Peninsular Malaysia is not a lonely piece of land, connected to the Asian continent, but is accompanied by several islands in its seas. They are covered by equatorial rainforest, surrounded by crystal clear seawaters, coral reefs, white-sand beaches, and mysterious rocky bays. One of them is Tioman Island, once considered as the most beautiful island in the world. Let’s make a journey to Tioman, and taste the things to do in this stunning tropical paradise.
Basic facts about Tioman Island
Tioman Island located near the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, in the southernmost area of the South China Sea, where it gradually mix with the Java Sea in Indonesia. Its southern end is only around 300 km (186 miles) north of the Earth’s equator, so it is situated in the equatorial geographical zone. The island is mountainous, covered by lush equatorial rainforest. When you approach it from the continent, you can see it rising from the sea with two sharp rocky peaks, which has become one of its symbols.
The island is long and relatively narrow, and its length is on a north-to-south axis. Thus it is like a „wall” between the waters west of it, and the waters east of it. As a result, Tioman’s eastern coast is directly exposed to the currents and waves from the open South China Sea. So, if you like surfing, or just playing with big waves, this is the best place. And the waters on the west are quiet, much more clear and transparent- a great place for diving and exploring the underwater world.
All of this opens great opportunities for many things to do and try in Tioman. And the island has been nominated as one of the most beautiful islands on the Earth in 1970, in TIME Magazine. But let’s first dive into the island’s secrets.
Tioman Island- legends and history
Nobody knows when the first humans have discovered Tioman Island. Probably it has been seen by the ancient Orang Asli people, but what has been their relationship to the island, remains a mystery. In the later centuries, some legends were born among the people. One of them says that a beautiful princess passed in the area, looking for her prince in Singapore, but was enchanted by the beauty of the coral reefs. So, she remained their forever and turned into an island. And the two sharp rocky peaks, rising on its southern part, called „Twin Peaks” are said to be her ears.
Another story claims that Tioman Island is a dragon, flying to visit her sister. But this meeting was forbidden, so it has been turned into stone while flying and fell into the sea. Then it turned into this beautiful island.
Of course, all these stories come from the rich imagination of the local people. But it is known that the island has been visited from ancient times by the passing merchants from China and other kingdoms. Even now some porcelain remains can be found on its beaches. However, the island has remained uninhabited until some several hundred years ago. Gradually, the first Malay settlers came and established their small fishing villages.
During WW2, there were battles between the Japanese and the British, and some remnants from this can be found on the bottom of the surrounding sea. But in general, the local fishermen didn’t „feel” too much all these historic events, due to their isolation on the island. Finally, the travelers and tourists noticed Tioman Island, and the small fishing villages gradually turned into resorts. But the secrets and the feeling of mystery in the deep rainforest and the hidden spots on the island still remain.
Our trip to Tioman Island
All of this was one of the main reasons to choose Tioman Island as an important part of our Peninsular Malaysia itinerary. There are several other islands and archipelagos- Langkawi, Perhentian, Redang, and some smaller ones, but Tioman is the most mysterious and the most beautiful of them. It was also in a good location, considering our route.
We came to Tioman from Melaka, the most historical city in Malaysia. We traveled by bus to Mersing, a small town on the eastern coast of the continent, which is the starting point to visit Tioman Island. And from there we got the ferry to the island, where we stayed for three nights, tasting everything that it has to reveal and offer.
Geography of Tioman Island
There are five main areas in Tioman Island, where you can enjoy the best of the equatorial nature of this place, every area with its own features. And there are various spots of interest, located on all these five areas, as well as some exciting routes that connect them.
The western coast of Tioman
This is the first area of Tioman. It is the most „civilized” part of the island, with five village resorts- Salang, Air Batang (ABC), Tekek, Paya and Genting, as well as some other additional resorts and hotels. Tekek is the largest village, with the main pier and a small airport. Here the sea is quiet, the water is crystal clear and transparent, and there are a lot of coral reefs with rich marine wildlife and fantastic underwater views.
However, you still can find there some wild and remote spots. They are north of Tekek Village. Look for Monkey Bay and the neighboring „Shark Point”- an area around Segipong Bay and the small Soyak Island. If you are looking for a jungle with a remote beach, where monkeys walk on the sand and the rocks, and where you can dive into an otherworldly landscape underwater, this is the place. It is accessible only by speed boat (by joining a cruise tour), or by trekking through the jungle.
The eastern coast of Tioman
This is a very different type of seacoast. Here the sea is much wilder. As I mentioned above, this area is directly exposed to the currents and waves of the South China Sea. So, the water is not so clear and transparent, and the waves are much bigger.
