Here is our guide to Tioman Island including the best things to do, where to stay, top beaches, how to get there, and safety advice. Visit Pulau Tioman, one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia.
Tioman Island, also known as Pulau Tioman, has superb white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters, characteristic giant boulders, lush inland rain forests, cascading waterfalls, and diverse marine life perfect for snorkeling, and scuba diving.
It’s a large spacious island with seven villages located about 30 kilometers off the Malaysian east coast popular with travelers from all around the world. Tioman is famous for water and leisure activities, and there are a lot of things to do, so everyone, both active travelers and those who prefer relaxing on the beach, will enjoy the time on the island.
Tioman holds plenty of appeal for backpackers, holiday-goers, honeymooners, scuba divers and beach lovers. Let us introduce you one of the top Malaysian travel destinations.
Despite the fact, that Tioman Island is the most developed island on the east coast, and is getting increasingly popular by both locals and foreign visitors, its commercialization is nowhere near the same level as in other destinations in the country, like on Penang or Langkawi. You can still find tranquil and laid-back places around the island, which have an unspoiled feel.
As we enjoyed staying in Tioman Island, we would like to inspire you to visit this piece of paradise as well. Sure, Tioman Island is not that unspoiled and tourist-free as it was ten years ago, but we believe that when you set your expectations right, you cannot leave the island disappointed.
This travel guide aims to show you the best things to see and do on Tioman Island, top attractions, most popular activities, and we will also focus on practical information such as how to get to the island, where to stay and much more.
Tioman Island has a strategic location in the South China Sea, and in the past, pirates, fishermen, and merchants sought protection here.
It’s also a place where a beautiful Chinese princess on her way from China to Singapore (to meet the former prince of Singapore) took a rest and then transformed herself into the island so she could protect those on a long journey across the sea, at least according to one of the legends.
Sandy beaches, coral reefs, hilly rain forest, clear waters, Tioman is in our mind kind of a jack of all trades. Sure, the place is not absolutely unspoiled since the tourism took over, we do not say that somewhere else you won’t be able to find finer beaches without bungalows and reefs which are not affected by coral bleaching, however these islands usually are more expensive and not that accessible.
Tioman Island is a pleasant mix of everything, you will find here both simple guesthouses and even some luxurious hotels, but the natural beauty cannot be taken away, and it is still a great place to visit.
HOW TO CHOOSE A VILLAGE AND BEACH ON TIOMAN ISLAND
Choosing a place on Tioman is not as straightforward as it might seem, and it requires a little bit of planning from your side.
That means, that before you set foot on Tioman, it is worth to prioritize things you expect from your stay and define things important for you.
We’ve noticed that sometimes people underestimate the planning part (sometimes we do the same mistake), and then end up with mixed feelings, which is often not a fault of the destination.
The conversation usually goes like this, “Oh, there were so many people, and we hate crowds“, or “The bar was closed at 6 PM, imagine that, and there was nothing else to do“, and so on. It’s just that you need to ask yourself, your friends or a partner, what do you expect from the trip, and what are the activities you like doing on your vacation.
We believe that Tioman has something up in the sleeve for all travelers, budget dorms, awesome beaches, okayish nightlife, luxury resorts, tranquil places, basically, it caters for all tastes.
And if time allows, you do not have to stick to one place and can visit different villages and beaches on the island, to see more, and to find the place which suits you best.
The first stop on the ferry route from the mainland is a rather large village Genting located in the southwest part of the island.
It has a beautiful sandy beach and is often overlooked by foreign visitors. A pavement walkway lines the beach and you will find here plenty of restaurants and shops along the way, altogether with accommodation. Genting has a local fishermen community and is most popular among Malaysians.
If you decide to stay there, it might be a good idea to order a freshly caught fish for dinner.
Between Genting and Tekek on the west coast of Tioman lies a small village Paya.
It has a golden stretch of sand with glorious blue water, several hotels, and a rather large Paya Beach Spa & Dive Resort, that is sticking out of the forest, and is one of those structures, that the island would be better off without it.
Although the resort took some of the charms away (at least according to our opinion), the beach is still considered by many to be one of the most beautiful ones on the island and is really popular among visitors.
