Air Batang: A Tioman Tale Part Two

Michael CarterRead about Michael’s arrival to Pulau Tioman in his last article.

Air Batang, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

After spending a couple of days in Salang, I caught a water taxi a short distance south along the coast to Air Batang, Pulau Toman, Malaysia. I stayed in a bungalow by the shore at Nazri’s. It had a fantastic sea view and sounds of the surf to lull me to sleep at night. I was a 10-minute walk from the Air Batang jetty and a 50-minute walk to the largest village on the island, Kampang Tekek. Like Salang, there were no roads, only pathways. After just a 3-minute walk from my bungalow, I found Ray’s Dive Adventure. Ray’s became my closest depot for beer, sunsets, and star-gazing at night.

My bungalow at Nazri's in Air Batang.I started suffering from a chronic condition known as IPI (Island Pace Inertia). No matter which island in the world one travels to, that traveler eventually succumbs to IPI. In my case, it took about five minutes for the condition to afflict me.

As I was still on the northwest side of the island, I had come to accept that I wouldn’t have time to see nearly as much of the island as I originally thought. Wanting to explore a bit more, I considered taking a day-trip out of Tekek. I thought about going on a 4-wheel drive tour for a day. As the largest city on the island, Tekek actually does have a road. There’s one leading to the east side of the island. Alas, the tour required a minimum of four passengers, and no one else had signed up. I decided to rent a bicycle instead, and pedal my butt around Air Batang and into Tekek. This turned out to be a great decision.

Mother NatureOther than by foot, my primary mode of transportation.

I cycled along the coast and made numerous stops to gaze into the crystal clear water below. I saw plenty of marine life species without donning a mask and snorkel, which thrilled me I managed to rip off a large toenail earlier in the trip and water activities would have only aggravated it. 

Tioman seemed to have more cats than people, but for lovers of slightly wilder life, there was a plethora of free-roaming creatures. Countless colourful birds, butterflies, and playful monkeys. Lovers of lizards and things that slither would be in heaven here. Monitor lizards ambled along the pathways everywhere. It seemed like every time I glanced up into the tree branches, I caught a glimpse of a python lazing away.

The Tiong,  a reddish-orange bird with a bright yellow beak and white trim on its wing, has become a symbol of Tioman. So much so, that a large statue of a Tiong is erected in a Tekek park.

The Tiong Statue in Tekek.

Last Hurrah in Tekek

Air Batang was my comfort zone, but I cycled in all directions daily. I happened upon a place near the end of the marine park jetty called Go Deeper. It had a modernistic, yet funky, decor. The food was crap but the beer was ice cold, and the cheapest I had come across on the island. I sort of liked the place and decided to move from my bungalow in Air Batang to Go Deeper for my last night. The lodgings were more expensive than Nazri’s, but they offered me a free bicycle to use and free transportation in a sidecar to the early-morning ferry at the jetty in Tekek, which was four kilometers away. 

The beach at Air Batang

The rooms were refurbished cylindrical-drainage-pipes-turned-hotel-rooms with air-conditioning, plus a private bathroom behind. It seemed ideal for a final night.

I had neglected to bring a travel alarm with me, so I was at the mercy of the Go Deeper staff to wake me up at 6:00am, so I could shower and leave by sidecar to the jetty in time to catch the 7:00am ferry. I had already purchased an open ticket, but still needed to arrive in time to exchange it for a boarding pass.

A picture of the refurbished cylindrical rooms at Go Deeper in Air Batang.

An Early Morning

Tioman is a duty-free zone. Notably, I still had one bottle of wine left from my purchase at the Tekek Duty-Free Centre. For my final Tioman night, I cocooned myself into my cozy drainage pipe and liberated the cork from my last bottle of wine. Fond memories of the island flashed back through my mind, but I was afraid to fall asleep. Past experience taught me never to rely on ‘wake-up’ calls or services.

The Go Deeper Hotel, at the foot of the Marine Park jetty.

Nonetheless, the wine gods insisted otherwise, and I was lights out before even finishing the bottle.

The call of nature woke me up at some unknown time. After peering outside and seeing black, I had no real idea of the time. It could have been 2:00am or 6:00am. I remembered that the bar/reception area had a large-faced clock, which was easily visible because three sides of the eating area were open-air. I figured it made sense to leave my room and make the 45-second walk to check the time. It was pitch black all around, with a tiny sliver of a moon barely illuminating my path. There was just enough natural starlight to make out the time. Although looking at the clock almost seemed like looking through a pair of eyeglasses made of bubble wrap, I hazily deciphered the time. It was 4:30am.

Nightfall in Air Batang

Trust the Wake-Up Call

With just an hour-and-a-half left, I felt too afraid to go back to sleep and risk not getting up in time. I still didn’t have faith in receiving the wake-up knock-knock. Besides, I had about a third of a bottle of wine to polish off before departure anyway. Ahhh — I had ninety minutes or so to relax and sip on some coffee. Elysium.

The view from the front of my bungalow at Air Batang

It seemed like only a few minutes — and it was — had gone by when I heard a tap-tap on my glass door. My 6:00am wake-up call had arrived, along with my sidecar driver waiting for me when I was ready. My clock-reading skills must have failed me. More than likely, I had woken up around 5:30 instead of the perceived 4:30.

I forfeited my morning shower in order to finish the wine at a respectable pace and made it to the jetty on time.

by Michael Carter

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.

seafood
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.