The eastern coast of Tioman Island is also much wilder and remote. There is only one resort village called Juara, with its two beaches Juara and Mentawak. But on its both sides, on the north and the south- there is almost no trace of any civilization. Only wild jungle, rocky coast, and raging waves from the open sea.
The southern coast of Tioman
On the south, Tioman Island’s coast is steeper. On most of the coastline, the mountains from the island’s interior descend directly into the sea. But there is one village, called Kampung Mokut, where the mountain slopes are enough mild to build a settlement and a resort. And again, this village is not related by road to the rest of Tioman but is accessible only by speed boat, and by jungle trekking. This is the area, from where you can reach the most iconic symbols of Tioman Island- Asah Waterfall and the Twin Peaks.
The interior of the island
Now, let’s penetrate inside the island. As you can see on the map, it’s shape is like a long pear- the southern part is round and wider, and the northern part- thinner and longer. The interior is mountainous, almost fully covered by the lush equatorial rainforest. And the highest peak on the island is Gunung Kajang (1038 m).
But there is not just a rainforest. There are many hidden secrets inside. First- the animals. You can meet monkeys, monitor lizards, flying squirrels, mouse deers, black bear-cats, and even chameleons. And you can also reach several hidden waterfalls. Of them, Asah Waterfall is the most beautiful one, and the most famous, because this is the place where scenes from an old movie, called South Pacific (1958) were shot. Other interesting waterfalls, although not such attractive, are Ali’s Waterfall, Lubuk Teja Falls, and Paya Falls.
There are many jungle hiking trails through the rainforest, and they are not difficult to hike. Many of them are marked by a power line, so you can’t be lost. When you walk on these trails, you not only can reach some difficult to reach places, but you can dive into the rich rainforest environment.
The small nearby islands
There is an archipelago of several small islets and rocks, located on the northwestern side of Tioman Island. The largest of them is Tulau, called also „Coral Island”. They are reachable by speed boat tours, which many resorts and hotels in Tioman offer. The islands are real paradise- great for diving and snorkeling, with a perfect white sand beach, and a deep rainforest in the interior. If you ignore the tourists around you, you can feel like Robinson Crusoe.
Things do to in Tioman Island for explorers
People visit Tioman Island for various purposes. Some like surfing, others like snorkeling or diving. Some people like just relaxing on a beach. And some like parties. We are „geographical explorers”, so we wanted to „research Tioman’s geography”, by getting the best from its five areas that I mentioned above. Many of these activities can be actually combined into one experience. So, here is what we did, and what you can do (and we could do if we had more time).
Join a cruise boat trip to Coral Island and Shark Point
There are cruise boat trips to Coral Island from Tekek, Juara, and the other resorts. Depending on the starting point, these trips include several places to visit. And depending on how many places you will visit, and the whole duration of the cruise, the price can be different. Normally, it is between 60 and 180 RM per person. They provide a snorkeling set, but I would recommend you bring your own, anyway.
We joined a cruise boat trip from Juara to Coral Island and Shark Point, from Juara Ocean Resort. By speed boat, we went around the island from the north and stopped at three points around Tulau (Coral) Island. The first point it a small bay, where you can swim and snorkel around, and can reach the coast. It is called Genting Bay. Then, only a few hundred meters further, we stopped at Malang Rock, full of corals and colorful marine life. Finally, we stopped in White Beach, where we relaxed for more than an hour. We could swim, we could even hike the jungle behind the beach (but it was difficult, there is no path in the jungle).
Then we went to Salang Village, where we had lunch, in one of the restaurants. And the last point of our cruise was Shark Point, just a km from Salang, near the small Soyak Island. We didn’t see sharks (our guide said that they can be seen only in a certain season), but we could see a turtle, and again, the fantastic underwater world below us. The whole trip from Juara was 120 RM per person.
Relax on a quiet paradise beach at Monkey Bay
This is something that we missed. Monkey Bay is on the west coast of Tioman Island, and there you can find one of the most remote and natural beaches on the island. It has yellowish sand and quiet crystal clear waters. The beach is narrow, „pressed” between the jungle and the sea. And it is wild- there are no resorts, villages, and hotels nearby.
Monkey Bay is reachable by speed boat “water taxi”, by joining a cruise, which includes this destination, or by jungle trekking from Salang or Air Batang (ABC). Our cruise tour didn’t include Monkey Bay, but Shark Point is not far from it, and we could even see monkeys walking on the coast.
