According to a Malaysian legend, a dragon princess was once on her way from China to Singapore. She stopped to admire the charm of Malaysia's east coast, and promptly decided to cancel the rest of her journey, take the form of an island, and remain there as a place of shelter and comfort to passing travellers. Pulau Tioman was created! Legends aside, Pulau Tioman is a pretty relaxing place. For the movie fanatics amongst you: its beautiful beaches were depicted in the 1958 movie "South Pacific" as Bali Hai.
Phil and I arrived on Pulau Tioman on Tuesday afternoon after taking a coach from Singapore to Mersing, followed by a speedboat, powered by three engines of 200 horse power each, from Mersing to Pulau Tioman. As we had not booked any accommodation prior to arrival, we first had to find a place to spend the coming nights. This proved to be more difficult then expected: Friday was Vesak Day, when Buddhists around the world celebrate the birth and elightenment of Buddha. As a result, both Malaysians and Singaporeans were to have a long weekend, and many hotels and resorts were fully booked up already. Eventually we managed to find a
pretty decent chalet at "Mokhtar's place" in Air Batang for 45 Ringgit a night (=10 Euros) that we would be able to stay in for as long as we wanted. I quickly set off to arrange my activity of choice for the days to come: scuba diving! I had already looked up some dive centres on the Internet, and was most attracted to Eco-Divers. I was met at the dive shop by one of the many friendly instructors, and quickly arranged to go diving the next day.
The next three days came and went incredibly quickly. I had to be at the dive shop at 9.30am in the mornings, and returned between 3pm and 4pm after two dives. And the diving was pretty good! I dived 5 times in all: twice on Wednesday (Coral Island's Sea-Fan Garden and Malang Rocks), twice on Thursday (Pulau Rengis and Pulau Tumuk), and once on Friday (Pirate Reef). On Wednesday and Thursday I dived with a very friendly German couple, and pretty much no-one else. By Friday the weekend crowd had clearly arrived though and the whole island was getting incredibly busy. The temperature of the water was pleasant at 30 degrees and
visibility not too bad at between 10 and 15 meters. The corals were pretty nice and the fauna didn't disappoint either: turtles, a sea snake, beautiful nudibranches, a bumphead parrotfish, barracudas etc. Best of all though was the first dive on Thursday: when we were getting close to the end of the dive.... SHARKS!!!! We saw two black-tip reef sharks hunting for lunch in the shallow waters above the reef. According to our insturctor they were between 1,5m and 2m long! While quite far away and difficult to spot for most of the time, they did come a bit closer every now and then. It was an awesome sight. The only additional thing I could have hoped for was an underwater MP3 player with the music of the film Jaws, just to create the right atmosphere!
The underwater adventures didn't stop after the dives though. Phil, not being a diver, spent part of his days snorkeling in the sea just outside our resort. I would often join him for a while in the afternoons. Almost every time I went snorkeling I would see turtles, triggerfish, and blue-spotted stingrays. Though not as nice as diving, it was definately worth it!
The rest of the days I did very little except sleep, eat, and having a beer at one of the bars. Very relaxing!
By Saturday the time had unfortunately come for us to move on. When we were in Singapore, we had arranged to fly from Pulau Tioman to Kuala Lumpur with the only airline servicing the island: Berjaya Air! It's a tiny airline which uses 48-seater propeller planes to fly people from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to the island. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to stop diving on Friday afternoon: because of the build-up of nitrogen in your blood when diving, it's dangerous to fly within 24 hours of finishing your last dive. On the positive side, this gave us some time to experience the jungle which covers most of Pulau Tioman. We woke up early on Saturday to walk part of the route across the island to the east coast. The walk, between Tekek and Juara, turned out to be pretty spectacular. Unfortunately we couldn't walk all the way to the east coast though, as we had to be back in time to check out off our chalet. We walked about 4 kilometers of the 7
kilometer trek, before turning around. By 11 o'clock we were back at our chalet, which left us with enough time to pack, check out, have a nice lunch, and get a water taxi to the airport. The airport was probably the smallest I've ever flown out off: a very short run-way and one small building which houses the check-in area and single gate. When we finally took off at 4pm on our way to KL, we were treated to some beautiful last views of the island from the air. An hour later we safely touched down at Subang Airport and we were back in a busy city, a far cry from Tioman's quiet beaches....
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