Tioman Island… Swimming with Sharks and Chasing Turtles xxx

To make it to Palau Tioman was our ultimate goal in Malaysia. The island sits off the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea, (I found out later that it was where the musical South Pacific was filmed!)… Tioman is covered with lush triple canopy jungle, but it was under the sea that I was the most excited about. I’d read that you could swim with turtles and sharks, and that the coral reefs were world-class! The journey wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely worth it!! What a beautiful place, the things we saw there blew all of my expectations, it was just incredible. Tioman was a once in a lifetime experience, I know I’m so lucky to have done it, Jamie made it happen, and I’ll never ever forget that stunning little island.

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I’m afraid I can’t be as enthusiastic about the journey there, actually its a trip we’d probably rather forget! To begin with we had a five hour bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing. From there we would catch the ferry to Tioman. We booked it online for £30 each for a return ticket. The bus station in KL is called TBS and it looks and feels more like an airport: great first impressions! there are souvenier stands, food courts, departure gates, chemists, clothing outlets, perfumes etc. etc… it’s enormous. Unfortunately though we were off to a bad start, our departure time came and there was no bus. Our schedule disappeared from all of the information displays and when I went to ask a member of staff I just got told to ‘sit down, sit down!’…. We had no idea how long we would wait or if the bus was coming at all. In the end we sat there for four and a half hours, not once were we told what was going on, then were finally bundled onto a bus. Being careful as we are, naturally we’d arrived an hour and a half early, so we were actually sat there for six hours, with a five hour journey to look forward to! The driver shouted the whole way there, mostly to someone on his mobile, I had my earphones in on max volume and I still couldn’t drown him out. Urg… it was the crappiest journey, zero organisation or communication and if I never see TBS bus station again I’ll be all the happier for it!!

The Riverside Hotel at Mersing was fine once we found it, pretty tired, hungry and fed up. We got a pot noodle from the 7/11 opposite us and crashed out – we had an early start the next morning to catch the ferry.

We were up and out at 05:30, it was still dark. We walked about fifteen minutes to the ferry port. We’d already purchased our tickets online: £28 each for a return ticket. Poor Jamie queued for about forty minutes at the desk that the confirmation email said to collect the tickets from, only to get to the front and be told that he was in the wrong place. Another desk with only a handful of people milling around it was the place to collect pre-purchased tickets. There was still a sort-of queue as you had to write out your passport numbers first. Both queues kind of blur and people just edge and push their way forward, it’s extremely disorganised! So after the scramble we had our tickets and the staff kept announcing things that we couldn’t understand, then more queues would form to board a ferry but we had no idea which ferry or to where it was going. There’s no timetable, no signage, no-one really looks like they know what’s going on. The Malaysian tourists were looking as confused as we were feeling, its chaotic. Seeing other people with boarding passes that looked like ours get up to queue, we followed them. As the queue splits to the right or left someone checks your tickets and points at a ferry. At this point at least we felt pretty confident we had gotten on the right one! Goodbye Mersing and onward to Tioman xxx

We stayed at Tekek, the capital ‘village’ of the island. There are a few restaurants, a couple of shops, an airport and an ATM. For most of the island there are no roads, there are resorts but they are the kinds of places where everything is self-contained. Tekek is really the only place where you have the option to venture out of the hotel. We stayed at the ‘Swiss Cottage Tioman’, it was the only place in the island with any availability for our dates plus it has really good reviews on tripadvisor. We had a bungalow on the beach, and it was gorgeous! Much more spacious than any other we’d had through Thailand, and not as basic – we had hot water for a start!! There was a small seating area inside, and a large balcony with chairs, table and a hammock. They have a bit of a strange system in place – if you want to buy anything at the restaurant/reception you just help yourself and tab it on a board. It was really laidback and come evening the place felt shut, no-one was there to stock the fridges (which was fine because we went out and found a shop but it felt a bit of a ghost town). I think the place could have a really good vibe in the evening, the food (when they served it, some days they did and some days they didn’t) was really good, and the staff were all very friendly. Just a shame they were absent half of they time, it feels weird to sit in a dark empty restaurant and I think that might of been why people staying there didn’t use it very much in the evenings. It didn’t matter so much because we found other places to go for dinner, or we sat on our balcony with a bit of music and white wine and had our own little party!

chilling in our hammock..

chilling in our hammock..

The Tekek House reef was on our doorstep, and runs parallel to the beach for as far as we could swim in either direction. As soon as you put your face in the water there are fish around you, silvery and pale in the sandy areas then more colourful and strange as you begin to reach the reef. The first day I went in the water I saw a large cuttlefish, it was flashing white and brown and it swam right passed me – so cool! The amount of fish, the colours, the corals; the entire sea-scape is just so incredibly beautiful!! I thought I’d only gone for a short swim but I think I was out there for about an hour. I found several clown fish in their anemone home and I couldn’t wait to show Jamie! We both swam again that afternoon.

cuttlefish!

  cuttlefish!

clown fish!

clown fish!

