“THE ISLANDS, here we come!!!!” Well at least that was the excitement we felt the night before. This morning was another story. After staying up till 3am on Skype and having to wake up at 6am to catch our 8am bus to Mersing, we were feeling less than enthusiastic to say the least. We had no clue this would turn out to be one of our greatest adventures yet! So bear with us…
From our trusty backpackers, we walked to Oceans Mall where we caught the public bus to Melaka Central Bus Station (MYR1). From there we caught our “pre-booked” bus to Mersing, a jetty town on the East coast of mainland Malaysia. This is the access point to Tioman Island. The bus ride was roughly three hours long and cost us MYR25pp.
NOTE: Bus tickets to Mersing should be booked a couple of days in advance as the route is very popular and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a seat on the day. This is especially important if you are connecting with a pre-booked ferry (in Mersing) to the island. Also note, Mersing is not a destination. It is a small town that can be explored in an hour or two whilst waiting for your ferry or bus, if you so desire. There area few motels along the main streets near the main ferry terminal though, if you do happen to get stuck there for the night due to transport times or ferry cancellations.
Just across the road from Mersing’s eerie bus terminal is the ferry company “Bluewater Ferries” who claimed to be the one and only company offering ferry trips to Tioman. If there was any doubt, their monopolistically priced tickets confirmed the fact. After scrambling to find a better alternative, with no luck, we caved and paid the MYR70 return ticket (per person). For most traveler types, this isn’t much, but for us frugal backpackers this, plus the transport getting here, was almost our entire daily budget gone!
NOTE:The ferry service only runs three times a day in each direction (sometimes only two), and is very dependent on tidal/weather conditions and passenger numbers. During monsoon season (late Oct to mid Feb) the ferry has been known to shut down for several days at a time. Secondly, Tioman is a popular tourist destination for all types of travelers all year round, therefore demand is always high. We recommend booking your ferry ticket (and accommodation for that matter) in advance, either by calling Bluewater Ferries (+60 7 799 56 96) or by purchasing one online at tiomanferry.com. Make sure to give Bluewater Ferries a call before making your way to Mersing to check that your ferry is still running on the day. Lastly, plan to arrive well in advance of your ferry time.
Mersing’s ferry terminal is just a short five minute walk up river from the bus terminal. If you are facing the river, go right. From the bus terminal head towards the main intersection, walk a couple of blocks through thecity centre and passed the stadium till you find the ferry terminal. Here you show your ferry ticket at the ticket counter thirty minutes before departure and wait to board.
Like the last minute travelers we are, we still hadn’t booked our accommodation for Tioman. Bad, bad idea! We had been lucky enough to get ferry tickets, were we going to be lucky enough to get accommodation? The travel agent next door to Bluewater’s office had told us all accommodation on the island was sold out, except for a few places onJuara Beach, a lone beach on the east side of the island. For some reason we were not feeling very trusting today, so whilst waiting for our ferry, we used the opportunity to check out accommodation online. We popped over to the surf-styled café next to the ferry terminal for a quick bite to eat and to take advantage of their free wifi. We really regretted it. The food was nasty, the waiter incredibly rude and the wifi…no existent. No accommodation…what were we going to do?
Just before hopping on the ferry we asked some locals working at the ferry terminal what our best bet was. They also suggested Juara Beach, as we were likely to have little luck at the other five beaches on the west coast. At this point we were feeling like the naughty kids being banished to the corner of the playground. Little did we know this part of the playground was full of great adventures just waiting to happen.
Now, the ferry takes approximately two hours and stops at the five main beaches along Tioman’s west coast. We jumped off at Tekek (no.3) as it seemed the most centralized beach, and from there we could decide our next move. Almost all of the accommodation was booked, bar a place called “The Beach Shack” on Juara Beach. Feeling super beat up, hot and frustrated about how our lack of organization had seemed to have got the better of us this time, we just went with it. The local owner sent a driver in a 4×4 driver over the island to pick us up. And this is where the adventure began!!!!
Our driver, Zam, immediately lightened our spirits with his gentle, friendly personality. Although, his gentle-side didn’t last long; and thank goodness for that. It takes one fierce and confident driver to be able to tackle the treacherous, unforgiving jungle road to Juara. But like a boss, Zam got us there in one piece, all the while telling us stories of recent encounters with python and komodo dragons, just a few of Tiomon’s deadly, local wildlife. What a thrilling ride!
