My darling Tioman and I met again for a week in September and then also almost two weeks in December. After the first visit, we missed each other terribly and also thought about all the activities we should do together, including a visit during the monsoon season to allow for a more romantic experience. While the rendezvous in September went really well as we managed to catch up with many activities and socialise a lot, December wasn’t that obvious anymore and had me question our relationship. It almost seemed that the monsoon episode created obstacles for our love, which is still in its infancy and therefore fragile. It felt as if my infatuation was coming to an end. It wouldn’t be the first time though as, as harsh as it sounds, I have always preferred rather short and powerful love affairs over the long, monotone ones anyway. Might this also imply that our love was doomed right from the beginning? Maybe… But let’s take it step by step, shall we?
In my last post I described how I willingly complicated my life and travelled through not so fun Johor Bahru. Maybe you will remember that I had tried beer from a coffee cup and a massage performed in gloves. It’s therefore logical that this time I went with the easier way, which is a direct bus to Mersing. I used Sanwa Express company and (un)fortunately you will have too if you decide to travel anytime soon. Why unfortunately?
Because you can expect occasional surprises from them such as last minute cancellations due to low occupancy. Nevertheless, to be fair, they always got me to the final destination safely and on time. It’s just that this company has now monopoly on this route and very few other companies operate here. Some rides may not be as pleasant or comfortable, but again, it’s the easiest and quickest option, so I’m grateful for it, especially during these weird covid-19 times.
Overnight stay in Mersing
In December I needed to stay overnight in Mersing and was glad I did. I chose MG Hotel. This low key hotel totally exceeded my expectations. Their staff was very professional and kind. Not only did they provide free shuttle to the jetty, but they also sold bio quality honey which pretty much saved me. I was traveling unwell (of course not covid-19 related if you must know) and the pure honey did miracles. It speeded up my recovery and honestly added so much value to this inconspicuous hotel. Thumbs up!
Where to stay on Tioman
As usual on both visits I stayed faithful to Bushman. While in September, when the season was still in full swing, any relaxation in the room and uninterrupted sleep were not possible due to crying babies and all that stuff, I must admit that December was spectacular in this respect. In monsoon life on the island comes to a standstill. Being alone in the chalet, surrounded by the ocean and nature only, falling asleep as well as waking up with the roar of the surf is a priceless feeling. And when it rains, it feels as if you are indeed teleported into one of those romantic movies set in a far flung tropical paradise.
Another good thing about the monsoon season is that prices are friendlier, though not everywhere. Most locals want to catch up and make up for the lost income as a result of the pandemic, so in some places the prices were actually almost no different to high season. But luckily, I was with Bushman and had a good deal with them.
Therefore to me, visiting during monsoon was just invaluable. I got so much out of it. And yet, even if at the beginning the desolateness of the whole place felt magical and even if I, completely succumbing to my feelings for Tioman, contemplated moving to the island permanently (let the fool get carried away for a while), quite honestly though I must admit that a prolonged exposure to something so unique and calming can make one feel restless. At least it did in my case. But I’m taking it too fast. So, first things first.
Coral Island Trip
You know what they say – “never put off till tomorrow what you can do today”. When I first saw Tioman, it unarmed me with its vibe so badly that I couldn’t really do much, except for soaking up the atmosphere every single day and hunting photos. I could have gone on that trip during that visit, but laziness took over. Resolved to fix my shortcomings, I quickly planned the most popular snorkelling trip – Coral Island – upon my second arrival. Locals advertise it massively and claim it’s a must. So I was really eager. Not only didn’t it meet my expectations, it downright failed them.
The first problem I faced was that I fixed myself a colossal hangover the night before the trip. Obviously, I can’t blame anyone else but myself. Overall going on any trip with a hangover pains, but going on a boat trip in such a state is pure torture. First mistake. Well, and the second mistake? As per the above proverb about postponing things, I didn’t follow this cliché and ended up being disappointed.
The reason being it looked as a new age invasion or something. All Malaysians present on the island went on that Saturday trip. You can imagine, a complete frenzy, especially for someone like me who enjoys rather quieter experiences. Of course, nobody will tell you that the weekend trip is a national excursion day as they couldn’t care less about your preferences. It’s Coral Island and you must enjoy it regardless! Seb would have told me for sure – you remember him, don’t you? But unfortunately I only came to see him the day after the trip. Another mistake.
