Bobbi and I have just arrived in Malaysia and set up residence in Penang. We had a hankering to get wet so as soon as the opportunity presented itself we arranged a trip to Tioman. We googled diving there and found Scuba Guru Grahame Massicks, and as we often do, chose to dive with him because his blog at http://tioman-scuba.com/ showed a depth knowledge of the area, and basically because he answered his emails and kept us updated daily on various aspects of our getting there and diving with him. He asked if he could team us on boat dives with his advanced open water students, but it was really no big deal to us, and I don't know what our alternatives would have been with most of the diving on Tioman being focused on training, but we enjoyed our five dives with Scuba Guru over the three days we were there.
Bobbi checking out the swing at the end of the jetty on arrival in Salang, Tioman
We arrived on the island at around lunchtime Sunday September 9, 2018. It happened to be an eid weekend and the boats to Tioman the day before had been full, so we had spent an extra night in Malacca, taken a bus to Mersing on Saturday, where the harbor is, and made our way to the harbor after breakfast Sunday to catch the 10:30 a.m. Bluewater ferry, which made several stops on Tioman, Salang being the furthest north and the last stop. Grahame had emailed that he would meet us at the Salang Dreams restaurant right at the end of the jetty, where he suggested we take some lunch on the breezy veranda. Wherever we decided to eat in Salang, all options were at tables under shady roofs open on all sides to the pleasant weather.
Grahame had arranged our accommodation. The first night we stayed in an air-con room at the Mutiara Resort, through it was more like, and was in fact, a last resort. The Mutiara was almost as far out the paved surface as you could walk from the jetty, but still only about 5 or 10 minutes. There were campers on the beach just outside our room, and immediately opposite there was a table with fixed benches and a shade overhead, where local lads liked to congregate and play hip hop at high volume on their cell phones. The cottages shared walls with the neighbors, so we heard them as well, but at night the place was quiet, and the air con could be set at 24 degrees and it would keep the room at exactly that without blowing all over us, so it was ok for sleeping at least. But the facilities were poorly maintained, the toilet spewed water all over the floor when flushed (clean water, but still ... ) and the hairballs covering the drains and on the floor of the bathroom could easily have been removed before new guests checked in. The Mutiara also had the distinction on Trip Advisor of having no 'excellent' or 'good' ratings. All their ratings when we checked them out before we got there were 'average', 'poor', or 'terrible.'
But Grahame said it was the only room left in Salang that night in that price range, 130 ringgit because it was air con. And it was right next to Ella's place, the farthest place up the paved walk, where he had booked us into a fan cooled room for 80 rm a night the next two days. It was near the cottage where Grahame stayed, and also just steps from the dive center. Ella's was a much more pleasant and quieter place, with stand alone cottages providing some privacy from the neighbors (who happened to be Oscar and Frances, the advanced students whom we dived with Monday and Tuesday). Ella's Place took us back to our hippy travel days with colorful sunsets from our porch which we enjoyed over beer that Grahame kept cool for us in his fridge in his cottage, and banana pancakes in the morning from the rustic restaurant about ten paces from our room (no music or late nights there, thankfully, and any noise in the morning got drowned out by the whir of the fan).
Posted on Facebook September 11: Sunset from our bungalow and breakfast views from Ella's Place, where we shifted after a night at Mutiara (last) resort. Note the archetypical banana pancakes and fruit platter, throwbacks to a simpler era of travel. One more day of diving then we ferry back to the mainland and grab whatever buses will get us back to Penang via KL BTS.
So once we were settled in at the Mutiara our first day there, we walked with Grahame down to the dive center where he proposed a choice of shore dives, one off the jetty (a lot of boat traffic there, didn't appeal) and another about 100 meters due west from the dive center, where a confiscated boat had been sunk in the sand. It had mostly decomposed, but it had attracted a lot of fish, including a school of young barracudas. Grahame describes the site on his blog, calling it the Salang Bay Wreck dive, http://tioman-scuba.com/salang-bay-wreck-2/. As this was my first dive since last June, I didn't really care where we went as long as it was wet, and we ended up enjoying the dive and getting to know Grahame and his methods. And of course, he was checking us out as well.
