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May 8, 2006

[This page is a compilation of posts made to the talesofasia discussion forum by Tezza with occasional follow-ups from others which provide information deemed useful enough to warrant a page here in the main website. If you have any questions or comments, please refer them to this thread on the discussion forum.]

With lofty cloud shrouded mountains, rainforested slopes and a multitude of bays and beaches, Tioman is a pretty attractive island. Add closeness to Singapore, a good range of accommodation from backpacker to high-end, frequent ferry and airplane services and duty free status and you get a pretty nice place to spend some time. Hey, and no dogs!! as far as I could see. Lots of cats fer you Sylvester fans. Plus heaps of monkeys in the rainforests, some pretty big monitor lizards, some cute squirrel things and the usual tropical bird and marine life.

The most popular tourist beaches are ABC (most accommodation), Salang (liveliest), Juara (best beach and most laid back), and Tekek (best services ). Then we have the Berjaya high end resort, and smaller gems like Panuba.

ABC - (Air Batang) - this 3 km long bay is a bit north of central on the west coast. A good paved path just big enough for motorcycles and bicycles runs the full length, with the pier about midway along. ABC has a good range of budget to flashpacker accommodation, lots of restaurants, a few bars, at least three dive operations and half a dozen small stores.

The beach here looks real nice at higher tide levels most places, but when the tide gets towards lowest, most areas show a big expanse of stoney rock flats. The exception is the area right down the southern end where NAZRIS ONE is located where the beach is good all tides. Nazris has a nice beachsided restaurant and is rebuilding accomm following a fire - my April visit saw a rather nice new looking wooden block of rooms across the track.

Two other places that caught my eye are both at the far north end - BAMBOO HILL (a handful of chalets built on the rocks of the northern headland with great views down the bay) and ABC BUNGALOWS which have good looking bungalows starting at 40rm in a very nice garden setting, plus a good beachside restaurant.

Back in 2000 I stayed in the adjacent NAZRIS 2 (Nazis Beach Cabanas) which has a great elevated restaurant with nice food, plus a wide range of bungalows. However a recent TT post talked of stuff missing from rooms showing all the indications of an inside job. They have a new-to-me path-side bar which seemed to be the in-hang for those kewwll longterm travelers and diver types late afternoon.

Tekek is immediately south of ABC across a mid sized headland. The stepped path across the headland prevents the passage of motorcycles and makes it a real effort to carry a bicycle. Tekek is the location of the main village and the path widens enough that 4 wheeled vehicles can move along, although it aint busy. Tekek has a fair bit of accommodation, but most places are not particularly appealing in appearance and the beach here is pretty inferior, suffering erosion in many areas. An exception may be the small area south of the new harbour (under construction) which I didn’t check - this area seemed to have some nice looking buildings and good sand from my distant viewpoint at Panuba Inn (see later).

There are lots of shops and restaurants, particularly in the airport area (the very short strip is just behind the beach roadette and the main pier). This precinct also has a bank with ATM and a couple of duty free shops.

Another attraction is the Marine National Park fish pens against the headland to ABC where you can snorkel at fish feeding time, which is a pretty good experience - you are instantly surrounded by hundreds of fish of various sizes when someone throws some bread in. Look for the small pier.

Salang is at the northern end of the west coast and is many travelers’ favourite. I can see why, having spent a few days there in 1999 and revisiting for a day this trip. The beach is very nice south of the pier, particularly up against the southern headland (lots of sand all tides here - not too shallow offshore low tide), and if you swim out a hundred meters or so you get some coral for interesting snorkeling. There is a surprising amount of accommodation for a relatively compact area. I had no trouble getting something walk-in at the height of the season during my first trip (July) and my hike up to Salang this trip coincided with Saturday on a holiday weekend with lots of locals hitting the island, yet there still seemed to be plenty of vacant bungalows in areas like the far north end of town and the area inland across the small creek south of the pier. Look for really big monitors swimming around in this creek like alligators. There is a good selection of restaurants plus a few bars (including a real neat one on the rocks of the southern headland overlooking the beach - they also put a few tables with umbrellas down on the beach) so this place gets a more social atmosphere at night. But Long Beach Perhentians it aint.

Juara is the the only travelers’ spot on the east coast of the island. This lovely bay is about a km long, and has a great beach in all sections. No problems at different tide levels. There is a nice range of budget to flashpacker places along here - I thought the places north of the pier looked slightly more attractive, but there are some appealing bungalows in the other direction too. Because Juara is not as easy to access as the west coast beaches (the ferries from Mersing don’t come around here) it has a very laid back atmosphere. Even in the July of my first visit, when things were busy on the other side, Juara seemed uncrowded.

