The Dragon of Tioman Malaysia

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TCaligraphiqueioman (or Pulau Tioman) is a small island located 30 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia (around 200 km away from Singapore and 350 km from Kuala Lumpur). It has everything a small paradise can offer: from blue lagoons to white sandy beaches and a luxurious tropical forest. The dragon-like appearance of Tioman is at the root of a legend surrounding its origin: long ago a dragon princess spread her huge wings to fly from China to join her beloved prince in Singapore, stopping to rest along the way in these warm, calm waters. Yet, she became so enamoured by its beauty and the waves lapping gently at her sides that she decided to discontinue her journey, preferring to turn herself into a dragon-shaped island.

Step 1- Getting to Tioman

Accessing Tioman is quite straight forward but time consuming. There are two routes to Tioman – by sea or by air:

  • Option 1(A) – Sea (recommended)

Regular ferries run between Mersing (mainland portion of West Malasia) and Tioman.

There are many ways to Mersing:

  1. regular bus services connect Mersing to Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Singpaore.
  2. It should be easy to get cabs from KL or JB to Mersing (we haven’t yet tried), and there are always taxis touting to tourists disembarking from the ferry. Apparently cab fares should get you change from MYR200 (JB) or MYR300 (KL) depending on demand and the tourist markup they decide to charge. Note that from Singapore you’ll have to take a cab to JB – about SGD60 – and then another to Mersing, as there are restrictions on cross-border taxi operations.
  3. All the usual suspects operate car hire in JB and KL (though taxi or bus probably make more sense, as the hired car will spend most of the trip unused).
  4. Personal vehicles are convenient, if you’re fortunate enough (as we were) to have access to one. Secure parking at the ferry terminal is about MYR10 per day. (“Secure” means a parking lot, a chicken wire fence, a boom to collect fees, and a guard if you’re fortunate … though we’ve never heard of any issues.)

BlueWater Express operates the only public ferry service between Mersing and Tioman.

  • Departures were regularly at 06:30, 07:00 and 12:00 (from Mersing) or 07:00 and 14:00 (from Genting) when last we checked (though these can be unreliable and, apparently, they can be affected by tide).
  • Tickets at MYR35 each way, plus additional MYR20 National Park Preservation Fee and MYR5 Island Fee.
  • The ferry stops at the Tioman kampungs (villages) of Genting, Paya, Tekek, Juara and Air Batang: get off at Genting if you’re heading to the Dragon’s Horns: it’s about 100 mins’ ferry ride from Mersing.
  • Buy tickets in advance to avoid disappointment, particularly over weekends and public holidays. And be aware that the ferry can be overbooked – lagging at the back of the queue may see you left behind.

Other options to Tioman are

  • sweet-talk yourself onto a chartered ferry for divers (we tried and failed)
  • charter a water taxi directly from Mersing (price, safety and legality all negotiable. Expect upwards of MYR700 for the boat each way.)
  • Option 1(B) – Air (luxury soloists only).

Berjaya Air runs a regular flights on turbo-props from Subang (KL’s secondary airport) to Tekek, the administrative centre of Tioman. (Flights used to leave from Singapore’s Seletar airport, but appear cancelled for now). Tekek’s runway (TOD) rivals Lukla for excitement. Baggage allowance is strictly 10 kg, so only recommended for those leaving rack and ropes at home.

Step 2 – Getting around Tioman.

The Dragon’s Horns (Bukit Nenek Semekut) are two beautiful granite towers rising 700m above the canopy. They are located in the south part of the island, near the tiny village of Mukut. Rock Climbing in Tioman is world class experience !

Paradoxically the shortest portion of your trip can be the most expensive. Local operators have a captive market and they know it. Water taxis seating up to 8 (excl. gear) will start from MYR150 (one way, 2 pax) between Genting and Mukut, increasing with number of people, sea conditions, supply factors, and percieved gullibility. We’ve previously used Pakcik Musa (the “c” is pronounced “ch” – it’s Malay for Uncle Moses) tel. Plus.Sex.Oh-Won.three-seven.DoubleOh-For.doubleone.4

(4×4 transfers between Tekek and Juara have similarly ludicrous pricing).

