Tioman Island, a small mountainous outcrop lying around fifty kilometres from the eastern coast of Malaysia is an idyllic kampung getaway of thick jungle, sandy beaches and clear green waters.
In the seventies, Time Magazine declared it one of the most beautiful islands in the world, a fact that the Islanders are still clinging on to 50 years later!
While plenty has changed in the last few decades, the laid-back island lifestyle is still intact; there’s a slower pace of life here with very limited tarmac, little traffic, fresh air and a lot of peace and quiet.
Tioman’s continued charm lies in the lack of development on the island, the majority of accommodation is simple chalets, owned by families who live on the same plot. Spend your days reading in a hammock listening to the sounds of the jungle, or snorkelling in calm, clear waters amongst a variety of tropical critters.
When is the best time to go to Tioman Island?
Tioman Island is open for business all year round, (unlike Malaysia’s other popular islands, the Perhentians, which close for the monsoon season). Good prices can be had in the low season, especially if you commit to staying more than two or three days. Like us, you can waste away your days in paradise for next to nothing!
Tioman Island Monsoon Season
The low season is, of course, during the monsoon season which starts around December and continues until February or March. During this time, the ferry service from the mainland is limited. Monsoon season is good for the surfers, as this brings in waves from the South China Sea on the eastern side of the island at Juara.
High Season in Tioman
Demand picks up in April and continues through until September and October. This is the best time to go to Tioman to ensure the best weather, especially for snorkellers and divers. The dive season ends around November.
Tioman Diving Season
Divers are advised to visit from February onwards as the water temperatures and visibility improve. The earlier in the season, however, the less likely you will be able to visit the outer lying dive sites as the conditions and visibility may not be good enough. For perfect diving conditions, the best time to visit is March to June where visibility is around 30 metres.
Where to Stay in Tioman Island
Tioman is divided into four main villages or kampungs that cater for tourists:
- Air Batang (ABC) (North West)
- Salang (North West)
- Tekek (West Coast)
- Juara (East Coast)
For the backpackers, for budget reasons, it’s likely to be a choice between Salang and Air Batang, also known as ABC.
Air Batang (ABC) – Best Option for Backpackers in Tioman
We stayed in ABC, which had enough accommodation options but still retained a quiet village atmosphere. For us, it was the best of both worlds. There are plenty of accommodation options, with a dozen or more very chilled chalet sites; with the opportunity to camp for 5MYR ($1.20 US) a night (bring your own tent & have access to toilets & showers) or stay in a dorm for around 20MYR upwards (around $5 US).
The cheaper and older chalets are generally to the right of the pier at ABC, whereas the left side has more upmarket options, including A/C, unobstructed sea views & wi-fi. Walk-in prices depend on demand, but there’s definitely room to negotiate and the further set back from the beach, the cheaper.
There are also a few beachside bars and you’re likely to see huge monitor lizards and monkeys roaming around the village. Most accommodation has some internet connection, check to make sure it’s included in the price – one place we saw charged 10MYR per hour!
- SP Barakah Chalet Tioman: Of the places available to book online, SP Barakah Chalet Tioman is the cheapest. It’s very close to the jetty and, by all accounts, the closest accommodation to the beach, at only a few metres. That said, it does not always get the best reviews. The most common accusation is that cleanliness is not its strong point.
- Restu Chalet: This simple chalet is a bit more expensive and receives slightly better reports. It’s still basic, but is in a nice location and is likely to be a bit cleaner than Barakah.
Salang – Same Same But Without Bars
Salang is, I’m told is similar to ABC, with the same standards of accommodation and pricing but without any bars, although you can buy beer in one of the shops.
- Puteri Salang Inn: This hostel has a pretty good reputation and is the best option in Salang as far as we can tell. A quiet and relaxing place to stay, the surroundings are lovely. The rooms themselves aren’t much to write home about, but they’re reasonably priced.
Tekek – The Capital Village
Tekek, the main village on Tioman island is linked to the south of ABC, the other side of a staircase cut into the rock. It has a few roadside coffee shops which are cheap and sell drinks and snacks. The village of Tekek further along the walkway which has the only ATM on the island is home to the tiny local airport. There are not as many good accommodation options here for travellers.
- Cheers Chalet: If you’re determined to stay in Tekek, this is your top pick. Rooms are clean and cheap and the garden they’re set in is very nice. There’s also a shop on site which sells beer.
Juara – For Families and Couples
Juara, on the east side of the island, Juara is home to some very nice accommodation, which is generally a bit more expensive and family or couple orientated. There are also a few restaurants but it’s pretty quiet compared to the more lively backpacker side of the island. The beach, however, is the best on the island by a long way. The most affordable places to stay in Juara are…
- Permai Chalet: Again, basic accommodation, but in a wonderful setting. The owners are friendly and helpful. The chalets are comfortable, albeit not the cleanest.
- Permata Beach Chalet: This chalet is much more modern and cleaner, though we’re straying upwards of the $30 USD per night mark. Very popular with guests for its location and the friendly family that own it. If you fancy splashing out, could be a good choice!
Things to do on Tioman Island
Sure, you can laze your days away on the beach taking the occasional dip in the beautiful clear sea, but if you’re feeling a bit more active, there are a few more things to do in Tioman!
Trekking on Tioman Island
The island is mostly jungle, with a few marked trekking routes. Take mosquito spray, some sturdy walking shoes and check out the two following awesome trekking routes:
Trek 1: ABC to Monkey Beach & Salang
From the northernmost point of ABC (Air Batang), you can trek firstly to Panuba Inn Resort (20mins) which is the steepest, most challenging part of the trek to Monkey Beach involving some ropes. Punuba Inn has a fancy restaurant bar and a sandy beach. The jetty is teeming with fish and is good for snorkelling.
