Shaped like a giant apostrophe, located in the South China Sea 54km northeast of Mersing, PULAU TIOMAN is the largest of the 64 volcanic islands that form the Seribuat Archipelago. Ever since the 1970s – when Time magazine ranked Tioman as one of the world’s ten most beautiful islands – sun worshippers and divers have been flocking to its palm-fringed shores, in search of the mythical Bali H’ai (the island in the Hollywood musical South Pacific, which was filmed on Tioman).
It could be argued that this popularity, and the duty-free status designated by Malaysian Customs, have dented the romantic isolation that once made the island so desirable. Pulau Tioman does, however, display a remarkable resilience, and you’ll miss out if you fail to visit – the greater part of the island retains something of its intimate, village atmosphere, probably due to the lack of a decent road network. Anyone in search of unspoiled beaches is likely to be disappointed, though superb exceptions do exist; divers and snorkellers will find plenty to enjoy, and there are also opportunities to take jungle hikes in the largely untouched interior.
Accommodation possibilities range from international-standard resorts to simple beachfront A-frames; it takes time and/or money to get from one beach to another, so choose your destination carefully. During the monsoon, from November to February/March, the whole island winds down dramatically; many places close until at least mid-January. July and August are the busiest months, when prices increase and accommodation is best booked in advance; visibility for divers is also at its lowest during these months.