Whether you saw it in “South Pacific” movie, in the best islands ratings by TIME Magazine or CNN Travel, or whether it was a legend about the dragon princess which attracted your attention, Tioman Island is one of the best diving destinations in the South China Sea. So do not just read or watch a movie about it, try to discover by yourself this Nudibranchs paradise as well as Turtles and Sharks, hard and soft corals, wrecks and smallest sea inhabitants several miles away from the eastern coast of Malaysia.
There are 9 islands which form Pulau Tioman Marine Park. They are Pulau Tulai, Pulau Tokong Bahara, Pulau Sepoi, Pulau Gut, Pulau Labas, Pulau Chebeh, Pulau Seri Buat, Pulau Sembilang, and the biggest 20 km (12 miles) long Pulau Tioman.
The most popular way of getting to Pulau Tioman is to catch a ferry at Mersing or Tanjung Gemok in the state of Johor. First, you need to get there by a bus from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru or Singapore. Another option is to go there by car or mini-van. One of the main ferry operators is Blue Water Express. It has stops in all the main towns of Pulau Tioman. If you prefer to hire a private boat or a yacht, it is also possible from these ports. It can take you from 1.5 hours up to 2.5 hours to get to the Island depending on the vessel type.
During the wet season, the operation of ferries can be ceased. It also good to know that ferries don’t provide services when it gets dark, so better arrive in the early afternoon or stay overnight at Mersing or Tanjung Gemok.
There is an airport at Pulau Tioman. The only way to get there now by a plane is to take a flight from System Aviation Services on Cessna Grand Caravan which can take aboard up to 10 passengers. It will take you about 1.15 hour to get to the Island. The flights are made from Subang Airport, Kuala Lumpur. Please note that there are no longer flights by Berjaya Air to Tioman neither from Kuala Lumpur nor from Singapore.
Pulau Tioman is one of the most popular diving destinations for divers from Singapore. That is why there are many 3-days liveaboard packages when you start on Friday being back to Singapore late on Sunday. It might save your time and nerves. So traveling on a liveaboard from Singapore might be the best option to dive at Pulau Tioman.
You will need to pay a small Island fee of 5 Malaysian Ringgit (~1.2USD) and a National Park fee of 20 Malaysian Ringgit (~4.9USD) required for preservation purposes. It is difficult to find ATMs at Pulau Tioman as well as to pay with the card, so you’d better take cash with you.
The sea temperature will hardly get lower than 27ºC (80ºF), so a 3mm wetsuit is a good choice. A wetsuit instead of a shorty might better protect you from coral cuts which can be dangerous if not washed and treated with antiseptic straight away. It might seem funny but you should watch out for sharp teeth of Triggerfish especially during April and May. These are the months of their mating and nesting season. So fish might get aggressive trying to protect their nests.
If you are interested in Project AWARE reef clean-up programs, you can check with the dive clubs as they offer special packages, for example at Pulau Tulai Island.
Best dive sites overview
Tioman Island offers about 30 dive sites for your underwater adventure. Some of them can be reached right from the shore, like House Reef and Thai Boat Wreck. House Reef has the average depth of 5-15m (16-49ft.) so it perfectly fits beginners and can be used for night dives with its reach reef life.
For more experienced divers it is highly recommended to go to less impaired off-shore destinations to the northwest from the Island, like Pulau Chebeh, Pulau Labas, and Pulau Tulai. Exposition of these dive sites to the currents brings more underwater life and pelagic. It might be a good idea to take a buoy with you for such dives.
Those who prefer caves and challenges of swimming through the underwater corridors and tunnels should try southern dive sites, like Pulau Jahat. You might be able to meet Sharks, Jacks, and Barracudas there.
Chebeh Island it sub-divided into several dive sites depending on the currents. Whale Shark and Manta Ray were spotted at this Island between April and October, so you can give it a try. Besides watching Snapper, Trevally, Jack, and Triggerfish you can try swimming through the tunnels in volcanic rocks. There is a cavern at 21m (68 ft.) covered with Glassfish and other inhabitants.
If you prefer to dive at a less-known spot, then you need to travel about 2 hours in a boat to get to Batu Sepoi. The average depth is 10-18m (32-59ft.) with currents which can change from medium to strong. However, the benefit of the currents is a high chance of seeing Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Shark, Barracuda, and Jacks.
Another place for advanced divers reachable within 25-minutes to the east from Pulau Tioman is Fan Canyon. The name will not deceive you as there will be plenty of huge Gorgonias. These corals are very fragile and care should be taken when diving next to them. Nudibranch amateurs will be excited to find more than 5 varieties of this species here. The depth ranges between 18-26m (59-85ft.).
