Just a short 40-minute flight from Singapore, you’ll find the small island of Tioman off the east coast of mainland Malaysia. It’s been billed as a great little island for hiking, diving, and snorkeling, and I have no doubt that it probably is, unfortunately, we chose the wrong time to go and the wrong place to stay. Tropical storm Haiyan was raging towards the Philippines and the South China Sea was feeling her wrath.
There are a few ways to get to Tioman, a $30.00 one-way bus trip from Singapore to Mersing, Malaysia. Then a Ferry from Mersing to Tioman which costs $22.00 round trip; the total travel time takes roughly five hours. Flights cost about $100.00 before taxes. Since we had a limited amount of time for this trip, we chose to fly.
We arrived in the early afternoon via a small airline that flew us directly from Changi Airport to Pulau Tioman Airport; which is actually just a very tiny strip of concrete butted against the jungle. The ride was mostly uneventful. The plane, however, needed some desperate help. It wasn’t that the outside looked like it was about a thousand years old; it was that the inside was literally held together with packing tape and wire bread ties. I found this very amusing and laughed most of the flight, my husband Joey…not so much.
The landing was harrowing, at one point it looked like we might fly into the side of the mountain but at the last minute the pilot banked a hard right and we were down. Seriously, we hit so hard that my teeth almost shattered. I’m a bit of a dare devil so I thought it was exciting, Joey…not so much.
After making our way through customs (a woman at a small desk with a stamp), we hired a speedboat water taxi to take us to our destination. Tioman is mountainous with lush, green jungles very close to the water’s edge. The resorts that we passed were quaint and the beaches were wide and welcoming. The sand isn’t the powder white of Thailand, but beautiful nonetheless. No matter how many times I travel in the tropics, I’m still taken aback by the beauty of the ocean. We were getting very excited to get to our chalet and start our adventures.
The transfer took about 20 minutes and as we got closer to the resort I started getting that “Oh crap” feeling. The resort that lay ahead of us was definitely not like the others we’d passed. As the boat drew closer to the pier, we realized that there was no way we were going to be able to alight. It was extreme low tide and the distance from the boat up to the pier was about 10 feet. So, the driver pulled away and headed down the beach…and kept going. At one point I thought he was taking us back to the airport when he suddenly stopped and backed the boat as far as it would go into the coral and said, “Okay, you can get out”. So, that was that; we hauled our bags out over our heads into the water and hiked over the rocky beach to the resort.
Things got worse from there. As travelers we’re always looking for a great deal so we don’t expect luxury unless we’re paying for it, but Paya Beach Resort is a far cry from even mediocre. It’s extremely run down and after looking around at the shabby lobby/restaurant/common area, we checked in. The staff was very polite but it’s obvious that they are completely untrained and not service minded.
Our original room wasn’t near the beach so we changed rooms to a sea view chalet since one was available and we were there to enjoy the ocean and all it had to offer. I will say this; the rooms were immaculate, which always makes me happy. I don’t need to stay in a posh room, but I do need a clean one. Our Chalet was definitely the high point of this trip.
After unpacking we decided to eat before we ventured out to see the sights. We were looking forward to having some good Malaysian food. The menu consisted mostly of Malaysian rice and noodle dishes and the only seafood selections were Malaysian prawns, which were delicious, and fried or steamed snapper. That frustrated us; we love fresh seafood and had hoped to enjoy local seafood dishes. After all, we were at a beach resort.
As we ate, it started pouring and didn’t stop. The dive center cancelled the snorkeling trips due to rough seas, so that left us with….absolutely nothing to do. The resort offers nothing in the way of entertainment, and the Internet service was hit or miss, literally. Taking one-step left or right caused a complete lose of service.
We sauntered over to the bar (or what they advertised as a bar) to wait out the rain. My husband ordered a bloody Mary and I ordered a Pina Colada. When our drinks arrived my husband’s resembled a pink Pina Colada and so we thought they might have gotten the drink order wrong. Being the dare devil, I’m usually commissioned to try things first, so I took a sip. It’s hard to explain what it tasted like but “dirty socks” came to mind. I asked the bartender what the drink was and he confirmed it was a bloody Mary. I asked how he made it and he said, “Vodka and Ketchup”. Huh?!. In what alternate universe is a bloody Mary made with Vodka and ketchup? Seriously?! Petrified to even try mine, we politely refused the drinks and went with Diet Coke. With nothing more to do, we went back to our room and alternated between three channels. (The Rush Hour trilogy was on the only English speaking channel… Oiy!)
We held hope that the storm would move out over night, but unfortunately woke up to more rain, rougher seas, and a very questionable breakfast. It consisted of cold beans, watered down Tang, and two choices of fruit; watermelon and oranges. I double checked to make sure we were still in Malaysia, where were the bananas, mangos, pineapples? Toast was a baguette, cut it yourself style, butter was a butter “like’ substance in disposable packets, and the one jam that was offered was in a communal jar with a suspicious black goo around the lip. Oh, they did have an egg station but the “chef” (I use that word lightly) could only make them scrambled or sunny side up. I gave up asking for over easy after he broke three yolks.
Each day we checked with the sports center in the hopes that we could go out on a snorkel trip, but each day the trips were cancelled. Needless to say we were really unhappy.
This was definitely the worst trip we’ve had. But it will NOT prevent us from going back. The island of Tioman is beautiful and I’m positive it has lots to offer. Next time we’ll go at a better time of year when tropical storms aren’t wreaking havoc and stay at a place that has a bit more to offer.