Chinese New Year is a BIG deal in Singapore! The kids got three days off of school; Friday, Monday and Tuesday. We planned a weekend in Tioman Island, which is just off the east coast of Malaysia. It was super cheap because it is the rainy season, but we still got to have a bit of fun.
Before you can spend a weekend in Tioman, you have to get there first. We hired a driver to drive us to Mersing, Malaysia from Singapore. You can get up at 2am to make the ferry that leaves at 7:30am, and a lot of people do that, but we decided not to. Instead we drove to Mersing on Thursday night, which was heavy with CNY vacation traffic. It took hours to cross the border, which would only have taken 20 minutes on a regular day. But, once we crossed into Malaysia, it didn’t take too long. We bunked in for the night in Mersing. In the morning we had breakfast, packed up and headed to the ferry. The boat was fast and there was several stops at a few of the jetties along the island before we got to ours.
There are also buses that travel to Mersing Jetty from different spots in Singapore. You can read all about those options here. If you are interested in hiring a driver there are many options you can find online.
We took our luggage, got off the boat and walked to our hotel (about a 5 min walk). The small village of Paya was tiny. It would be a great place for small kids to run around without too many dangerous obstacles. The Paya Beach Spa and Dive Resort was bigger than expected but our rooms were just OK. The pool was literally right out of our front door. There are two other resorts you can stay at on Paya Beach.
Outside of our window was a small lagoon; an inlet from the sea that filled with water at high tide. A large troop of monkeys called it their home, and except for a rogue monkey who rummaged through garbage cans around the pool area, they mostly stayed in the back.
Along with the monkeys there were also 6-8 monitor lizards of various sizes. There were some BIG ones. Luckily they stayed in the back among the bushes, trees and water. They are attracted to food and snacks so keep things clean in and around where you are staying.
The food was good—waffles with chocolate or berries in Paya village. The sweet and sour pork was yummy. Fried rice in the morning. The resort has a few different food options onsite and food packages you can book with your rooms.
We had a snorkeling trip scheduled, an ATV trip for the 6 of us, a waterfall hike and just some beach time planned for our weekend. We generally had an activity in the morning, then would hang out in the pool or on the beach in the afternoon and take a walk to the village for lunch or a snack. And there was constant entertainment in the form of kittens, all over the place. The kids were in heaven!
Our snorkeling trip was definitely a highlight of our weekend in Tioman. The water is clear and blue with lots to see. We headed out with gear and a change of clothing, but the clothing was not needed. The weather was great and the ocean was very pleasant to swim in. It was not cold and all.
Paya Beach Spa and Dive Resort has many packages you can choose from for snorkeling and chances are the other resorts will have similar ones. You can also choose one of the few scuba companies to book a dive with. There are a few wrecks in the area, but some are just sunken cars put there to create a dive for the companies. Even if you don’t pay for a snorkeling trip, Paya Beach is a fantastic place to wade into the water and instantly see fish and the beauty of the ocean. You can rent gear from the resort and enjoy yourself right away.
The hike to Kampong Asah Waterfall was easy and a great break. It was such a well paved hike all the way up to the waterfall that even younger kids could do it. And it’s a refreshing swim after sweating in the jungle. If you are going hiking, don’t forget your bug spray! There are a lot of big mosquitoes waiting on the trails.
We rented 3 ATV’s for 6 people to ride, from Paya Resort. The ATV’s were small and it was challenging to steer without getting caught in the roots and bushes. You want to be sure the driver has some maneuvering skills and the passenger holds on tight. We made a stop at the Mother Willow Tree next to a wonderful waterfall with a pool of water to swim.
Good Things to Know
Don’t forget your passport and bring Malaysian Ringgit for purchases. There is only one ATM on the island so bring enough cash for your entire trip. There are very few shops to spend it in, but if you want little trinkets or a sarong, having cash is the best. The conversion rate (at January 2020) is about 1 MYR= .25 cents USD or (.33 cents SGD). (Use the currency converter widget on the right hand side for up to date rates).
The island is small, so you only need a weekend in Tioman to get a taste of all it has to offer. However, pre-booking excursions at the resort you are staying can be an easy way to be sure you get in all you want to do. Also be sure to pre-book your transport so you know where you are going and when.
If you want to go to a different beach on Tioman or beach hop for the day, you can rent a water taxi to take you around. It’s easy to book through the concierge at the resort and reasonably priced. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! A small island beach, limited internet access and only the ocean to keep you busy can be a great way to unwind and reconnect with yourself and anyone you take along.
Want to explore other places in Malaysia? Try this road trip to Genting Highlands. Or before coming to Tioman, get the most out of your time in Singapore with this 3 day itinerary and add in these nature walks that will get you moving!