Tioman - A Whole New Return Experience (under SGD 250)

Tioman – A Whole New Return Experience (under SGD 250)

Tioman is beautiful and once is definitely not enough! Join Chi as she experiences adventures (and misadventures) in this one great Malaysian island.

This trip, once again, started as randomly just like the other trips I’ve been to. I went to Tioman last year and I fell in love with this place. And since some of my friends were going, I decided why not? Just need to grab my backpack and go! But it wasn’t that easy. I had to start by booking the hotel.

Unfortunately, there were no more rooms available during that period. That’s it. But thankfully my Malaysian friend helped to persuade the hotel to add beds into the rooms. As Tioman was so near Singapore, we didn’t buy the ferry tickets until the last week and again, there were no more online tickets available. And don’t ever think about the private charter please! All were above SGD 1,500 which was out of the question for us. Luckily, we found another provider, thanks to one of my most reliable and resourceful friends. It was SGD 26 for a roundtrip ferry ticket from Mersing. The ferry departed at 5pm so took our time.

Also read: 7 Gorgeous Malaysian Islands You Can Reach From Mersing Jetty

Things to Note: (more like my note to myself) Always remember to bring your passport whenever you go overseas, even if it’s Johor Bahru (JB) and you don’t need to take flight! (I had to go back to take mine.) Also, we started at 11am at Kranji MRT to take the bus to the Woodlands checkpoint. Captain, I repeat! Kranji MRT, not Woodlands MRT! (Well, again my mistake.) Go out at exit C, you will see 2 long queues, one for SBS170 that you can use EZ-link card, another one is Causeway Link CW that accepts SGD1 to go JB.

Tip: Get someone to come early to queue for the whole group. Just be thick-skinned and don’t look back! Feign innocence when you cut the queue with your friends. This will save you a lot of time, not so ethical though. The Malaysia immigration checkpoint welcomed us with a little surprise — there is literally no queue! All we could see was a sea of people with no proper line in sight!

tiomanSea of human waiting at Malaysian immigration checkpoint.

After a 2.5 hour wait in the “human sea”, we almost reached the front before realising that our queue line had no head. But no one cared, and yes, we just silently, and shamelessly, merged to the next line.

We had two groups — one starting from Kuala Lumpur, and one starting from Singapore. We were to meet each other in JB to take a bus to Mersing. But thanks to the 2.5 hour battle in the “human sea”, we missed the bus. (Wohoo!) Talking about the other group from KL, they had other fun stories, missing other buses that led to sleeping on the street one night. For more information, you can contact my friend, Long Nguyen.

High school kids!

Back to our story, we took a taxi at MYR 150 to Mersing jetty. The taxi driver thought he could make it in 1.5 hours, but in actual fact he took a grand total of 2.5 hours. Well, overconfidence isn’t always good, I guess. Our friends called us at 4.30pm saying they are about to board and we were still 30km away from the jetty. It’s kind of an unexplainable experience when you’re so worried and angry but can’t do anything except to wait calmly, fingers crossed, hoping you’ll make it on time. Luckily the ferry arrived late and we made it. Hooray!

It took 1.5 hours from Mersing to Tioman. We stayed at Aguna resort (SGD20/night/pax) and got off at the first stop, Genting.

Aguna resort

I scared my friends by telling them about the crazy foods that gave me a bad experience the last time I was here in Tioman. But because this side of the island was more popular, we managed to find good food.

Tip: Don’t expect to dip into real good seafood on an island vacation, at least for Tioman. I really didn’t understand why you see big fish swimming less than 20m from the shore but you can hardly find a store with a fish menu. We took all 700 grams of sotong they had. Ate like we had never eaten before. And honestly, there was no time for photos. Please! Any dish that came out magically disappeared within 2 minutes and they were cheap! Only MYR15/pax. I loved the fresh orange juice there, the one and only luxury source of vitamins you can find here. Had it for every single meal on the island.

Also read: 10 BEST Staycation Ideas in Malaysia You Can’t Afford to Miss in 2016


After that, we spent real good time by the beach watching the stars. Interesting to note: stars are so far from us so when you see the sparkle from a star, you are in fact seeing a sparkle from a moment that has passed and some of these stars may not exist anymore. Singapore is so light-polluted that you can hardly find any good spots for stargazing. (By the way, if you know any, let me know.) After that everyone went back for blackjack. I earned MYR5, not bad!

Also read: 10 Places Near Singapore to Go Stargazing

The next day started with a snorkelling tour, 9am-2pm at MYR70/pax, not including mask and life jacket of MYR10 each. Another tip: Bring lots of snacks and a towel to cover yourself on a snorkelling tour — this I got from another nightmare experience from the last Tioman trip. The first snorkelling spot was really near the shore, only 30m away, but surprisingly, there were quite a lot corals and fish to discover. It is good for first time snorkellers as they can get familiar with the mask and the skill to breathe by the mouth, not the nose. The water is shallow so you can walk if anything happens.

Funnily, the next spot on the snorkelling tour was a duty free shop visit. I hate these kinds of tours where the guide tries to bring you to a shop to buy things, so that they can earn commission. This is totally against my definition of travelling. We weren’t interested so we spent some time to take some good photos instead. We also managed to buy ourselves a good beef special local Ramly burger. A Ramly burger is a burger with the beef patty covered by a layer of omelette and some vegetables, much nicer than at McDonald’s. Luckily, we had that as our tour didn’t include lunch.

The last spot was offshore, finally. Two friends and I were lucky enough to be carried by a boat captain who brought us around the small islands with a lot of live corals and a richer marine system. We even spotted a few sharks! They were quite big, more than 1m long which really scared me off for a second, but the guide calmed us down with the fact that they are vegetarian sharks. As you may wonder, yes, they are not eating vegetables, but coral sharks only eat small fishes, and they do not attack humans.

