South East Asia is filled with dreamy destinations for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, and Tioman Island Malaysia (or Pulau Tioman, as they call it in Malay) is definitely on that list! If you also enjoy jungle trekking, bathing in waterfalls and hiking, Tioman should be your next travel destination!
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How to get to Tioman Island
Before 2014, it was possible to take a direct flight with Berjaya Air from Subang Airport in Kuala Lumpur or Changi Airport in Singapore to Kampung Tekek Airport in Tioman. The flights were suspended in 2014, and now the only way to reach Tioman Island is over land and across the sea.
To get a ferry to Tioman, you must arrive at either Mersing or Tanjung Gemok. Transnational express busses depart frequently from Kuala Lumpur. They terminate at Mersing and stop at Tanjung Gemok, so it is advisable to check the ferry and bus schedules and select the right departure point accordingly. The bus ride from Kuala Lumpur takes approximately 6 hours, and overnight bus services are also available. For budget travellers, it’s a good way to save time and money on a hotel night. If you travel to Tioman from Singapore, the ferry departure points in Mersing and Tanjung Gemok can be reached by either bus or taxi. There is approximately 180 kilometres between Singapore and Mersing, so it will not be a cheap ride, but surely more convenient than the bus.
Once you arrive at Mersing Jetty or Tanjung Gemok, you can take a ferry to Tioman Island. The schedule for the Mersing ferry can be irregular since the ferry cannot depart or arrive at the terminal when the tide is low. The ferry to Tioman Island will make five stops in the following order: Kampung Genting, Kampung Paya, Kampung Tekek, Kampung Air Batang, eventually reaching Kampung Salang. If you aren’t staying at one of the five villages with a ferry terminal, you have to disembark at the closest Kampung and arrange a private water taxi from there. Usually, the resorts (not only the luxurious ones) will be able to send a boat for you, so you may want to ask your host for details before arrival.
What to expect in Tioman Island
All the small shops in Tioman Island are dependent on stock deliveries from the mainland, which are often affected by the weather. In heavy rain or storms, the deliveries get delayed, and hence you cannot expect to get all the necessary items like sunscreen, mosquito repellant or snacks on Tioman Island. It is better to bring all the necessary things with you. On the other hand, in Tioman, you will find many duty-free shops, and many tourists end up shopping for items like chocolate, liquor and cigarettes.
Alcohol is easy to buy in the duty-free stores, but do not expect to get it everywhere on the island. Malaysia is a Muslim country; alcohol sales and consumption are limited to certain (licensed) places. Also the daily rhythm, especially in the rural areas, is defined by the Muslim prayers’ schedule. Do not be surprised to hear the singing and calling for prayers at 5 in the morning.
The kampungs are small, and the sound coming from the minaret can usually be heard in the whole village. If you are a very sensitive light-sleeper, make sure to buy ear-plugs and bring them with you! With Muslim culture also comes certain attire and behaviour. Respect the local rules and make sure not to enter the local mosques dressed inappropriately. Be mindful of the fact that visiting hours for tourists are restricted too (non-muslims are usually not allowed to visit during prayer times).
How to get around Tioman Island
Tioman Island is very hilly, and it is impossible to drive across it. The small villages (called kampungs) are located at the coastline around the island, and all travel between the villages is by water-taxis or private boats. The boats operate on a schedule, however, it is often affected by the weather.
Within one village it is most common to walk or rent a bike or a scooter! The locals are very friendly, and if they know you are staying for a few days and get familiar with you, they might even lend you their private scooters free of charge or simply offer you a ride with them. The areas around the jetty often have marked roads, but in the jungle, the paths are often unclear and sandy, so be careful when driving around on your own!
The best time to visit Tioman Island
Monsoon Season in Tioman lasts from about from late November to February. Usually, the peak monsoon month is December, so do not plan a Christmas trip to Tioman Island! The monsoon does not only mean heavy, unpleasant rains that can ruin any tourist’s plans, it also means high sea swell and high waves that can be dangerous.
Most resorts re-open in March after closing down for the Monsoon Season. The most popular time to visit Tioman Island is between May and July. If you want to avoid the crowds, plan your trip to Tioman in September, when the (Singaporean) school holidays are over. The island will be much quieter than during the touristy summer season.
Things to do in Tioman Island
Snorkelling and diving
The clean, clear water, the sandy beaches and the beautiful variety of marine life call both experienced water sports’ enthusiasts and novices to try diving or snorkelling while in Tioman. PADI certified diving schools are in almost every kampung, and it will be easy for you to rent the equipment and find an instructor.
Snorkelling is something you can easily do on your own, and fins and masks are easy to rent. Be mindful of the fact that the corals look gorgeous, but can stick and burn! Be careful when swimming and walking around in shallow water!