Another one hour of snaking, jungle paths takes you through to a beach followed by another ten minutes to Monkey Beach – it’s quiet, with a fairly shallow beach so best to visit when the tide is lower.
It’s another one or more hours walk from here to Salang. The path follows the power cables from village to village making it almost impossible to get lost. Be warned that there are no shops or toilets at monkey beach so take enough water and snacks with you for the journey.
From here it’s around another ninety minutes to get to Salang, but once you’re there you either have to walk back the way you came or you can pay for a local fishing boat to take you home.
Trek 2: Tekek to Juara
From Tekek you can walk to Juara across the middle of the island through the Jungle, the distance is around seven kilometres and takes about 2-3 hours depending on your pace.
The walk is split into two sections, the first is a part-paved path running through the jungle with a lot of stair sections. The second part is walking alongside the road which runs to Juara, which is downhill and quite challenging on the walk back. Take lots of water and some snacks.
Just after the path merges into the road there is an old building on the right side as you walk towards Juara, the path alongside leads to a small waterfall and natural swimming pool. It’s very refreshing on a sweaty walk. Juara has a few restaurants and a nice beach to enjoy before returning.
Diving in Tioman
The Island has a lot of diving sites, a few shipwrecks and some shallow coral formations making it excellent for snorkelling and diving – the water is calm with generally good visibility making it a good place to learn.
To dive we paid 110MYR ($26 US) per dive with B&J Diving (in ABC) who we found to be well organised with a good quality kit, comprehensive site briefings and European Divemasters. The highly rated Eco-Divers are also based in ABC, which we heard good things about.
The Marine life around the island varies according to the time of year but we saw abundant reef fish, various healthy corals, turtles, barracuda and black-tip reef sharks. At the right time of year, manta rays can also be seen! Here’s a video (courtesy of B & J Diving of what you can expect diving in Pulau Tioman).
Snorkelling in Tioman
There is very good snorkelling from the northernmost beach in ABC – in front of Bamboo Chalets, before the trek to Monkey Island – the rocks snake around to the Panuba pier which has some decent sized coral formations, with lots of varieties of fish, healthy carpets, octopus, rays and sea cucumbers. Snorkel hire costs 10-15MYR ($3-4 US) per day. Tip: Head out at low tide to see the most sea life.
Eating and Drinking on Tioman Island
Food on Tioman is a bit underwhelming compared to most of Malaysia – prices, in general, are increased too due to everything having to be shipped over. One local explained to us that they cannot grow anything on the island as it’s too thick with jungle and the monkeys would just steal it!
Food Prices: Expect to pay around 8-10MYR ($2-2.50 US) for a fried rice or noodle dish, 25MYR ($6 US) for fresh fish.
For restaurants, ABC has the best budget options and Tekek has a few cheap local cafes. A big bottle of water costs around 2MYR ($0.5) on the mainland and 4MYR ($1) on the island. Ask if the hotel has a UV purifier and you can refill your bottles for cheaper or free and not create more plastic waste. Or, invest in your own filtered water bottle ahead of time.
Most places sell standard basic Malay food and western dishes, but you’ll struggle to find really good Malay food. One street-side restaurant with a burger cart outside (north of the ABC pier, by the first bridge) sells excellent Nasi Lemak for 2MYR ($0.5) 0 an absolute bargain! However, you have to get there before 8:30 am at the latest or the locals snap them all up! The curry puffs are really good too and great value at three for 1MYR ($0.25).
ABC also has three or four laid-back beachfront bars selling three beers for 10MYR ($2 US) and playing reggae tunes as the sun sets and into the night.
Getting around Tioman Island:
There is no public transport system in place on Tioman island. You might be able to get a good price with a boatman to get from beach to beach, but generally, expect prices to be quite high. It is possible to hire a motorbike but there is not a lot of road, the main stretch connects Juara with the airport and Tekek.
Local car owners act as taxi drivers on the island, I don’t think they are licensed or there is any kind of fare structuring and prices are seemingly at the whim of the individual – prices are high compared with Mainland Malaysia.
It’s apparently also possible to get a lift with the ferry from one village to another, some websites state there is a charge, while other sites say they either don’t charge or have stopped offering this service, worth checking out on the island.
Getting to the Island:
Ferry to Tioman Island:
The ferry to Tioman leaves from Mersing, a lengthy six-hour, 30-40MYR ($7-10) bus journey from Kuala Lumpur. Mersing bus and ferry terminals are relatively close, around 5-10 minute walk and taxi is not necessary.
In the monsoon season, the ferry is only scheduled once per day and can be cancelled (sometimes for several days) if the sea is too rough, or there are not enough customers to make it viable.
From March 1st the ferry schedule is extended to three or four crossings per day. The ferry costs 35MYR each way and takes two hours. The crossing can be rough. Currently only one company, Bluewater Express runs this route.
Tip: Any travel agent in the cities will call through to check ferry schedules on a given day if you make out you might book the transport with them!
Singaporeans often travel to Tioman for weekends or diving breaks so ferries departing on Saturdays can be pretty busy.
Spending the night in Mersing
It’s likely, in the monsoon season you will have to spend the night in Mersing – the ferry leaves around midday and connecting buses are unlikely to arrive in time.
Where to stay in Mersing? Hotel Embassy, near the bus station, is a good value, clean hotel. You can check other options in Mersing on Booking.com.
Flight to Tioman Island:
You can also fly directly from Kuala Lumpur with Berjaya Air, landing at the tiny airport in Tekek. Check Skyscanner for prices.
NOTE: As of February 2014, there is a 5 MYR entrance fee and a 20 MYR National Park Conservation Charge to access the island. Total return cost is 95MYR.