Pulau Tioman, or Tioman Island, is a slice of beachy perfection located 30 kms off the east coast of Malaysia. Almost entirely forested with just a handful of beaches scattered along the coastline, Tioman is remarkably free of mass tourism. After extensive research into island locations within a day or so of Singapore, it was our chosen destination to warm up after three weeks in wintery Scandinavia and it exceeded our highest expectations for tranquility, isolation and relaxation. In short it’s an absolute gem that somehow remains off the mainstream radar, and I pray that continues to be the case for many years to come.
Its quiet profile is all the more remarkable because this island has form. In 1958 it was the location for Bali H’ai in the Hollywood movie South Pacific, and in the 1970s Time Magazine named it one the world’s most beautiful islands. You might think that would lead to the tourist hordes arriving en masse in the following decades, like the real Bali or Phuket. But no, although it’s obviously popular with weekending KL’ers and Singaporeans the tendency to over-development has been resisted well by the islanders.
There are half a dozen villages on the west coast of Tioman that are regularly serviced by the mainland ferry, and our research said that the northernmost village of Salang was the pick of the crop. And on Salang one accommodation place was supposedly the pick of the bunch: Salang Sayang. After five nights there we can say with certainty that both choices are correct, and staying there was the best Asian island holiday I’ve had to date. Salang is a place where monitor lizards well over a metre long cruise languidly down the stream that runs through the village; where monkeys rummage through your balcony rubbish bin when you’re not there; where at the height of the day during our time there perhaps only two or three dozen people were on the beach. And do you like coral? Well at low tide you can simply walk out and gaze at it at your feet.
We were content to just lay on the beach most of the time and read, in between extended soaks in the bath-like water which is as clear as glass on a windless day. However if you’re energetic there is good snorkelling at several sites along the beach, surf skis and canoes can be hired for paddling and good diving is to be found both near the beach and at adjacent islands. Food is a little hit and miss on Salang and the variety is not great, but several places have nightly seafood barbeques which rarely fail to hit the mark. One day I was forced to head to the administrative centre of Tekek, which is home to the local airport and the island’s only ATM (which was why I went). There are no roads between Salang and the other villages so that required a short taxi boat ride, and my brief time in Tekek reinforced just how good Salang is as an idyllic escape.
Accommodation is best defined as rustic: we opted for the budget option of a simple shack on the hillside with balcony overlooking the beach, cold-water shower only, scoop flush toilet (it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those) and just a fan for cooling. But it was very comfortable and well-built, easily withstanding the occasional tropical downpour that punctuated most days. And with a fine view from the balcony and the beach just a short stroll away, we could not ask for more.
It whetted our appetite for some serious beach-bashing in Thailand, which will include our first visit to truly famous places such as Ko Phi Phi. But Tioman has firmly secured a place in my heart as the perfect island getaway. It takes about two days to get there from Sydney (via Singapore or KL), and the same again to get home. Not as simple as Bali or Phuket, it’s true, but totally worth the effort to avoid the crowds and enjoy absolute tranquility.