29th July: Back to mainland Mersing

The photo: 

The chat: After a morning spent lounging in the sun while in a futile attempt to even up the  tan marks caused by 5 months in lycra shorts, we boarded a boat back to the mainland and waved goodbye to our last desert island. Mainland Mersing felt like London Waterloo at rush hour in comparison, but there were advantages to being back on the grid – hot showers and unlimited olympic coverage. We spent a happy evening watching the Olympic synchronised diving in a cafe full of Muslims breaking their fast for the night.

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28th July: Tioman Islands

The photo:

The chat:

After another not so well earned lie-in we boarded a speedboat for a whistle-stop tour of the island’s best snorkelling spots. Coral bay more than lived up to its name with a Tropicana  underwater garden,  Shark Bay – not so much. But there were some very pretty fish. After a futile hunt for turtles and a successful one for ice cream, we spent the evening bar hopping over the island in search of a television showing the Olympics.

Pulau Tioman is an extremely laid back island with only a handful of places to stay, relatively few backpackers, and exceptionally languid locals it was surprising to hear that we were visiting the island during its Peak season.  With only 3 open restaurant on the main 2km stretch of beach and the island’s 3 bars (well, shacks with an ice box and a few divers) shutting before midnight it was impossible to do anything but chill out. After a short hunt we found seemingly the only internet connection and  television on the entire island. Unfortunately Malaysian TV had decided to focus their Olympic coverage on archery and shooting competitions (not spectator sports) so we gave up and headed for bed. Listening to waves lapping against the shore from our cosy beach hut at midnight Andy was suddenly overtaken by guilt that he wasn’t supporting Cav, Brad et al at their crucial time and headed out on the tandem for a solo tour of any bars showing the Road Cycling race.

Smug? Us?

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27th July : Tioman Islands

The photo: 

The chat:

What to do today? Kayak rental is exorbitant ($50 US for a day) and the snorkelling trip had already left by the time we got our act together. There was nothing left for it but to go for a walk, an activity we’ve studiously avoided for most of the trip. The five hour there-and-back across the island in jungle heat and humidity seemed unnecessarily masochistic, so the coastal hike to Monkey Bay seemed like a good compromise.

A narrow undulating but well demarcated path starting from the north end of ABC led us through proper jungle forest (giant buttress rooted trees, vines hanging tens of metres above us, monkeys scampering in the canopy, prehistoric looking metre-long monitor lizards) to a wide arc of perfect yellow sanded beach, empty bar another couple of solitude seekers. We settled down to the tried and trusted routine of read, snooze, swim (more sharks!) before clambering back along to civilisation.

Watching the sunset over beer and pizza was recompense enough for missing London’s big day back home.

Jungle trekking-lite

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26th July: To the Tioman Islands

The photo:

The local dive boat operator – not to be disturbed during his 9am-5pm nap time

The chat: No riding today!! A lie-in was followed by breakfast at the eerily quiet hotel restaurant, from where we rolled the 500m to the ferry port for the exceptionally civilised daily 11.30am boat. Although the trip to Tioman was choppy and took longer than advertised, we were once again dropped off on a bona fide island paradise, complete with tandem this time. We’d opted for accommodation on ABC beach, at the north end of the island, a very chilled kilometre of beachside huts, and restaurant shacks, the hibiscus and orchids lending it an almost Indonesian feel.

We were shown to our home for the next three nights by the exceptionally laid back Lin at Bamboo Hill (note even if they declare themselves ‘full’ on their website they have a couple of simpler and cheaper rooms out back which are often available) , and once again got down to the serious business of slowing down to island life pace.

Tioman has the advantage of duty free status, so it is the one place on the Malay east coast where having a beer or two doesn’t break the bank and isn’t considered offensive to local Muslims. Most restaurateurs are Islamic but operate a relaxed BYO policy.

Hundreds of fruit bats

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25th July : Pekan-Tanjung Gemok

The photo:

The most exciting thing on the road in 100km

The route: 100km, total 8358km. http://connect.garmin.com/activity/203159386

The chat: Everything hurt as we clambered onto our bike this morning for our last day cycling before another island break (whoop). Some strong coffee with condensed milk,  noodle soup  and a few painkillers later we were ready to hit the dual carriageway again for what we expected to be another 110 mind-numbingly dull kilometres.

After an hour, we caught up with Eve and Jens from Belgium, on their first cycle tour. Exchanging route tips, we realised we were following almost the same route for the next week, and were destined to cross paths with them again and again.

The 90km ride to amusingly named Rompin was quieter and more pleasant than those of the past few days, but also was extremely hot. Maintaining a good pace we rolled in at 2pm-ish for lunch, dismissed overnighting in one of the few tired looking motels in town, and after cooling off in the shade (helped by strong iced coffees) we donned our caps and jumped back on the bike for the final push to Tanjung Gemok, near Endau, the port village for Tioman island.

Tanjung doesn’t have much going for it, but it does host Hotel Seri Malaysia, an upmarket (for us at least) option with a pool and big clean rooms. Having covered 500km in four days we reckoned we deserved a treat, and after minimal negotiation secured a room with breakfast for RM120.

Dinner, as has become the norm of late, was a Ramadam market special, eaten in the hotel room with teaspoons watching the Olympic build up. Rock and roll…

Chief’s Inn Guest House

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