Arrange the Genting-Mukut ride with your hotel if possible: Tam from Simukut Hill Village has good rates on his little 4-person launch.

Step 3 – The infamous walk-in

The jungle walk-in is half the adventure, particularly for climbers not familiar with tropical climates. First ascentionists report between two and ten days of cutting their way to the base of the climb.

Fortunately things are easier these days. Uncle Sam, the owner (and amazing chef!) of Simukut Hill Inn, has cut and maintains a trail from his resort to the horns. He charges MYR50 per person for using the trail, though discounts are available for guests of his resort. Please respect his hospitality and efforts – if you’re not prepared to pay the fee, cut your own path!

The trail wanders through a number of well-marked checkpoints and past a signed waterpoint. At the fifth checkpoint the path to the long South- and west-face climbs splits left, becoming slightly vague, while the path to east-face and North-tower climbs continues straight. You can get to the base of the climbs in under 45 mins without loads, but budget at least a full hour to CP5 with overnight packs, plus another hour to the base of the climbs. Don’t forget to keep hydrated and bring some salt tablets with you! We refilled every time from the water point without filtering (there is absolutely no human presence above the water point, so no way of getting human-borne diseases into the system) and never experienced any problems… but we have been in the tropics for 5 years … enough time to acquire immunity to various bugs.  If you have sensitive tummies, a filter is still a cheap insurance for your trip.  And if it hasn’t rained for a week or two, it might be difficult to find running rivulets.

Trail to the Dragon horns Tioman

Remember that you’re passing through an untamed jungle out there – keep your eyes peeled. Objective dangers include snakes (see D.Kazlikowski’s videos), centipedes (seen), caterpillars (experienced), bees and hornets (experienced) and leeches (reported).

Accommodation and meals.

There aren’t many accommodation options in the southern portions of Tioman.

Uncle Sam founded Simikut Hill View (formerly Tanjong Inn), located at the eastern end of Kampung Mukut. This is the premier resort for climbers. Facilities are cheap, spartan and clean – wooden chalets with a double bed, mosquito net, fan and a wet bathroom (you’re here for the climbing, aren’t you?). A relaxing garden, a private beach and a fridge of cold drinks make it ideal for off-days. One of our friend, Radek, has been to Mukut recently and has taken really nice pictures of the life there. Check his blog out.

Recently Tam Khairudin Haja, a Malaysian climber, has joined Sam – taking over administration of SHV. Tam is putting tremendous effort into developing and promoting the area. He has a strong knowledge of the routes there and we strongly recommend future parties to get in touch with him.

Cedar and Lucio stayed at Tanoshi Inn in central Mukut when they weren’t opening routes on the horns. Their enthusiasm for the place led them to name a route after the inn. We’ve never stayed there, though we’ve enjoyed great meals at their seaside restaurant.

Tanoshi Restaurant Mukut Tioman

Dirt-baggers can opt to camp in the jungle for free … but are advised to read the reports from Steve & Matt, as well as David&Eliza

Portaledges are another option. We thoroughly enjoyed our nights on the ledge. The CatWalk *seems* protected by the Great Roof above, though nature fortunately never gave us the opportunity to test this. Once above the jungle a sea breeze keeps everything surprisingly cool. Requires incessant ferrying of supplies.

Anyone looking for a five-star hotel experience are kindly pointed towards Railay, where international resorts have easy access to the One-Two-Three and Muai-Thai walls. Alternatively if you can afford the Tunamaya resort (just east of Mukut) you can afford daily water-taxis to climbing venues.

Meals options in Mukut are similarly limited. Those expecting an international menu will be sorely disappointed, those seeking exposure to genuine cuisine and culture of Malaysia will be richly rewarded. There are a handfull of restaurants in the town who seem to alternate operating hours – finding a meal means finding out who is open. Uncle Sam at Simikut Hill View seems to know just what climbers want to replenish – tasty curries and vegetables with abundant carbs – but needs advance notice to get all the ingredients.

We’re not aware of catering options in Mukut beyond simple convenience stores selling sodas and snacks. Though we like supporting local economies, we (reluctantly) advise climbers to bring all essential vertical catering with them from the Malaysian mainland.

The Dragon’s Horns on Tioman Island, Malaysia, Part1: The basics… Access and accommodation
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