Relaxing by the beach
Tioman Island has beautiful beaches: Monkey Beach being one of the more well-known. Take your book with you or bring your yoga mat to the beach. In many kampungs you will also find “secret beaches” – small, wild beaches, not officially marked on any map, but known by locals and the more curious tourists, so don’t be afraid to get “off the beaten path.”
In Tioman Island, some of the most popular trekking spots and trails are around Air Batang (also known as ABC.) For a less challenging trekking experience, you can choose to hike from Air Batang to Monkey Beach. You can also go for a full day hike from ABC through Monkey Beach and Monkey Bay, ending at Kampung Salang. It is a longer route, on which you can be sure to find hidden beaches and experience the Malaysian wildlife.
Places to visit in Tioman Island
All beaches in Tioman Island are gorgeous, but Paya is a convenient pick too! In Paya Village, you will find the popular Paya Beach Resort offering both boutique and budget chalets and rooms. On the lookout for Tioman Island night activities? The Paya Beach Resort has a bar where you can order alcoholic drinks. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail or two while observing the setting sun.
Pulau Tioman has something for the active and adventurous too! The famous twin peaks on the Southern cap of the island are a beautiful natural landmark and a great challenge for hiking enthusiasts! Only one of the peaks can be climbed by tourists (without professional equipment), and it will still be a difficult climb! The hike goes through the jungle as well as through a stone forest. On the trail, you will find several “checkpoints” and a water-point too. Note that non-Malaysian hikers can be asked to pay a small contribution.
In the same kampung as Dragon Horns, Mukut, you will find the Asah Waterfall. Hidden in the lush Malaysian jungle, it is said to be one of the best waterfalls in Tioman. It is possible to climb to the top, however, the hike can be quite challenging. For a more relaxing experience, we recommend you to bring your swimsuit and just enjoy a swim in the waterfall lake. It is a beautiful spot for taking pictures too, so don’t forget to bring your camera!
What to eat in Tioman Island
Each Kampung has a few restaurants where locals gather in the evenings. There is no competition between the eateries, and the menu is often very similar. One thing you must try is the freshly caught fish! With the clean, clear water around the island, you can easily set your expectations high and be looking forward to tasting the most delicious fish and seafood.
Because of the morning prayers, the locals usually get up early and go for breakfast on their way back from the mosque. One or two of the local restaurants will be serving breakfast for the locals as well as for tourists. We suggest you taste the Malaysian breakfast speciality: Nasi Lemak (coconut rice) often served with a fried egg, fresh cucumber, sprinkled with peanuts and anchovies. Do not expect Western breakfast options, unless you choose a resort that is able to serve you one.
Where to stay in Tioman Island
The type of accommodation in Tioman will depend on your budget. You can choose between luxurious resorts and simple, very affordable chalets (but be mindful of the fact that the cheap chalets may not have WiFi access!) When browsing through Tioman Island hotels, you should also think of how much time you want to spend on the island. If you only have a few days, you should look for accommodation in one of the kampungs that can be reached by ferry for more travel convenience.
We recommend staying in Kampung Mukut if you want to climb Dragon Horns and visit the Asah Waterfall. Kampung Genting, on the other hand, which is the first stop for the ferry, is a busy little village where you will find many diving schools. The village would be a great pick for fans of water sports! For Pulau Tioman beach activities and relaxed evenings with a drink, choose the Paya Beach Resort!
Tours to do in Tioman Island
The different kampungs are a boat trip away from each other, so we highly recommend exploring other villages! The Northern part of the island is more touristy, whereas the southern cap is less busy and more local. You will be surprised by how different from each other the kampungs can be!
Another tour to do in Tioman is a visit to Marine Park Centre in Tekek, a coral sanctuary where Pulau Tioman’s underwater heritage is highlighted. There is an artificial reef, but the amount and variety of fish are truly remarkable. It’s a great activity for families too!
And did you know that Tioman Island has a care and preservation centre for Sea Turtles? Juara Turtle Project Visitor Centre is an educational project that aims to protect the turtles but also raise awareness about the threats that the animals are facing on daily basis. The Visitor Centre in Kampung Juara is open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM. The minimum contribution to visit the centre is 10 RM per person, and you can also support the project by buying a souvenir from the Turtle gift shop. The proceeds go directly to the Turtle Project.
Day trips from Tioman Island
“Coral Island” is the common name for Pulau Tulai – a small island off the coast of Tioman. It’s a place rich with beautiful corals, hence a great spot for snorkelling enthusiasts! Many hotels, as well as independent speedboat operators on Tioman, offer day tour packages to Coral Island. You will most likely arrive at the central beach area of the island called Pasir Panjang. However, if you are interested in deep water snorkelling, you should ask the boat operator to bring you to Batu Malang Rocks or Genting Bay.