Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tioman Island - Malaysia

Having spent a few too many Singapore dollars we made our way back to Malaysia and onto Tioman Island or Pileau Tioman.  It is a small island with the main residential areas being along the coast and the center being mostly jungle.  The island also turned out to be teeming with monkeys, snakes and monitor lizards, the latter were the alligator like reptiles we had first encountered in Melaka.  Our coach journey took us to the port town of Mersing where we had a couple of hours to kill before we departed on the boat.  Despite the persuasions and scare tactics from the boat company rep we refused to book accommodation ahead, preferring instead to take our chances for a better price with the accommodation directly, a bit of a risk with a popular island and limited accommodation.  The boat journey was slow as the sea was choppy and as a result of this there were a lot of seasick travellers!  It couldn’t end soon enough, after stopping at some resorts developed to a western standard (and as a result expensive), we docked at our pier at ABC beach. 

The area was down to earth but no less beautiful; we still had a nice concrete pier under our feet unlike the rickety wooden ones we had experienced elsewhere.  Things started to look a little bit sketchy when we embarked on our guest house hunt, many having been fully booked.  We were nearly out of options when we found the aptly named ABC guest house (a series of wooden huts with en suite) for a more expensive than hoped fifty ringgits or ten GBP per night.  Even so we were glad to have a clean, safe place to sleep.  We were even gladder when the rain came down in sheets and hammered down on the corrugated metal sheet roof of the guesthouse restaurant and carried on relentlessly throughout the night and the whole of the next day!  Visibility from the restaurant out to sea went from clear to next to none.  I have never seen that amount of rain carry on for that long before in my life, it was truly tropical!  Unfortunately, on an isolated ‘back to basics’ island such as this where there isn’t anything to actually DO other than enjoy the island it doesn’t leave much in the way of keeping you engaged and we began to understand the expression ‘cabin fever’.  A couple of times we braved the weather to head to the shop or hang out in the guest house restaurant but things were truly miserable.  I noted a couple of children playing football completely ignorant of the soaking they were getting, I could only deduce that they were used to it… and they are kids after all.  Fortunately it had to stop some time, by the third day we were able to head out without immediately getting drenched.

Spot the lizard
Our view from the restaurant during the storm

Greeted by some of the many cats after the rain

Glad to be outside albeit without the sun beaming down and Kate feeling a bit worse for wear, we decided to make the most of the dry weather by changing to a cheaper guest house (which had a resident python) then having a nice relaxing day outdoors doing some line fishing from the end of the pier. 

Neither of us knows what we are doing when it comes to fishing, but the principle seemed simple enough and having bought some line from a little shop we headed out there.  There were some local fishermen who were hanging out at the end of the peer (they only fish at night) and took pleasure in our struggles to attach the weights and wrap the line around the bottle before they decided to put us out of our misery and help for which we were extremely grateful.  As soon as Kate dropped her line she had a bite!  It was very exciting and finally a tiny fish emerged from the sea, he would play a vital role as bait going forward.  The rest of the day consisted of us tugging the bottle up and down trying to get a bite whilst the fishermen took an interest in helping us bait up and would offer advice on technique.  Whilst I managed to catch absolutely nothing (my hooks were faulty…) Kate managed to catch a puffer fish which came out quacking! The fisherman rubbed its belly making it puff up before allowing Kate to launch the poor confused thing back into the sea.  Kate also caught a couple of tiny black fish which we threw back.  One of the fishermen took pity on us and gave us a sizable ‘Barra’ fish to take back.  We took it to our original ABC guest house where they stuck it on the grill with a bit of seasoning and it was delicious!  An English woman also came in with a swollen arm having been rushed to ‘clinic’ (a room with syringes) following a poisonous centipede bite.  She had been ready to retire to her chalet when she placed her hand on the banister which also happened to have a large centipede on it.  She was very much shaken but would survive.

