Tioman Dive Trip (Malaysia, May 2015)

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Another tick on my bucket list!

I’ve always wanted to take up scuba diving since young. However, I was never able to do it either due to lack of cash or time. Yes, it is not expensive, but when you’re young and poor, hmm…

Thus, recently when my buddies started to “jio” (Chinese dialect for “inviting”) me for diving trips, I figured it is high time to go for my PADI Open Water Course. At my age, I’m probably considered “too old” to be doing it, but better late than never!

At a buddy’s recommendation (and his free tickets!), I went to the Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) in Singapore during April 2015. There are plenty of diving centres/operators offering their courses there, and I had a hard time figuring out whom I should sign up with.

I wanted something that is conducted on weekdays, outside Singapore and I would be signing up alone; my wife wasn’t keen in water-sports and all my buddies had already done their courses. After much scouting and with some great advice from my buddy, I narrowed down to B&J Dive Centre located on the Malaysian island of Tioman. The course fee was SGD560 (4 days course, inclusive of 3 nights accommodation).

PADI Open Water Course at Tioman @2015
PADI Open Water Course at Tioman @2015

Thereafter, my diving adventure begins.

 

 

“Tioman Island (Malay language: Pulau Tioman) is a small island located 32 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Pahang, and is some 20 km long and 12 km wide. It has eight main villages, the largest and most populous being Kampung Tekek in the north. The densely forested island is sparsely inhabited, and is surrounded by numerous coral reefs, making it a popular scuba diving spot.” (Source, Wikipedia: Tioman Island)

 

Self-drive from Singapore to Mersing Jetty

Access to Tioman is via a 1.5hours fast ferry from Mersing jetty. There is an airport on the island, however, I believe that there are no longer any commercial flights serving it.

From Singapore to Mersing, one could either self-drive or take one of the direct bus services (though I’m not aware of the bus details).

For those driving up to Mersing, the route is simple (135km; 2hours drive) (google map):

  • Enter Malaysia via Woodlands Checkpoint.
  • After clearing Malaysia Immigration, head onto EDL (Eastern Dispersal Link).
  • Once you’re on EDL, follow all signs leading to Kota Tinggi. (you’ll soon be on Route#3 leaving Johor Bahru city)
  • When you’re nearing Kota Tinggi (Kota Tinggi is 45km from Malaysia Immigration), continue on Route#3 in the direction of Mersing.
  • When you’ve reached Mersing, drive straight into the town centre and you’ll reach a roundabout. Drive straight pass the roundabout and you’ll soon reach the jetty.
  • There’s an open-air carpark beside the jetty (rates shown in the pic below).

 

I’ve arranged with B&J to start my diving course on a Monday. They subsequently arranged for me to take the earliest ferry from Mersing on Monday 7.30am. (ferry timings are dependent on tide)

Since it is the first time I’m driving to Mersing, I tried to be conservative in my planning and started my solo drive from Singapore 1.30am in the morning.

I was initially worried that Route#3 would be dangerous to drive in the dark and that few vehicles would ply that road so late in the night. It turned out my worries were unfounded. Route#3 was surprisingly pleasant to drive even in wee hours of the morning and there was sufficient traffic to make me feel safe.

After an enjoyable 2.5hours drive, I arrived at Mersing Jetty at 4 am. Unfortunately, the carpark was not manned before 7 am and the carpark barrier would not open. I’ve little options except to park the car by the road and grab a bit of much-needed rest in the car.

 

 

Mersing Jetty and Ferry ride

Travellers started to arrive at the jetty as early as 1hour prior to the first ferry.

From what I can see, there’s only 1 ferry company (Bluewater Ferry) that’s serving Tioman. However, it appears that there are multiple stalls at the ferry terminal acting as agents for this ferry company. I’m not able to comment on the pricing of these agents as my ticket was pre-booked by B&J. All I had to do was to call and pick up my ticket from a certain lady at one of the stalls.

After picking up their tickets, all passengers have to fill up their particulars at a counter as registration for entering Tioman marine park. In addition, passengers have to pay a marine park fee to the marine park authority (RM10 for locals, RM25 for foreigners).