We had now hit Kampung Juara, a local village. As Zam drove us down the narrow village road we paused to take it all in; the young Malay children chasing their ball through the tall grass, a few coming from school running behind their friends’ bicycles, some local woman congregating together on side of the road whilst an old man drove past on his scooter piled high with Durians. We couldn’t have been happier. This is exactly where we wanted to be…in amongst the locals. Seeing how exhausted we were yet utterly excited, Zam pulled off the road, parked the 4×4 under a palm tree and ushered us towards a small wooden shack right on the beach in amongst some locals homes. A little confused at first, we soon realized he had taken us to his friend’s beach café to treat us to the traditional Malaysian dessert, ABC (Cendol) and a few other local treats. As we sat there on the beach, under the palm trees eating our ABC’s, having just met this man, both of us felt utterly overwhelmed and humbled by his generosity and the experience so far. We spent the next hour listening to Zam share his life story, including one of his most hectic experiences that left Mike and I completely shocked, which for Zam’s safety we can only ever share with you in person.
NOTE:There are two ways to get over to Juara Beach; the first being the 4×4 (MYR50), and the second, a three hour trek through the jungle. There are a few taxi drivers in Tekek who might offer to take you, but you would be mad to accept. We suggest arranging your initial transportation through your accommodation provider. Once in Juara, don’t expect to catch any form of transportation. There is one main road with dirt road off-shoots and probably only half a dozen cars, a few motorbikes and some scooters in the entire village. Luckily the main road is no longer than two kilometers so most people just walk or cycle. Also note that ninety percent of the accommodation on Juara Beach is owned and run by local people who have expanded their homes, or built small basic chalets to accommodate visitors.
Our first day on Tioman ended with dinner on the deck, a refreshing night swim under the stars and some great conversations with fellow travelers. This place was so off the beaten track it was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful.
Our accommodation, The Beach Shack, was incredibly rustic and simple, the closest you’ll get to actually sleeping on the beach. The vibe was incredibly laid back providing for the perfect beach bumming conditions.
To set the scene, Mike and I literally stepped out of our beach shack onto the cool white sand, placed an order for banana chocolate pancakes and coffee, had a refreshing morning dip in the crystal clear ocean waters to wake up before being called to the deck by the lovely owner to devour our freshly made pancakes. What a dream! I mean can life get any better? I mean really!
The night before whilst taking every moment to rest and relax in this incredibly calm and peaceful place, we got to know the other crazy inhabitants who had been lucky enough to find their way here; two German girls, two Canadians and an Aussie dude. Crossing paths with fellow backpackers on the road always leads to amazing experiences and broadened minds, and this time was no exception.
We all spent the morning hanging out on the beach and discussing plans for the day. Eventually we all decided to get our act together, fight the laziness and hike through the jungle to a waterfall. We say we “all” decided, because none of us where prepared to take it on alone, at least not after hearing the news of what had happened on this same walk the week before we had all arrived.
A couple of weeks before, a male foreigner helping at the Turtle Conservation Centre further down the beach went on a hike by himself and was found dead earlier in the week. There were rumours that he may have fallen, injured himself and not been able to get back to safety. However, his face had been eaten by a Komodo Dragon. Oh hell no!! We were all more than happy to admit we felt safer with numbers! It also meant our adrenaline was pumping before we had even hit the jungle.
So off we went, high on excitement! A couple hundred meters down the beach though we were stopped in our tracks. The tide had risen, and between us and the jungle path now lay a large mass of water, also known as the estuary. The color of the water didn’t exactly make any of us want to dive in and swim across and neither did the fact that we weren’t certain there wasn’t anything man-eating underneath it too. We didn’t have much of a choice though. We had barely started and already faced our first challenge. What an adventure!
We noticed an old crusty longboard lying on the grassy bank and thought it would be great to use to keep our shoes and bags relatively dry whilst we all swam across. We walked along the bank a little, looking for a possible owner, but really, we had barely seen anyone let alone the owner of an old, unused surf board. We were pretty sure no one would notice if we borrowed it and returned it later, but upon attempting to balance all of our gear on the board, a woman shouted out from a clearing in the trees and said angrily that the owner would not be happy about it. She literally came out of nowhere! All of us just burst into laughter at the utter surprise of a woman just randomly popping out of the jungle. Granted that if she could appear out of the bush chances are the owner could too. So to plan B; Mike and Joel (our crazy Aussie friend) being the two tallest would carry our packs on their heads across the shallowest part whilst we the rest of us swam across. After watching them struggle but eventually make it across, another random stranger came out of the jungle behind us. This time, luckily for us, he was the proud owner of the little boat that was docked, and was more than happy to give the rest of us a ride across. You can obviously imagine how the two drenched boys were feeling at this point.