There is a similar sized beach to the south of Juara with a few bungalow places, easily reached by a narrow roadway or by crossing a small headland and about 300m of rock.

The road to Tekek is now open. It actually joins the old Tekek-Juara hiking track not too far from the start of the descent down the eastern side, where it becomes paved. A Juara is doomed!!!! post on TT about a year back predicted this would lead to multinational hotels being built by the dozen - well hell, the place looked exactly the same April 2006 as it did back in 1999. I did not notice any building activity. Mind you, the road aint busy - I probably spent about 2 hours walking down and up the section shared with the hiking path and about a dozen motorcycles and less than half a dozen 4 wheeled vehicles passed me.

Panuba Panuba Bay is immediately to the north of ABC - reached via a ten-minute walk over the steep headland on the path alongside Bamboo Hill.

On a my 1997 trip I visited PANUBA INN http://www.panubainn.com/ for a meal. On it’s own small bay with a nice beach and great views from the restaurant and accommodation, I marked it as the one for my next trip. Panuba is really a midrange place, but I got myself one of their least expensive "A" chalets which is closer to backpacker standard. This cost 45 ringgit per night which included breakfast for two. The chalet was spacious, solid, clean and came with towels, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, a nice verandah with good views (but not panoramic like the dearer chalets - virtually all of these not only overlooked Panuba Bay but also southward taking in the bays and mountains for a good 8 km or more, as does the restaurant which is lower down adjacent to the beach). One big demerit was the absence of a mosquito net or window screens in this basic bungalow - reception assured me they had no mosquitoes (hur hur hur) - I applied liberal repellent each night and admit that I was not awoken by the noise of frustrated insects buzzing my ears.

Food in the restaurant was good, prices very reasonable (around the same as the cheaper bungalow restaurants in Thailand, which is pretty cheap, except for water and beer which was dearer) and the service fast and cheerful. Except - several times the restaurant/reception/small store shut up shop in the afternoon and it was impossible to get something to eat or drink for an hour or so while the family was off doing something else.

Panuba’s more expensive accommodation looked very appealing. As far as I could tell, just about every room had panoramic elevated views not only over Panuba’s bay, but northward following the sweep of the bay past ABC, Tekek and the luxury resort, with their backdrop of dramatic peaks. Sigh.

Panuba’s beach is fairly small but clean and has very clear water, some nice underwater rocks and clumps of coral for pretty good snorkeling by Asian standards. I saw quite a lot of fish and one smallish very colorful ray. Snorkel gear is available at the restaurant and there are also kayaks to hire. The beach has some lie lows and beach chairs and some good shade in sections. About three minutes walk to the north is another section of beach Panuba Inn calls Monkey Beach (there are some monkeys in the rainforest directly behind) which appealed to guests wanting seclusion.

Panuba Inn has its own in house dive operation - Bali Hai Divers, which is maybe stretching the South Pacific thing a bit.*

BERJAYA LUXURY RESORT - is just a bit over a km south of the airport and pier at Tekek. It actually stretches down the coast for what seems several km. From Panuba I walked over the headland to ABC, down along the beach path to Tekek, hired a bicycle near the Marine NP fish pens and then rode the three km to the southern headland of Tekek. The resort starts immediately over the other side. And it looked pretty good to me, impressive looking buildings, a golf course and a nice beach area with great sand and no rocks at lowest tide. There is a small island close offshore, easily reached by a fair swimmer, which I remember had pretty good coral, fish and some turtles on its beachward side back in 1999. If you are in the market for a nice package place you could do a lot worse than this joint. Note locals have set up 3 restaurants just outside the resort gates for more variety and cheaper prices in dining, and it’s a pleasant walk into the airport area of Tekek for maybe half a dozen more choices. The resort runs a shuttle into Tekek too.

Trekking - I did two pretty decent walks on Tioman.

TEKEK TO JUARA is a good walk. The turnoff is well signposted on the beach roadette north of Tekek's pier. I only takes 5 minutes to reach the start of the climb over the divide, 45 minutes uphill, another 10 minutes across the saddle, 40 minutes downhill and 10 minutes along the flat into Juara. The uphill section is a good walking track thru great rainforest, steps cut in places, steep in parts but not a killer. There is a small waterfall on the way up. Not far past the start of the downhill the track becomes paved and is shared by vehicles, but as I said before, not many. Actually this section is a good workout on the return, because it is pretty steep in parts and more open to the hot sun. I met some girls carrying big packs up here in 1999, changing beaches. Jeez, better them than me.