After 35-minutes transfer by the boat to the northwest, advanced divers can reach Tiger Reef. This is a channel between the 2 islands which means that currents can be very strong. The average depth is 10m (32ft.) with the maximum of 25m (82ft.). You will enjoy the rocky seascape together with the whole variety of hard and soft corals as well as Snapper, Tuna, Trevally, Angelfish, Parrotfish, Pufferfish, and Blacktip Reef Shark.
KM Sipadan Wreck
A 31m (101ft.) long former Royal Malaysian Navy Warship was sunk in 2012 to become a new wreck dive site. This is the site for advanced divers and Nitrox dives as she lies at the depth of 30m (98ft.) with her upper deck at 18-25m (59-82ft.). With some care, you can try to penetrate the vessel. It is said that the captain’s toilet is still in working condition. Thus, you can try to flash it and see.
Best dive season
It is good to know that you can travel to Pulau Tioman in any month of the year. However, it is better to avoid heavy showers between November and February; the weather during that period is under the influence of monsoon. It is much more pleasant to arrive at the Island during the dry season. It lasts between the middle of November and the middle of February when July and August are the best months.
If visibility is very important for you, then schedule a trip in the middle of February-March or in September-October. The visibility is usually the best during these months, in the range between 15-30m (49-98ft.).
Please note that there are long schools holidays in Malaysia and Singapore which start around 20th of November and they last till the first days of January. So if you prefer fewer people around then better avoid this period.
The visibility depends on the season. It is usually much better at the beginning and at the end of the dry season. Between April and August, the visibility drops to lower values of 8-12m (26-39ft.).
The water temperature stays within 27-29ºC (80-84ºF) all the year round. Currents are mild at the dive sites not far from the shore though they can become strong in the exposed areas and especially in channels between the Islands.
Pulau Tioman Marine Park provides shelter to a large number of corals. Among the most famous there are Gorgonias, Sponges, Fire Corals, and Table corals. Some of the corals plantations suffered from coral bleaching in 1998. However, the current status of corals is good. Only in some places with shallow waters where the temperature can go several degrees higher, there can be some corals with signs of bleaching.
The Park with its coral plantations is a farm to a various number of Nudibranch species. If you are a macro life fan, do not forget your camera in order to scrutinize all the details after your dive.
In case, you like blue colored creatures try to find Blue-spotted Ray, Blue Triggerfish, and even a Blue-ringed Octopus. Green and Hawksbill Turtles are often seen at many dive sites. The dominant fish families at Pulau Tioman are Butterflyfish, Rabbitfish, Parrotfish, Wrasse, Grouper, Fusilier, and Damselfish. Sharks are represented by Nurse Shark, Whitetip and BlackTip Reef Shark. You can try to visit the Island during April and October as there is a high chance to encounter Manta Ray and Whale Shark. If you are to visit Pulau Tioman in February you can be lucky to watch Cuttlefish during their mating season.
As most of the dive sites are quite close to the shore, you can give your preference to the accommodation on the island. Liveaboard is also possible especially if you are taking a boat from Singapore. You will be able to see a larger variety of dive sites from liveaboard then there are usually done during the daily diving trips.
If you prefer to stay on the land, then you can choose from 4 main areas: Tekek, Juara, Salang and Air Batang (the locals also call it ABC). Salang offers a large variety of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. So you should get ready for some noise. Juara and Air Batang are quieter; several luxury resorts are located there.
Pulau Tioman is one of the favorite places for divers from Singapore, so you can find some packaged land offers from Singapore starting on Friday late afternoon and returning at 10pm on Sunday. Such itinerary usually includes all the transfers from Singapore to Mersing port and back, accommodation at one of the resorts, and 6 dives including a night dive.
Berjaya Tioman Resort
A luxury Resort on the western coast of Pulau Tioman offers Malay-style Chalets and Suites each with a private balcony. Wooden furniture and floors make you feel closer to the Mother Nature. There are 2 restaurants, 2 bars and a lounge on the Resort territory. When tired of diving you can take a treatment at Spa or practice some tennis on one of the courts. There is also a golf course with sea and rainforest views for those who might be interested.
Bagu Place Retreat
In the very southern part of the Island, there is a luxury Bagu Place Retreat. This is an all-inclusive private Resort with breathtaking views over the sea and Twin Peaks Mountain. All of 10 well-equipped Chalets are situated right next to the sea so you can hear the sounds of waves. If you are traveling as a couple and would like more romance, then try to stay at Tree Chalet. It is built around a real tree with a circular bedroom and a fantastic view from the balcony. Besides diving and snorkeling at the nearby reef, the Resort offers aromatherapy massages on the open air terrace.