Dry shoes on (thanks Mike and Joel), and off we went. The path was not very strenuous but breathtakingly beautiful. It was not clearly marked, but we were told to stay alongside the large water pipe running through the jungle. Not wanting to be left behind the girls and I chose to walk in the front, not knowing this would set us up for the biggest fright of our lives. At one point during the hike a loud rustling noise came from a bush up ahead. We slowed my pace and as I went to take my next step, a HUGE lizard, literally the size of a crocodile, burst out of the bush and ran across the path. I had never seen a lizard so big. We were certain it was a Komodo dragon.
We continued up the path, thinking it had gone, and as we reached the point where it had crossed this giant lizard sitting in the bushes beside the path makes a move, runs up the bank beside us and disappears into the jungle. I don’t often swear but when you get the second fright of your life in the space of two minutes!? Off to the middle of the pack I went!
We eventually arrived at the waterfall, which was more just a large rock pool, but spectacular none the less. The water was so refreshing, and as we all took turns to slide down the rocks, it was crazy to think that we were a group of friends from all over the world laughing and chilling in a rock pool in the middle of the “real” jungle (not a joke, this one).
Arriving back down at the beach, we discovered a rope swing that swung into the estuary. Who can resist a rope swing? So after about fifteen minutes of getting crazy on a rope swing, the woman…yes, that woman, jumps out of the bush a second time and this time warns us of the parasites her friend had discovered in the water recently. You’ve never seen a group of tired hikers move faster than we did that day, as we jumped out of the water, ran into the ocean further down the beach and rinsed and scrubbed every part of our bodies.
Feeling fairly adventured-out at this point, and starving, we walked down to the jetty to grab some food at a local restaurant, Satai Restaurant. It has great food at good prices and even had a tv showing the highlights of the soccer world cup.
Note: Between about 12-6pm the only place to really get food is the convenient store and a couple of local restaurants near the jetty.
We spent the rest of the day chilling on the beach, playing Frisbee, not a care in the world besides where to next?
Our day ended with some quality chill time on the deck with our mates, listening to music, chilling on hammocks, drinking beers and jamming our favorite game, action UNO. However, this time it was high stake action UNO, the loser forking out MYR5 and having to run down the beach and jump the water under the stars and the moon…but butt naked! No one was ready to lose… well except Joel perhaps. After a few beers and some intense rounds of action UNO, Scott (the Canadian guy) was declared the loser, and before we knew it was naked running towards the water. What a trooper! It looked like he was having far too much fun, so moments later we were all running down the beach, finding our own patch of darkness, dropping down to our birthday suites and diving into to the water! I mean tropical island, away from civilization, beach shacks, hammocks, the stars and moon out on full display, is there any place more perfect to skinny dip? Did we mention the glowing plankton that glittered in the water around us as we swam! Memories are made of this!
Our last day on Juara beach, but not Tioman, was really relaxing with a routine start; banana chocolate pancakes and coffee after our morning dip. We spent a portion of the morning trying to use the intermittent wifi to find accommodation on ABC beach (the other side of Tioman) with no luck. Joel and Scott took a kayak out to see what was around the bay and whilst we went for a “romantic” stroll down the beach to a resort called River View. P.s. Don’t be startled by the number of monitor lizards you’ll encounter if you stroll along the main road. We all spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on the beach.
NOTE: River View on Juara Beach seems really great. It is slightly pricey and the chalets are simple but right on the beach. They seem to have a host of activities like beach volleyball, table tennis, kayaking, snorkeling and more. It’s owned by an older Australian couple who have been there for quite a few years and have a wealth of knowledge about Tioman.
Our night ended with our typical chill session on the deck, playing cards and drinking beers. We settled our tabs and packed our gear to head to ABC beach early the next morning with Scott, Megan and our awesome driver/co-owner of the Beach Shack, Zam.
If we could have stayed longer on Juara we would have. It was a sanctuary! To end our time there we all rose early to watch the sunrise on the beach. Now Mike, being from Africa, has had the opportunity to see some spectacular sunsets. Nothing can compare; but this came pretty close.
As we packed up our last few things and said out good byes, we bumped into Joel who the jungle to the other side as opposed to taking a 4X4. We were all very admirable of him, but we also thought he was nuts! The trek can take up to three hours, that’s if you don’t come across any komodo dragons or pythons along the way. If you are travelling extremely light it could be worth it. Otherwise, it might be a tad rough.