Spot the restaurant python

Kate, the fisherman and the pufferfish
Centipedes aside, the next day largely consisted of the same thing with relaxing on the peer catching nothing, although I managed to get a bit bite but alas was too slow to rein it in and lost the fish along with a hook when it swam under the peer.  Whilst we didn’t catch anything significant we had spent a very relaxing couple of days having fun which is largely the point isn’t it? 

The best decision we made whilst we were here was to go diving.  Whilst the dive shops weren’t as forward at getting your business as in other places, we had heard very good things and the price was right so we signed up.  We had to walk a few miles to the ATM on a different beach but it was a pleasant walk even with the sun now unforgivingly warm and bright in true inconsistent Malaysian fashion!  Luckily it worked, and we signed ourselves up for a thirty meter dive which would also be our first wreck dive of an old Thai fishing ship along with a second shallower dive where there was plenty of coral and cool fish to see (and as it was half the depth we would have a much longer dive time).  The initial dive was great, it felt good to know what we were doing now but at the same time have the guidance of an experienced professional who knew the area.  The wreck alone was worth the dive, but in addition we managed to see a stone fish, scorpion fish and unusually in this environment a hawksbill turtle.  Kate wasn’t quite weighted properly and as a result used up her air quicker than planned meaning we only got about half an hour but it was still a great experience.  For the second dive, the weights got sorted and we were eager to go! 

This was simply the most amazing dive we had done to date.  Although it was shallow there was much more coral and life than in Koh Tao.  Our experience began with a couple of large barracuda swimming at us!  Amongst the usual suspects down there we also saw clownfish everywhere, a majestic green turtle which we didn’t want to leave and great big batfish.  Another highlight was being harassed by a fish which usually attaches itself to a shark in order to hitch a lift, but instead decided to attach itself to us.  He paid Kate a visit first and she was a little bit freaked out and managed to scare it away with her air bubbles from the alternate air source before he came to me.  By this point I realised he wasn’t dangerous but it was still a bit weird getting used to him at first as he enjoyed pulling out my leg hairs and attaching himself to my wetsuit but I grew quite fond of him.  We even briefly saw our first reef sharks which was great.    

Kate and our fun dive instructor Jen
On our last full day on the island we did the walk from the west of the island to the east through the jungle.  This took about four hours and was really interesting.  There were forever lizards and things we couldn’t identify scurrying away from us.  The noise in the trees from the birds was tremendous and we saw our fair share of giant ants and monkeys monkeying about.  We also saw what we think to be a chameleon but we aren’t sure.  He certainly went some angry colours as I got closer to take his picture.  A large black squirrel desperately tried weeing on us towards the end of the hike and even seemed to be stalking us for a short while, knocking things out of trees on the way.  There was also a nice waterfall just off the final stretch on the road.  The sunrise side was quite nice but didn’t have as much going on as our own beach so we watched a tournament of the sport we were yet to have named (the one like volleyball but played with anything but hands) before getting a taxi ride back to our side.

Some kids riding around on the walk to the jungle

Stopping for a photo in the jungle
One of many monitor lizards

A chameleon or something similar that wan't too friendly
Most evenings on Tioman we made our way to Sunset Bar as it was one of the only places which served beer, but as an added bonus it had a happy hour which served three beers for two pound.  It was a great place to meet people and we sometimes ended up going for dinner with those we had met here.  On our final day we headed to the peer to wait for our boat which was considerably late.  It didn’t matter though as there were plenty of people to chat to including some friendly people from Singapore and later the fishing boat with our friends came in selling their catch to the island restaurant representatives at ridiculously cheap prices.  We gave them a Jersey pound for good luck which took some explaining by Kate as they kept trying to give it back.  Our ship then came in and we had a much quicker and infinitely more pleasant journey back to the mainland compared to the initial voyage.  It really had been a great few days.

A monk reflecting, all in view from the bar!

Kate taking advantage of happy hour

Me enjoying drinks with Steve and Shelly
The pier at sunset
The fisherman on our last day

The view from our chalet

1 comment:

  1. I love Tioman Island. It is very nice island for vacation. Want to come again...