 

From what I understand, the ferry normally makes 3 stops on Tioman (i.e. at the larger beaches of Tekek, ABC and Salang). However, on my return trip I noticed that it does pick up passengers from some of the smaller beaches; I’m not sure how is the arrangement.

Before boarding at Mersing jetty, all passengers will be issued with colour tags reflecting which beach they will be disembarking at. Boarding will be in sequence based on colour tags. This is to facilitate the luggage handlers on the ferry storing the passenger luggage in a FILO (first-in-last-out) format.

Word of caution. Normally the ticket sellers will tell passengers that the ferry will stop at Tioman in the sequence of Tekek, ABC and Salang. HOWEVER, this is not always true! The ferry crew might sometimes change the sequence of the stops. As such, always pay attention to the crew announcement when the ferry is about to dock at the jetties. I paid the price for assuming that my stop was the last and I ended up having to hire a taxi-boat to fetch me to the correct beach.

 


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Salang Beach

B&J has 2 dive shops on Tioman (i.e. Salang beach and ABC beach). The B&J coordinator recommended that I stay at Salang; a recommendation that I would learn to appreciate over the next few days in Tioman.

Upon arriving in Salang, I was immediately greeted by a wide and beautiful beach with crystal clear water. There’s a hill on the southern end of the beach which is populated by a few chalets overlooking the entire beach (see video above). I’m definitely impressed.

Compared to Tekek or ABC, Salang is considered small. It is so small that a leisure walk from the southern-most point of the beach to the northern-most point would require only 5-7minutes. All the resorts, restaurants and shops are scattered along this stretch.

As expected, most of the commercial activities (including B&J’s dive shop) are found in the immediate vicinity of the jetty. The largest concrete building in Salang (Salang Complex) is beside the jetty; though the Complex is nothing more than a run-down 2 storey open-air food centre with 3 food stalls operating.

The retail shops in Salang mainly deal with “essential” items like snacks, water, drinks (including alcoholic) and an extremely limited range of beachwear and water-sports equipment. Other than water/drinks and snacks, you’re better off stocking up other items from the mainland.

In terms of diving, Salang can be considered the best location to use as a base for all diving activities in Tioman. It is one of the few beaches that has a “house reef” close to shore and the water is calm. Salang is also the beach closest to most of the popular offshore dive sites in Tioman.

Depending on your mobile network, 3G might not be available in Salang. I was using Maxis and I wasn’t able to get a 3G reception.

 

Salang Pusaka Resort

B&J helped me to book an air-con room in Salang Pusaka Resort. The resort is behind the Salang Complex and a mere 1minute walk from the jetty.

The resort’s feel is typically what you’ll expect from small Malay-styled resorts. The chalets/rooms are traditional Malay timber houses built on stilts. The grounds are well-groomed and clean. Other than a restaurant, dive shop and convenience stall, there no other amenities within its grounds.

At the reception, I was greeted by the friendly staffs who was anticipating me. After checking-in, one of the staffs showed me to my air con double room.

The room is extremely basic. Though clean, some of the furnishings are in poor state. Luckily the bed is in reasonable condition. The water heater and air con works fine. Overall, I would rank the room as “OK”, as long as your expectations are not high. The rate of the room was SGD50 per night. Though not exactly cheap, I do find it rather reasonable.

The resort does have paid Wi-Fi service. It is a flat rate of RM5 per device (unlimited data) throughout your entire stay. The speed is reasonably good (maybe because the crowd is thin) and access is available 24hrs. HOWEVER, Wi-Fi reception is only available at the reception and restaurant area. When not diving, I often find myself holed up at the restaurant using the Wi-Fi while enjoying a cup of tea.

 

PADI Open Water Course with B&J Dive Centre (Salang)

B&J Dive Centre has a long history in Tioman (since 1987) and is one of the larger diving centres on the island. It has 2 dive centres on Tioman, specifically at ABC and Salang. In 2012, B&J started their own resort in ABC (Tioman Dive Resort).

