Chapter 25: Ferry 'cross to Mersing

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Where I stayed
Johan's Resort

Flag of Malaysia  ,
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I was up and out of the hotel early on Friday so I could make my bus to Malaysia. Carrying my pack all the way to the Lavender St. Bus Station was a chore, especially in the Singapore heat, and to make matters worse my stomach wasn't happy with something I'd eaten (maybe the chili crab from the night before?). "Bus Station" is a bit generous; really it's a big parking lot full of buses with a few dilapidated trailers serving as ticket counters. There was a tiny bathroom, though, and that was all that mattered - never mind that it was filthy, wet, full of bugs, and a squat-toilet (I'm becoming adept at those now).

The ride out of Singapore was scenic; I had no idea there could be so much forest in a tiny city-state. The bus crossing to Johor Bahru in Malaysia was easy; passport control and customs seemed less-than-concerned with the 10 or so people on our bus. I met a Sweded named Kristian and his Sri Lankan / Swedish girlfriend (they were sitting across the aisle from me), and we hung out for most of the day. In Johor Bahru the bus filled up with local Malaysians who were presumably heading further north than all the tourists, as we 7 non-locals were the only ones who jumped off in Mersing at 2pm.

A rep from the travel agency next to the bus stop came out to greet us, and in 10 minutes we all had ferry tickets for that afternoon to Pulau Tioman and had booked accommodation on the island. We had a few hours to kill in Mersing, which is a pleasant port town that bills itself as the "Gateway to Paradise." At this point, between "Time" magazine famously naming Tioman one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world, the fact that it was where "South Pacific" was filmed, and all the local promotion, my expectations were getting ridiculous.

Later that afternoon a few dozen people climbed into two small, cramped, narrow boats that crept cautiously out of the muddy harbor into the South China Sea. Thankfully it turned out these boats were just our transport to the main ferry, which was big but as chilly as an icebox because of the industrial-strength A/C. The ride took 3 hours, so it was dark by the time we arrived at the Kampung Air Batang (that's ABC, to you) jetty. ABC is one of the main "towns" (clusters of hotels and dive centers) on the west side of Tioman. There are no roads, exactly - only concrete paths along the beach in the major tourist areas. These towns (ABC, Tekek, Salang, etc.) are usually connected paths across the jungle-y headlands between the beaches.

The monsoon season officially runs through February, so the island was mostly deserted even though the weather was fine. I got to Johan's Resort at 8:30pm, and when I signed in I noticed their last guest had signed in on February 2nd! The owners whipped up some noodle curry for me, and then took me to my bungalow. It was cute enough, although the bathroom was grotty and the mosquito net had holes in it that were bigger than my head. I patched those up with duct tape as best I could, lit a mosquito coil (it didn't help much), and settled in to watch the "Two Towers" on my DVD player. To Johan's credit, the bed was very comfy and I slept well.

I decided Saturday would be a jungle-trek day (it wasn't rainy, but it wasn't sunny enough for the beach), so after doing some laundry by hand, I bought some snacks and started walking south down the path to Tekek. There's a trail across the island from Tekek to Kampung Juara that is highly recommended by every guidebook and local, and with a little effort I found the starting point and set off into the woods. The walk was beautiful; the jungle on Tioman is mostly untouched (large portions are still unexplored), and I saw lots of monkeys, birds, lizards, and insects. The monitor lizards are particularly exciting, A) because they're often 3-4 feet long, and B) because they have a habit of remaining motionless until you're almost on top of them (and unaware of them) and then bounding off into the forest in a heart-stopping rush.

After 2 1/2 hours I descended into Kampung Juara, which seemed marginally more alive than ABC, but less developed than Tekek. I stopped in a store to pick up some soda and was immediately engaged by a big group of giggly-but-sweet teenage Malaysian schoolgirls. They were from another state but were doing some temporary work on Tekek, and for whatever reason my sudden appearance in town was a big event. They acted like they'd never seen an American guy before, and they made no secret about how they thought I was cute (which was odd but certainly endearing since I'm shallow and all I really want in life is attention). Ten or so of them insisted on taking individual pictures with my arm around them, so by the end I felt like one of those cardboard cut-outs of a celebrity. The walk back to Tekek was a sweaty affair, but I made it in half the time as I wasn't stopping every 5 feet to look for critters.