Dive into the underwater world
Here I mean scuba diving, not just snorkeling. The coral reefs around Tioman Island reveal fantastic underwater views. By snorkeling, you can see them only a little, from above. But by scuba diving, you can fully discover their kingdom. And Tioman Island is considered the best scuba diving spot in Malaysia, and one of the best in Southeast Asia.
There are many diving centers, mainly on the west coast of Tioman Island. They offer various courses and diving cruises- for professional divers and for non-divers who just want to try and learn for the first time. You can join a 4-days PADI course for around 950 RM, and they will guide you to some amazing underwater spots.
Play with the waves on the east coast in Juara
The eastern coast of Tioman is the place where you can enjoy big waves. I am a fan of the big waves, and it was one of the reasons why we chose Juara as our accommodation place. The beaches of Juara- Juara, and Mentawak are the largest beaches on the island. They are wide and long, and if you like waves, you can play there as long as you wish. Sometimes the waves can be really high, even dangerous.
But if you want more from the waves, you can try surfing. This is the main surfing spot, and it is one of the best surfing places in Peninsular Malaysia. There are some resorts and guesthouses in Juara which offer surfing equipment and even surfing courses. If you are looking for the best- go to the southern beach, Mentawak, and you will find more choices.
Watch sea turtles
This activity is seasonable, so we were not lucky to enjoy it. The best time to see these beautiful sea creatures is from June to September. At that time they come to lay their eggs and the baby turtles are born. The place- in the southern end of Juara Village and Mentawak Beach. It is called Juara Turtle Project Hatchery, and there you can watch the turtles, and learn more about them.
Hike in the jungle
This is a very exciting adventure- to dive into the mysterious world of the equatorial rainforest. If you have never been in such a forest, maybe you have heard (or read) stories about jungle expeditions in Amazonia, Congo or Papua. And yes, the explorers in such expeditions make their way through the thick jungle by machete.
But for Tioman- don’t worry, although the rainforest is quite similar to the forests in these famous places on Earth, there are paths. Some of the paths have even stairs for easy walking (although not everywhere). There are also power lines, connecting the villages on the island, and many paths follow these lines, so you can’t be lost. Most probably you will see animals like monkeys, monitor lizards, flying squirrels or black bearcats (binturong). So, such a hike can allow you to feel, try and taste the amazing world of the equatorial rainforest.
For us, it was our first „thing to do” on Tioman Island. Our accommodation was in Juara, so we had to cross the island from Tekek to the eastern coast. There is a road connecting Tekek and Juara, and many 4WD taxis use this road to take tourists between these two points.
But we chose the jungle trek. It is around 7 km (of which 3 km are on the main road), and can be passed for about 2-3 hours (but if you are not urgent, why should you hurry?). From Tekek Pier, get to the mosque, and you will see a small path (with a sign), leading to Juara. It goes around a power station and dives into the jungle. The path follows the power line, and there are stairs in some places. It ascends to around 300 m altitude, prevails the main summit of the island, and reaches the main road. Thus we not only enjoyed a jungle trek but reached our accommodation in an exciting way.
Enjoy a waterfall in the jungle
There are several waterfalls in Tioman. They are not so high and majestic, or not so wide with large pools. They are very small, in fact, only two of them are more like waterfalls, the others are more like a chain of rapids, but are still beautiful. The easiest of them to access is Ali’s Waterfall. It is located only 100 m aside from the main road, connecting Tekek and Juara. It is one of the „real” waterfalls, and we didn’t miss it while we walked on our hike trip to Juara.
Asah Waterfall is the other „real” waterfall, and it can be easily accessed from Mokut Village. This waterfall is the most famous one, so it is relatively better arranged for tourists. But there is another waterfall (this time- a chain of rapids and small pools), which is more challenging. It is Lubuk Teja Waterfall, and it is accessible from Juara.
Go to the southern end Juara, and you will see the sign for Lubuk Teja Waterfall. Then you have to walk on a small path through the jungle for about an hour or more, so at the same time, you can taste a jungle hiking again. And this time the path is more challenging than the trail from Tekek to Juara. There are no power lines and no stairs. Only some occasional signs with arrows pointing the right direction. In some places, the path „jumps” on rocks, and there are accessory ropes.
Finally, the path reaches the stony bottom of a mountain river, and you have to just walk and jump on rocks until you reach the rapids of Lubuk Teja. Honestly, I am not sure which one was the main waterfall itself, but only the hiking trail to this place was more than worth it.