I was ushered to a boat with a group of Malay ladies, one of the many, many boats with the same intention. And so we set off. It all started pretty badly as I felt miserable from the first stop. All the boats concentrated in one tiny area, and the sea being full of all the eager day trippers wearing orange life vests. I really couldn’t participate in this so I just observed this with a smirk on my face and a slight disdain. The hangover was taking its toll too and I must admit I wasn’t exactly feeling great.
This was seriously aggravated when some of our female rather plus size group members returned to the boat and started eating bread. Undeniably they all had breakfast as Malays don’t start a day without food. As a matter of fact they eat all the bloody time. But it was just 10am. We had only set off and lunch was planned for 12pm. In the state I was I just couldn’t watch that. ‘Can they really not survive a couple hours without munching something? And wasn’t this bread for the fish anyway?’ ran through my head as the boat was rocking from side to side and with every new bite of the fellow trippers and boat rocking I was even closer than ever to vomiting.
My face became green and I was thinking how much of an embarrassment this would be once I’d start vomiting into the sea full of orange life vests hunting some spectacular sight of fish. “Sonia!” I suddenly heard. I turned my head and I saw Amri, the captain, looking at me. “Are you okay?” He asked and quickly came closer to me. Obviously I wasn’t. I saw it coming but Amri told me to get up and go to the front of the boat. He gave me a life vest to lay on and voilà a miracle. Embarrassment postponed, and I suddenly felt a tiny bit better. Hats off to Amri, the great captain from Bushman. He later told me he could see from my face something was wrong so he rushed to the rescue. If nothing else, I gained a lot more respect for this guy and his captain skills! He totally saved the day!
The rest of the trip was pretty much all about my hanging in the boat, avoiding nausea, chatting with Amri and captains from other boats. Overall, the trip is a good selection of spots around the island. My absolute favourite was Pasir Panjang aka Long Beach. It’s a pristine white sand beach with turquoise waters. Indeed a lovely place, but then again not when there are dozens of people. In addition, there were 3 snorkelling stops – Genting Bay, Kado Bay and Soyok island. I can’t comment on these because while I did dip in the ocean to treat my hangover, I certainly didn’t snorkel for all the above mentioned reasons (too crowded, too messy and you know…).
At noon there was a lunch break at Salang village. Of course, this location too was packed with people so it was just a matter of surviving with grace which was easy since I sat with local guys and they made it super pleasant. Overall I did enjoy the trip. I enjoyed the boat ride and the fact that I did something else than just beach bumming, but to be honest, I was happy to be back in the room so that I could take a nap.
Tip: you are better off booking this trip on week days with fewer crowds and higher chances of actually spotting some marine life. I am glad I went but had I not been so lazy the first time, it could have been much more enjoyable. Never mind, we live and learn.
During my September visit another trip had to be taken – the extremely deceiving hike to waterfalls. Locals will rave about them and urge you to walk there, promising spectacular views but I wouldn’t be so sure. You see, you can’t really take most locals at their word when they recommend something, presenting it as a rarity. Simply because most of them have had very limited, if any exposure at all, to the outer world, and have therefore zero comparison with what other parts of the country or the region have to offer.
Since I already knew the smaller waterfall was rubbish, I skipped that altogether. However, going to the “big one” – Lubuk Teja – entails a rather unpleasant 40-minute long hike only to see a gentle stream caressing a few stones. If they collected money for this, I’d downright label it scam. But luckily, it’ll only hurt physically and mentally, not financially. My two cents? A morning spent chilling on the porch or the beach would’ve been way nicer.
My love and I in Monsoon
Monsoon on Tioman runs from November through March. During this time, the tourism comes to a halt, so it’s definitely a very special season to experience. To me coming to Juara in December felt incredibly beautiful. Exactly what I was craving. While I was sick and couldn’t wait to recover, taking the necessary rest in my favourite chalet by the beach, I also couldn’t wait to feel the emptiness, solitude and loneliness the island provided during this period of time. It’s indeed an incredible feeling to share the whole beach, streets, waves, rain and sun with a handful of permanent residents only. It almost seemed as if I was developing a sense of belonging to this place. But in my case, it was just an ephemeral sensation which I was soon to discover.
During monsoon everything slows down so drastically that it’s both attractive at first and off-putting later on. Of course, there is still some life going on. About two or three restaurants as well as a couple mini markets stay open so you won’t die from hunger. My go-to place was always Hasrat café. It’s right by the beach. Moreover, the owner and his family are incredibly friendly and the food was scrumptious. What’s not to love?
