Marine Paradise at Tioman Island, Pahang


A marine paradise surrounds Tioman Island (Pulau Tioman) of Pahang – an alluring island which lies about 56 km off the south-eastern coastline of Peninsular Malaysia.

It is the largest island in Pahang and in fact is the largest off-shore island in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

It is about 39km long and 12 km wide with a total land area of 133.6 sq km.

In size this Pahang island is the third largest island in Peninsula Malaysia behind Penang and Langkawi. As comparison, Langkawi Island (largest island in Peninsular Malaysia) is about 478.5 sq km in size, which is three and a half times larger than Tioman Island.


Naturally endowed with beautiful underwater and marine life, Time magazine had long ago (in the 1970s) picked Tioman Island as one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world.

It is not surprising then that as a marine paradise, Tioman Island was selected as the backdrop locations of the 1958 Hollywood musical film South Pacific and also in the 1989 film Farewell to the King, and the Hong Kong TV series The Ultimate Goal.


A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

Did you know...

That Tioman Island belonged originally to the state of Johore, Malaysia?

It became part of Pahang on 1st September 1868, when Temenggong Abu Bakar of Johore signed an agreement with Sultan Wan Ahmad of Pahang giving the island and a few other islands around there to Pahang.

This Agreement was witnessed by the British Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Harry Ord.


map of tioman island

THE ORIGIN OF THE ISLAND'S NAME

It is said that the name "Tioman" comes from a "tiong" (mynah) bird owned by an old man on the island. This bird was quite special, with ability to imitate the language of the village folks and had a beautiful voice.

And it became the favorite of the Island folks who always meet and gather at the old man’s house to listen to the bird’s singing and antics.

But, as all living things, one day the "tiong" bird died. The old man really felt sad and depressed. Everytime the village folks meet him, he would say, "Tiong man sudah mati" (meaning "my tiong bird is dead").

P.S. – "man" is short for "teman" (friend), which in local Pahang dialect is "I" or "me" or "mine", and collectively "ours").

As a mark of respect, the folks dedicated the island to the bird referring it as "Pulau tiong man" (or "our tiong Island"). It later became "Pulau Tioman" by foreigners, who are unfamiliar with the soft and almost inaudible nasal "ng" sound spoken in the local dialect.



LEGENDS OF THE DRAGONS

The origin of the Island is shrouded with intriguing legends of dragons - the sometimes respected and sometimes dreaded creature of ancient times.

A common version of Tioman’s origin says that it is the final resting place of a magical dragon princess who whilst flying from China to her beloved prince in Singapore, sought solitude and solace in the crystal clear waters of the South China Sea.

Feeling enchanted and intriguingly charmed by the natural beauty of the place and the underwater world, she decided to stay there forever. She eventually turned herself into an island and in gratitude for the beautiful resting place, she promised Mother Nature that she would extend her kindness and comfort to all and sundry, especially travelers and fishermen who seek shelter in the island.



BUT... ANOTHER VERSION

However, there is also another version of the legend, which says that this marine paradise island was the final resting place of a dragon from Siam (now Thailand) named Sri Kemboja.

This dragon had lost a brutal territorial fight with the Sri Pahang Dragon and decided to rest in the middle of the sea. Eventually he died and turned into an island – Tioman Island.

Meanwhile, the Sri Pahang Dragon was also critically injured and although he was able to return to the shores of Pahang, he succumbed to his injuries and died later.

This Sri Pahang Dragon was buried at the village called Kampung Pasir Panjang in Pekan, Pahang.

And if you were to visit the village today you will find a very long grave at the village. The grave is known as the grave of Tok Panjang.



SIDE-TRACK

Well, I’m not sure whether this version was made by "male chauvinist" story-tellers as a counter to the female version of the Tioman Princess Dragon.

But whether the Island is the resting place of a male or female dragon is not important. The Island is pure beauty, with enduring charms and captivating underwater kingdom delights.

It is in fact a gay (oh, oh... no puns intended) and merry Island.

ANOTHER VERSION OF THE LEGEND – and learn a custom (or law) of Dragons all over the world!

This legend of the Tioman Dragon has a link with the Tasek Chini ("Lake Chini") story on dragons.

The story goes that in Lake Chini there once lived a husband and wife dragons. But on one very rainy monsoon season, the lake was heavily flooded and both dragons were disoriented and couldn’t make out the boundaries of the lake.

The unusually heavy rains caused them to slowly drift to the mouth of the Pahang River and straight into the South China Sea. As the flowing waters were strong, and they were far from home they decided to swim further out to seek another place to call home.

But then, while at sea, the wife dragon remembered that she had left her favorite cindai (traditional shawl worn by ladies) and insisted that she wants to retrieve it.

After telling the husband, who had no choice but to agree (women power?) she swam back on her own and fortunately found her favorite cindai (in her driftwood cupboard, I presume).

She then lost no time to swim back to her husband in the vast South China Sea, but while swimming, her cindai got entangled and stuck at some rocks near an island in the sea.

While trying to loosen the cindai from the rocks, she heard the morning crow of the rooster, signifying the end of darkness and the start of morning.

