Tioman Island (Pulau Tioman in Malay) is the largest island in the Seribuat Archipelago, 56 kilometers off the southeastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Clocking in at 20 by 12 kilometers and, according to legend, shaped like a dragon with its feet stuck in the coral, the island's profile is quite steep and distinctive, with Mount Kajang reaching 1049 meters and the southern twin peaks of Nenek Semukut and Bau Sirau not much lower. While perhaps a bit too large to cause an immediate "Oh my Lord I'm in paradise" reaction (try the Perhentians for that), it still has picture-perfect white coral sand beaches, palm trees and azure seas, and is well deserving of its Time magazine accolade of as one of the top 10 island escapes in the world.

Claims to Fame

For a long time just a navigational aid and cluster of fishing kampungs, Tioman has little in the way of recorded history; the only clue that people have been there for a while comes from a recent find of 12-century Sung Dynasty porcelain. A more recent claim to fame was the island's appearance in the 1950s hit musical South Pacific, where it played the role of the mythical island Bali Hai (despite not being in the South Pacific or even particularly near to the real Bali). With the advent of scuba diving and the realization that there was some pretty spiffy coral in these waters too in the 1970s, the tourist boom started in earnest.


After 30 years of development, Tioman is the best equipped (or, to put it another way, most commercialized) island on the Malaysian East Coast. The 'capital' (of sorts) at Tekek now features a paved airport and the island's only road, a 1-meter concrete path a few kilometers down to the Berjaya Tioman Beach Resort, the island's luxury resort complete with 18-hole golf course and a time-share condotel for those who want to stay longer. Tekek is also, alas, the ugliest place on the island, full of run-down accommodation and rusting oil drums.

But the island is a big place, and it's still far from the excesses of Langkawi and Penang. North of Tekek stretch the backpacker-friendly kampungs of Ayer Batang ("ABC"), Penuba and Salang; south, past the Berjaya Resort, are Paya, Genting, Nipah and Mukut, all tiny hamlets with a few low-key resorts or bungalows on the beach. And on the other side of the island is kampung Juara, accessible only by trekking 3-4 hours through the jungle from Tekek, or taking the once-daily slow boat around the island.

Things to Do

Laze on the beach. Snorkel. Dive. Eat. Repeat. This is not the place for an action-packed holiday, although terminal fitness nuts can hire a guide and go for some hot, sweaty tropical mountain-climbing.

Tioman's coral reefs have taken a big hit from the double whammy of heavy tourism and the crown-of-thorns starfish infestation plagueing much of South-East Asia; most of the reefs around the island itself are dead or dying, although there remain some good patches (eg. the north side of tiny Pulau Renggis at the northern end of Paya beach). Nearly all kampungs have a dive shop or three, and they arrange trips to various outlying islets and reefs.

When to Go

Much of the island is closed during the northeast monsoon season between November and February; the seas are rough, meaning transport links are also trimmed down, and for divers visibility is poor. The best time for diving is thus April-May, although the diving is still good well into October.

Getting There

The cheapest and most popular method is to go to Mersing on the mainland (there are many buses from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur) and then take a boat to Tioman. Boats take 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on your choice of speedboat, catamaran or slow ferry, and cost around 30 ringgit one way. The boats will take you to any village on the west coast, but reaching Juara will require special arrangements.

Another viable option is to take the daily direct high-speed ferry from Tanah Merah in Singapore to Tekek. The trip takes around 4.5 hours and costs 60-100 Sing dollars return depending on the season and day of week. The ferry does not run during the monsoon season.

Last but not least, if you have more money than time on your hands, you can fly Berjaya Air daily from Kuala Lumpur (Subang) or Singapore (Seletar) straight to Tekek. The short hops (35 min from Singapore, 60 from KL) are on 48-seater turboprop Dash 7s and afford you some beautiful views of the archipelago on a good day, but expect to fork out over 150 Sing dollars (return) for the privilege.


Personal experience
Footprints Malaysia Handbook

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