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SOUTH MALAY PENINSULAR 7 to 19 January 2017

Ayer Batang, Tioman

Day 3 - Saturday 7 January 2017

Larkin bus terminal........Arriving from Singapore, fortunately Malaysian immigration is straightforward as I insist on taking the lead which Katoon finds hard to accept as we head for the bus terminal. Larkin is the terminal for national buses leaving Johor Bahru. I will need it tomorrow but on arrival all I need is a taxi to the hotel I’ve booked but forwarned about touts, I have my hands full fending them off. I’m also having to fend off Katoon who seems to be quite hipo. I know if I walk out of the bus station I will get a metred taxi but it would also make sense as late as it is to eat something at one of the many restaurants in the terminal. Katoon though want to get to the hotel as soon as possible. We pick up a metred taxi out on the main road and I’m thankful to see the metre working. At the most I will pay 10 ringgit. When we arrive at WF Hotel (right) I’ve got it spot on. I leave a generous tip which is much appreciated. I can only suggest a four letter word for the touts who wanted 60 ringgit although one **** was prepared to take 20.
Hungry........Katoon must have ‘assumed’ there would be a restaurant near the hotel. There isn’t. However this crazy day does have a happier ending. We can order food at reception. It seems he’s sent out a worker who returns with enough food for a family and ridiculously cheap. Back in the real world at last!

Day 4 - Sunday 8 January 2017

Departure........There is no need to rush today and it’s a late departure after 10.30am but I’ve yet to figure out how to get back to Larkin bus terminal. I think I should simply wait for a passing taxi but the road is quiet. Just when I start to query my assumption, I get help from a car dealer outside whose premises I’m standing. He says I should use UBER. For those who haven’t heard of uber it is an American worldwide online transportation network company which develops, markets and operates the Uber app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request. My smartphone is offline at the moment but the dealer has one. Within a few minutes a private car arrives. Quite honestly I’m gobsmacked. Not only is it efficient, but quick and cheap. No wonder taxi drivers worldwide are concerned. We arrive at Larkin in no time and managing to slip by the touts, I get a bus ticket to Mersing departing at 11.45am.
Mersing........The trip from Johor Bahru takes about two and a half hours but I manage to sleep much of the time. My recollections of the trip are restricted to views of palm and rubber tree plantations. On arrival I find Mersing much as I expected, a sleepy fishing village but it does act as a port for a ferry to the islands in the South China Sea.
Mersing Hotel........The decision to stay one night in Mersing is based on uncertainty of ferry times to the islands and I am prepared to compromise over accommodation if it means I’m near the port. From the bus station it is walkable but not with luggage. Fortunately a local bus it parked at the bus station. When we ask the driver where the hotel is, he tells us to get aboard and even with no other passengers aboard he takes off and delivers us at Mersing Hotel (left) for small change. As expected this hotel has budget accommodation but is currently being renovated with only certain wings available. There’s a climb up two flights of stairs and the room doesn’t have a fridge but it is more spacious that the one last night and at least I have a table to work on. With a mid afternoon arrival, I’m happy to take a break but sooner or later we need to go out.
Fussy........As Katoon didn’t eat breakfast she ordered a MacDonalds in Johor but she doesn’t eat beef. Thinking she ordered chicken, I again find myself hoovering up what she doesn’t like. By late afternoon she’s starving and we have to go out to find something she can eat. It can get desperate when all she can eat is Thai food but right on cue there’s a restaurant just round the corner run by Thais who moved to this area many years ago and they manage to sort something out for her. I’m quite happy with a beer but I just know she will over order: And so she does which explains why I don’t fit in a shower cubicle!
Ferry port........The final chore for the day is to check on ferry times for tomorrow but a problem soon appears. The times depend on the tides and at the hotel they don’t know. I think it best to walk to the pier but it’s now 6pm and a boat departed today an hour before. When I ask about tomorrow there is only one possible time and that’s at 7am in the morning. With this news I beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel to make the necessary arrangements. Luckily the weather is fine at the moment but it can be unpredictable. It’s just a question now of preparing for an early night. At least I can book a ride to the ferry in the morning.