The largest settlement, and the capital village (if you can say that about a village) of the island, Tekek, has the best infrastructure and is easily accessible by ferry from Mersing on the mainland of Malaysia.
The village has an important location in the middle of the island on the west coast, and it’s the third stop on the ferry’s route.
Tekek also has the only bank with ATM on the island near the ferry terminal, so if you are not staying here, either withdraw money or bring enough cash for your stay on Tioman. We recommend you to arrive with enough cash from Mersing anyway, as the ATM in Tekek sometimes runs out of money, so it is not that reliable.
If you decide to stay in Juara, this is the place, where you need to disembark, and you can catch a taxi from Tekek to get there.
Air Batang village, also known as ABC village, lies on the west coast of the island and has a long stretch of beach, cool name, but also, unfortunately, a rocky seabed on the beach. If you come to Tioman Island just for the beach and deciding between Salang and ABC at the northwest point of the island, Salang has definitely the better beach.
However, Air Batang is a traditional village with a chill-out atmosphere popular among backpackers looking for budget hostels, and probably the most budget-friendly place you can find on Tioman. It’s the penultimate stop on the ferry route.
Salang is the northernmost village of the island, also the last stop on the ferry route, and a popular place among young backpackers. It has an excellent location close to popular snorkel and dive spots such as Coral Island (Pulau Tulai), and you can easily hike to Monkey Bay from there.
Salang has a relaxed atmosphere, and you can also find here basic bungalows for a reasonable price, a few bars, and ample restaurants.
Even though new hotels have been built recently at Juara, it’s still quite underdeveloped destination compared to Salang or ABC, and a perfect place for people looking for a more secluded experience.
Juara is set in a beautiful location on the east coast of the island and has two great fine-sand beaches, a river, and a coral reef, where you can snorkel.
To get there, you can take either a taxi from Tekek, or walk. Yes, it’s about 7 kilometers, so nothing completely easy with your backpack on, but you can save some money. A water taxi is also an option, but it is way too expensive.
BEST THINGS TO DO ON TIOMAN ISLAND
Tioman Island is a beautiful tropical island that offers plenty of things to do for beach bums, or outdoor enthusiasts, so no matter if you decide for jungle trekking, chilling on the beaches, or scuba diving, you will have a great time.
Although spending a day in a hammock while reading your favorite book sounds great, arranging a snorkel or scuba dive tour is a must while on Tioman.
Only this way you will discover the real beauty of this tropical paradise.
Snorkeling among the fish at the coral reef is one of the best activities to do on Tioman.
You can find excellent snorkeling spots when walking on the beaches to the very end. Once you reach rocks and large boulders, there usually start places with incredible underwater life. But to get the best snorkeling experience, it is better to join a tour to one of the various snorkeling spots, such is Coral Island.
Depends on your luck you can see a black-tip reef shark, stingray, and a barracuda among other marine life.
Exploring the underwater world is always an adventure, and scuba divers from all around the world come to Tioman Island to enjoy this popular activity.
Abundant marine life, sharks, turtles, coral reefs, shipwrecks, and clear waters create perfect diving conditions.
Scuba diving is extremely popular in South East Asia in general thanks to affordable prices and accessibility for beginners, or even people without any previous experience.
A lot of excellent dive centers around the island offer scuba diving courses and programs for all levels of divers.
The best time to visit the island for scuba diving is between March and May, and September and October, but the conditions are perfectly fine throughout the year, except for the monsoon season. During the best months, visibility reaches up to 30 meters.
Apart from snorkeling and diving, beaches are the top attraction on Tioman Island.
They are not unspoiled as they once used to be, but they somehow still keep their charm, and if you don’t mind the beach lined with bungalows and chalets, you will love relaxing on the fine sand while sunbathing and reading your book.
You can also hang a hammock in the shade of a palm tree, and chill out around noon time when the sun is high and strong.
Climbing a 1030 meters high Gunung Kajang from a sea level is a challenging full-day trip through a tropical forest and one of the best adventures to do on Tioman Island if you feel tired of water activities, and also want to get some views.
It’s better to hire a guide for safety reasons, but hiring a guide will also give you a chance to learn more about the jungle, plants, and wildlife on the island.