ABC TO SALANG is more difficult, but has a couple of nice bays along the way, and is a good way of seeing the other end without paying the rip-off water taxi fares (more later). The trip took me about 2 hours of actual walking time each way. From ABC past Panuba to the afore mentioned Monkey Beach takes less than 12 minutes. From here it’s a matter of following the power lines as the locals told me. The newly laid lines more or less follow the track rather than vice versa. They are never far apart for any great distance. So in most places finding the way is fairly easy, the track is pretty clear and where it parts compay with the power lines is often marked with plastic bottles upended on sticks or colored ribbons. When you come to both fairly big bays (which are great for a cooling swim and some sun - btw the bay closer to Salang is called Monkey Bay not to confuse with Panuba’s Monkey Beach ), head for the far end of the beach to pick up the track again (look for the power lines). Slopes along here are pretty easy except for the 20 minutes on each side of Salang’s southern headland where the uphill is a real good workout.
I met quite a few people walking between Salang and Monkey Bay , but no-one on the Panuba side of this.

When leaving Salang, the track starts just on the western side of the water tanks for the western most operating bungalow place on the headland slopes (not the 80% finished but abandoned super luxury resort to its west. Does anyone know the plans for this joint? I’m sure it was only 70% complete but abandoned in 1999. It also looked in great condition this April like someone is doing maintenance. Wooden joints usually deteriorate very quickly in the tropics).

Actually, on the way back I lost the track in two places - but if this happens you will soon know as the way becomes super difficult real quick. I back-tracked and found the right way easily both times.

There are lots of monkeys along this track. There didn’t seem to be any aggressive dominant males like one I once met in Sumatra , but I always carry a really big bush stick anyway.

Apparently you can also walk southward from Tekek, thru Berjaya’s golf course and hit a track which goes a fair way south to Genting, a nice beach on the southern west coast. I didn’t have time to do this one.

Transport - Berjaya Air seems to have half a dozen flights per day, shared between KL and Singapore . The fast ferry service from Mersing on the mainland is really good - there always seemed to be one passing Panuba. April fare was 70rm return and you can use your return on either of the two companies. Trip takes about 2 hours. The ferries stop at Tekek, ABC and Salang, and will stop at most other west coast piers if informed beforehand.

There is also a faster speedboat service at slightly higher cost.

The fast ferry from Singapore has not run for some time.

The water taxi service around the island has fixed prices and aint cheap. From ABC, Salang was 20rm, Monkey Bay 15 and Panuba 10. I noticed no prices for Juara - maybe the bungalows’ taxi services have taken over - one modest place was offering Juara-Tekek for 70rm! I’m not sure if the afternoon around island boat shuttle is still running for Juara drop-offs.

Excursions - the Around Island Trip is great, but at 100rm, expensive. It calls in at Juara for some beach time, a compact bay on the southern tip of the island for a trek up to a small waterfall in the rainforest, some good snorkeling at that small island near the luxury resort and a visit to the MNP fish pens for a snorkel at feeding time. Any bungalow, restaurant etc can book you in.

The Coral Island snorkeling trip is okay. Coral Isand is a few km off the nw corner of Tioman and has reasonable coral and marine life in a big bay on the Tioman side. My trip also took in some beach time on a gorgeous deserted beach on the other side - sand so white it hurt the eyes. We also spent some time at Salang. Cost 60rm.

Weather - the wet season usually ends some time in Feb or early March and kicks in again in October, although I once saw a post by a regular visitor saying Oct was great because rain is in short bursts and you still get lots of really nice days. Nov Dec and Jan tend to be real wet, sometimes with days where budget travellers can’t access or get off the island because the ferries don’t run.

BTW, I reckon this is the real reason for all the construction work on the new harbour at Tekek. TT’s anti-development lobby was carrying on about cruise liners and the US 6th Fleet! Fact is Tioman locals deserve an all weather anchorage so that they can exit or return without sometimes having to wait several days. The ferries mostly stop running not because of big seas when crossing, but because of potential damage when docking at the unsheltered piers on rough days.

*That old 50s movie classic South Pacific was filmed at Tioman - in the South China Sea . Don’t ask me why except the scenery fits. Bali Hai was one of the major hit songs from the movie, sung by Fifty Cent’s granddaddy, Half a Dime. Small change went a lot further in those days. Okay, some of you PhDs in Entertainment know I made that last bit up. The singer was really Snoop Dog’s great-uncle, Pluto PI.

For more information: http://www.tioman.com.my/

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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.