Malaysia trip: Island Diving and Kuala Lumpur Dreaming

‘So Lisa, who are you flying with?’ ‘KLM!’ ‘No, I mean who as in human being?’ ‘Ah haha…it’s just me!’

Off to Malaysia with a 7mm wetsuit. Other divers will call me crazy and yes you definitely don’t need a 7mm suit (3mm shorty is fine) but I had just bought mine and was prepared to start training with it right away. I got a really good deal with KLM, great, great airline: friendly personnel, comfortable seats, easy booking and scheduling…and as a goodie – your stopover will be at Amsterdam Schiphol which is a great airport to hang out and kill some time. Beware that the security lines will take some time in Amsterdam. Definitely plan for a lot of time when arriving in Malaysia, it must have been one of the slowest services I have experienced. I ended up being in such a rush to catch the train to the bus station while trying to get money out of the ATM (most of the ATMs have a limit 0f 2000 MYR so you will have your fun with that especially when you’re going to an island and need a lot of cash at once).

my bungalow in tekek village on Tioman island from the ocean view

‘What, you boarded the bus right after you arrived at KL airport. Lisa, you’re crazy!’ Sometimes I ask myself why I am doing this to myself but since I wanted to get to my island as fast as possible I decided to take the 7-hour bus ride right after I landed with my 17-hours flight from Germany. In all that hurry I was dying in my OnePiece jumpsuit I still didn’t have the time to take off for. Everyone on board my plane gave me a jealous look about how cozy my jumpsuit looked…best ever, I’ll always be flying in this one from now on.

Getting to Tioman Island

To get to the different islands you can easily take a bus from Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) which is the central bus port and very organized. To get there take the Express Train from KLIA to TBS (KLIA Transit). Get the best deal if you buy your ticket at the airport when arriving. From the bus terminal, you can take a coach in every direction, I needed to go to Mersing to take the ferry from there to Tioman Island. Pre-book through Easybook, I went with ‘Transnasional’ but all operators seem to be fine. Beware, there are no toilets on the bus which was rather uncomfortable for me since I needed to pee like crazy. Make sure to pick up your ticket at the bus station beforehand. I was under the assumption that my email confirmation would be enough…well, it’s not, and the lines were the longest. I was in such a rush only to find myself right after that in the unpleasant toilet situation on the bus…great!

There are so many islands to see but I had heard before that Tioman Island has great nature and beautiful aquatic scenery while at the same time not too many tourists so it sounded like a great choice for me. Once in Mersing, I stayed at Riverside Budget Hotel. Mersing feels like a crappy end of the world and everyone traveling to Tioman comments on Mersing with ‘It’s the shittiest place. Everyone only travels there to get to Tioman’. There are no nice hotels and although my hotel wasn’t exactly cheap it was at least clean. Still, I spent a horrible night with paper thin walls, having to listen to prayers and karaoke the whole night.

From Mersing the early morning ferry will take you to Tioman Island, there are different stops but I got off at ‘Tekek Village’. Same story, you can book it through Easybook, they only sell round-trips, so just enter your approximate return date and if it changes you can just change the date on your ticket with a pen. I almost missed my ferry and only got there in time thanks to some locals. My mom would have not approved of this since I basically jumped in their car not knowing if they were to be trusted. It was such a funny image since the back seat was missing and I didn’t even have enough time to take my backpack off so I just jumped in head first, on all fours, wondering if they might just kidnap me now. Well, sometimes you gotta have some faith in humanity…and they dropped me off at the ferry station 1 minute later indeed.

watching the sunset from my bungalow right at the beach in Malaysia on Tioman island