In case you don’t want to spend a whole day in sweat and tears, try one of the shorter trails.
You can walk from Tekek Village to Juara, or hike from Salang Bay to Monkey Bay. Staying in the Kampung Salang will give you a great chance to hike to popular Monkey Beach, and although it’s not the most challenging hike in the world, you will probably sweat all the time, so don’t forget to pack water to stay hydrated.
Monkeys and monitor lizards are some of the animals that you can see without leaving the front porch of your hotel room, but many other interesting animals, such as snakes, bats, and birds, live on the island too, and hiking is perfect for wildlife spotting.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the shore and beaches, plus it’s an excellent body exercise. Adventurous kayaking trips along the coast will also give you more freedom, and you might even discover one of the small beaches that are hidden from you if you’ve stayed on the land so far.
From Tekek, you can paddle to a small Pulau Renggis island, a popular snorkeling spot, only a few hundred meters away from the shore. Safety first though, so always ask the locals where are the best spots for kayaking.
Of course, kayaking is only one of many water activities you can try on Tioman, swimming, paddle boarding, and surfing may appeal to you too.
You will find many places in each village where you can immediately rent a kayak for a couple of hours or a day.
WHERE TO STAY ON TIOMAN ISLAND
Although the island is not as budget-friendly as it used to be ten or so years ago, all types of travelers exploring Malaysia on a different budget will find a place to stay on Tioman Island.
The accommodation is fairly rustic and basic bungalows come with a fan and mosquito net for a reasonable price. The price for the cheapest room starts around 15-20 USD, though you might find a bunk bed on the spot for a little less, depending on the demand.
Some of the backpacking hostels have renovated the rooms recently and entered the mid-range waters. You will find more upscale hotels on the island too, sometimes in more secluded areas, though this is not a rule.
Demand is high for accommodation in peak season, and it’s always better to make the reservation in advance.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING TIOMAN ISLAND
You will find numerous small shops and kiosks on the island, which can save you, in case you forget to pack sunscreen or bug repellent against sand flies and mosquitoes, which are basically two most essential things you should pack with you for visiting the island.
So what should you pack for Tioman?
Tioman is mainly a beach destination, so a proper snorkeling gear is a must.
Whenever you travel with the intention of snorkeling and have a spare space in luggage, we suggest to bring your mask & snorkel, though you can rent the gear once you get there or tour companies usually include them in the tour package.
Obviously, a swimsuit is an essential thing to pack for Tioman. Its is preferable for fast drying ones as you won’t like walking around in soggy damp suits.
Sun is really strong in Malaysia, and a reliable sunscreen with at least 50+ SPF will help you to protect your skin and avoid sunburn. When going on a boat tour, a waterproof dry bag is another must-have thing, and we couldn’t imagine you traveling without one while island hopping.
Visitors who want to spend more than just a couple of days on the island should pack a book, or Kindle, to kill some time.
Tioman is a duty-free zone, and especially in Tekek, you can buy cheaper alcohol or cigarettes than on the mainland.
WHEN TO VISIT TIOMAN ISLAND
Once you delve deeper into planning a trip to Pulau Tioman, the inevitable question of when to visit this tropical paradise will arise.
Being a tropical island has its perks, and you can visit Tioman all year round, as the climate is hot throughout the year.
But for sure, it is better to travel to the island between late February and October if you are seeking the perfect sunny weather. The island is open for visitors even during the monsoon season, so it might be the best time to visit for budget-oriented backpackers.
Monsoon season starts from the second half of November and ends in February. During this time the usually calm waters of the South China Sea turn into raging waves with surging torrents. When the storms hit the coast and the sea, the ferry won’t operate the route.
Therefore it is better to travel during these months when you are not on a strict schedule, or you should rather have a backup plan.
Once monsoon arrives on the island, some resorts shut down their business and ferry leaves Mersing only once a day. A wise thing to do is to allocate an extra day or two in case you get stuck on the island, or even in Mersing.
Surfing became a thing on Tioman Island recently, and the best time to go there to enjoy this particular activity is during the monsoon season. The surfing spot is on the eastern side of the island in Juara. Arguably the best time to visit Tioman Island is between May and September during the dry season with June and July being the best months to come.
