Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pulau Tioman The Great Destination

Vacation To Malaysia

Great Malaysia island destination: The beaches of Pulau Tioman

BY: Barbra Stuter

A close ferry ride away from hustle and bustle of civilization is a perfect tropical beach getaway with fantastic resorts, great snorkeling and superb beaches. Located about 20 miles off the east coast of Malaysia, the sparsely populated Pulau Tioman is covered with dense rainforest, surrounded by coral reefs and holds a special place in my memories – primarily for the variety of wildlife that I have run into there. While living in Singapore, this beautiful Malaysian island was one of my favorite places to go for a weekend getaway and an escape from the city.

Nearly every time I have visited Tioman, I have stayed at the Berjaya. You will find varying reviews of this resort, but I always found my stays there to be quite enjoyable. I like the Berjaya, primarily for its proximity to both the airport and the ferry dock, but also because Pulau Renggis is directly off shore from the property (more on that later). It is a close taxi ride to the night life in Salang Beach and it is also within walking distance of Kampung Telak where you can get some good local food and do a little shopping if that is your pleasure.

Pulau Renggis is the tiny island you can see off the shore of Tioman in my pictures, and is a fantastic place for snorkeling and diving. I have seen any number and variety of beautiful corals and colorful tropical fish out there, but the most memorable were black tip reef sharks and cuttle fish. Seeing the sharks was thrilling, but the cuttlefish might still be the most fantastic marine animal I have ever seen in Tioman or anywhere else. When I first saw it, it was a mottled brown color, and just cruising slowly through the water. As my diving partner pointed it out, it immediately dove to the sandy bottom. As it settled near the bottom, it immediately changed color to match the sand, which was nearly white. The color change happened as rapidly as flipping a light switch. As I continued towards it to get a closer look, it started flashing what looked like neon concentric blue circles all over its body, obviously designed to scare me off. Worried that I was distressing the animal, I moved away and it scuttled off. It was really, truly fantastic to see and something I will never forget. You can see a cuttlefish towards the end of this video taken out at Pulau Renggis.

The distance between Tioman and Pulau Renggis is swimmable, but you are crossing boat traffic so you have to be careful – and quick! You can also arrange a trip out there by long boat, but I have never managed to be on the boat for the return (ahem -pay attention to your time). Again, with flippers it is absolutely swimmable, so enjoy yourself and don’t worry.

The wildlife is just as amazing out of the water as well. On one of my first trips to Tioman I was sunning on a lounge chair and happened to spy a GIANT lizard hanging out by the fake waterfall cascading into the pool I was sunning by. This creature had to be 3’ long from nose to tail. I exclaimed to the waiter bringing me a frosty beverage “Oh My GOD! What is that?” His reply was… “A snack”. Apparently the monitor lizards are a local delicacy and I can only imagine that they must taste like chicken.

We also had the good fortune to see some beautiful flying fox bats as we were enjoying our evening libations under the trees by the beach. They swooped into the tree we were sitting under, and proceeded (upside down of course) to crawl all over the the tree looking for fruit. Very cool. I have also seen many Palm Civets, which are kind of a cross between a cat and a monkey, with big giant eyes and a long fluffy tail. At least I think that’s what they were.

Don’t let me forget the beaches of Tioman, for after all – that is why we came, right? The beaches have the fine sand required for sandcastle building, and it is sort of a well, sandy color. Not the blinding white of so many tropical islands. There can also be quite a bit of seaweed at times, season and tides depending. Tioman is an island completely surrounded by white coral reefs and crystal clear waters. This provides visitors with excellent snorkelling off any beach, including these below.

Salang Beach – the most popular due to its nightlife. Very crowded during high season.
Monkey Bay – the whitest sand and the best spot to jump off for diving or snorkeling.
Panuba – very quiet and exclusive with sparsely populated beaches.
Juara – on the east side of the island is largely untouched and your best spot for viewing wildlife. One of the many great hikes on the island is from Telek to Juara.

Tioman is easily accessible by ferry from either Singapore (4.5 hours) or Mersing on the Malaysian mainland (1 to 1.5 hours, depending on type of ferry). Berjaya air has daily flights to Tioman from Singapore’s Seltar airport and from Kuala Lumpur. I have made the trip both by sea and by air from Singapore, and I have to say the $100 plane fare was definitely worth saving four hours of travel by ferry.

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