Good diving, good times on Tioman Island, Malaysia

ABC beach beckons…

February, 2011

Tioman Island, Malaysia

Ah, Tioman!  We finally made it after three days of waiting; the delays, excuses, fictions, outright B.S., phone calls, threats, and hassle, all that remains to be seen is: was it all worth it?

It sure looks like!  This little island gem of Malaysia was once listed among the world’s most beautiful by TIME magazine (1970’s), it’s volcanic peaks blanketed in lush tropical forest, surrounded by pristine waters and abundant coral reefs, a tiny blip of paradise lost in the South China Sea.  Tioman is in a protected marine preserve and barely populated, the guesstimate of about 432 people suggests to me that there may be more cats than people on the island (there are a lot of cats!).  All this makes for a truly ‘off the grid’ getaway that seems to be lost in time, as wild nature reigns supreme instead of people.  You’re just waiting for a T.Rex or massive ape to come thrashing out of the jungle at any moment, it’s that kind of place!

So we didn’t see any tyrannosaurus, but we did see plenty of his smaller cousin, the Monitor lizard.  These guys were

Our 6-7 foot neighbor takes a sun bath.

all over the place, in various sizes from “how cute it’s like a big pet iguana” to “OMG is IT coming towards us?!!!  The other creature that surprised us with it’s size were the Flying Foxes, the aptly named gigantic bats that taught us very quickly not to stand too close to insect attracting lights at night, as Gary got buzzed by one close enough to feel the wind from it’s wings as it passed briskly by.

Wildlife is everywhere, from thumb sized humming birds, to half-foot wide black and yellow butterflies, feral cats, ring necked doves, crabs, and whatever it was scrabbling around all night within the walls of the cabana belonging to our travel buddies Andrew and Linn.  Wildlife was casually grouped into two camps by the guys on the island, tasty or not so tasty.  There could be a third category of “inedible”, but apparently I didn’t see anything that fell into it.  Typical conversation regarding wildlife:

A 'six pack of bats', luckily too high in the tree to be eaten

Me: “What’s that?”

Andrew:  “Oh, those, those are bats.  Tasty. Good with garlic.”

Me:  “And that?”

Benn:  “Oh, monitor lizard.  Not so tasty. That one needs A LOT of garlic.  And beer.”

With enough beer, I suppose anything could be rendered palatable.

Tioman: possibly the best kept secret of Malaysia?

At any rate, we slip into the laid back island life rather quickly.  Divemaster and all around SCUBA gear fix it guru Darren put it nicely by saying, “Here there is even a lack of schedule for their lack of schedule.”  The people we met were either locals or backpacking drifters who wore T-shirts printed “F**k Off and Dive” or said things like, “I was on my way to Thailand for seven days of opium and yoga” (this was overheard at Hello bar).  In between cold beers and Malay meals like Nasi Goreng (noodles)  drowned in Sambal (a spicy chili & dried shrimp sauce, I adore it!) we manage to get our Advanced Open Water certification through Benn’s dive shop, B & J Dive.

Due to the lack of human interference, the reefs are wonderfully preserved, and sealife so unaccustomed to people that during a dive a remora attached itself to Gary’s leg, and I watched a juvenile batfish munch on my leg while waiting to descend.

One of the highlights of our time on Tioman was the much anticipated birthday party for Benn.  Everyone up and down ABC beach were abuzz with preparations for the big event.  Gary and myself pitched in and sliced fresh island pineapple and mangoes for the punch.  But the best part was the Malay fire show, called “poi” that was performed that night by divemaster Ewan, and others.  Poi is basically a monkey’s fist knot of absorbent rope attached to a length of chain, and terminated by a leather holding strap.  The rope knot is soaked in kerosene and set on fire, and then swung around in tight circles and dizzying loops around the performer.  I tried it, but with just one poi, as I could very easily see myself getting two of them tangled with me in the middle, and setting myself ablaze!

In the midst of all the flame, there is a guy swinging the poi.

Check out a video of Ewan’s performance:

And just to show you how good he is, compare with my attempt at poi!:

After the party, everyone opted to pretty much take it easy the next day, Gary and Benn by playing golf at the Tioman Island golf

No, Gary didn't hit one onto "the beach"! Golfing and boats don't seem to mix, but as most Tioman transport is by sea, clubs and players have to climb aboard!

club, and myself by a solid 3 hours of pampering at the golf club spa.  The course was beautiful; green, lush, and inhabited by monkeys.  The spa was divine, I got scrubbed with coconut, covered in herbs, wrapped in plastic and cooked by thermal blanket for a while, then followed by a soak in a flower bath, and then massage.  Whew!  Don’t know how I made it through all that ;-)!

This is the life! I could really get used to fresh flower baths!

Then, all too soon, it was time to head back to Singapore.  It was quite hard leaving Tioman, as the tropical atmosphere and being part of a small village on the sea reminded us all too much of our beach house waiting for us in Brasil.  Some day, soon!

Note:  I am going to start leaving some practical information about places we’ve visited, in the comments section of the post.  Hopefully some of this information can help someone else out in their own travels.

The sun sets on Tioman, and our stay there. Sigh!

One more poi pic! I couldn't resist, it makes such a cool picture!

Wanderlust Wonderings  – by christystarfish


1 Comment

Filed under Asia, Malaysia

One response to “Good diving, good times on Tioman Island, Malaysia

  1. Flights to Tioman from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: Berjaya Air:

    PADI certified dive shop and PADI classes: B & J Dive:
    I cannot say enough good things about these guys, staying and diving with them is what made our trip so wonderfully unforgettable. Thanks Benn, Darren, Ewan & Helen!

    Eat at Nazri I or II for good Malay eats.
    Have a drink at Hello bar (ABC beach)

    Play golf or go to the spa at Tioman golf club and resort: The also have nice lodging and restaurant.

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