Also, the water conditions are ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling, as the waters are calm, safe, and visibility is great.
Perfect weather, sunny days, clear sea, and almost no waves come with a couple of cons, such as crowds and higher prices though.
HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED FOR VISITING PULAU TIOMAN
Leave the hectic mainland life back at the Mersing and enjoy Tioman’s peaceful pace and friendly atmosphere.
We would say that two or three nights on the island are usually enough, but some people stay there for a week, especially when they plan to scuba dive or slowly move from one village to another.
If you are short on time and your travel itinerary is packed to the brim, we think that one night is not enough, and we would consider reorganizing your plans.
For locals, Tioman is a classic weekend gateway destination, so these days are busier than the rest of the week, so if you can, plan your stay on different days.
HOW TO GET TO TIOMAN ISLAND
The most economical way to get to Tioman is by ferry from port town Mersing. Flying is now out of question, as the service is no longer available since 2014. However, this might change in the future.
Bluewater Express ferries operate the route from Mersing usually three times a day and once a day during the monsoon season.
Another town where you can catch a ferry to Tioman is Tanjung Gemuk, 40 kilometers north of Mersing.
Once you get to Tioman, the ferry stops in most villages along the west coast, which is very convenient for visitors. The order of the stops goes usually like this – Kampung Genting, Kampung Paya, Kampung Tekek, Kampung Air Batang (ABC), and finally Kampung Salang. (Side Note – the word ‘Kampung’ is Malay and means ‘Village’).
The ferry service is irregular, and the exact departure times depend on tides, as Mersing has a shallow bay, and ferries can’t set off on a journey during low tide. Ferry timetable changes almost every day, and it’s better to arrive early. Always check the ferry timetable before you arrive in Mersing to save time and avoid unpleasant surprises.
If you board the (Mersing) first ferry in the morning, it took about two hours to get to the island, the ride itself is smooth, and the ferry looked safe, probably as a ferry in Southeast Asia can get. In monsoon season, the sea gets choppy, so pack motion sickness pills just in case.
To reach Mersing, take a bus from either Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (or even Singapore) or Kota Bharu (if you are arriving from northeast).
Transnasional VIP buses leave Kuala Lumpur frequently to Mersing, but as we’ve already mentioned, it’s better to arrive early. Buses are fairly cheap, and you can book tickets here. The ride from KL to Mersing takes approximately five and a half hours (depending on the traffic), and if you arrive too late, you might need to spend a night in the town.
Our final advice is to book the ferry ticket online in advance during high season and national holidays, as the seats sell out quickly.
HOW TO GET AROUND TIOMAN
Unlike overly developed Langkawi, Tioman still lacks infrastructure, therefore the best way to get around is on foot, by ferry, bike, taxi or water taxi.
There is a 7 kilometers long, concrete road between Tekek and Juara, and that’s about it. Many hiking trails lead from one village to another and allow both locals and tourists to get around the island on foot.
If you are staying in a hotel or resort that is not on a ferry route, you need to arrange a water taxi, preferably in advance. Send your request with your trip details to the hotel, and they will arrange the transport for you.
IS TIOMAN ISLAND SAFE?
Tioman is very safe and the locals are very friendly and welcoming, and using common sense should be more than enough when it comes to safety.
When scuba diving, listen to your instructor and follow all his advice.
Also, look out for big waves and strong riptides during the monsoon season when surfing. Swimming and kayaking during monsoon season are not very safe, so find another activity.
Another thing that you should pay attention to are the monkeys. Despite the cute look, they are wild and unpredictable animals known for stealing from tourists. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t feed them or leave your food on the beach unattended. Monkeys can also steal your hat, glasses, or even a camera or phone.
Monsoon season can be unpredictable, and in 2018, 110 tourists were stranded for six days in January on the island due to rough sea, which can be another thing you should consider when it comes to safety.
TRAVEL INSURANCE – SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We always advise our readers to get travel insurance for all upcoming trips abroad, and if you are planning to scuba dive on Tioman, make sure your insurance covers this activity as well.
Travel smarter and safer!