Our 4×4 ride, on the other hand, was just as thrilling. We got a flat tyre winding our way through the jungle roads, and had to go snail pace the rest of the way, so slow, we even bumped into Joel a few times along the way. Zam, our skillfull driver, managed to make it all the way to Tekek with the flat tyre, where we took an easy fifteen minute stroll over to ABC.
Luckily for us, being mid-week we managed to find a place to crash for two nights, called Mokhtars Place. The shacks were very simple and cheap, nothing to write home about, but all you need when you spending most of your day lazing on the beach.
As you have noticed with the timing of these posts, blogging is ridiculous amounts of work, not to mention the time needed to edit, proof read, organize photos whilst also trying to incorporate multiple experiences from mine and Mike’s perspectives into the posts. We therefore dedicated a large portion of our morning to catching up on our blogging at a casual restaurant at a resort called Nazri’s Place just next to Mokhtars Place. However, when your office is right on the beach like ours was the distractions can be endless. Hence, the blogging was over after lunch.
NOTE: Nazri’s Place is really popular. It’s the first resort you come across on the nicest part of the beach (Tekek side), and it has its own Sunset beach bar and restaurant. It is slightly pricey but worth it as it is a great place to hang out.
Work over, play time begins! We spent the afternoon in the water snorkelling around the rocks, and napping on the beach. I mean it had been a hard day in the office! Early evening we hit up the Sunset beach bar for some delicious pizzas and a banana boat dessert, whilst enjoying some of the FIFA world cup highlights. In Mike’s words, “Life in this moment is good; a beautiful wife, sport, sunset, food and a beer to wash it down, not to mention a camera to capture it all. Tell me what more could a guy want?”
Later on we met up with the rest of the crew from Juara at the dive bar down the beach. The vibe here was poles apart from where we had just come. A group of chilled out islanders who worked at the local dive centre, and also just so happened to be incredibly talented acoustic musicians (Project AK), started jamming on the deck whilst the rest us of chatted and enjoyed the free “Green Turtle” cocktails (the bar tenders specialty drink) that kept coming from the bar, well at least they were free for Megan and I. To tell it how it really was, Mike has to take over for this part.
Mike: “Now if you know my wife you’ll know she is not a fan of alcohol, unless that alcohol tastes like juice. Hence her slight addiction to apple sours. So after one and a half Green Turtles, my dear wife was tearing it up the “dance floor” along with the rest of us, me mostly to keep her up straight. She had managed to get the vast majority of us up on the deck dancing, so hard in fact that the deck was bouncing up and down. The musicians played harder, the crowd grew bigger and the laughter continued long into the night. It was an amazing vibe, chilling under the stars listening to music with waves crashing in the background. This was definitely one of my favourite moments on the island and the night had only just begun.
I carried my wife, although she will refuse to admit it, back down to the Sunset Bar where we sat on the beach with a large group of people and watched the Swiss play Argentina in the FIFA World Cup projected onto a large screen, the only thing on tab being water for my more than vocal wife. So after the soccer and a few too many trips to a random toilet in the jungle after having digesting like 2 litres of water, it was now finally time for bed! It had been another unforgettable day on the island of Tioman, Malaysia.”
So, waking up a little fragile from the late night of course, not the Green Turtles, we grabbed a bite to eat at another local café called Mawars before packing our bags and heading to the main dock to make our ferry back to Mersing. We were fortunate enough to bump into our fellow Tioman crew and say our last goodbyes ending our incredible time on Tioman.
We spent the next 10 hours killing time in Mersing as our bus to Merang Jetty, where we planned to catch a ferry to Kapas Islands, only came at 11.45pm! Six of them were spent inside the air-conditioned KFC playing UNO with two girls we met from Denmark who were in the same position. Reality has never hit harder! We did however, get some delicious dinner at a local Indian eatery before heading off to the bus stop where we spent the rest of the evening hanging out with a bunch of stray cats and Christian and Isabella, a French Canadian couple who also have a travel blog. Check it out.
Like I said at the start, we had no clue we were embarking on one of our greatest adventures yet! Tioman absolutely blew our expectations out of the water! We will never truly be able to express in writing how that time changed us and the memories we will hold dear to hearts long into our old age! You’ll only ever truly understand when you get the chance to visit yourselves one day!
The unforgettable memories don’t stop here!! They are only really starting! In our next post we will share with you one of Malaysia’s hidden gems!