Our first boat dive the following day was on the Sipidan Wreck, deliberately decommissioned and sunk recently to create an artificial reef as a substrate for the propagation of fish life. Here is Grahame's write-up of this dive site: http://tioman-scuba.com/km-sipidan-wreck-2/ and here is the link to our video,
On this dive, Grahame was guiding his PADI advanced o/w students Oscar and Francis on their deep dive down to 30 meters. Grahame brought his students up after 20 minutes but he told us we could stay as long as we liked on the wreck as long as we avoided deco. It was similar to the Inchcape wrecks in the UAE, and we basically descended and looked around it. It's a pretty typical wreck, with a fish ball of jack fish off its bow and more jacks at the stern. The video is here, https://youtu.be/jnx4ZSEoj28
Our second dive of the day was at Rengis Island. The video is here, https://youtu.be/3mVfKD7_mTw, and here is Grahame's write-up of the site: http://tioman-scuba.com/rengis-island-2/
This video shows me, Vance, diving as usual with my favorite dive buddy Bobbi and with Grahame's PADI advanced o/w students Oscar and Francis. On this dive, Grahame points out a small critter in the sand, not sure exactly what it is. This is followed by a remora looking in vain for a host. Then suddenly a blacktip shark makes a surprise appearance and vanishes. Then I film a puffer enjoying a wrasse cleaning station, and pan to an unusually curious cuttlefish who seems to be fascinated with the camera. At the end of our dive we spend our safety stop in a long visit with a turtle
Videos from our next day diving on Tiger Reef and nearby Labas Island are posted on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/eRiou839JNI
Grahame's write-up on Tiger Reef is here: http://tioman-scuba.com/golden-reef-and-tiger-reef/, and for Labas Island, with its swim-throughs: http://tioman-scuba.com/labas/. Mine follows:
On Tuesday September 11, 2018, the five of us dived together on Tiger Reef and Labas Island. Visibility was limited on both dives, but the first site, Tiger Reef, had a stiff current, which proved challenging for the just-certified in open water advanced students. The dive was short but nice and featured juvenile barracudas, morays, and blue spotted rays. The site is approximately mid-way between Sepoi and Labas Islands, which explains the current in the channel.
Back on board the boat, we motored over to the shelter of Labas Island, and after a brief surface interval we dived from where the boat was, which I presume was not just any place, but a place where Grahame knew we would find numerous swim-throughs. For the next hour he led us in a world of pretty blue anemones and a variety of soft and hard corals. Here you can see for yourself:
Bobbi and I spent all day before our trip booking bus tickets to Malacca, accommodation there for two nights, and the onward bus from Malacca Sentral to Mersing, and accommodation in Mersing. Then we had to figure out the Tioman ferry schedule (changes daily according to tide, or sometimes cancelled or delayed due to weather) and book the trip out, confusing if you haven't done it before.
There are several options leaving Penang. We live between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi so in order of distance we would have to travel to catch the bus, we could go to the Georgetown jetty on a public bus or Grab and get the boat to Butterworth where there should be many buses to KL or all the way to Malacca. Timing on this trip would be difficult to gauge, since we'd have to catch a ferry, frequent, but hard to book the bus in advance. Or we could try to get a bus in Komtar, the business district on the far side of Georgetown from the Jeti but not that much further from where we live, and go to Meleka or KL / Meleka from there, or we could go to the main bus station in Sungai Nibong in the south of Penang Island, where there were numerous buses to Meleka or KL. That would be the most distant ride from our house.
We decided to book a bus all the way to Malacca from Komtar. We woke up early and packed and got down to the gate to our compound in plenty of time we thought, but it took almost half an hour to get a Grab driver to come up there. We still made it to Komtar with time to spare but there was construction on the roads in the area that had consumed the address we had for the bus station. We ended by going to a street with bus ticketing agents to see if they could help us find our bus. It turned out the bus would stop right there, so we were relieved, and even had time to run over to a food court and pick up some nasi lemak, rice packs in banana leaves, and some other snacks we could try out on the bus to Malacca, unfamiliar to us but delicious. After all you can hardly go wrong on Penang street food.
We had booked a homestay place in Malacca, a bit of a risk, but this one turned out to be a jewel. It's called The Paradise on Booking.com, at $35 for two nights. It was a short walk to the Jonker Street heritage area but was in a quiet residential part of town with many restaurants nearby. Our room had a bath and was air-conditioned, one of just three or four bedrooms in the house. We could use the kitchen and relax in the common living area. The manager was friendly and helpful when he was there, but most of the time there was no one there but us.
We spent two nights there so we had a full day in the town. We walked as far as the floating mosque a few km away but mainly spent time along the river.
One little Thai restaurant with tables on the river bank had a promotion on pints of beer, only 8 ringgit each, which is just a ringgit or two more than it costs in the supermarket. It was very tempting to relax there watching the bateaux mouches go up and down the river carrying tourists who thought taking a boat ride might be a good idea. That didn't appeal to us but there was much about Malacca that was appealing.