There wasn’t much going on up in the village but we did find a very reasonable restaurant that also did a barbeque every night. All the swimming works up a good appetite! As we walked down the road we saw a tree full of fruit bats and monkeys climbing along the telephone lines then raiding the bins. After dinner we took a walk down the beach and sat on some rocks to star-gaze for a while. There is virtually no light pollution at Tioman, and that night there was no moon either so the stars were very clear. The Milky Way was a distinctive streak of light, we could see hundreds and hundreds of stars. We could even see the fuzzy glow around the nebula at Orion’s Sword. It was spectacular We didn’t know it yet but we were in for an even better surprise later in the week!…

I spent some of the mornings walking up and down the beach collecting shells. If we weren’t snorkelling we were sat chilling; reading our books in the hammock or playing silly games! They had a slack line there but I was utterly hopeless at it. We were generally swimming for an hour and half each morning and afternoon. On our second day we saw our first stingray! I looked it up afterwards and it was a ‘blue-spotted ray’, it has a green body and bright blue spots.It was really exciting and we were both very pleased!

ray!

ray!

We’d seen so much so soon and had our fingers tightly-tightly crossed that we would be lucky enough to see a turtle and a shark. In the evenings we walked down the beach and climbed up onto some boulders to sit and watch the sun go down before heading off for dinner.

the rocks where we watched the sunset

the rocks where we watched the sunset

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That night was one of the most special experiences we had throughout our whole trip- there was still no moon and we’d been told that we might see phosphorescence further down the beach. We walked out of the light and waded in and it was there!! We couldn’t believe it! We waded into the pitch black water, which was still lovely and warm, and it was literally glowing bright blues and greens. There were dozens of small spots of light floating around near wherever we agitated the water. When we were swimming our feet were glowing beneath us, it was really beautiful. We splashed and swam for ages and we didn’t see it as brightly on any other night, although we almost always went looking for it. Just extremely lucky I guess.

About a week in we decided to go on a half day boat trip to four snorkelling hot-spots. Our first stop was coral island. I jumped off the boat and put my mask on and squealed a little when I put my face in the water because all around me was thick with fish, ten times the amount we’d seen at Kradan, there must have been a thousand at least and they nipped at you (very gently) if you stayed still enough. I think the tourist boats tend to feed them so they swarm in whenever one arrives… At our second stop we paused at a rocky outcropping about 300 metres from shore. The fish were bigger out at this depth and the coral dropped like a wall all the way to the seabed. Jamie started shouting and waving so I swam over and there was a green turtle!!! It was pretty deep and swimming slowly around grazing on the rocks. We could still see it perfectly and we swam with it for fifteen minutes or so. We were so excited because we’d been hoping to see one since we’d arrived. There were also big schools of juvenile barracuda schooling just below the surface, and they had huge sets of teeth and let us get pretty close to them before they swam away…. Our third stop was a small beach with white sands and clear waters, literally the picture perfect little cove you see in all the travel mags… we floated around in the surf and had a gentle swim. Even there we found little schools of fish and tiny tiny sergeant majors – less than a centimetre big!

third stop on our boat trip

third stop on our boat trip

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beautiful blue waters

beautiful blue waters

Our final stop was a place called Renghis Island, a small rocky outcropping that sits about a couple of miles out from Tekek Beach. We could see it from our resort but it was just that bit too far to swim, plus it can get a little busy with boats. We swam all the way around the island it although the current was pretty strong at times. We saw another green turtle! this one was much larger and fairly close up this time. The corals were bright and healthy and there were plenty of little caves and corners to explore. We were being followed by the standard entourage of reef fish that expect you to feed them, we swished them away as they got too close. On the shore side of the island there are large coral gardens, about 5 metres deep, plenty of fish and gorgeous colours. We were quietly swimming around and then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something big and silver: a black tipped reef shark!!! I’ll be honest I was scared at first and I yelled for Jamie to come and see. I’d read that these sharks are not aggressive and we could see right away that it wasn’t interested. It was so graceful but it swam away from us and it was too quick to keep up with for very long. It was amazing, I’m so glad that we went on that boat trip!

shark!

shark!

turtle!

turtle!

Tioman is an incredible place, take-your-breath-away beautiful, gorgeous beaches, lush jungle, fantastic snorkelling!! and we’d seen so much more than we’d hoped for: a shark, turtles, cuttlefish, stingrays, clownfish, puffer-fish, and all the other hundreds of kinds of fish and corals I can’t even begin name.  The journey there wasn’t the easiest but it was all a part of the adventure and it was completely worth it xxx

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