Dec 05 2011
I’m based in Singapore, a tiny place to call home, but with the saving grace of being just a short budget flight to nearly anywhere else in Southeast Asia. While Phuket or Bali are the obvious choices for a quick getaway, during the peak holiday season I prefer somewhere off the beaten track, like Tioman Island.
Tioman is a lush, mountainous island off the southeast coast of Malaysia. Its beaches and jungles are so picture-perfect that it served as exotic Bali H’ai island in the 1958 film ‘South Pacific‘ and was later named one of ‘the world’s most beautiful islands’ by Time magazine. With press like that you’d expect every inch of beachfront to be developed by now, but the island remains refreshingly rustic. Tioman is free of chain restaurants, there are no vendors to pester you on the beach and, if you hike the jungle trails, you’re as likely to encounter a monitor lizard as another tourist.
While Tioman Island is home to a four-star resort and golf course plus a few pricey eco-retreats, most of the accommodation is simple chalets. At the backpacker-friendly beaches of Salang and Air Batang, a fan-cooled hut by the beach goes for as little as 40 ringgit (about S$18) per night. A few budget spots like Nazri’s Place and Babura Sea View have websites with online booking, but more options are available on arrival.
If enjoying the view from a hammock isn’t enough activity for you, Tioman Island is part of Mersing Marine Park and its waters are teeming with tropical fish. Most guesthouses can rent you a mask so you can go snorkelling right off the beach, or join an island-hopping tour to take you to the best coral reefs. Tioman is also home to more than a dozen dive shops offering introductory dives through to multi-day PADI certification courses.
Sound good? From Singapore, it takes four to five hours to get to Tioman Island. First, you need to get a bus to the town of Mersing, Malaysia, where you catch the ferry to the island. Ferries are operated by Blue Water Express and cost 70 ringgit return (about S$30). The schedule depends more on the number of passengers than the clock, but they generally run every two hours from 10:00 until 16:00. Expect to wait for a while or try calling the Mersing ferry terminal at (60) 7 799 4811. Do note that November through February is the monsoon season and ferries may be cancelled during hazardous weather.
Alternatively, Berjaya Air flies from Singapore to Tioman Island’s single-runway airport. Fares cost about S$220 for a round-trip flight and are a little higher on weekends and public holidays.
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