Exploring Tioman Island

TIOMAN ISLAND is a very laid-back island known for its diving opportunities and local charm. My accommodation was close to Tekek Village. On the other end of the island, there appears to be a more fancy resort if that is what you’re looking for. I’d always rather choose the more laid-back option: that’s where you meet truly inspirational people. I can highly recommend staying at Swiss Cottage. It’s the cutest place and it’s located in the jungle right on the beach and owned by this young woman who also owns a Freediving School. When arriving at the ferry station ask for Mr. Budin, he will get you to the accommodation for a good price. But to be honest, you can easily walk as well, it’s not that far. Just take a right from the ferry terminal and keep walking straight, at the end of Tekek Village you will see the entrance. All rooms are cute and very affordable. I treated myself with the Seaview Bungalow which is the ‘priciest’ option but still only 45€ per night per bungalow. It is right at the beach and there are never many people around so it’s the perfect place to enjoy quiet and relaxation.

under water photography showing a clownfish while scuba diving in malaysia

Diving in Malaysia

You will also find the Tioman Dive Center here, they own one of the huts of the Swiss Cottage so it’s very convenient if you want to explore all diving opportunities the island has to offer. I wanted to do my Advanced Open Water Certificate as well as my Nitrox Certification here. Actually, from the beginning on I was hanging out with the diving guys the whole time. New guests would always think I was a dive instructor myself. For the whole time, we were like a little family watching out for each other and enjoying our time together. When I did my research on dive centers I simply thought that their website looked professional and their offers sounded really good. That’s the amazing thing about diving in Malaysia – all prices will be half of the average price anywhere else. So if you’re looking to take courses and do a lot of leisure dives you will have the best time and save a hell lot of money.

One special thing: you can dive right off the beach. For our night dive, I simply stepped out of my bungalow, put on my gear and walked right in the water. Nothing can beat that. For other dive sites, the boat will take you right from the beach to any dive site you wish. Most of the times you will take off in the morning, stay out on the water for 4-5 hours and return in the afternoon with enough time to relax or keep exploring the island. There’s a huge variety of dive sites. Included in my Advanced Open Water Certification was the deep dive. We combined the deep dive with my nitrox dive and a wreck dive. That day I could have not been happier since so many amazing things were happening at once. All dive sites are very different and you will have a great time exploring all of them with the dive crew. A big plus: the dive school is not that big so your diving groups shouldn’t be more than 6 people. I logged a total of 11 dives within 5 days. While under water I had a lot of time to allow my thoughts to wander which is a certain kind of meditation and extremely relaxing.

nitrox wreck scuba diving in Malaysia

Amazing Food in Malaysia

When in Malaysia, you gotta try some LOCAL FOOD like ‘Roti Canai’, it’s some kind of pancake served with curry sauce or simply condensed milk. Also ‘Tom Yam’, it’s a very spicy sweet-sour tomato soup with different ingredients you can choose, it’s incredibly delicious. On the island, they also make this fresh amazing all natural fruit juice, just tell them to not add any sugar, the ‘Watermelon Juice’ is really good. Compared to Thailand, eating meat and fish in Malaysia is safe. If you end up at Swiss Cottage, definitely try the half-frozen ‘Banoffee Pie‘, they make it themselves and it’s one thick, sweet, ice-cream like bomb. Prices will be a bit higher compared to the mainland which will still be extremely cheap.

Hanging out at ABC beach and eating a pizza at the beach sitting in the sand was something we did for my last night…definitely recommendable. On Tioman, definitely check out Tioman Cabana, it’s a beach bar and restaurant you can hang out at the whole night. Tuesdays and Thursdays they have live music and it’s always a great time. We spent so many evenings there, chatting, celebrating, even bringing our own food (Pierre, your awesome cake). Since Malaysia is Muslim culture (people don’t mind western clothes), alcohol is prohibited so it’s not served in restaurants, people don’t have a problem with you bringing it to the restaurant with you, though (Buy some beers from the duty-free store in Tekek Village and there you go). One thing I was really impressed with was that the dive guys would always take their own containers with them when picking up their lunch from a restaurant so they wouldn’t have to use plastic! And talking about food, never leave any food outside, an army of sneaky monkeys will be waiting for you and steal it off you (I forgot to put away biscuits in the dive shop and the place was a mess afterward).

