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DIVING AT TIOMAN ISLAND MALAYSIA

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My Guide to Diving at Tioman Island, Malaysia

Tioman Island thrusts up dramatically from the South China Sea. Long famed as the film location of ‘Bali Hai,’ the classic American movie, Tioman is a large jungle-clad mountainous island still retaining a wild rather undeveloped atmosphere.Tioman’s west coast is blessed with several lush bays supporting small villages and/or low-key resorts accessed mainly by boat. The even more remote east coast is largely untouched, offering long sweeping beaches with a few budget surfers’ hang outs. Tioman’s interior consists of undisturbed tropical jungle.

 

Approach to Salang Bay, Tioman Island, Malaysia

 

Tioman’s western bays each possess their own distinct atmosphere governed in large part by who visits. Some areas cater to Muslim Malaysian tourists, some to Chinese Singaporeans and Malaysians, some mainly to western tourists.Most westerners stay at Salang Bay or ABC Beach. A few base themselves at Tioman’s local village, Tekek. More upscale tourists sometimes opt for Tioman’s only sort-of 5-star resort near the airport / Tekek village for a slightly more luxurious visit.

Adventurous travelers may like to check out areas catering to Muslim or Chinese tourists, but they should be prepared for large noisy groups! Check out Tioman’s accommodation details in any Malyasia guidebook.

 

diving at Tioman Island - Malaysia

diving at Tioman Island

Divers at Soyak Island, just off shore Salang Bay

Tioman’s scuba diving is greatly eclipsed in fame by Malaysia’s northern Perentian Islands which are promoted heavily by budget guidebooks. This detoured promotion has both advantages and disadvantages for Tioman’s diving scene.

Tioman dive shops are unfortunately suffering. Year by year business continues Decreasing rather than increasing due to little fault of their own. Ironically, that’s a bonus for visiting divers: dive shops and sites are quite Uncrowded. Customers receive excellent service in small groups for both courses and dive tours.

turtles are commonly sighted at Tioman

Although Tioman hasn’t received due recognition like the Perentians, it offers superb diving: gorgeous hard coral sites, astounding sea fans, shipwrecks, a huge abundance and variety of fish, great macro life, and frequent sitings of turtles and sharks. I personally rank several Tioman dive sites as the most gorgeous hard coral and sea fan sites I’ve yet to encounter.

clown fish in anemone at Tioman

Tioman also offers fantastic night diving right off Salang beach. In addition, Tioman’s calm clear shallow waters present great opportunities to start diving or take advanced courses all the way up to DiveMaster, Instructor and Technical Specialist.

gorgeous Blue-Ringed Angelfish at Tioman

About 12 regularly visited dive sites are located a mere 5-15 minutes by comfortable diving speedboats from Salang Beach. Those dives are also accessed from several other beaches / dive shops on Tioman’s west coast, particularly ABC Beach.

Lash night diving at Tioman

In June to September, 2005, I worked at Salang as a Dive Master guiding certified divers on Tioman’s beautiful reefs. Salang is also where I first took up night diving, now one of my favorite diving activities.

Night diving at Salang is super easy. Just walk in from the beach to dive Salang’s shallow house reef or walk 100M along the boat jetty, jump in and explore the jetty’s intriguing underside. Roger’s Wreck, a wooden fishing boat just offshore, also makes an excellent night dive with some amazing mysterious creatures that I’ve yet to identify!

Pulau Soyak, just off shore Salang Beach

My favorite dive sites at Tioman include:

Soyak Island, just off Salang Beach, for its astounding shallow hard coral reef and plentiful fish.
Ringus Island and Malang, a bit further afield, for more stunning hard coral reefs.
Chebeh for beautiful and abundant sea fans.
Roger’s Wreck, a wooden fishing boat complete with mast, just offshore at Salang.
Fan Canyon, Labas, and Tiger Reef for rocky canyons/crevices with abundant nudibranches and sea fans.
Salang Beach and Jetty for night diving.

Batu Malang with Tioman in background

Malaysia’s National Marine Park based at Tioman has a multiple-wreck site. They’ve sunk a group of about 7 variously-sized ships and strung them together with ropes for navigation. Visibility is generally quite poor, which makes exploring the group of wrecks even more fun and mysterious.

Several other interesting sites are dependent on sea current conditions so are visited less frequently. They include Magician’s Rock, Sepoi Island, and several sites along Tioman’s western shores.

If you’re traveling through SE Asia and want to experience excellent diving at a laid-back tropical paradise island, skip over-rated jam-packed Perentian Islands and venture out to Tioman instead. You won’t be disappointed.

While working at Tioman as a Dive Master, I  met and worked with fellow PADI Master Scuba Instructor and underwater photographer, Grahame Massicks. Grahame has now been teaching courses at Tioman for over 10 years. (and see his photos in this article.)

If you’re thinking of diving there, I highly recommend Grahame, who I can personally vouch for as a dedicated, professional PADI Instructor with excellent customer service. Find out all about Grahame and his courses on his website Scuba Guru.

Soyak at sunset from Salang Beach

DIVING DETAILS:

LOCATION: East coast of Peninsular Malaysia, far south coast, fairly close to Singapore
DIVE SEASON: Feb to end Oct. * Feb and March can be choppy seas but with great viz.
WATER TEMPS: 28°- 30°C Occasionally may drop to 25°C in thermoclines or rare weather conditions
DIVE DEPTHS: 3 M- 30M+
DIVE LEVELS: all levels from beginner to technical diver, specific to dive site
GETTING THERE: 1. FLIGHT: Tioman has a small airport.. From there you can catch a boat to the bay/beach you wish to stay at.
OVERLAND: From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, take a long distance bus (~5 hours) to Mersing. From there catch one of many ferries to your selected beach. 1 to 2 hour trip. You can also catch a bus to Mersing from Singapore or Johor Baru, Malaysia.

(** all photos in this post by Grahame Massicks **)

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  1. Suzy

    Tioman island sounds very mysterious and magical. That is cool you can do night diving. I imagine diving at night makes you feel like you are being let in on the secrets of the sea.

  2. LASH

    Yeah, night diving is amazing. It's so quiet, peaceful, dark. I feel really safe and cozy somehow. The dive sites are entirely different at night- different creatures,no panoramic reef views, lost sense of bouyancy. very cool experience.. unless you're afraid of the dark! that doesn't work too well…

  3. LASH

    THanks Annie. If you have any Qs on diving in Asia, just pop by here or my FB page: LashWorldTour Where have you been diving so far?

  4. Esther Ling

    Hi Lash,

    Looks like somebody has a blast on Tioman :)

    Tioman rocks, especially the current months, with visibility usually 30m or more, especially near locations like Chebeh.

    Also, to those reading your blog and thinking of going to Tioman in the future, try Pulau Renggis, just off the village off Tekek. It’s awesome diving there, due to the brightly colored coral patches everywhere, as well as the resident turtles and reef tips – a little unusual because of its proximity to the main island. Still, not to be missed, particularly at night.

    However, I suggest booking your Tioman ferry in advance, because the ferries are the bottle-neck more often than not these days, partly because the fast ferries to Tioman have been taken out of service, along, in fact, with the slower ferries and the bum boats. Only the regular ferries remain.

    Tickets are available from Blue Water Express.

    Tioman boleh :)

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Esther,

      Thanks for the input on diving Tioman. I agree that Ringis is a great dive spot, too! I have several Tioman dive stories I haven’t quite had time to get around to polishing and publishing. As for visibility, I found it to vary tremendously, from 30 M to a mere 5 M at all Tioman dive sites.

      Good to know about the ferry service, too. cheers, Lash

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