Mersing is a transit town for those people that are heading to Tioman Island. As a transit town, it is very popular as everyone must funnel through here. We figured that if we were coming that we should spend a day or two and look around.
To be fair, it was in the middle of Ramadan so virtually everything was closed. Perhaps, under normal circumstances, it might be worth visiting. But for us that was not the case. In reality, the place we stayed was fantastic, with great internet and an owner that couldn’t help enough. He even brought us free meals (as everything was closed for Ramadan), on two separate occasions, and would not let us pay.
On arrival (around dinner time) we settled in, found out where the restaurants were, and headed out for a walk. Headed to the restaurants to find that they were closed, and that none, within a reasonable vicinity, were/or would be opening that day or for the next few. So we found where the shops were and aimed for them (about 2-3km away) in extreme heat. We wandered our way to the shops. On the way we came across the dying remnants of street stalls and I managed to purchase the last thing that was available for sale – a roti john.
Now, a roti john is a local dish, unique to the Malay Peninsula, that consists of a long bread roll that is used to soak up an omelette,which is then topped with onion and smothered in a particularly local tomato sauce and mayonnaise mix.
We then found the shops and picked our way through the supermarket landing on some bread, jam, eggs and butter before heading home.
I settled down to my roti john only to find it entirely unappealing, both visually and otherwise. Being the last item available for sale it may well have been sitting there all day before I came along. And it looked and tasted as though that may have been possible. In fact, upon opening of the parcel it looked as if it may have even come pre-chewed and pre-digested.
From Mersing our friendly inn keeper drove us to the pier so that we could make our ferry across to Palau Tioman. Two hours later we arrived on the island to find that our room was about 60m from the pier, facing straight out onto the ocean. It was simple and basic, with a balcony.
In doing her research, Jill found that Tioman was a duty free island and if we went for a (short) walk we could buy some well-priced alcohol (something we had rarely seen since leaving Vietnam). So we set off, in 32 degree temperatures, on a day that felt like 38, in full sun. The short walk was more like 5 km and I had melted and sweated through every item of clothing that I was wearing. It is an island, I tried to dip into the water but the only spot that I could access (along the walk) had sharp rocks and I could not get in.
The path was narrow and was regularly traversed by motorbikes, meaning you had to mount the railings to let them pass – or be run over. Their version of a speed bump was a strip of nautical rope laid and pinned across the path. So we kept walking, eventually we made it to the shop, only to find that nothing was that cheap and that anything that we bought we would have to schlepp all the way home. We grabbed a few beers and headed back.
The next morning we hopped on a tour and headed out to do the round island trip. This involved stops at deep bay, Asah waterfall, Tomok island, Renggis island and Soyak island. Importantly, we got to swim with black tip reef sharks (about 4-5 feet long) and the usual assortment of reef fish. According to Jill she swam with a turtle for about 25 minutes. This was at Soyak Island where the guide told us to do a lap. Being nothing but obedient, I started swimming and snorkelling to do the lap and totally missed the turtle. Jill, who was behind me, saw the turtle and abandoned any thoughts of doing a lap.
This has become a pattern whenever Jill and I snorkel together. We snorkel along and see the usual fare of parrot fish, angel fish etc and when we separate she returns asking whether I has seen the unicorn, the griffon or anything else she can dream up. It seems that all of these magical creatures turn up when I am nowhere around. My response is usually that I missed it and then she raves about how good it was. In the mean time I saw coral and little fishies.
The main issue that we had here on Tioman was that it was the last few days of Ramadan and that almost all of the restaurants were closed and those that stayed open were packed and only had a limited supply of food and an abridged menu. That said, we did not go hungry and were able to have some really lovely meals. The highlight of these was Jill’s foray into what was called a “Shell Out”. Pretty similar to the Philippine “Boodle Fight” but in individual portions. The “Shell Out” was a mass of different seafood (with your choice of sauce mild-spicy) piled in the centre of your table, served with rice.
Backing the snorkelling up day on day we were off on the Coral Island trip. This involved Malang Rock, Tulai Island, Salang Village, Soyak Island (again) and Monkey Bay. Usual story, lots of fish and coral to see and a bunch of underwater shots. Once again others in the group saw the turtle and I missed out (again).
Given that visibility is not always the best for photographing the fish we see I thought I would grab some better photos off the internet of the fish that we regularly see. These include (clockwise from top left) the angelfish, banner fish, barracudas, parrot fish, sweetlip, rabbitfish and the ubiquitous parrotfish.
Leaving Tioman started what was to be a monster transit that took us the better part of 3 days to get to our final destination. The timing and linkage between transport services and our low trust in timetables and scheduling meant that we spent a lot of time transiting. The ferry from Tioman to Mersing was easy and comfortable. The bus station was about a 2km walk but we had 6 hours to kill while we waited for our bus, so we decided to walk it. It was another hot day and we sweated considerably. A few days earlier (when we arrived) we saw that there was a food court at the bus station so figured that food would not be an issue.
Have I mentioned the end of Ramadan yet…well this kicked in in earnest. Virtually everything was shut. The exception was 2 little take away shops selling chips and drinks, any other option involved doing the 2km walk back to near the dock. Having lugged our bags one way we did not relish the idea of doing it two more times. So we sat, read books, did crosswords, listened to music and waited. Finally (6 hrs later), the time came and our bus came to get us.
Having given a rap on how good the Malaysian buses were, we were met with one that shot that idea down in flames. Clearly, not all companies are equal, and we had an almost 4hr crappy ride that saw us delivered in Kuantan at around 9 pm. Given the time, we stopped for the night (taxi from the bus station to a hotel) and steeled ourselves for the next leg.