The Two Faces of Tioman

While my style of travel has me constantly making last minute decisions as to my next destination, there is still a fair level of forethought as to the “Why?” of where I wind up. Whether I’m in the mood for serene solitude, a lively party scene, or something in between, there are often a variety of choices I get to make based on my immediate desires when it comes to the kind of adventure I’m seeking. Tioman Island gave me a spectrum of options.

Our initial target was Juara, on the eastern side of the island where there was barely a soul to interact with and where Desiree, Mary, Teresa, and I treated ourselves to a long stretch of near-deserted beach. The few dining options we had gave us the opportunity to sample a variety of local seafood caught fresh out of the ocean and served to us the same day. Whole grilled fish was often my choice. With a variety of side dishes from plain white rice to potato and vegetable medleys, it certainly wasn’t difficult to satisfy our hunger as we exerted little energy during our short time in Juara.

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We had plans to travel by sea to the northern point of the island, a small village called Salang where the best snorkeling is a mere few kilometres from the shore. The night before we departed Juara, Teresa, Desiree, and I had to figure out our plans for the next couple of weeks; Mary would be leaving us after our next destination, Singapore, and Desiree would be continuing along for the first stretch of our long visit to Indonesia. My sister had her heart set on beginning in Bali, so we wound up booking our flight for September 6, 2013 on my first ever Air Asia flight which would take us to Denpasar. It would also be the first time I’d touched down on Earth’s southern hemisphere.

The next morning, the four of us took a speed boat along Tioman’s coast, a good hour-long ride, till we made our approach to Salang.

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The village is small, but far more populated with tourists compared to Juara. There are several more accommodation options as well, but due to the high level of tourists, the four of us actually had a more difficult time finding a place to stay. We did eventually, though, a large room that needed a bit of cleaning and was a bit older and dustier than where we’d stayed in Juara. But it was certainly far better than a lot of places we’d slept in up until this point.

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We came to Salang for the snorkeling, which we signed up for that afternoon and departed the next morning. We went on a speed boat in a group of eight or nine people, although a couple of other boats also departed around the same time as us and anchored at the same area. The sea life was spectacular and to this day, it was one of the best snorkeling experiences of my life. The water was absolutely stunning. We were taken to a deserted island with endless stretches of white sand beach. Here, we sat atop a massive boulder just staring out at the sea, taking in all the small islands peppered throughout the turquoise water. That feeling of serenity I got atop that boulder is one that I’ve tried to emulate ever since. It was a special kind of moment that I know I’ll never forget, least of all for the fact that all four of us got to experience it together.

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I remember looking down into the water and seeing a little baby shark swimming in the shallows. I’d seen a couple of them deeper out as well, something I was taken aback by when I’d first crossed their path. It was the first time I’d seen so much marine life in such a concentrated area while snorkeling. I’d been in the water so long that I’d actually become nauseous when I came back aboard the boat; I suppose floating for so long without gravity pulling me down like normal threw off my equilibrium when I finally did emerge above the surface once again. I eventually removed my lifejacket so that I could dive down and get a closer look at all of the underwater creatures, coming close enough to touch if I’d so chosen.

That snorkeling trip was a mesmerizing experience, and a very active one compared to the last couple of days of beach bumming in Juara.

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In the evening, we joined in some of the night life, eating at an outdoor grill restaurant with dozens of other patrons while a band played live music, walking around the village and enjoying more local food in addition to the huge dinner we ate. I actually had some of the best Tom Yum soup, a Thai specialty that they somehow did just right on Tioman.

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We needed to be up at around 4:30 AM the following morning to catch the ferry back to Mersing. Salang was the first docking point of the day, hence the early departure time.

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The ride back always seems quicker because the path is more familiar, even if it’s in the middle of the sea. When we got to Mersing, we walked to an outdoor restaurant a few minutes away and enjoyed some local Malaysian cuisine. A cute little kitten joined us for part of the dining experience, climbing all over my backpack as it tried to squeeze its way between us.

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Soon after, we hopped on a bus that would take us down the coast and into Singapore. After a fairly hassle-free customs/visa procedure, we were in a bus terminal waiting to be taken to Singapore’s Little India district where we’d be staying in the most expensive hostel to date due to Singapore’s inflated prices compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. It would still prove to be an amazing place to visit in the few days we’d have there and the hostel price was nothing compared to the famed Marina Bay Sands where we’d spend a bit of time in earned luxury that all of us could more than appreciate.

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