Juara - Pulau Tioman, Pahang Malaysia
Visiting Juara after Salang, ABC and Tekek feels alien. None of the annoying din from rows of resorts and chalets, no big restaurants and cafes, no hordes of tourists - well, except for the occassional local student packages arranged by a few of the resorts closer to the jetty. Juara maintains the village life feel that most of Tioman's main tourist destinations have lost. Getting to Juara is not easy nor cheap though. As single travellers, many actually attempt to cross the Tioman hills via a trek that has been carved into the belly of the island. The trek runs from Tekek to Juara and takes approximately 2 1/2hours to complete. According to travellers who we met whilst staying at Mizani's, the most affordable way round it would be to dump most of your heavy gear at Tekek. A few left their heavy rucksacks with dive centres which they dived with and trekked over with overnighters. The trek can get pretty tricky at some parts where incline can be as steep as 75 degrees. Once you get to the peak, coming down over the Juara side is sort of aided by a concrete path winding all the way to Juara town.
The road to Juara is already open. Using much of an old open path hacked through the jungle during the 2nd World War by the Japanese, this new road connects Juara to the back of Berjaya Resort in Tekek. However, what is a road looks more like a dried up stream. It's bumpy, it's treacherous and it's narrow. When we went again for a revisit , we took the a 4WD jeep for RM35 per person per way but it can go up to RM50 per person depending on how busy the season gets. And a wise choice too. Along the way, we saw people falling off their motorbikes and hurting themselves pretty badly. Although there are motorbike 'taxis' for hire at RM25 per person per way, we suggest that you pay a little bit more for a jeep hire. Only thing is that for jeeps, you may have to wait for some time for seats to fill before they leave. Ask around at the jetty for the jeep to Juara
Although this beats having to pay RM160 per boat per way to Juara , we hope that with this move, massive development at Juara will not happen for another 5years or so....
Another route to Juara would be to hire a sea taxi for about RM150 - RM160 a boat from Salang or Tekek which will take you right to the resorts' doorstep. The boat ride takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour from Salang or Tekek depending on the weather.
There are quite a few ready places to stay at Juara. Closer to the jetty are resorts catered to local tourists who come to Juara on package deals. Further up the beach are a few laidback resorts such as rainbow chalets and bushman's chalets. And aross and over the headland are a few budget places, one called the Beach Shack Chalet Backpackers
This is the place to chill. The beach is clean and wide enough for a good stretch and the hospitality is great. When its off season (ie monsoon season) , 15-footer waves, rough seas can generally be the typical day's scene. According to locals, the monsoon season between November and January can catch pretty good surfing waves and already the local surfing community is beginning to show up for the rush. When the rest of Tioman goes into a hibernation, Juara will be rocking with rough waves and surfers.
There are quite a few places that can be shared with guests but not the entire world. When word gets out on Tioman about how pretty and pristine a place is , local authorities make it into a tourist attraction which eventually becomes a tourist dump. So if you really want to work out more than a tan whilst on Tioman - there's a nice little freshwater pool up in the mountains where not many people know about. The trek is not easy though - roughly 45minutes of uphill climb. Markers leading to the pool also disappears parts of the way, so listen out for gushing water and follow in that direction. The river is a good place to observe a bit of Tioman wildlife - snakes, lizards, monkeys, lots of spiders and insects. Take the little green 'free-for-all boat' left there to paddle into the river. Unfortunately, it's a little leaky so you may have to bail water along the way if you don't wish to sink with the boat.
If diving is something you've come to Tioman for, then try out Bushman's Dive Centre. There are a few chalets to stay there to but the owner says that he can only accommodate maximum 10 divers per trip as he has limited tanks and equipment. The food here is cheap and there's also cheap duty-free beer available.
CONSERVATION WATCH!The other interesting thing that's been happening over at Juara is the sighting of Leatherback Turtle landings. Only thing is that when word gets out that the turtles have been coming up the night before to lay eggs, the next morning nests would be ransacked and turtle eggs - sold in the market by the villagers. So, if you do visit Juara and have the chance to witness turtles coming to shore, keep it to yourself - that may help save the species. Leatherback turtles disappeared from our shores some years ago and their comeback is a big relief. Unfortunately, education on conservation issues in Malaysia is almost non-existent and so, the villagers are not to be blamed for their ignorance. What could be a little worrying though is the apparent evidence of firearms used here for hunting in the jungle. Favourite game meat is the mousedeer which is a protected specie in Malaysia.
There have been cases that visitors to the island have had a chance to go hunting in the jungle for a fee. The danger of this is that these villagers may not have the proper training to use these rifles and can be a danger to themselves let alone anyone else they bring along with them on trips. The main source of income on Juara is surprisingly - rubber. Rubber plantations are seen along the interior. Income for them may be supplemented with other illegal activities such as collecting Giant Clams for processing into ornamental pieces. The clams are sold to middlemen in Mersing and Singapore. The same goes for collection of birds' nest deep in the caves within the jungle cover of the island. Unlike monitored birds' nest collection sites such as at the Niah Caves in Borneo, illegal nest collectors do not wait until the young leave their nest before collecting. They toss fledglings out of the nests, leaving them to die on the dank, slithering floor of the cave.
Tioman is one island that is great during the monsoon season. I don't know why we always end up visiting always at the tail end of the summer season but it never fails to delight us. The sun is out, the beaches are empty and the accommodation rates are at a huge discount. Best of all, the local folks have time for us. They sit around and chat, just like what it used to be , before the time of tourists ... before the time of 'money talk'. Okay, perhaps not all days are sunny days during the monsoon and on some days, the rains could last a while. And if you're taking the fast ferry in, the sea travel can be incredibly choppy. (you'll be happy to know that the boat operator also provides barf bags, as many as you like to have!)
Monsoon Season Stay on Tioman
Many of the operators will continue to open for the entire monsoon season. This is especially so at Tekek, ABC , Salang and Juara where the local villages are. These operators also reside in tioman so it's just as well that they open their chalets for business and receive the odd traveller or so.
Juara itself is a hive of bustle during the height of monsoon ie December and January. Surfers from abroad are slowly finding their footing in malaysia and Juara is one of their main surfing points in Malaysia. However, unlike other countries.. tioman can only offer big surfs during the monsoon season when the south china seas begin to churn and the rains start to pelt down.
Currently Getting to Tioman is still a little confusing. The fast ferry is up and running and is a lot better than the speedboat that were used earlier. These fast ferries are much bigger, have toilets, air conditioning , movies on board and an outside deck for smokers. During monsoon seasons, the frequency may drop to just once a day and the time schedule depends entirely on the boat operators. So, before you go get yourself all riled about the boat schedules, give yourself some extra days as contigency if you get stranded on the island or cant get a boat out to the island.
Tioman's tourism cycle seems to have gone a full circle. It has gone from paradise to tourist haven to travellers' haunt to exploitation and now it's recovering and rehabilitating to become an island more respected for its beautiful dive sites and environs. We hope it stays that way , for Tioman is a gem and is worth every effort and understanding to keep it that way.