The port at Mersing

Day 5 - Monday 9 January 2017

Booking.hell........The purpose of staying in Mersing for one night is to make sure I catch the ferry to Tioman Island today but I needn’t have worried. Arriving in Mersing mid afternoon left plenty of time to get to the jetty for the 5pm service. When I arrived at Mersing Hotel yesterday they mentioned that the departure times varied due to the tides. It was only confirmed to me at the jetty about the 7am morning service being the only departure so I must get it right. But I don’t. My clock was still set at +7 hours GMT instead of the +8 here. That crazy word again; I assumed I had changed the setting. So that’s it; no departure today. Two things need to be done now. One is to contact them on Tioman and the other is to find another room here. When I do call the chalet I am advised to contact but I know it’s too late to amend the booking though them. All I can hope for is a bit of understanding at the chalet. However, given the mess I got into in Singapore I’m not at all hopeful that I won’t be charged for the missed booking. At the point of writing I’ve lost faith with the online booking system and it’s only because I’m in a strange country, I decided to use it. Well we’ll just have to see how this story ends. It’s time for some breakfast. That consists of coffee and dumplings.
Bluewater Hotel........My attention now turns to finding alternative accommodation. As mentioned before there is building work going on in the Mersing Hotel. In its present condition, I wouldn’t recommend it to a church mouse but when fully renovated I’d recommend it to the church cat. As there are other options in the main street leading to the jetty I start making enquiries. Of the three I visit, all would be an improvement on Mersing Hotel but the one I select is Bluewater Hotel which just happens to be owned by the ferry company. Well thank you for not guiding me here before. As well as offering me a much better room for a few ringgits more, I can now buy my ferry tickets as well. I take a room with a view overlooking the river lined with fishing boats. I’ll repeat that...a room with a view!
Time and tide waits for no man........When I check the ferry schedule, the departure tomorrow is the same time as today, 7am. Thereafter it moves to later times according to the tides. With no departure after 5pm you can see that with one service per day at the moment, a point being reached, as has just happened, with a 5pm departure followed by a 7am departure the next day. As I’ve mentioned many times before there are always ups and downs on these tours but you can guarantee you never get bored. Even today, which is clearly a dot day, I’m looking forward to enjoying some respite in relative comfort.

The port at Mersing

Cat food........It’s still only midday and time for an early lunch but with so much appetising food available Katoon finds some reason to reject it either through smell, colour, taste or freshness. When all she finds is soup at a Chinese noodle kitchen it’s the final straw and I decide to eat alone from now on. I wouldn’t give it to the cats that exist here in abundance. However I get more sustenance at a bakery where I order pastry and green tea. The afternoon is spent in the room out of the heat of the day and mighty relieved I am too.

Mersing residents

Mersing beach........Around 5pm we decide to go for a stroll. Mersing has a beach which is popular in the cooler evenings. At 6pm I order fish and rice near the jetty which isn't too bad but Katoon won’t eat anything pre-cooked. Along the beach tables have been set up to sell snack food and Katoon finally finds something she can eat. On the way back we do a little shopping to take to the island tomorrow. Back at the room it’s getting dark and they’ve laid tables out along the riverfront. With the river bridge lit up in the background it sure looks inviting but I think I’ll turn in early. Something I read on an office door at the jetty sticks in my mind. It reads ‘The morning is great after yesterday’s failure’, to which I can add, ‘it provides an opportunity not to make the same mistakes again’. Let’s hope so.

