Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
Visited: April 2016
Pulau Tioman attracts scuba divers, snorkel enthusiasts, and travelers who want to chill out and enjoy the white sand beaches. Outdoor activities are the main draw, and most who come here find themselves jungle trekking or at sea snorkeling or diving.
The reefs are made up mainly of staghorn coral. You will see signs of bleaching at shallower sites. The coral is healthier in the deeper reefs. Sea life includes blacktip sharks, sea turtles, cuttlefish and schooling fish.
March through September, is when blue skies and sunshine are most likely to appear in Tioman, making this the best times to visit and to dive. During peak season the water is a comfortable 28℃ and visibility is around 20-meters. Restaurants, hotels, and resorts range from budget to luxury, but most are closed during the monsoon season from November to February when heavy rain and wind can wash away parts of the beaches and make the ocean too choppy for safe boat travel. The island’s economy relies greatly on tourism, so a few hotels and resorts stay open during low-season for those who can get to them. Scuba diving is dangerous and highly discouraged during monsoon months so you may find that you are hard pressed to find anyone willing to take you out.
Travel time from downtown Singapore to Tioman is about 5-hours with no delays but can take up to double that during holidays and peak commuter time. Getting to Tioman involves a bus ride across the Malaysian border then a 2-hour ferry from Mersing to Tioman. It is not a short trip, but the island remains a popular weekend dive destination from Singapore because not boarding an airplane to get here allows for diving on Saturday and Sunday before returning to Singapore.
Several Singaporean dive operators will make all your arrangements for a weekend of diving in Tioman, including all transport, accommodations, diving, and meals. The way it appears to work is the different dive shops in Singapore get together and caravan from downtown to the island, allowing them to share bus and ferry space. Because they are bringing such a large number of travelers, the Mersing ferry does a special late-night crossing for them on Friday that is not available to regular travelers. If it happens to be low-tide when the group arrives at the terminal, a smaller boat takes you out to the ferry in groups of about ten at a time.
Having taken this journey with multiple dive shops, I recommend Scuba People, because they arrange lodging at one of the better resorts, Berjaya Tioman Resort at a rate lower than some ask for pretty shabby homestays with food that is not very nice.
Basic Homestay, Pulau Tioman
If you are not tight on time and don't require special arrangements to make the ferry crossing in Mersing, you can travel to Tioman on your own, which will also save you some money. A bus from Singapore to Mersing requires a passport and USD 27 / SGD 36. Buses can be booked online at Easy Book or Bus Online Ticket. A round-trip ferry ticket from Mersing to Tioman is USD 25 / MYR 100. You can book Mersing ferry tickets online or buy them at the ferry terminal without a reservation for slightly less. Ask around once you arrive to see who can take you diving.
You may have better luck finding a dive shop this way as they can be a bit flaky about email etc. on Tioman from what I have experienced. Pulau Tioman is not the best diving you will find in Malaysia, but it can provide you with a few relaxing days of decent diving and excellent beach lounging. The adventure overall is long but fun.