In the afternoon, some needed to leave early for the next trip, but the rest of us just slept until it was already too late for the sunset. But no worries, I still had a good time walking along the beach till it was completely dark. It reminded me of “Summer vibe” lyrics. “I wanna feel the sunshine. Hit the sand. Take a walk in the waves“.

Sunset by the beach

After dinner, we went to a full body massage at MYR100/pax for an hour. Not cheap actually but I don’t care, you don’t have much vacations like this in a year, do you? The spa, as by the name “Jungle spa” is up the hill, 100 steps I guess, among the trees. The service was good with nice tea and relaxing music. This is oil massage, similar to the one I had in Bali and El Nido, and different from Thai and Myanmar’s styles.

The third day starts with simple buffet style breakfast provided by the hotel. The thing I must mention here is the chilli fried bread. This is my favourite street food back in secondary school time. During the break, I used to buy this bread below the school gate with one hand passing the money and the other hand getting the bread. One ugly fact is that this was not allowed by the school so I never got the chance to see the vendor’s face and I can never find her again after that. The fun thing is, after 14 years, you go so far away, and one day you find that exact taste again.

Also falling in love with the swinging chairs and the hammocks. Ideal reading spots!

I have been to a few beaches and still love Tioman’s corals, so I decided to come back this time for a dive. Scuba diving also stays in my to-do list for so long; now it is time to cross it off. Sadly, no one joined so I just went for the diving tour alone. The tour is from 10-1.30pm at MYR150, provided by Elite Tioman Dive Center.

Normally, one instructor can go with up to 5 divers but I got 1-1 training. Lucky me! The Discovery Scuba Diving tour starts with gadget and sign language brief through. After that, you need to wear a 2kg lead bell then a backpack like life jacket attached with a scuba tank. You can inflate the life jacket underwater in case of emergency, but this is not advised due to the sudden change in your body pressure. I carried a total of around 19 kgs and walked to the nearby beach.

Me with 19kg gadget on, like nearly half of my weight

In 1.5m level, we practiced breathing by mouth underwater, cleaning the mask in case water comes in, taking off and putting in the air supply in case there are two scuba tanks. Underwater, you could get a bit dizzy due to pressure change. One tip is to close your mouth and nose, then try to exhale out by your ears. This is also good during a flight to adjust the pressure inside your body.

Ignore the fringe hair part please! Just want to showcase my skill of removing the air supply underwater!

After passing the test, I dived underwater — up to 8m for 45 minutes. It would be the longest 45 minutes of your life, at least for me. I kept floating near the water surface so I got another 1kg lead bonus on the way.

scuba diving tiomanAfter additional 19kg, still too light to easily deep dive

Tioman has nice corals with colourful tiny fishes even near the shore. But it is dangerous to swim near the corals. Imagine swimming above them then you sink down with the 20kgs; they are like swords waiting to stab you. And they are really sharp, I accidentally got a few cuts. I love the little fishes staying under the sand, collecting corals above their houses (holes?). When I swam over, the whole village of fish got out to watch me. Their eyes are really big and they kept watching at me until I tried to touch them, and they all quickly hid.

Also read: 10 Best Islands in Southeast Asia to Go Scuba Diving

A naughty and curious fish villager!

Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 5pm, but when we were on the way to the jetty at 4pm to wait for the ferry, we sadly found out that it was already leaving. I can only observe what was happening and bitterly accepted without choice. Too surprised and disappointed to even try to run, I just stood there and looked at it going away.

Tip: Say out loud “F***!” and laugh so hard at yourself. Yup! We were waiting for it 2 hours inside the resort and finally missed it. The next one would be next day 1pm, which means we need to take another day off. After that, one uncle said that there may be another ferry coming next day at 4am but it is not confirmed due to the tide condition. Okay, that’s it. We will not pay for another hotel night and will sleep in the jetty tonight, must catch that ferry at any price. We had no choice so we leisurely took our time eating ice cream and buying Ramly burgers.

News! Another ferry is coming. We’re not sure if it will stop in our jetty, but it will absolutely stop in the nearby jetty. Run! The uncle offered a speed boat taxi to the next station at MYR150. No choice. We just jumped into the boat with no life jacket and ran like crazy, splashing water on us. If you won’t hold tight, you might drop into water anytime. It reminded me of Life of Pi — adventurous and so exciting. We were finally able to catch that ferry.

Speed boat tour!

Finally got back to Mersing! We were lucky to find 2 girls on the way to the bus station, and we caught the last bus to JB that was supposed to leave 2 hours earlier. At the checkpoint in JB, the queue for the bus back to Singapore (SBS170) was 1km long! So although there were around 100 people behind us, we still left the queue to go for CW bus queue. When it was just one more bus till we reached our turn, the driver shouted, “Last bus!” The feeling of queuing in a line without a head came back to me. People started running to another bus. We just blindly followed without knowing exactly where we were going. No one even cared to check the tickets as the whole situation was so messy. Finally, we were dropped at Marsilling and we were saved!

Also read: Top Secret: 8 Gorgeous Islands Easily Reached From Singapore

Sometimes, it is fun to be off the track. You find yourself in a situation where your emergency management skills are put to the test. Eventually, after you’ve managed to survive, you will be so proud of yourself.

“Unexpected adventure makes for a better story.” – Lynn O’Rourke

About Author

Chi Vo
Chi Vo

A crazy and headstrong girl who loves simple, real and natural things, Chi is constantly curious about new experiences and lives by the motto "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do - Mark Twain."


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