Mersing beach

Day 6 - Tuesday 10 January 2017

Departure........I wake at 4am and just doze after that, determined not to miss the ferry this time. By 6am I’m on my way to the jetty just 10 minutes walk away. The procedure at the ferry terminal is to get your tickets validated at counter 8, then queue to register for departure. I was expecting to pay the national park free of 20 ringgits here but nobody asked for it as we waited in the departure hall. The ferry soon arrived and passengers boarded as the first rays of daylight filtered through then departed into the South China Sea. After some early cloud the sun breaks on the horizon but I’m soon asleep. After that I remember little as the ferry reaches the first stop on Tioman.
Tioman Island........The ferry calls at five stops and mine will be the third. The stops are in rotation, KG. Genting, KG Paya, Tekek, KG. Air Batang and KG. Salang. The most obvious point of note is that the island is completely mountainous. There is no possibility to reach each village except by boat. Arriving at Tekek, I know that my booked accommodation is within walking distance of the jetty so I just need to turn right and continue for 5 minutes. The Tionam Peladang Chalet is there on the left opposite the Duty Free Shop.
Tionam Peladang Chalet........Of course my immediate concern is whether they will charge me for last night having missed the boat yesterday. To my relief they don’t and I just pay for the other two nights, I booked. Now it’s just a question of whether the accommodation lives up to expectations baring in mind this will be the most expensive room so far on this Malaysian tour. Tioman Island is 51 kilometres from Mersing and has missed out on the rush to develop tourism along the coast of the Malay Peninsula compared with Thailand especially. Part of that is due to lack of infrastructure on this deeply forested mountainous island. The chalets at Paladang are old, certainly 50 years or more going by the wiring and plumbing. But the question is does the tropical location compensate for that? Well no! There's just a small beach at Tekek, not that inviting due to accumulation of litter.
Topography........In order to justify the effort in coming here you need a beautiful beach and sea view. All I have at the moment is a view of the marina with mountains to the back. The first foray out is to find something to eat as Katoon is hungry. We soon realise that we have to pay more at restaurants as we eat near the jetty. After that we stroll out to the airport which is just a small strip for light aircraft only. There we find a place to hire motorbikes but really they are expensive and there is nowhere to go. Well actually there is, but the vendor is reluctant to suggest we go there as it's a difficult ride. There is a dirt and rock road through the jungle started by the Japanese. It leads to the eastern coast of Tioman at Juara Village where there are beaches. At this time of year no ferries stop there. The most practical way to get there is by off road vehicle but the cost will be 70 ringgit one way or 120 both ways which is quite a lot. At the point of writing I am considering the option to spend two nights there which will complete my stay on Tioman before I need to return.

In and around Tekek (The marina is top right, the pier bottom left)

Alleluia!........Realising that I’ve probably missed out again by using I’m not in such good spirits as I ought to be. On the way back to the chalet, I realise that I’m practically opposite a Duty Free shop. Can it possibly be the same as on Langkawi? Yes it can! I can now return with spirits after being almost tea-total so far this tour. With that I return to the chalet where it’s time to get out of the fierce heat, take a tipple and flake out!
Signs of life........There’s no point in venturing out in the heat; there’s nothing to do but at 5pm we stroll down to the jetty but it’s deserted. Even the shops and restaurants are closed. The only signs of life are near the chalet. Amazingly one small shop is making burgers and that will do for a start. Nearby Katoon gets her bowl of noodles and altogether there’s better value here than in the morning. I can live with that for sure. Others options are shops and a bakery nearby very reasonably priced. I’m getting the hang of things now. That should be the end of it for today but not quite. The power goes off at 9.45pm but it’s only temporary then the electric shower doesn’t work. Can’t solve that one now but a hose pipe is there connected to a tap. Guess what that is for? Luckily the water is not cold. Then for good measure there's a problem with mosquitos.

Day 7 - Wednesday 11 January 2017

Awaiting compensation........I get a peaceful night interrupted only my mosquitoes buzzing around my ears but miraculously I don’t get bitten. But on my mind at the moment is the fact that this tour, now approaching the halfway point, has yet to compensate me for the effort I’ve put in. A point is approaching were I start to consider options to return to the mainland prematurely. I really need a spark to set this tour alight. But let’s not jump the gun and take it step by step. I have a kettle so I can make coffee and a shop is just next door. It’s a start.

Pelandang Chalet (left), Tekek village (middle), view from marine park (right)