The riverside restaurant with the beer promotion was just down to the left from this building in Malacca
Other things worth noting in Malacca were the street art and the ridiculously decorated hello kitty pedicabs (another kind of street art),
At dinner time we noticed that one of the best hotels in town had a buffet of Thai and nyonya food for about $25, but half price for seniors over 60. That's not bad for an all you can eat buffet, see http://www.casadelrio-melaka.com/special/riverside-bbq-buffet (and you can also get half price if your birthday falls within the month you eat there), so that's where we ate, and just a short walk back to our homestay.
There were only two buses a day to Mersing from Malacca, one early morning, and the other at 12:45 pm. We had booked the latter so we had a leisurely start to our day with Malaysian coffee, bags dropped into cups of water heated in our kitchen, and then we caught a Grab to the bus station where we had time to have lunch in the food court. We had no trouble catching the bus, it wasn't full, and we arrived in Mersing well before dark. We walked out to the ferry terminal a km away from the station because someone told us there was an extra ferry sheduled that night, so we should be able to get our tickets for the next day. It was worth going there and showing them our voucher which we had to have printed (according to their web site, one of the many anxieties we expected to have to deal with to catch the boat). We found the man at "counter 21" actually an office, who helped us with an explanation of what to do next day. We should be there an hour early for a 10:30 ferry he told, us and assured us he would be there to help us on the morrow.
The only problem was that we had taken a hotel, the Merlin Mersing, a couple of km north of the jetty complex. Tripadvisor feedback suggested it was quiet due to its isolation. In fact it was too far out of town for having to get back there next morning to get a ferry. Fortunately, the Merlin provided transport in the morning after telling us initially there was no one available to take us, relenting only when we showed them where they advertised on their web site transfers to the ferry terminal. It wasn't that quiet either probably because of the eid weekend. The hotel was crowded and families congregated at the balconies outside our room. Still after a nice meal and a couple of beers we slept well, and had a buffet breakfast before having to set off in the morning.
Next time we do this it will be easier. But once at the jetty we had to meet the man at counter 21 who guided us to the place where we would get our ticket and another window where we had to pay a marine reserve fee. Outside there were a lot of people waiting around but no obvious signage on where to catch the ferry. We asked at an agent's in the terminal building and she said we had to go to the next building over. Eventually we worked out that this was what we had just done, but someone showed us the departure terminal where a line was forming, so we got in it. This line was to exchange a ticket for a boarding pass, but the agent when it was our turn merely tore our ticket a certain way that only agents know how to do, and pointed us to gate 4, where the ferry was waiting outside.
Once on the ferry the whole process seemed simple and efficient. Next time we'll know how to do it and what to expect. Anyway, we had got that far, and next stop would be Salang on Tioman.
To get back home, we got up at 4:30 a.m. to be sure and catch the boat leaving from this jetty to Mersing. We were told it would leave at 7 but in fact it left at 6:30, so good thing we were on hand for its departure.
From the jetty in Mersing we got a taxi to the bas steson, good thing there as well because we were able to get a 10 am bus to KL we would have missed had we walked the km to the steson.
Bobbi on the bus from Mersing to Kuala Lumpur
We arrived in KL at 4:15 pm. We bought a ticket for a bus to Penang leaving in 10 min, but KL TBS terminal is amazingly efficient. Buses less so because we didn't reach Penang, Butterworth actually, till 10 pm, then sat on a stationary shuttle bus for 30 min, to take us to the ferry leaving at 11:10 pm for the Georgetown jetty, That gets you to the Georgetown Jeti bas steson just in time to miss your last bus going wherever it is you're headed, because we weren't the only ones caught out by the unexpectedly long delay crossing the channel.
Fortunately Grab provided a driver to take us way out to Tanjung Bunga and home for just $3.25. The whole trip home cost $10 each per bus or ferry ticket (except the shuttle in Butterworth was free and the Butterworth/Penang ferry is about half a dollar for two). Frankly, beats plane travel. There's no airport on Tioman anyway.
The videography here is by Vance Stevens, PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181
For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube
Incidentally, I'm using a Rollei camera on these dives, a handheld camera similar to GoPro but different in some respects. First, it was a lot cheaper than a GoPro, and has markedly better battery life, but it is not as reliable and seamless to handle as is GoPro. If it's not monitored during the dive, it can switch off and possibly loose videos. When it switches off pressing the record button switches it on, and if your subject has appeared suddenly you might not notice that it's not yet recording. To use it effectively I've got to keep its display on throughout the dive. That means I need to check for display frequently and if I notice the display has gone off, I have to press record to wake it up. Only in that mode is it ready for quick deployment, but if you don't wake it up in time then it powers down and you have to essentially restart it, and functionality becomes unpredictable.