A Tioman Tale

A Tioman Tale

A Bit About Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

Pulau Tioman is a member of the Seribuat island group. It is about 20 kilometers by 12 kilometers in size and lies off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea, 51 kilometers northeast of the city of Mersing. Designated as a marine park, it has a no-fishing zone that surrounds it and thus, an abundance of sea life. Because of this, it attracts many scuba divers from Malaysia and Singapore.

Salang is on the northwest coast of the island, which was also my first port of call.

Diving is the big draw for Salang Tioman
Diving is the big draw for Salang.

First Impressions

Jetty at Salang
The jetty at Salang

My day started with a six-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing, followed by three hours of hanging out in Mersing, waiting for the ferry. Followed by the additional three-hour ferry ride itself, I arrived in Salang around 9:00 p.m. burnt out and exhausted.

I disembarked and walked down the jetty, which jutted well out past the shallow waters of Salang’s beach. When I reached land, I faced the proverbial fork in the road dilemma. Do I go right and check out the short string of lights down the coast? Or do I go left, which had a larger light show?

Arriving this time of night always poses some risks of encountering ‘no vacancy’ signs on potential places for lodging. The first couple of places I walked by were full. The third place had but one room left — a slightly expensive triple room. I took it, figuring I could look for other options in the morning.

An Eight-Legged Surprise

SalangI got the key and decided to take a shower before registering. I immediately spotted a voyeur. Eight legs and two big eyes were watching me. This arachnid was the size of the palm of my hand. It could have as easily embraced a hockey puck. It was a strange pewter-grey colour. Plus, it was a species I had never seen before. It nimbly darted to and fro along the wall, quickly evading the bullets of water from the shower head.

I grabbed the plastic water pressure knob – SNAP! The plastic broke off in my hand. There was now water spraying in all directions with no visible way to stop it, much to the spider’s chagrin, I am sure. I checked under the sink, behind the toilet, virtually everywhere searching in vain to locate the master valve to cut off the water supply. No luck.

My next step was to get dressed and drop the water bomb on the receptionist.

Chaos prevailed as the manager tried to desperately dig into his Plumbing 101 arsenal of tricks. He eventually found a master valve outside the room. The idea of staying in a slightly expensive triple room with no water no longer appealed to this tired traveler. Without having registered or paid for the room, my quest for lodgings continued.

What now?

Harbour Centre in Mersing to purchase ferry tickets
Harbour Centre in Mersing to purchase ferry tickets.

I went back toward the jetty and must have tried seven or eight places, which were all either full or had darkened reception areas. It was now past 10 p.m. and things in laid-back Salang had closed and went quite early. I decided to go back to the scene of the broken shower as I had noticed they had a couple of hammocks slung under the trees by their restaurant area. This also seemed to be one of only two places in Salang that sold beer. I figured I could at least drink a few beers until they closed, then order half a dozen more and curl up in the hammock for the night. 

But before I made it back there, I noticed a small series of lights leading away from the shoreline. I deviated from my hammock plan and came across a group of posh-looking cabins. I decided to give it a try. They had one cabin left, which was cheaper than the triple room at the other place. The owner knocked a further 40 RM (about $10 US) off the price due to my late arrival. He was going to close reception ten minutes after I’d arrived and go to bed, now that the last available space had been booked. I didn’t even register it. He just said, “You can pay me in the morning”.

Salang Tioman by Day

North of the jetty was a picturesque stony beach, and to the south, a beach bum’s delight. Despite its pretty beaches, Salang attracts many more divers than beach enthusiasts. There aren’t many roads at all on the island. Walking and bicycle paths lead the way for exploration. There is also the sidecar — these are primarily used to load and unload goods from boats. This includes shipping all plastic and other rubbish off of the island. When not busy, a sidecar can be hired for transportation as well. Notably, renting a bicycle was the best mode of long-distance transportation.

Sidecars used for loading or unloading provisions
Sidecars used for loading or unloading provisions


The highlight of each night along Salang’s beach was selecting fresh seafood offerings. Everything had been caught just beyond the shores of the marine park’s protected area of Pulau Tioman. I only stayed in Salang for two nights before venturing south on the island.

If you like seafood, you won’t go hungry here.


Join me for part two where I’ll talk about some other places on Palau Tioman. 

On the road to Air Batang
Batang — also known as ABC. See you there in part two.

30 thoughts on “A Tioman Tale

  1. Well, my heart was in the right place. A few beers in a free hammock would have been cheaper than a room. Alas, I succumbed to travel weariness. Pulau Tioman did afford me many opportunities to dig into my old travel bag of tricks though. More on that in Part 2.

  2. Pulau Tioman sounds like a nice escape from the rat race, although I’m not sure I would be game to have gone there so late with no confirmed accommodation booking. Otherwise it looks like a great place to unwind and relax, so accessible from the Malaysian mainland and Singapore.