And in strict compliance with the customary rule of all dragons – no swimming and journeying during the daytime - she immediately stopped her journey.

But charmed by the crystal clear waters, she decided to stay there a little longer.

As days moved on, she decided to stay put, and thinking that her husband would be searching for her anyway, she resolved to settle there. And years later when she died she turned into an island – the beautiful Tioman Island.

Meanwhile, the husband who had also swum far and wide in search of his wife also had to stop journeying at daybreak when he heard the crow of the rooster (dragons never break their customary laws).

He then decided to settle and wait for his wife in the middle of nowhere, and waiting in vain, eventually he also turned into an island in the South China Sea.

Well, old folks of Tioman Island and the coastal Pahang villages like to tell to their children these stories on the origin of the Island, and the connection with the legendary dragons of yesteryears.



SEE THE TRUTH OF THE LEGENDS YOURSELF

Well, legends could just be tall tales to scare children or maybe to attract visitors to the island – but then again... it might just be TRUE...

Even today, when we look at Tioman Island about half a mile from the sea, we can see the resemblance to a sleeping dragon.

Tanjung Mukut with its two high mountain peaks has a startling resemblance to the pointed horns on the head of the dragon, and Kampung Air Batang and Salang at the other end, the drooping tail of the dragon.

Coconut trees line the coastal shores of the Island. And when gently blown by the sea breeze, the swaying palms and leaves of the coconut trees, from a distance - especially at late evening and dusk - look like the skin and scales of the Dragon!!

See it yourself!!


TABOOS AND STRANGE THINGS

As the Island is said to be the remains of a Dragon, in the old days there were certain taboos for visitors to the island.

  1. It is said that vinegar ("cuka" in Malay) cannot be spilled on the island otherwise the island will shake like an earthquake. (The reason is that the dragon is trying to shake off the painful sensation caused by the spilled acid. So do be careful... if you carry vinegar, that is...but I’m not sure what you want it for).
  2. It is also said that it is taboo for visitors to take and bring back corals, pebbles or stones from the island. Otherwise when returning to the mainland, they will encounter a storm in the sea and the only way to make the storm subside is to throw back the stones. (Remember, the stones and pebbles are part of the personal property of the Tioman Dragon, and trespassers and thieves will therefore be prosecuted and penalized by DROWNING!!..ahem...just joking..)
  3. The Sungai Air Hantu ( "River of Haunted (Ghost) Water") in the Island now looks slimy and clogged. However, it is said that in the past, the spring water used to be pure and crystal clear and a source of drinking water. But then in those days, during certain times, the clear water would strangely turn red. In fact the folks say the stones formation at the headwater spring there looks like a female sex organ, explaining the somewhat strange periodic occurrences in water coloration and the ghostly name behind it, but nobody actually knows the history of these stones!


Well, enough of those frightening tales and taboos, and let’s just visit this magnificent island even if we have to swim there... but 32 km from Tanjung Gemok?.. oh..oh.. let’s take the ferry.

But hey...WAIT a minute... listen to this.


A MODERN TABOO (i.e. THE LAW)

  1. A great part of Tioman Island was gazetted in 1972 as a State Wildlife Reserve. Therefore hunting, poaching and keeping of animals, reptiles, birds and other protected wildlife are therefore strictly forbidden.
  2. Tioman Island and the surrounding islands (Tulai, Chebeh,Sepoi, Labas, Sembilang, Seri Buat, Tokong Bahara and Jahat) have been designated as a Marine Park to protect its precious marine life. The Marine Park Center is located at Tekek and there are various facilities available there. As a Marine Park,under the law, activities that are permitted are only those that do not harm or destroy marine life, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming and underwater photography. Coral and shellfish gathering and other activities that damage the marine life (…including, I believe, bringing back pebbles and stones belonging to the Dragon) are strictly prohibited. Therefore do take note that, if caught, the modern laws of arrest and prosecution will take effect. (But then perhaps, drowning the criminals through storms at sea would be a better option, right?,.… err... just joking!)



THE REALITIES (OR...THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE ISLAND)

Tioman Island is part of the Tioman Archipelago of 64 volcanic islands off the coasts of Pahang and Johore, which extend about 100km in latitude from Pulau Cebeh in the north to Pulau Tokong Yu in the south.




SIDE-TRACK

There are several islands with "Tokong" in their names in this archipelago. These are names for the extremely small islands and outcrops found there.

"Tokong" is actually a Chinese deity, and the outcrop resembles a "tokong", hence the name).



Geologists and scientists say that these islands in the Tioman Archipelago are actually the remains of high mountain ranges of yesteryears. When the sea level rose thousands of years ago, the peaks of the mountain ranges subsequently transformed into an archipelago.

Geologists believe that the Island was possibly connected both to Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo during ancient times. And recent findings showed that some of its flora and fauna were more similar to those of Borneo rather than those in Peninsular Malaysia. 


RICH FLORA AND FAUNA

You will find that this beautiful Island is home to a variety of plants and small animals, with about 141 bird species on the island. Some 45 species of mammals are protected, including the long-tailed macaque, giant black squirrel, binturong, slow loris, mouse-deer, brush–tailed porcupine and the common palm civet.

