Tioman – Malaysia’s Bali Hai

Tioman – Malaysia’s Bali Hai

David Bowden

IN THE 1950s, Hollywood discovered Pulau Tioman (Tioman Island) when it

was chosen as the location for the mythical island, Bali Hai, in the

musical South Pacific. All this attention put Tioman on the map and the

tourism authorities are still dining out on this celebrity status despite

the current generation of tourists having probably never heard of the


For Malaysians, Tioman is one of the country’s better-known islands

despite being laidback with only one international resort of any note. It

is densely forested and fringed by white coral-sand beaches, with small

kampungs scattered along the coast.

Tioman exists in the shadow of other Malaysian island destinations like

Penang and Langkawi but one gets the impression that the locals are happy

for it to remain this way. Recent plans to build a new runway and to turn

Tioman into a duty-free port will no doubt change the island but certainly

not on the same scale that Langkawi has witnessed.

Tioman’s waters are its biggest attraction but there are many adventures

on the land as well. Available land is what will always restrict the

island’s development, as much of it is rocky, precipitous and forested.

These natural qualities are what make the island so appealing, especially

to foreign tourists seeking some respite from the region’s more touristy


From a distance, the twin peaks of Gunung Kajang (1,038m.) and Bukit

Nenet Semukut loom above the forests.

The small settlements on Tioman are mostly on the protected northwestern

side, although there are a few chalets at Kampung Juara on the eastern


Kampung Tekek serves as Tioman’s main entry point via ferry and air.

There is only one short stretch of paved road on the island and this runs

from the small airport at Kampung Tekek to one of the resorts. Other

facilities available here are a police station, moneychanger, clinic,

museum, mini markets and the island’s administrative office.

Tioman largely retains its natural environment and provides a habitat

for coral and marine life, which is what attracts divers and watersports

lovers. For those who like to explore relatively undisturbed natural

places, there are several options away from the water as well.

Tioman’s surrounding waters and adjacent islands are home to scores of

species of hard coral and fish. Pulau Renggis, just off Kampung Tekek, is

the most easily accessible coral reef from the shore, with a depth of up

to 12 metres and provides an excellent location for new divers to get used

to life underwater.

Divers can chalk up an impressive fish-spotting list like angel fish,

parrot fish and barracuda as well as moray eels, turtles and various

stingrays. Black-tip Reef Sharks, resting deep amongst recesses in the

coral, are something to seek out too.

There are several fully certified dive centres located at Kampung Salang

and Kampung Air Batang with activities ranging from beginner courses to

equipment for hire.

The most popular scuba diving spots are Soyah, Ringgis, Labas, Chebeh,

Gut, Tokong Burung, Tokong Bahara as well as Magicienne Rock, Golden Reef,

Fan Canyon, One Tree Bay, Malang Rock and Tiger Reef.

Kampung Salang’s clear waters offer the ideal snorkelling and diving

destination. The village’s close proximity to Pulau Tulai and Monkey Bay

makes it one of the more preferred spots for avid divers. Trips to Tulai

can be arranged here, and the journey only takes about 15 minutes by


The small settlement offers various facilities for tourists such as a

mini market, beachfront restaurants and bars, beachside chalets, scuba

shops and souvenir shops. The evenings are far from wild but there’s

always a quiet bar to sip a cool drink and catch up on the music of Bob

Marley; it’s that sort of a place.

For a change from the water, adventurers can trek across the island to

Kampung Juara on the eastern coast. Kampung Juara lies nestled in a cove

facing the South China Sea.

Because of Tioman’s relative isolation from the mainland, there is a lot

to interest budding naturalists on the land. Easy sightings include sea

eagles, monitor lizards and long-tailed macaques.

There are 45 recorded mammal species on the island and these include the

giant black squirrel, slow loris, brush-tailed porcupine, common palm

civet and larger mousedeer.

Its isolation has resulted in scientists identifying many animal

subspecies. To date, this list of variants includes seven mammals, eight

birds and 20 butterflies. As recently as 1996, scientists discovered a new

species of catfish and a terrestrial crab, previously unknown to science.

The best opportunity to spot terrestrial wildlife is on the trail to

Kampung Juara. The seven-kilometer walk is not too difficult but there are

a few hilly sections and the humidity can take its toll on the unfit. Cool

off in the waters off Kampung Juara and take the afternoon ferry back to

your chalet.

Cheap beach chalet accommodation is found in all the kampungs, most of

which have retained their rural charm. The accommodation is comfortable

and this is reflected in the low prices. Waking up and looking out of your

chalet window at nothing but the ocean, sand and coconut palms makes up

for any shortcomings in the facilities.

Many guesthouses and resorts close down between November and February

when it is wet, windy and the seas are rough. However, Tioman remains

accessible even during off-peak periods, but the journey can be a little

testing. During this time, heavy storms are common, but after short sharp

bursts, the sun reappears from behind the clouds.

Tioman makes a refreshing change from other tourist islands. Very little

has changed over the past few decades and the natural environment both

above and below the water has mostly remained intact.

Copyright 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.