Reach Gunung Kajang
Reaching the highest point of Tioman Island is another challenging experience, and again it involves jungle trekking. There are paths from Juara, Tekek, and Genting, and the hike itself is of relatively higher difficulty. The whole trek can take a whole day, and in this case, it is advisable to do it with a guide. For such a guide, ask the staff in your accommodation. We couldn’t do it, but if we had more time, it would be definitely one of the important things to do in Tioman Island.
Research the wildlife of the equatorial rainforest
Yes, it may sounds almost the same as the normal jungle hiking, but it is different. In the equatorial rainforest of Tioman, you can see various animals- you can be almost sure that during your hike you will see something- a monkey, a lizard, or something else. But this rainforest hides also much more secrets, which are almost impossible to see during your normal hikes.
There is a guide in Tioman Island who can lead you to see many hidden secrets, that almost nobody knows. He is Mr. Lan, and he lives in a house in the jungle. If you join a tour with him, he can guide you to see chameleons or other rare animals. Have you heard about the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world? It is not like the other flowers, it has a smell that you would not like because, in fact, it is a parasite. But although it is large, you can’t find it easily. It grows only in certain seasons, in certain places. Mr. Lan knows where can you see it.
To join a tour, connect Mr. Azairi, from Tamara Village in Juara. Call him on this phone: 0107 113977.
Visit the main landmarks of Tioman
The main landmarks of Tioman are on the southern side of Tioman. They are the Twin Peaks rocks and Asah Waterfall. If you don’t stay in some of the southern villages and resorts, you can reach these places by a speed boat cruise tour. The tour will guide you to the waterfall. And concerning the Twin Peaks- you can’t climb them, but you can approach closer to them and take stunning photos.
We couldn’t do this activity, but we could enjoy the breathtaking view of Tioman and its Twin Peaks while we were traveling by ferry to the island, and then when we back. So, let’s get more information about how to travel to Tioman Island.
How to reach Tioman Island
The main way to reach Tioman Island is by ferry from Mersing. Mersing is a small town on the eastern coast of the continent, which is easily accessible by bus- from Kuala Lumpur, from Singapore and Johor Bahru, as well as from Melaka and Kuantan.
Online ferry tickets in advance
We arrived there on the previous day before our trip to Tioman, and spent one night in Bluewater Hotel, right beside the Bus Terminal. And we have done something that I would highly recommend- we booked our ferry trip to the island online in advance. You can do it from here, but we did it in a packet with our bus ticket from Melaka to Mersing from here. And they offer such a packet with other bus routes. Thus the ferry can be a bit cheaper. Of course, you can buy your ferry ticket directly from the ticket office in the Mersing Harbour Center, but it is ok only if you are not urgent and can wait for the next ferry.
From Mersing, there are two or three ferries in both directions every day (but at a different time, depending on the day). Our ferry left Mersing at 7:30 am. But they require you to be in the office at the pier one hour in advance- in our case, at 6:30 am. So, we had to wake up at least around 6:00 am. And we couldn’t register and arrange anything in advance, on the previous day- there is no such an option.
Then, when you go to the office at the pier, you have to pass two counters. The first one is for the ticket itself, and the second one- for the entrance fee for the island (Tioman Island is a part of a Marine National Park), which is 30 RM for adults, and 15 RM for children.
While I was looking for more information about the ferry in advance, I read that the departure can be delayed or even canceled, due to the tidal level of Mersing River, where the pier is located. And probably it is real and may happen, but it seems not in every season. We traveled to Tioman at the end of January, which is the end of the wet season. When I asked the staff, they said that the ferry will depart on time and a delay is impossible. And indeed, we left Mersing on time.
The way to Tioman
The whole trip to Tioman by ferry is around 2 hours. Its final stop is Tekek, but before that, it stops in at least two minor piers. In our case, the ferry first stopped in Salang, then back to Ait Batang, and finally arrived in Tekek. But other ferries stop first in Paya and Genting. So, when we purchased our ticket online, they asked us which pier we want to get off.
Other ways to reach Tioman Island
There is another ferry route to Tioman, from Tanjung Gemuk. However, it is not clear how is the situation with it now. When we arrived in Mersing, we were informed that the ferries from Tanjung Gemuk are unavailable.
And there are some charter flights to Tekek Airport in Tioman. There is only one air company, operating these flights- Berjaya Air, and they operate flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. But not from their main airports. In Kuala Lumpur, they depart from Subang Airport, and in Singapore- from Changi Budget Terminal.