A scientific expedition to the Island in 1966 made by the National Museum of Singapore (now Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research) documented detailed reports on the animals, birds, fishes and other fauna endemic there.

And in year 2000, Dr. L. Lee Grismer, a prominent U.S. biologist, conducted an extensive 5 years research into the amphibians and reptiles of the Tioman archipelago, and made many new and amazing findings there.



DELIGHTS APLENTY FOR VISITORS

For visitors seeking fun and activities, Tioman Island offers plenty of delights, and they are never ending.

Visitors can go island-hopping, boating, or cruising in a glass-bottomed boat, or try wind-surfing and gliding.

Or just laze and bask in the sun and catch the spectacular sunrise and sunset at Juara and Salang, respectively.

As a marine paradise foremost, visitors will enjoy swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving in the crystal clear waters. Divers and snorkellers, especially, will find astounding sights underwater -- varieties of marine life, including corals and sea sponges.

Jungle trekking, bird-watching, mountain climbing (highest peak is Mount Kajang- 1,038 meters) and rock or cliff climbing, are some activities the adventurous ones can look forward to.

And you can also journey to explore the cultures and unique attractions of the various villages, including waterfalls and unspoiled rainforests.

There are several villages scattered around the coastline, with six major villages being Salang, Tekek, Genting, Paya, Mukut and Juara.

The larger villages are mainly on the west coast as they are shielded and protected from the direct force of the South China Sea.

For golf lovers, there is the 18-hole international standard golf course at Berjaya Tioman Resort - Malaysia. The Tioman Island Golf Club was officially opened on 25th May 1989 by HRH the Sultan of Pahang.

There are also places of historical interest such as a Japanese fort and mausoleums of early rulers, and visitors can visit the Museum in Tekek where items such as coins, ceramics, maps, and various artifacts salvaged from shipwrecks around the Island, are displayed.



REMINISCENCES

Well, my first visit to this legendary Island was way back in 1983, when, as part of my job, I had to familiarize myself with operations of the Merlin Samudra Tioman, the premier resort on the Island at that time. (It is now the Berjaya Tioman Resort - Malaysia, and is greatly upgraded and expanded with international standards’ facilities. I stayed at the chalets there during subsequent visits to Tioman with my family).

Well, to continue the story.…

In the morning I boarded the ferry at Mersing, Johore (Tanjung Gemok was still not developed then) traveled about 42 km and alighted the jetty at Kampung Tekek.

The whole journey from Mersing to Tekek took about three hours to reach. (Now, however, you can take a high speed ferry from Tanjung Gemok (32 km away) that takes only about an hour and a half to reach Tekek).

Needless to say, when embarking, even from the jetty I could see small colorful fishes and was immediately charmed by the island with its crystal clear waters. The aquarium-like sea with all kinds of colored fishes and corals was really breath-taking. This is indeed one of God’s beautiful creations.

(It is no wonder then the Dragon didn’t want to leave these waters!!)

Subsequent visits I made with my family to this beautiful Island (and friendly islanders) also saw progress and changes in infrastructure and facilities to cater for visitors to the Island.

But the seas and the beautiful underwater kingdoms - a marine paradise and wonderland - surrounding Tioman Island still remain the attractions. Actually I don’t know how to scuba dive and had no chance (time) to learn it, but snorkeling was quite adequate to satisfy whatever feelings of curiosity I had of the marine life underwater.

On that first visit I remember also a story that there were some wild cattle in the forests. The story then was that these cattle were brought by the Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, but were later left unattended when the soldiers left the island after their surrender. With nobody to feed and look after them, the cattle fended on their own and as a result became wild in the forests.

I am not sure whether they exist now or what happened to them subsequently.



GETTING THERE

By Air

Berjaya Air operates daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, using a 48-seater De Havilland Dash 7 aircraft.

From Kuala Lumpur, the flight takes about an hour, while it takes about 45 minutes from Singapore.

By Fast Ferry Boat

Tioman Island is accessible from either Mersing (Johore) or Tanjung Gemok (Pahang) by fast boats and ferry services.

Tanjung Gemok jetty near Rompin is situated 150 km south of Kuantan and about 60 km from Mersing. A Seri Malaysia hotel is located just near the Tanjung Gemok jetty.

The fast air-conditioned ferry takes about an hour and a half to reach Tioman Island from Tanjung Gemok, while it takes about 2 hours if from Mersing (Johore).

Visit this Useful Contacts in Pahang for the telephone numbers of ferry and air transport operators.

Check this Pahang Hotels and Resorts Directory for the list of hotels in Tioman.



Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction on the scintillating delights of this Malaysian marine paradise - its origin and legends (..and perhaps you now know one strict custom all Dragons must follow... and understand why we never can see them during the day).

Visit Tioman Island, and enjoy yourself.

In a future webpage, with the grace of God, I will take you to the various attractions in the alluring towns and villages of Tioman and the surrounding islands.

As always... from me...

*** SELAMAT DATANG*** 


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