Just two hours off the coast of Mersing Malaysia, Tioman island is one of the few places in world that is simultaneously absolutely unique, pristine and caters to all budgets. It is irresistible thanks to its crystal clear aqua waters, thriving marine life below and that fact that unlike its neighbouring country Thailand, you can still find a deserted beach and have a corner of paradise all to yourself. With a large mountain peaking in its centre this is one island where a scooter won’t get your very far at all and boat is the only way to get around the island.
Each time we’ve been to Tioman it has been an entirely different experience with varying price tags. So here’s a list of spots and activities on Tioman for all budgets…
1. Salang: For budget seekers, divers and bar hoppers.
Salang is one of the more social spots on the island along with ABC and Tekek. Backpackers and snorkelers about to morph into certified divers come here to enjoy a slice of island life and party at beach bars in the evenings. This is one of the biggest hubs for diving schools and with good reason; the world beneath the surface is breathtaking. Multicoloured parrot fish, drifting sea turtles and clown fish explode in a myriad of colours in the turquoise blue. Whether you dive or snorkel, boats will take you out to Coral Island where you can marvel at the underwater world or sun on one of whitest sand beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on.
We stayed at Salang Indah. Whilst it worked well as a budget spot, it was certainly not my favourite beach hut. This will only work for you if you are keen to rough it, be without a basin in the `bathroom` and use the toilet floor as a shower and a place to brush your teeth. Plus the mosquito net was broken.
Salang is also known for its sand flies which I only discovered when my body as covered in large, itchy bites. Swim in the ocean, but tan and lie on the sandy beach at your own peril. We were told that the sand flies come out around low tide so steer cleer of all beaches around them and use oil on your legs to deter them.
2. Juara: For tranquility-seekers, paddle-boarders and surfers.
This may very well be my favourite corner of the island. Perhaps because we had the entire resort and beach to ourselves or we could fall out of bed and straight out into the ocean.
1151 Coconut Grove is really not the cheapest option of accommodation in Juara but I’m pretty sure it’s the best. These are more luxurious beach chalets with sea views, delicious breakfast included and a number of activities to enjoy. We rented Stand-up paddle boards for RM20 an hour and paddled our way on the calm seas in the rain. During monsoon season, the surf is good and you can rent surfboards from a resort close by. They also rent bicycles which you can use to explore the one road weaving along the bay.
If you are not here for the more secluded island life, then you may get itchy feet and wish to see more people and socialise. Getting here requires a 4×4 driven by one of the island local tax drivers who can navigate their way over the steep mountain road and back down at fast speeds. Once there, you can call the driver to take you back over to Tekek to the restaurants, shops and bars. So take snacks with you to Juara; there is a mini mart and local restaurants but they are not always open.
3. Tunamaya: For families seeking a luxurious, all inclusive escape.
This place is definitely out of our usual price range but worth it if you have the money and want a place for the family to relax, swim in the pool and get all your meals from. Once everyone fell out of the ferry, we were the only couple to be fetch in Tunamaya`s private boat and taken directly to the resort.
Tunamaya has a wonderful enclosed area to swim in the sea and swim in the pool. You can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinners overlooking the ocean with candlelight and music drifting into the warm evening air. Staff are really welcoming, friendly and totally professional and the General Manager, Mohan, will make sure you are comfortable and have everything you need at all times. You can enjoy their spa out nestled between the tall trees and stroll beside the stream on manicured lawns. The housing is beautiful, stylish and for Asia, the bathroom is perfection.
The only way to reach the resort is with their private charter so getting around is not really possible. But with all they have at the resort, you won’t really want to leave. You can go on mountain walks but be well advised that we were attacked by tons of Aedes mosquitoes on our jungle walk so if you do walk, wear tons of mosquito repellent and light, long sleeve clothing as they are attracted to black clothing.
-Take extra cash with you to pay for boat transfers. If your resort doesn’t have charters from the ferry stops, you will have to pay extra for a boat trip to your resorts spot on the island. Also take enough cash for the few days you are there as ATMs can only be found in the busier areas.
-Between November and February, monsoon season, the ferry from Mersing still runs but quite sporadically and according to the weather and the tide.
-If you need a taxi driver in and between Tekek and Juara, call Azlan +60168740291 or +60136214241.
– This is not the best island for singles or women travelling alone as there have been a few fatal incidents involving European tourists who initially went missing on the island and found dead. Do not go wondering off to a waterfall or on a hike alone. It won’t be difficult for you to get lost and not be able to get signal to contact anyone for help. As a woman, staying out late at night and drinking excessively with or near locals is not advisable as multiple tourists have reported scary behaviour of locals towards them when drinking. Most locals are friendly but every place has crime, so watch out and keep your hotel/resort’s number on you in case of emergency.