea-worn coral. The sea is turquoise. Tioman really is a place to relax and forget the world and its problems. I heard from one of the dive-masters that some people have come here and just decided to stay. I can understand why. For me it will definitely be on my list of places to revisit. Maybe Polly will still be there and remember me.

To see all my pictures of Pulau Tioman click here (opens new tab)

Malaysia Travel has more on Pulau Tioman here. The Lonely Planet Guide also has a good low-down on the resorts, accommodation, prices and the like.

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