Aware that a ferry boat is due we wander down to the jetty perhaps looking for inspiration. There at the terminal is the guy we spoke to yesterday. He’s collecting passengers but is happy to discuss travel arrangements with us. At this point I go along with the suggestion that we move in the morning to the opposite side of the island at Juara even though it will be expensive by car. But it least that fixes things for another day at least. We also consider a trip this afternoon to Air Batang. Where I’m told I can snorkel.
Updated schedule........I can now complete the schedule which will allow me to stay on Tioman for three more nights. The last night will be back at Tekek due to the early ferry departure but the tomorrow night is still up for grabs at Juara. When I locate accommodation not far from Pelandang Chalet, the schedule is complete. I shall be leaving in the morning at 9am. For this afternoon, transport is arranged at 2pm.
Considering the terrain on Tioman, I’m surprised to see so many cars when I wasn’t expecting any. Tekek is the largest village on the island yet there’s barely 5 kms of road. Most of cars are old Japanese 4 x 4’s. Only the more expensive resorts have anything modern, being pickups. One therefore has to question how it is that it costs 30 ringgit to cover perhaps 3 kms. Presumably it’s the cost of fuel but there are only 2 cheaper alternatives: Walking or cycling. Both are feasible.
Air Batang........Air Batang is at the north end of the bay where the road terminates. But there is a walkway to get a better view of Air Batang Bay which also has resorts. As with much of Tekek there are just a few buildings along the coastal strip here. One of these buildings is the marine conservation centre.
Amazing........After one of the shortest taxi rides I’ve ever been on we arrive at the pier. Apart from the few buildings there is only the pier of which there are many on the island, equivalent to bus stops on the mainland. At first I’m confused as to where I can go snorkeling but I’m told I must keep within the line between the end of the pier and the headland, not a large area really. It’s not what I expected recalling my boat trips in Thailand. I’m given a life preserver and snorkeling gear and the rest is up to me. We walk along the pier where Katoon can wait. In the cordoned off area is a raft made from square plastic containers, enough to support a couple of dozen people but there’s only me. As I gaze down at the crystal blue-green water I see fish, lots of fish. It was recommended I bring bread for them and I soon see the reason for this. You can attracts fish of amazing beauty, size and variety. It soon registers that there are more species here than I’ve seen on all the other snorkeling trips put together. It’s a real life tropical aquarium in the corner of the bay. All I have to do is walk down the beach. At waste level the fish are all around you. I tie the bread sack to the straps of the preserver then pierce the bag. Then all hell breaks loose as fish of all sizes and colours swarm around me nipping and tugging. The experience is surreal. I never expected this. I don’t know how long I spend in the water but it must have been an hour. It's hard to understand why there are so many fish here. To start with, this is a protected area and clearly the level of habitation and tourism has not reached a level to affect the marine life. Also there are attempts to regenerate corals by the marine department.

marine park subjects (top left to right), view from marine park (bottom left), marine park HQ (bottom middle and right)

Rating........If my approval rating for this combined tour was recorded on a swingometre then at the start of the day it would be well down in negative territory but somehow a day that had little promise has pushed that needle well back towards neutral. At the chalet the shower is working and Katoon, finally is feeling confidant to try the local food which has kept expenses under control. For the second day running it’s a beef burger for dinner and chips with that. I hope after tomorrow I can push that needle even further. One thing which will help is to get a good internet connection as there is a backlog developing for uploading my blog.

Day 8 - Thursday 12 January 2017

Tekek departure........It seems the norm in Malaysia to provide a kettle in the room to make tea or coffee but so far breakfast is not included and we make do with what we find in shops. Today is no different as we make ready to travel to Juara. The car is waiting as agreed at 9am and we set of for the east of the island not really knowing what to expect. Is it just another dead end in the maize that this tour has become? At the south end of the beach road it turns into the forest rising steeply. I’m surprised to see it’s a concrete road but it is narrow, uneven, twisting and steep. You definitely need something strong here. As the forest closes in, it greets you with a monkey troop but apart from the view ahead you get no sense of altitude; the forest is too thick. 30 minutes later we arrive in Juara.
Juara........Juara has just a single road following the bay around to the south. Our driver has agreed to help us find accommodation. There are a few options but the first is too expensive. Just a bit further on is Juara Mutiara Chalets. The price per night is 120 ringgit more or less what I expected to pay. After misfiring badly with accommodation so far this trip I’m keen to have a look at the room. Can it trump Pelandang for less? As we slip between the chalets I get the first real look at Juara Bay and WOW! Have I just found paradise? But wait. I need to check the room: And it’s good, it’s very good, it’s fantastic!

Jungle road to Juara (left), Juara village (centre and right)

Paradise........I’ve been travelling long enough now to believe that paradise doesn’t exist but there are occasions when it just seems like it does and I can dream a while. As I gaze at Juara Bay, I have to admit I’m struggling to recollect a bay so stunningly beautiful. To the left is the jetty currently not in use. It’s just not worth paying the boat fee due to road access. Otherwise the beach is practically deserted with no debris at all on the sun-bleached sand except for broken shell and coral. At the shoreline there are tall coconut palms, a number with resident fruit bats clinging to the palm fronds. Groups of chalets line up behind these. One can only imagine that many resorts we are familiar with today, started this way but as Tioman Island is now a national marine park, I hope it will remain as it is.

