Trekking with light backpacks along Pulau Tioman’s jungle path, my wife and I brainstormed who—among our friends–would enjoy a holiday on Asia’s best beach.
The list was short. Most of our friends enjoy comfort—with a dash of luxury. But nothing in Juara resembles the Marriot. The last time I had visited Juara was with my brother, two months previous. We stayed at a place where the toilets didn’t flush (just dump a bucket of water into the bowl), toilet paper was optional (you can always bring your own) and the bed sheets were questionable.
Was I surprised and disappointed? No. I come back to the same place (with my wife) every year.
Are there plusher places to stay in Juara? Sure. But “plush” would be pushing it. I wanted to find a place that would attract (perhaps retain) my discerning friends.
And this past weekend, we found it: 1511 Coconut Grove, Juara.
No, it’s not a Hilton-esque monstrosity on the beach.
Instead, developer Andy Ghani wanted a series of quality chalets that fit into the natural environment. This is, after all, Juara, an unspoiled paradise with a single 2km stretch of road paralleling the ocean. There are no stop signs, no nightclubs, no 7/11s.
You could run naked (not that I recommend it) along the two kilometer stretch of sand at 8 am and fewer than six people would likely see you.
Malaysian born Andy Ghani first came to Pulau Tioman in the early 80s. Time magazine labeled it “one of the world’s most beautiful islands.” Ghani worked as a dive instructor until 1995, then fled to the land of the rising sun to work as an import/exporter. “Japan is still home,” he says, but his heart is in Tioman.
He opened a couple of high-end restaurant guesthouses in the mainland Malaysian city of Malacca, then expanded his business dream to establish 1511 Coconut Grove.
“When the locals saw what I was building,” he says, “they were worried that my chalets would eat into their guesthouse businesses. But then they saw that I was seeking an entirely different [upscale] market.”
Accommodation for an evening costs 240 Ringgit (US$80). It includes breakfast and a taxi to and from Tekek—the site of the airport and the main ferry dock. Most of Juara’s other accommodations cost between 50 and 100 Ringgit per night. But tack on a couple’s round trip taxi (120 Ringgit) and breakfast for two at a local eatery (28 Ringgit), and suddenly, Andy’s resort is competitively priced.
We loved how clean and quaint the chalets were.
The bed was comfortable, and they’re perfectly situated for a quiet (even meditative) retreat from the bustle of a city or standard resort fair.
Ten feet from the sandy beach, we could jump off the deck (designed for relaxing in hammocks) and float in the warm waters of the South China Sea.
Ghani has plans for a gourmet restaurant behind his beach-side chalets, which he insists will be finished by the end of May, 2013.
Hoping to draw year-round visitors, he hosted a surfing competition in January. Guidebooks don’t recommend Tioman’s monsoon season (November-February). Andy disagrees, suggesting that the weather is great for surfing. Based on its equatorial proximity, it’s warm year-round.
If you do plan to visit Tioman during the “winter” I recommend a flexible schedule.
One poor tourist, a few years ago, booked into a mainland hotel in December and decided to take the 90 minute ferry to Tioman for the day. Inclement weather forced a shutdown of ferries, and he was stuck on the island for a week….with a hefty hotel bill to pay upon his return.
Ferries do run year-round (aside from rough weather) and winter diving is supposed to be spectacular. But you’ll need to be flexible.
Berjaya Air flies to Tioman; otherwise, you could take a bus to Mersing, then catch the ferry to the island from there.
I shouldn’t, perhaps, be writing about Juara at all. I love the village, the people, the eateries, and the quiet. But I also think that a couple of dozen extra daily seekers of beauty and solitude won’t adulterate my Asian Eden.