    1. Yes Nicole, I live in a large city so island escapes are great ‘unwinders’ for me. I never book .accommodation ahead of time unless it is a place I’ve stayed before. I enjoy seeing what is available when I can there.Although I do admit that I become less particular when choosing a place if the hour is late and I’ve had a long travel day. I could have broken up my journey by staying overnight in Mersing and taking a ferry the next day, but I didn’t find Mersing especially interesting and I was eager to get to the island.

  3. I’m not sure I would have been as daring as you considering sleeping in a hammock outside overnight considering your eight legged visitor in your ROOM! I guess after a few beers it wouldn’t have really mattered after all.

    1. For me, that’s one nice thing about arriving at an island destination. Even if no rooms are available and no hammocks are in sight, a nice bed of sand is welcoming. Crashing on a beach under the stars can be a little taste of paradise. (Oh yes, and having a few beers doesn’t hurt either.)

  4. the place looks wonderful! i would totally spend my time there. The spider story seams pretty cool too

    1. It is indeed a wonderful place. In part two I move on from the spider story and bring in a couple of new players from the Animal Kingdom – monitor lizards and a sleepy python.

  5. Spiders don’t usually bother me, but that one that big would probably freak me out. I’m glad that you were able to find another place to stay without any problems. Can’t wait to read part 2!

    1. I have no aversion to spiders either. Although I have been bitten by a few which have left a nasty swelling.

  6. First of all – I feel your pain on that shower spider! haha! And secondly, I am so jealous of the fresh seafood every night! I’m sure it was amazing! I’d love to travel to Malaysia or other island countries that dive deep into the seafood life!

    1. Malaysia is one of my favourite food destinations. Full stop. Add in the vast fast food selection on Tioman Is. and you have a Food-Lover’s Heaven.

  7. I love your blog and love your vivid descriptions and beautiful photographs. Southeast Asia is one place I have not been and would love to visit and see the beautiful islands. I admire your sense of adventure to going to this island in Malaysia. Jerry Godinho

    1. Malaysia has countless pleasant surprises awaiting the traveller. Put it on your must-go-to list once some of these travel inconveniences are lifted.

  8. WOW Such beautiful pictures and once all this pandemic is done we are really looking forward to doing some travel again x

  9. eek, your spider encounter made my skin crawl! I would definitely be too scared to return to even a hammock there! Look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

  10. Thanks Smita. I live in a relatively large city (about 1.6 million) so my ideal holiday escape is getting somewhere I can appreciate what Mother Nature has to offer. This smorgasbord of delights includes plenty of lovely creatures – including large grey spiders. I thought by mentioning this particular shower mate, the story would be a bit more amusing.. In part two, I’ll tell you about other lovely creatures such as monitor lizards and pythons. Stay tuned.

  11. I’ve been to Australia- land of the spiders so it wouldn’t have bothered me haha. Malaysia is definitely on my travel bucket list.

    1. I’m kind of amused by all of these spider comments. I certainly did not leave the room because of the poor spider I had barged in upon. However, I didn’t want to stay in a room with No water because the main valve had to be closed off.

  12. I’m not one to just wing it when it comes to travel plans. But if I found a giant spider in my hotel room, a hammock outside after a few beers would look quite inviting! I’d probably need those few beers just to settle back down. But I also run screaming from spiders in general. Can’t wait to read part two of your adventures in Malaysia! A friend’s wife is from that part of the globe, but I honestly don’t know much about it. Looking forward to learning more from you.

  13. My family used to travel like this when I was little: going to South America with a 4-year-old with no hotel booked, then taking a taxi round the different hotels trying to find a vacant one. I always thought it was normal, until I saw how other people’s parents planned their holidays.
    Pulau Tioman looks amazing!

    1. That always was – and still is – normal for me. Not so much the taxi part as I like to start from an area I like and look around on foot. I realise a lot of younger travellers today like to secure accommodations ahead of time. I find that equally as perplexing as they might find my travel approach. I could never consider staying in a place unless I’ve seen it, and what’s around it, first. The idea of booking a place sight unseen absolutely astounds me…The bottom line is to do what makes you feel the most comfortable.

      1. I think my parents would use a taxi when we arrived really late in a new country (and I was only 2-6 years old during those trips). Once we’d found a hotel, we would use public transport for the rest of the trip.

        1. You are lucky to have parents who introduced you to international travel at such a young age. I don’t know where I acquired my wanderlust, but it wasn’t from my parents.

  14. I am amused by all of the spider comments i am getting here. Let me be clear, the poor spider I barged in upon had nothing to do with my leaving the place. The fact I would no longer have a running water supply did. There was no apparent way to control the flow of water.

    1. Thanks Sonia. Malaysia is a very interesting and diverse country. I hope to re-visit Malaysia sometime in 2020 – as soon as some of these current travel ‘formalities’ become a bit more casual again.

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