Japamala Resort by Samadhi
Japamala Resort combines jungle and beach hotel built under the eco-friendly concept to minimize the impact on the nature. Guests can choose between Treetop and Seacliff Chalets as well as from different types of rooms called “Sarangs” (from Malaysian word “nest”). If you hunger for more luxury, then choose Penghulu’s House with its own hydro pool, kitchenette, aromatic turndown, and walk-in wardrobe.
You might be pleased to find 2 restaurants, a boutique and Spa on the territory of the Resort. A private speed boat is used to transfer the guests from the mainland to Pulau Tioman. The Resort is serviced by the Tioman Dive Center.
Paya Beach Spa & Dive Resort
This is the only beach resort in Paya Village which is located in the center of the west coast of Pulau Tioman. There are 7 different types of Malaysian-style Chalets to choose from Standard to Deluxe, each of them features a private balcony. The Resort offers 2 pools, restaurant, bar, beach club as well as Spa and Children Playgroup. A dive center “Paya Divers Cove” is located right on the territory of the Resort. They are offering daily diving trips as well as dive courses.
Tynamaya Beach and Spa Resort
The Resort offers its guests 54 accommodations divided into Beach Villas and Rainforest villas each with a balcony and tea/coffee making facilities. Wooden furniture and floor, rattan chairs, all of these will give you the needed rest after the dive. Moreover, there is a Spa offering different rituals and treatments. Snorkeling is possible in the reef located next to the hotel.
Tioman Dive Resort
Tioman Dive Resort is situated in Ayer Batang Bay and it was built by B&J Dive Center. The Dive Center is located right next to the Resort. There are only 11 rooms allowing double or triple accommodation in a 2-floor building. There is only a bar in the hotel but you can find plenty of restaurants in the surroundings. Free WiFi is offered in public zones.
If you want to reach the main off-shore Pulau Tioman dive sites, then it’s better to join a liveaboard from Singapore. Usually, it is a 3-day and 2-night trip with 6 dives. The boat leaves a terminal in Singapore around 5pm on Friday and returns by 10pm on Sunday. Most of the liveaboards operate during March and October leaving to Thailand after these months.
Andaman Tritan can comfortably accommodate up to 16 divers as she is 25m (82 ft.) long boat with 3 decks. There are 10 cabins to choose from. During the 3-day and 2-night trip you are to cover such dive sites as Bahara Rocks, Pulau Renggis, Chebeh, Tiger Reef, and Pulau Labas. There will be a night dive made at one of these destinations.
This liveaboard started its service as of 2014. She was designed with the help of nautical architects specifically for divers. DiveRACE is 34m (111 ft.) long vessel which accommodates up to 20 guests. There are 10 cabins, a spacious sun deck, a salon, and even a massage room. During your trip, you are to dive Pulau Labas, Bahara Rocks, Chebeh, Tiger Reef, and Pulau Renggis. The package of 6 dives usually includes 1-night dive.
MV Nautica is a 24m (78ft.) long vessel to accommodate up to 16 guests. There are 3 decks where you can choose among Premium Seaview Cabin, four Superior Seaview Cabins and 1 Deluxe Seaview Cabin. You will enjoy the meals in the open air dining area. There are a mattress area and a sun deck to relax between the dives. Zodiac attached to the liveaboard helps to reach any dive site.
White Manta is a comfortable 36m (118ft.) long liveaboard. She was designed with the help of divers so even if all of 26 guests are present, you will still have enough space on a dive deck of 55m² (592ft²). Besides a dive deck, there is also a quite spacious dive platform. There are different types of Deluxe and Standard Cabins offered to divers.
Other activities for non-divers
It might be a good idea to do some snorkeling at ABC beach or around one of the Islands: Soyak, Pulau Tulai or Renggis. This will give you another chance to enjoy most of the reef fish, Nudibranch, and Turtles. Watch out for jellyfish especially Portuguese Man-of-Wars while snorkeling. They are often spotted between May and September.
Another activity related to water (but a fresh one) is taking a trekking tour through the jungle to spot an endemic Tioman Walking Catfish. This is an unusual eel-like creature growing up to 20cm (7 inches). It is famous for walking on its fins when moving from one watercourse to another. In case you are not lucky to find the Catfish, be sure to see at least one of these: Long Tail Macaques, Malayan Colugo, Fruit Bats, Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Tree Snakes, Chameleons, Lizards, Palm Civets, and many other interesting terrestrial creatures.
Feeling inspired and raring to go? Check out our Tioman travel guide and start planning your next diving trip!