17 days spent volunteering on Tioman Island

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Any long-term readers of drunkenpom will undoubtedly know I do quite like a bit of volunteering as I travel. It’s the perfect way to see a different side of the country you’re travelling through, an excellent way to help out someone in need and also, a great way to safe some cash and travel longer.

Without going into massive detail boring the life out of you, this article should be short and sweet but also give you a good feel of what volunteering on a Malaysian tropical island is like.  

How I came to volunteer on Tioman island.

To cut a long storey short. Before departing on my South East Asia trip I had decided that I wanted to do a little volunteering in each country I visited so after I had been through everywhere I wanted to visit in Malaysia it was time to give a little back.

With 3 weeks left until my flight to Cambodia and my list of:

Already ticked off it was time to slow down a little and find somewhere to spend a while helping out. My usual go to for this would be the Workaway website but on this occasion for some reason I decided to checkout a few of the Facebook groups.

Literally within 1 hour of joining the Malaysia Backpackers group on Facebook I was chatting to Prometheus, a Greek chap who was recruiting for a host on Tioman island.

Getting to Tioman island.  

A few messages back and fourth and I was off to book my bus ticket to Mersing for the next day. With the part of the island I was heading for being pretty isolated, Prometheus asked me to help the host out with a little shopping list:

  • Tobacco
  • rolling papers
  • Machete

Yes, you read that correctly. A machete.

So the next day after reaching Mersing, off I set to all of the local hardware stores. To ask for a, machete!

I guess you don’t need me to tell you there was some funny looks given that day….

After a lot of running around and getting lost in Mersing the shopping list was complete. The boat to Tioman was booked for 3pm the next day. 70 Ringgit, not too bad for both ways.

I arrived at Genting jetty at around 4.30pm. All I needed to do now was get from Genting to Mukut…. Easier said than done!

With no roads the only way there was by boat taxi. I had been told by Prometheus that I should not pay more than 50 Ringgit.

Armed with this information I headed into the village of Genting and started asking for a boat taxi. It didn’t take long before I found a “boat man” as the locals call them.

“How much to Mukut?” I asked. “300 ringgit” 

300 ringgit!?!? no way I’m paying that. Not while I’ve still got a hole in my arse.

The conversation with the boat man continued along the lines of “I’m the only boat man here and the cheapest hotel in Genting is 300 ringgit a night”.

 After being a victim of the tourist price so many times already. Thanks but no thanks I think I’d rather sleep at the end of the jetty clinging on to my back pack for all I’m worth than pay the tourist price again.

The sun is going down, the jetty is empty and the hope is dwindling.

What am I doing here? Why do I try and help people? Why didn’t I just stay on Kapas island?

These are the questions running through my head as a sit on my backpack at the end of the jetty completely alone. Travel is not always easy….

Luckily for me, a local comes walking up the jetty and asks my what I’m doing. “Trying not to get ripped off on the way to Mukut” I say.

This is when he announces that he too is going to Mukut and his friend is a boat man about to pick him up. 50 ringgit later and I’m on my way to Mukut. 🙂

The accommodation.

entrance to simukut place

Finally, 8pm and I’ve made it to Mukut, more precisely Simukut Place where I would spend the next 17 days of my adventure.

After meeting Sam the host and my contact Prometheus I was shown to where I would be staying. A choice of 2 tents under a roof that I could only describe as an Asian style thatched roof.

tent next to the sea
decking with a view

At the rear side of my tent was the jungle, the left was a large catering style kitchen and to my front and right was the sea crashing upon the rocks beneath the decking that my tent was sat on.

Mukut beach

30 metres to the right was our very own private beach. I say private, it wasn’t really a private beach but in 17 days I saw only 2 other people there. 200m of prime tropical beach with its own coral reef.

 Not a bad camping spot for the next 17 days.

Maintaining the trail.

entrance to the dragon horns

So now down to the knitty gritty. The help required.

While Mukut was just an extremely sleepy fishing village with nothing more than a few holiday rentals, cafes that stretched out over the sea and two tiny shops. There was one or should I say 2 things that stood out from everywhere I had been.

tioman island dragon horns

 The Dragon Horns, two gigantic pieces of limestone that tower over 700m above sea level. These things truly are spectacular.

Not really a tourist destination but situated well and truly on the Malaysian climbing scene. Check out this website if you fancy having a go at climbing them. 

Our job was to help maintain the trail that leads the way to the climbing point. Hence the machete. Each morning we would make breakfast and then head off into the jungle and clear a little bit more of the trail.

trail to the dragon horns

According to our host Sam, his uncle also called Sam was the person who first mapped a route and cut the trail into the jungle many year ago. Due to this fact anyone wanting to use the trail had to pay “Uncle Sam” 30 ringgit for the pleasure.

The work was hard, as in the jungle there is no breeze and its 30c. This makes just walking hot and sweaty.

As well as hacking back the jungle with machetes, we were also helping tidy up around the hosts holiday cabins and with basic maintenance.

tropical storm tioman island

Especially the days after a tropical storm. Higher up the trail was too dangerous to work with machetes as it was too steep and slippery.

Some days we would be sweeping fallen leaves from around the holiday cabins, sometimes making bins out of “local” materials. We even made a new sign for the dragon horns jungle trail entrance.

One day we even had the pleasure of being guides for 10 Malaysian government officials who wanted to ascend the trail as far as possible without ropes.

Apparently the Dragon Horns are on the governments radar to try and boost tourism to the south of the island.

What I thought of Tioman island.

I saw two sides to Tioman island:

The first was the overpriced tourist destination of Genting. Don’t get me wrong the island is truly beautiful but for much less money to can stay on Kapas island and have the same level of tropical beauty.

Or for again, much less money you can visit Langkawi where there are many more activities and some really nice beaches. Tioman island just seemed over rated to me.

On the other hand, in Mukut, I can 100% see why people live there. All the locals are so relaxed and laidback. Here is a place where stress does not exist.

mukut shop

The locals in Mukut are living the dream. Work hard as a boat driver in the tourist season and have the low season off in this island paradise to spend with your friends and family.

All in all I enjoyed my time on Tioman island, not such a bad place to spend a little time volunteering eh!?

For more Workaway inspiration have a look at some of my other volunteering placements:

To sum up the experience…

All said and done, I enjoyed my time volunteering on Tioman island. I got to live on one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever been on, have a go at being a jungle guides and got small glimpse of everyday life as a Malaysian islander.

night time boredom
nothing much to do

Although, with only 3 of us volunteering there and no entertainment, 17 days became a little too long. I guess 10 days volunteering on Tioman island would have been enough.

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