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Tioman Island, Part 2

May 13, 2012

We got to Tioman Island eventually.  There are about seven towns the ferry stops at, all along the west coat of the island.  It’s where almost all of the accommodation is.  But I discovered that there’s a really inconvenient beach on the other side of the island, and I wanted to go there: Juara Beach.  Because nothing easy is every worth it.

Getting there is a matter of getting off the ferry and either hiking for three hours, or taking a jeep ride over the mountain range that runs up and down the island like a spine.  We were originally going to walk, because I like my vacations to be work.  But because of all the delays with the ferry, it was already too late in the day–too close to the peak heat of afternoon to allow for a big hike.  So we took a jeep.

The kid who drive us over was about thirteen years old, but I figure he’d probably been driving that narrow, winding road for years.  It was fine.  Only mildly harrowing.

We got to Juara and found a hotel.  We had read that pre-booking reservations there is tricky, since Internet is iffy.  Though I’m not sure about that information, now that I’ve been there.  Our hotel had wifi, though no computers.  Still, the iPod Touch worked.  So there’s clearly Internet, and I’m sure the hotel-owners have a computer or something for their own use…  But whatever, it’s not hard to walk up and get a room.

Specifically, we got a colourful little chalet by the beach

Ours was the blue one in the middle

$20/night.  It was hard to complain.

The view from our porch

Anyway, the beach was really beautiful, and the water was warm and clear.  We rented snorkels from the hotel for a few dollars and paddled around one morning.

We also took a hike to a waterfall, which was sub-par as far as waterfalls go.  Never try to impress a New Zealander with a waterfall.  They’ll just scoff and ask if you’ve ever been to Milford Sound.

There were heaps of monitor lizards all over the place though, just trudging along the roadside.  They’re super slow, so we sometimes didn’t even notice them until we had sidled up right next to one.  But they were exciting.  Wildlife!  Ooooh!

Speaking of wildlife… I mentioned something last post about feral cats being everywhere.  That wasn’t a joke.  Malaysia is crawling with feral cats.  The weird thing?  They are remarkably healthy-looking.  I mean, maybe don’t touch them, but you don’t have to cross the street when you see one coming.  I didn’t expect to find them all over Tioman though, because it’s an island.  The massive body of water makes it hard for feral cats to migrate over from the mainland.

Also, I’m pretty sure cats hate the beach.  Turns out I was wrong though.  Cats love the beach.  Feral beach cats everywhere.

So that’s pretty much Juara.  Cheap, beachside accommodation.  Cheap snorkel rental.  Cheap food in open air restaurants up and down the beach.  Sitting on the front porch reading when the sun’s too hot.  Giant fruit bats swooping in and out of coconut trees at dusk.  Beach cats.  Wet water…  Sand…

Wait.  What about that stupid 1970’s Time magazine article decreeing that this be one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world, henceforth and from now on?  There is no way this place made it onto a ‘best of’ list and stayed like this.  Not a chance. Were we on the wrong island?

Fortunately, there were some Canadians handy to answer my question.  (Yes, everyone in Malaysia is Canadian)  They had just come from the other side of the island.

“How was it?” we asked.  We wanted to know what kind of treasures we were missing out on.

“Depends,” said the guy.  “Do you like traffic and crowds and dead coral?”

“It’s awful,” said the girl.  “I wish we hadn’t wasted our time with it.”

And there we have it.  The secret of Tioman: the west coast sucks.  The east coast remains an affordable tropical paradise for now.

So I guess the accessible west bore the brunt of sudden popularity.  It makes sense, since the kind of people who get travel advice from Time magazine are probably not the kind of people who want to go somewhere with a prepubescent boy and rickety 4×4 between them and the beach.  And so one side of the island got to reap the bulk of the tourist traffic.  And so one side of the island came to be full of cars and people and sunburned tourists and litter.

I told you nothing easy is ever worth it.

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