enjoying the best asian food at Kuala lumpers night markets

Discovering Kuala Lumpur

Before leaving Malaysia, I still wanted to spend 2-3 days in KUALA LUMPUR which is a good amount of time to see the main sights and get a feeling for the city. I stayed at Paperplane Hostel which must be one of the best hostels I have stayed at: extremely clean, comfortable beds, big lockers and very ‘arty’. At the reception, they will give you a map drawn by hand pointing out all the best spots in the neighborhood. Take a walk outside and check out the Night Markets, I could spend hours at night markets. You will get food for less than 0,30€ and it will be absolutely amazing. Right next to the night market is the party area and foot massage area that reminded me of the ‘red district’ in Hamburg, Germany. I treated myself to a foot massage that I desperately needed after days of diving.

Check out the Batu Caves at Gombak, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor. Operators will offer expensive tours to get you there. Just make your way to the caves with public transportation, it’s easy and will cost you less than 2€. From ‘Kuala Lumpur Sentral’ take the blue line KMUTTER straight to the station ‘KA01 Batu Caves’. It makes up for a half-day trip. The rest of the day you can check out Chinatown at Petaling Street. I met this old guy selling pancakes he was preparing while sitting in the dirt so I simply had to purchase something. He was really cute and tried to give me the best piece. Those are the moments that make you forget about all those silly first world problems. It was March when I visited Kuala Lumpur and around 7ish pm it would always start pouring down like crazy, just a heads up. Normally, it just lasts for an hour.

On the next day, you can go for a walk through the city and make your way to the famous Petronas Towers. Walking a city is always the best way to explore every corner. Kuala Lumpur reminded me a bit of Hong Kong with its bridge system connecting all major areas. Just eat everything you see, I can never get enough of Asian food and sweets. I was lucky since one morning the hostel owner took me to a local food hall and brought me all kind of local dishes to try…while everyone was staring at the blonde mysterious European (I was the only foreigner there). The best dish was a cold coconut with jello made from the coconut water you could simply eat out of the coconut together with the fresh coconut flesh. Leaving Kuala Lumpur, my taxi driver from Malaysia was very chatty and friendly. So if you’re looking for a fun ride to the airport give PP Lam a call (+6012-332 6590), he will make you a good price and get you there safely.

best asian food at the night markets in china town in Kuala lumpur

Finally, throughout my time in Malaysia, I met some truly inspiring people that deserve to be mentioned here. My dive instructor was a girl from the Netherlands who had been working in the corporate environment for quite some time but decided to follow her passion and work as an instructor all around the world. My dive buddy was a girl from Canada who decided she wanted to experience other places so she moved to Asia and started working there as an English teacher and has been living here ever since, moving from Thailand to China etc. Another dive instructor was a French guy who was here with his girlfriend. When they told me one day that they would have to return home soon I assumed ‘Yeah well, they were just traveling for 3 months and that’s it’. Wrong! Home wasn’t France but Bora Bora! The other girl owning the Freediving School was a German girl who decided at one point to just leave Germany and move here to manage the Freedive Business with the other girl.

Another guy had saved money with time and was traveling the world, his girlfriend was in another country when I met him and they would soon be reunited before he would be off to another destination. One girl was on holiday visiting the freediving girls and would soon have to return to her job – well, her job was being a dive instructor on fancy yachts cruising in Tahiti. And finally, there was this soul I met who I was impressed with right from the beginning. He was taking a sabbatical and stopped by on Tioman to work as a dive instructor. There are not that many truly geuine people in this world but he was definitely one of them, simply on an interpersonal level. He was someone who would always care for people and would always take his time to truly listen to someone. So I am going to close this section with his kind words that have the power to serve as an inspiration for everyone: ‘I’m really glad I met you and I’ll make sure to always stay in touch. Good people are hard to come by in this world and they’re worth cherishing for life.’

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