Tioman is one of those islands that people dream about. The lush hilly interior pours into the crystal clear sea in an idyllic paradise. No one is on the beaches, which adds to the rustic and remote feel.
I think some of the reason it feels remote is that getting to it isn’t easy. It’s more time consuming than going to the Perhentians unless you live in Johor Bahru. So I thought I’d create a resource from everything I learned on our latest trip to this paradise. This is how to get to Tioman Island, Malaysia.
But why go to Pulau Tioman when there are other islands closer – like Perhentians and Langkawi?
It’s teeming with marine life and well-preserved coral. I’ve never seen so much brightly colored living coral. We saw thousands of fish, schools of them everywhere.
Mark saw four turtles in a one-hour shore dive. As well as puffers, stingray, barracuda, and nemos. And he barely went more than six meters deep.
We have found no better place to scuba and snorkel; it is really out of this world!
Now that the why is out of the way let’s move on to the how to get to Tioman Island.
By Air + Land (+ Ferry)
How to Get to Tioman Island from Penang by Flight
Even though Tioman has an airport, it is defunct. The best bet is to fly into Johor Bahru (JB), but that is still 2 hours away.
There are direct flights from Penang with Air Asia, Firefly, Malaysia Air (MAS) and Malindo. Even though Air Asia is the cheapest, I have to not so humble brag about Malaysia airlines because I am in one of their commercials.
The flight is only a little over an hour.
How to Get to Tioman Island from KL by Flight
There are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru with all the above airlines, as well as Thai Lion Air. Flying time is less than an hour, just barely enough time to get a drink, if they even bother with that service.
How to Get from JB to the Mersing Ferry
Now that you’ve landed in JB, you’ll need to get to the Mersing Ferry Terminal. The two best options are to take a bus or a taxi. Obviously, a bus is way more affordable; it’s actually really cheap… at less than RM20 for a 2.5-hour ride.
If you want to take a private taxi, I’d ask the hotel for who they recommend. They might have a driver for you.
Once you get to Mersing, you’ll take the ferry to Tioman – more on that in a minute.
Flying is my go-to mode of transportation. I get all warm and fuzzy as I step on a plan to go anywhere. However, this feels a little too planes, trains, and automobiles for me – a one hour flight, a 2.5-hour bus, and then a 2-hour ferry. I’m not personally sold on this method and think overland is a better option.
By Land (+ Ferry)
From Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Malacca
If you are planning to drive from Penang, it’s an 8-hour drive, plus an hour for stops and gas. So it really is a full day. I recommend stopping in either KL or Malacca for a couple of days to break it up.
Better yet, stop in KL on the way to Tioman and Malacca on the way back. Ta-daaaa, you just drove around most of Malaysia!
Penang > KL = 4 hours
KL > Mersing = 4 hours
Penang > Malacca = 5.5 hours
Malacca > Mersing = 3.5 hours
Be sure to take a mid-day or afternoon ferry to Tioman, so you don’t have to stress about times.
The road from Penang to Tioman, via KL or Malacca, is mostly a proper highway.
From Perhentian Islands
We went to Tioman when we were already on the east coast. It wasn’t a complicated drive.
The drive from Kuala Besut to Mersing is 6.5 hours. I would add an hour onto that just for giggles. It’s the same kind of road as the one from Penang to Perhentians – it’s a one-lane “highway,” except it’s even more rural.
Besides loads of goats and monkeys playing along the side of the road, it’s very lush. Houses seemingly in the middle of nowhere painted Pepto Bismal pink pop out from between the towering palm trees. The blue zinc roofs seem dwarfed by the size of the trees.
It’s actually quite scenic.
If you have the time for a more extended holiday, go to Perhentians first and then to Tioman as we did.
From Johor Bahru to Tioman Island is the easiest; it’s only a 2-hour drive.
Waze, Maps.me, and GoogleMaps all work well, but we prefer Waze, and it’s never let us down.
How to Get to Tioman Island from Mersing
All roads lead to Mersing. No matter which method you choose, by hook or by crook, you’ll end up in Mersing. If not, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Here are all the details to make it on the right ferry at the right time from the right port. This is how you get from Mersing to Tioman.
There are actually two different ports to choose from. The main port is Mersing, but Tanjung Gemok is about 45 minutes north. We couldn’t find any ferries from Gemok, which would have been ideal.
However, we found a few websites saying that even if you book a ticket from Gemok, you might have to go to Mersing at the last minute anyway. So, save yourself the time and just look for tickets from Mersing.
Once we made it to the Mersing port, we followed the signs for a parking lot. We pulled into the first lot we found and grabbed a spot. It’s RM15 a day, no partial days. Even if you get your car by 11am, you have to pay for the full day.
Cataferry is the new kid on the block, and from what I understand, a much more pleasant experience. Bluewater has been around for years since it was the only game in town until 2017, it’s not the nicest. I would def try to take Cataferry for the next trip.
If social distancing is important to you, do not take Bluewater or Bluewater Express (same same), we were packed in both ways.
Cataferry’s prices change depending on the time and day, but Bluewater’s are around RM35 each way. Bluewater is a free for all with the seats. You choose your seats with Cataferry.
Unlike the ferries in Perhentian, these ferries are proper large ferries and make a few stops around Tioman Island.
The suitcases might get piled on top of each other, so I wouldn’t leave anything fragile in them. One the way back, we had a couple of bottles of yummy dark rum (Pulau Tioman is a duty-free island), so we kept the suitcase with us.
Buying Ferry Tickets Online
Apparently, not all days have the same ferry schedule. Some days have 9am, 10am, and 4pm. Other days, only 6pm. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, and we lost a beach day because of it.
Check each day’s schedule and all the ferry operators before making a decision.
Before you book a ferry, you need to know which ferry stop is closest to your hotel. We were staying at Barat in Juara Beach. They told us to get off at Tekek and then arranged for a driver to come get us. Juara is on the opposite side of the island from Tekek, and there is only one road that takes you over a mountain pass. It takes about 25 minutes.
Our transport was a pick-up truck that was already full, so we hopped in the back with all the luggage. It just added to the adventure. But if that is not ok for you, or you have a bad back (it’s bumpy back there), tell the hotel when you book it, just to be sure.
Once we booked our ferry tickets with Bluewater, we received an email with instructions. Mark checked us in online, but you still have to go to the ticket counter and collect the boarding passes.
Our parking lot was just next to the ticket counters, so it was pretty easy. We got the passes, paid the marine park fee (RM30 per person), and sat in the waiting area until they called our ferry.
As we boarded, they asked where we were getting off and took our bags for storage. The ride was about 1.5 hours, and we were the third stop. Once you get off, you stop at the top of the staircase, and they bring all the suitcases.
Pre-book your ticket. A lot of ferries were sold out, maybe because of the holiday, or possibly because of the short season, but either way, I wouldn’t count on winging it.
You Made It!
And just like that, you are on the stunning island of Tioman!
Now you know exactly how to get to Tioman Island from practically every corner of Malaysia. With all this info, your Pulau Tioman trip should go very smoothly. Now get your snorkels and get packing!
MAJOR TIP: Don’t go over a holiday, any holiday – no matter how minor it is. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of that holiday, it’s an excuse to travel. I know that doesn’t leave a lot of options but for the love of all the turtles in the sea, just don’t. You’ll have a much better and calmer trip without the masses.