Students taking the PADI Open Water Course with B&J could normally choose any starting date that they prefer, simply because B&J do not set a minimum pax limit before starting a course. They would do a one-to-one training if there’s only 1 student enroling on the day. In fact, for my course there’s only 2 pax (myself and another student).

The Open Water Course by Padi is an entry-level diver certification for scuba diving (source: Wikipedia). This is the minimum certification one has to obtain before he/she is able to participate in scuba diving activities. The course requires 3-4days and consist of 5 theory lessons (can be via video), written tests and a couple of confined water dives and open water dives.

For students attending the course in Salang, the confined water dives are conducted at the coral reef at Salang Beach.  The coral reef at Salang is extremely close to shore; you could basically take a quick swim to reach it. For the open water dive, it is conducted at one of the many offshore dive sites near Salang.

With a fair bit of attention and work, the theory lesson and tests can be easily done. The practical diving lessons are fairly simple and most folks should be able to get certified without much hassle.

For my course, I was assigned to Dive Instructor Faizal. Faizal was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and professional. Though I’m not exactly a fast learner and have difficulties moving underwater, Faizal was always patient and understanding. He definitely made my course so much more enjoyable!

Overall, I would rate B&J’s services excellent. From the initial contact at the ADEX expo in Singapore to the email communication for arranging the course, and finally to Faizal’s training, everything was done professionally and up to expectation. I would no doubt be engaging their services the next time I’m heading to Tioman!

 

Meals @Salang

There is a number of different dining options in Salang:

  • Salang Complex has 3 Muslim hawker stalls selling local Muslim cuisine. If you’re looking for breakfast, these stalls will be your best bet as the larger restaurants typically open late.
  • There are a few larger al-fresco style restaurants (some by the beach, some inland), selling local Muslim cuisines, common western cuisines and BBQ seafood.
  • There is a large Chinese restaurant on the northern end of the beach. (I’ve not tried it).
  • There is even a small Ramly burger stand near the jetty.

In terms of pricing, common sense will dictate that the hawker stalls in Salang Complex should be a lot cheaper. If you feel the same way, you’re as misguided as me! It turned out that the hawker stalls in Salang Complex charge approximately the same for a plate of fried noodle (i.e. mee goreng) as the larger restaurants.

Upon realising this, I only patronise the hawker stalls in the morning for breakfast; when the larger restaurants are yet to open. As a general guide, the larger restaurants charge: RM7-10 for fried noodle/rice, RM2.50 for hot tea, RM12-18 for spaghetti, RM17-20 for lamb chop or fish and chips. I cannot comment about the rates of the Chinese restaurant as I’ve not patronised it.

Recommendation: Salang Dream Restaurant is located at the jetty, by the beach. The sea views are great. They serve excellent BBQ seafood with a unique and great tasting sauce. Rates are reasonable. It no coincidence that they have the most dinner crowds on most nights.  

Photography @Salang

Most visitors to Salang would spend their evenings at the bars/restaurants. This is certainly logical given that there’s nothing else to do in the evenings. Little wonder that I found myself the only idiot whom’s lugging a DSLR with tripod and feeding the mosquitoes by the beach. Anyway, my photographic loots are as follows:

 

Snorkelling @Salang

When not diving, Salang still offers great activities as there’s plenty of coral reefs and marine life just off its beach. It helps that the sea is calm so that snorkelling is made easy and fun.

There’s even a pontoon anchored not too far from the shore. For those who are comfortable enough, a quick swim is all it takes to reach the pontoon. The water does get deep even at the pontoon area, as such safety precautions (e.g life jackets) should be taken. The water is so clear that one could clearly see the bottom of the sea even at the pontoon area.

Snorkelling equipment is available for rental from the shops on the beach.

 

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my trip to Salang. For those planning to visit, you must be someone who enjoys diving or snorkelling. Else, there’s essentially nothing else to do. Those travelling with small kids should also consider its suitability since the place offers only water activities and nothing else to entertain the little ones.

Having said, I do feel that Salang is a great place for a short dive trip. I’m sure I’ll be heading back there in the near future. Cheers! =)

 

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