Tekek was bustling with people (relatively speaking - that means I saw any other people), and I had a nice stroll around for an hour. The highlight was when two women, fully outfitted in traditional Muslim clothes, frantically gestured to me to come help them. Turns out the kids playing badminton out in front of the store had lost their birdie on the roof, and the women were fruitlessly trying to knock it down. I hear badminton is crazy-popular in Malaysia. Anyway, since I was a good head taller than anyone else around, I was their best hope for retrieving it. I did a precarious balancing act in a wheelbarrow and used a rake to flip it to the ground, and received much applause. Afterwards I settled in to the only open restaurant for some iced Nestle Milo (my current non-alc drink obsession) and a squid curry dish. The new Travis video "The Beautiful Occupation" was randomly showing on the satellite TV, which made for a perfect cap to the afternoon.

That night I fell asleep accidentally before taking the proper anti-mosquito measures, so when I woke up on Sunday my legs were covered in bites. I really hope they were diease-free mozzies! I wanted to do another trek that day, so I walked south this time, which turned out to be a big mistake. I wanted to find Monkey Beach, which is supposedly a 45-minute journey south through the jungle from ABC. Unfortunately the path was completely overgrown and looked like it hadn't been used for months (which it probably hadn't, because of the monsoon). It would disappear altogether in spots, leaving me to hack my way through the underbrush towards the general direction of the next electricity pole.

Somehow I made it to Monkey Beach in an hour and a half without any snakebites - just lots of scratches and more insect bites. The beach wasn't even worth the effort, because the snorkelling didn't look very good. It was deserted, though, which was cool. I played "Survivor" for a few minutes, and then clambered up over the boulders and back into the woods to head back. I immediately got off the trail and became lost. For 1/2 hour I walked in circles trying to find a way through the thick tangle before I happened on the trail again. Thoroughly annoyed, I plowed through the jungle as fast as I could and hunkered down near my bungalow for the rest of the day.

I took the 7am ferry back to Mersing on Monday, and then had a 6-hour-long but fun (yay for new CDs!) bus ride from Mersing to Kuala Lumpur, which is on the west side of Malaysia. At 6pm I checked into the Pudu Hostel near the bus station. Pudu came highly recommended by the new LP, but I wasn't impressed at first; the dorm room was cramped & smelly, the floor didn't look clean, and the A/C was broken. I was too tired to bother finding a new place, though, and it was cheap, so I stashed my stuff and wandered around Chinatown for the evening. Food is wicked cheap in Malaysia compared to Singapore; I had a delicious big Indian meal with a side dish & soda at a local dive for under US$2!

Yesterday I took care of some business. First I printed out my tax forms, filled them out, signed them, and sent them to mom. Hopefully that's all I'll have to worry about for the IRS. Then I took the subway down to the central train station, where Malaysian Airlines has an office. I met with them and changed my flight out of Asia (Bangkok) from mid-April to early-June. I decided it would be more cost-effective to stay here longer, and there is a lot that I want to see. It also means I can spend more time in Malaysia, which I'd originally thought of as an obligatory stop en route to Thailand. In fact I quite like the people here - they're very friendly - and despite my initial impression of KL as a dirty, crowded, chaotic city (somewhat true), it's grown on me a lot, and even the Pudu Hostel feels homey now.

I spent all afternoon and evening shopping in the Golden Triangle district for bootleg DVDs and CDs (this is where my record label friends need to stop reading). I loaded up; for about US$2 each I picked up the following...
DVDs (all w/ bonus features):
"Wrong Turn" (duh. I finally get to hear my Desmond Harrington commentary!), "Terminator 3," "Gangs of New York," "Tomb Raider 2," "Italian Job," "American Wedding," "House of 1,000 Corpses," "Sex & the City Season 5," "24 Season Two" (7 discs), and "Alias Season One" (6 discs). Aside from "Wrong Turn" I haven't seen any of them, so I'm excited for my upcoming bus rides!
New CDs from: Pink, No Doubt (for the "It's My Life" cover - one of the best covers ever!), Madonna, Texas, Muse, Kylie Minogue, Starsailor, Sugababes, Coldplay, Dido, and Travis, all w/ "bonus" tracks (old hits), and all credited to "Virgin Records" - ha!

This morning I put my latest bunch of photos on CD, so I'm finally caught up with the pics on this site. This afternoon I plan on doing some touristy things like visiting the Petronas Towers and going up in the Menara Kuala Lumpur (KL telecom tower, which I only photographed yesterday). I have no idea where I'm heading next after KL... Taman Negara National Park? Perenthian Islands? Penang? Langkawi? Maybe even Borneo/Sarawak? Stay tuned...

- Tim
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