Transportation inside the island
Tioman Island is quite wild. And it’s good of course, we all hope it will remain wild. So, there are not too many roads on the island. In fact, there is only one long road along a part of the west coast, from the northernmost to the southernmost resorts in Tekek. Another road connects Tekek with Juara, and a third shorter road connects all the resorts of Juara, from north to south. And in general, that’s all. The other villages- Salang, Air Batang, Paya, Genting, and Mokut are isolated, with only small local streets within them.
So, there are 4WD taxis, waiting for you at the pier of Tekek, to take you to Juara, or the ends of Tekek. The price is usually between 35 and 60 RM per person. But I would suggest avoiding those who would „hunt” you at the pier. A taxi arranged by your accommodation in advance would be better, and often cheaper.
There are places in Juara and Tekek, offering motorbikes. You can see prices like 20-30 RM per hour, and 80-100 RM for a whole day. But again- unless you want to drive between Tekek and Juara, there are simply no other roads to drive. The distance within Tekek and Juara is too short, really not worth renting a motorbike for it. There are also bicycle rentals (although I couldn’t see where), but as I heard, the bikes are old, damaged and of not good quality.
Another option to travel around Tioman is by „water taxi”- a speed boat. You can use it for faster moving from village to village along the coast. And the prices vary from 30 RM (between the nearest villages) to 150 RM, from Tekek to Juara. You can also use the ferry from Mersing when it stops in Salang and Air Batang for 20 RM before it arrives in Tekek.
And finally, of course, the best transportation is your own two legs. Following the hiking trails, you can reach almost every spot on the island. Yes, it is slow, but the hiking experience is really worth.
Tioman Island is more like a budget adventurer’s and backpacker’s paradise, rather than a luxury resort place like Redang Island. So, the accommodation options that you can find there are mostly budget and mid-range (although not too cheap anyway). There are only a few luxury resorts, but even they are smaller. You can check for various options in Booking and Agoda.
Like most of the visitors of Tioman, we are budget travelers too. And another important thing to consider is the location. In Tioman Island, it is especially important because as you can see above, there are not too many transportation options. So, depending on what do you prefer, you can choose between the eastern and the western coast of the island. Like playing with big waves? Look for accommodation in Juara. Prefer calm water and snorkeling? Look for a place in Tekek, Salang or another village on the west.
So, we chose Juara. Thus we could have a long time playing the big waves, and more reasons to hike in the jungle. And the two waterfalls- Ali’s and Lubuk Teja are closer to Juara, than to the west coast. We found The Village Chalet, called also Tamara Village Tioman- a nice place with a two-story hotel building, several bungalows and a restaurant with karaoke. It is located at the northern end of Mentawak Beach, so its location was perfect for us, although a bit far from the center of Juara. And most importantly, the price was the best fit for the quality.
Before we come to Tioman, and particularly in Juara, we have heard that there are not too many places to eat, and people staying in Juara had to use the expensive transportation to go to Tekek for lunch or dinner. Probably it has been the situation before, but now (in 2020) when we arrived in Juara, we found that the food options were more than enough.
There are many restaurants in every village, offering various kinds of meals, including Malay traditional and seafood. In Juara, there are at least several small supermarkets too. Yes, you can’t find too many things there. All that you can see is only some snacks, mineral water and drinks, and some small things for daily use, such as soaps, toothpaste, etc. But still, every village has enough to eat, and you don’t need to go to Tekek for more, at relatively low prices.
The future of Tioman Island
Tioman is an incredibly beautiful island. But as I heard, its future is under question. There are certain groups of people, who want to build a new big international airport, to attract more tourists there. Of course, it is for money, not other reasons. However, the natural conditions of Tioman Island simply don’t allow this. They plan to build the big airport in a new artificial island on the western side of Tioman. It is easy to imagine what will happen with the rich marine wildlife and the beautiful coral reefs in the whole area if they do it!
Then, if more tourists come, they have to build many more hotels and resorts. They have to build more roads to connect the villages. That means to harm seriously the beautiful rainforest. In other words, they will literally destroy the island and its nature! It will be not the same island anymore!
So, a local hotel owner told me: „Yes, of course, we want more customers to run our business, that’s normal. But not in this way! More than everything, we want to protect our beautiful island. So, please, share about this problem in your blog, let more people know about the problem and stay against such mindless projects!”
With such impressions, we back from Juara to Tekek then got our ferry to Mersing. We left Tioman Island, and we were happy with all that we experienced there, and the new friends that we found. For us, Tioman Island remained a place that we would like to visit again in the future.
Get more impressions from the video below!
Check some travel books about Tioman Island, Malaysia and scuba diving!
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