Beach at Juara

Winding down........Since arriving at Mersing I had hoped to unwind significantly; a break from city life. My principal regret is that I could have been here three days ago. As it is, I am only here for one night having arranged to return to Tekek tomorrow afternoon. I’m governed now by forward plans I’ve committed to and that’s the story of this tour. For now I just have to make the most of it today and just laze around. When I go for a swim in the bay there’s an even fall ideal for that, with no rocks or other dangers; totally safe yet almost deserted and that only adds to the wonder of this place. There are a number of restaurants mainly servicing the chalets but more expensive than at Tekek but with little else to spend money on this of little consequence. Strangely Juara Mutara is fully booked. It seems I was lucky to find the room. So where is everybody? If you are a city lover you won’t like it here.
After a burger and chips yet again, I take another swim in the bay before dark. I already know that Juara M is fully booked tomorrow but is there another option? I need to be back at the jetty at Tekek at 6am the morning after but I know I can get transport that early if I need it. While taking a stroll just before dark I enquire at another chalet. They may have a room tomorrow night but I would have to wait till morning. Dare I stretch my stay here? Tomorrow we will find out.

Day 9 - Friday 13 January 2017

Mosquito Island........People love tropical islands where there are beaches with bleached coral sands fringed with coconut palms, where there are seas teaming with fish and rich dense forests containing wonderful creatures and where there are mosquitos and midges ready to devour you. This is paradise and I’am reluctant to leave here but I’ve been bitten from head to toe. Even Katoon is suffering.
Meditation........At Juara Mutiara I’m still amazed at the comfort and décor of the room. I would take the room wherever it was let alone right alongside a beautiful sandy beach. I awoke a 6am but realising there’s nothing I need to wake up for, I roll over and sleep for another hour and a half. If I had any intentions of witnessing a glorious sunrise then I’ve missed it but at the moment it’s cloudy anyway. The pace of life has slowed to level I only dreamed about a couple of days ago as I make a coffee and sit out on the verandah with a cappuccino just gazing out at the ocean for a good hour as if in meditation.
Bushman Chalet........Around 10am I decide to walk over to Bushman Chalet where I enquired yesterday. A room is ready and I return to gather my things. Bushman Chalet lies at the furthest point south before a headland which divides the bay in two. There are just eight chalets again right on the beach front. Obviously I’m not expecting the same luxury as at Mutiara but I’m still happy with it for just 80 ringgit and far superior to Pelandang at Tekek. It also has a fridge but I’ve given up by now in getting an internet connection. I’ll deal with the backlog when I get back to the mainland.

Bushman Chalet

Surfing festival........It’s moving towards midday and we decide to walk around the headland to the next bay. The narrow concrete road continues through the forest coming out to reveal more chalets; clearly Juara is bigger than I thought. What causes me to walk here is a signboard to the sea turtle research centre. There are other signboards up indicating something completely different. It’s a surfing festival and it’s happening right now. As we walk further along the beach road we see that it’s here. People have gathered with cars and equipment. There is a judge’s stand and food stalls and not a little commotion going on in the water. It’s not until we reach the spot we see that compared to the rest of the bay, this corner has braking waves, just enough to support surfing. Interesting as it is to some, I’m more interested in surfing the net and seeing some turtles.

from beach road (left), surfing festival (centre and right)

Sea turtle conservation centre (right)........When we reach the research centre there are no turtles. The egg laying season is from April to November. But the lady here is happy to explain the process of conservation. It’s sad to know that just a few places on Tioman now support the turtles. Such is the steady expansion of humanity into all areas that turtles are now endangered here. Their already fragile existence just cannot cope with human activity. It’s quite a sad story really and it’s no wonder there are volunteers ready to assist in conservation work here during the breeding season. As we walk back to Bushman Chalet about 15 minutes away, we call in for some lunch. Then with precision timing, our driver has arrived with some passengers. He’s happy to drop us of back at Bushmans.
Fond memories........The afternoon consist of a siesta and a swim and a last chance to take photographs to capture memories of our stay here. The afternoon consist of a siesta and a swim and a last chance to take photographs to capture memories of our stay here. Dinner for a change is taken at the chalet restaurant. Tuna spaghetti is a change from beef burgers. I do manage to get a connection on my PC but it’s not enough to allow me to upload work which is now three days behind. Determined to squeeze every last drop from my stay at Juara Bay, I empty the last of my duty free into a coke can and sit out on the verandah. Within an hour of darkness, the moon rises and it’s practically full. This just adds sparkle to the scene as the moon’s reflections dance around in the bay.

final shots of Juara Beach