There are also activities to try such as surfing or observing surfers. I did have a go at surfing but didn’t manage to impress anyone nor myself. So if this fails, as it did in my case, you can always play with waves, which are huge, rumbling and fun to jump in. Or just walk by the beach or anywhere in Juara, do some jungle trekking if you are up to it, or simply just be, enjoy the moment and chill, which is probably the best one anyway.
Whatever you decide to do, you will be mostly by yourself and this part is definitely worth it, at least at the beginning. Add to it the monsoon weather and you will be falling in love with the place even more. The air is fresh, the rain is purifying and the omnipresent mist that hovers over the jungle and sea waves is mystical. One indeed feels that they are reconnecting with nature and their own self. You will also admire the simplicity of life here in Juara. I was amazed at the way locals embrace their fate here – not needing much to survive, not worrying about tomorrow, staying in the present moment and just “being”.
On the flip side though, even some of the locals mentioned to me that they felt bored and lonely at times during the monsoon season. If locals say that, imagine what it will do to you, who are not used to this and have totally different expectations of life? If you are like me and have lived most of your life in the city, at some point, most likely on one misty, rainy, or windy Tioman night, you may inevitably come to the harsh realisation that you can only do that much of the same shit every day.
Combined with more severe and ‘naked’ exposure to the omnipresent village mentality, which is extremely detrimental for me in high doses, overall lack of stimuli, as well as the deepening feeling of stagnation and isolation, you are bound for a hasty retreat. And that’s exactly what I did. I knew the weather would get bad and I might end up being stuck on the island against my will. This idea seemed so threatening and made me suddenly so sick that I quickly packed and left the island a week earlier. And I am glad I did. Thank God Ejoy, the manager of Bushman, informed me so precisely about the weather and its threads so that I could nonchalantly disappear.
My fear of boat services disruption and being stuck for transport was also real for another reason. In the first week something great happened and that was meeting Sakina and Ali, siblings from Tanzania who lived and studied in KL. How cool is that? We would hang out together and play cards and talk. It was lots of fun. But these guys experienced something I wanted so badly to avoid – boat cancellations due to bad weather. Instead of spending the weekend and leaving on Monday as they had planned, Sakina and Ali only managed to get on a boat a week later. When you have no plans or zero commitments, the idea of a prolonged holiday doesn’t sound that bad. But if you do, it’s not a situation you want to be in. So yeah. Here you go. Monsoon is rather for the hardy travellers.
Am I a hardy traveller?
I thought that I’d be one of those invisible travellers who don’t mind being stuck on the island for some time. But in hindsight I must admit that my plan to stay for 3 weeks was downright naive and I was being completely delusional. I’m glad I woke up and realised that while I love the ocean and the beach, and I thought I loved Tioman unconditionally, I changed my mind in a split second and realised I still needed more.
Feeling stuck and isolated
After Christmas I just started feeling like being stuck. While I would always tremendously enjoy my long swims in the sea, where I was really the only swimmer and felt incredibly free during those moments, oftentimes after those swims boredom crept in (which never happens to me) and loneliness too (another feeling I rarely experience). I felt as if I was being isolated from the world too much. I knew other reasons might have contributed as well, my personal fuck ups so to speak, but I simply felt like I needed to leave quickly. I wanted to go back to the place where I could grow, work on my own life, happiness and progress. The place which tickles my senses, where there are hobbies to enjoy and things to explore. And by the looks of it, Tioman, regardless of its unparalleled beauty and vibe, doesn’t offer that in any palpable way. Pardon, mon amour, je suis desolée but c’est la vie.
Once I was in Mersing waiting for the bus, I already felt a huge improvement. All this simply had me thinking that at this point of my existence I couldn’t do small village life for too long after all. That I needed inspiration, motivation, enthusiasm and exposure to people. That I needed random chats and encounters and that escaping the buzz of life was futile because I always enjoyed being in the middle of it, creating it for myself too.
I’m not sure where my relationship with Tioman stands right now. As I pen this post and look at the photos, which bring back the strange mix of memories and feelings, I know I still love you, my darling Tioman, I really do. But I think we’ll need to give each other some space now. I guess it’s not the right time yet for a bigger commitment and I also need to start missing you again, mon amour. I hope you understand.
To be continued…?