The legend of Tioman is that some magical dragon princess on her way from China to Singapore to visit her lover decided to take a rest in the warm languid waters here in the south china sea and liked it so much she turned herself into an island and stayed put. I met a few more oddballs like her on this tropical paradise. Tioman was the location for the filming of the 1958 film South Pacific, its beach’s acting as Bali Hai. I have never seen it but you get the idea.
We reached the island after a bus journey from the jungle town of Kluang to the port of Mersing where we had stayed overnight. As there were no boats the day we arrived due to a low tide we picked up a ferry the next morning to make the 40 kilometer journey. Another beautiful, calm, sunny day awaited us .
As usual we hadn’t booked any accommodation and when we arrived in the main town of Kekek we were being told by everyone that there was no room’s to be had anywhere. This didn’t bother us, we had already decided to head over the mountains and go to quieter Juara beach on the east coast of the island.The only way to get here is by boat or by four wheel drive up through the jungle. We opted for the four wheel’s, a journey of about an hour through some amazing, pristine, densely forested jungle. We saw hardly anyone on the ‘road’, the island is still very sparsely populated, especially the east coast.
When we arrived on Juara we went on the usual hunt for accommodation, the first place we were brought was the Juara Beach Resort , a small resort run by some Chinese Malays, it was not great, very smelly rooms so we didn’t go back.We later learned that they have all the drivers on the island paid off to bring people to their resort first, even telling people with reservations elsewhere not to worry about their booking and stay with them. I think this is causing some resentment on the island and I wonder how long it will be before they have a mysterious unexplained fire.
After having a look at the other options the best place we came across was right smack on the beach, a newly built, nicely finished big room. It was called the Santai Chalet and is part of the Santai Bistro restaurant .
Juara is really two beaches the slightly more populous northern beach where we stayed and the more isolated southern beach. Our beach was a beautiful long stretch of white sand with a river on each end flowing from Kajang mountain. The rivers make a nice change from the warm sea for a cool refreshing dip. The one on the north of the beach, the Mentawak river was also a great place to see monkeys fishing and monitor lizards doing what it is lizards do.
There were an mixed bunch of people staying in the various places along the beach. Their were the usual families on holiday and the oddball’s I mentioned earlier. Simon, the Canadian lawyer had been in Malaysia for the last year and on the island for three months. The first time I saw him was on the drive over the mountain from Tekek, he was walking the jungle path with a small cage in his hand. The locals thought he was trying to catch their monkeys. I got talking to him and asked him about the cage and he told me he was on a crusade to get the stray cats of the island neutered as he couldn’t bear to see so many of them go hungry and catch diseases and die off. He hadn’t caught any of them yet, bar the five or six that were living with him in his beach hut. He also told me most of his clients thought he was in Toronto as he did all of his work online. An unusual character. Then there was Hamilton from Mississippi. This quietly spoken American had been on Tioman for over a year. He was a former gulf war veteran (1st Gulf War) and was writing a book about his experiences as a humanitarian worker with the Shan and Karen rebels in northern Burma. He spent time there without government backing and had some stories to he wanted to tell. He spoke with that soft southern drawl and had Axel mesmerized with his tale’s, me too. Then there was Mike the surfer who got stuck, he’s been here for 20 years and runs a beachcomber bar on the southern beach. I swam over one day and got chatting to him. His place really kicks off in what is typically the off season for most holidaymakers as the surfers come when the monsoon hits the island. He was telling me that the wave off the south beach is one of the best and most regular he knows due to the reef break. He tried to go back to Australia but couldn’t get back in to the humdrum life that involved so came back here and found himself a little bit of his own personal paradise.
Axel’s education continued on the island with a visit to the turtle sanctuary where he met Jo, a blind turtle and now the mascot for the islands conservation project. The sanctuary is being run by some American anthropology students and they were very helpful and informative taking time out to talk to us about the project and various aspects of their work. We witnessed a daily battle between a monitor lizard and a couple of birds in the coconut palm outside our hut. The birds were giving as good if not better that they were getting from the lizard. Every day he would go up looking for the eggs and every day the two plucky birds would beat him back, swooping in, pecking at his eyes and driving him back down the palm. Axel’s biology lesson were with Mahmad a local boy who he went fishing with every day we were there. I got brought along to observe on a number of occasions. Mahmad was good and Axel is getting good, so good in fact we had to turn down one of his freshly caught fish dinners, we had had enough, good as it was. They would spend all day fishing and when things were slow they would cadge tuna off the occasional boat that came in, at night they would go fishing for squid. We would have their catch cooked in the little restaurant next door and would get charged a type of fishy corkage by them to do it, which they happily would. He is now a mentally keen sea angler and demands to go fishing anytime we are near the sea. I may yet regret buying him that telescopic rod in Kuala Lipis.
The neighbors in our cabin changed a couple of times we were there. We had dinner with a couple who’s three sons were with Axel on his first successful fishing foray and we had a good session with a couple form Lake Constance in Bavaria who were traveling with a their little girl and Elka’s NBF. They couldn’t understand each other unless it was us who couldn’t understand them. They spent the whole time together running around and squealing to each other at a ridiculously high pitch, loving every moment of each others company .
The only excitement came from a visit by the police from Kekek to sort out a ruckus involving a couple of Axel’s fishermen friends who’s had one too many. We missed it but I walked by them on their way back to their boat and it didn’t look like it had finished. The next day the coast guard pulled up to the pier, funnily enough there were no fishing boats around that day.
We spent our day’s uneventfully lazing on the beach or walking around the island and looking at the starry skies.
Tioman is a very chilled out place and if you are ever in southern Malaysia put it on your map, really.