Repost of the Day: Tioman Island, Take 6

Minang Cove Resort

Minang Cove Resort

August 26th, 2020

In my travels, I’ve had the thrill of landing at three of the world’s top ten scariest airports (in terms of geography) according to world travelers: Lukla in Nepal, Paro in Bhutan and Tioman Island in Malaysia.

Today’s repost is my story from March, 2012 when (spoiler alert) we finally touched down and enjoyed the weekend at this little island off the east coast of Malaysia. I returned here a couple years later to get Scuba certified. For that journey, I was elated to go by boat.

Buckle your seat belts and enjoy the flight!

More tomorrow,
Kelly

Repost of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

***

Tioman Island: a dreamy, tiny spec off the east coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea, and the location depicted as Bali Hai in the film South Pacific. We booked a weekend getaway with friends and headed for the airport on Friday morning.

From above

From above

We boarded Berjaya Air’s prop plane and, in a brief instance of foreshadowing, I overheard a man seated nearby telling his fellow passenger that the runway at Tioman Island was one of the top ten most dangerous in the world. Having twice flown into the airport in Lukla, Nepal I didn’t think landing on a tropical island would be much to worry about. The Lukla runway awaits you at 8,000+ feet (the highest in the world), with a cliff at one end and a mountain at the other and a very short 12% incline in between. When I landed there the first time in 2000, the runway hadn’t even been paved. Landing is scary enough, but taking off is just as precarious as you hope to your god that your plane achieves lift before plunging over the cliff into the Himalayan crevasse below. So… Tioman? No problem.

Three of us were seated in rows 1 and 2 — at the front of the airplane in the only two rows of the plane that faced each other. I was seated in row 1, in the unusual position of having my back to the cockpit looking toward all the other people in the cabin. Halfway through the flight I realized that through the thin wall behind me I could hear much of the chatter in the cockpit. After an uneventful flight and lots of conversation amongst ourselves about the islands passing below us, we began our descent and approached Tioman. Seated backwards, I couldn’t see the airport or the landing strip out the window but I did have a view of the landing gear bay under one of the propellers.

Going in circles

Going in circles

Take 1. Landing gear out, down we go, turn to the right, fishtail in the wind… abort! Landing gear up, nose up, turn to the right, flying over the ocean, silence. Glances to the left and right between passengers wondering what’s going on. Rise, rise, rise, loud engine, level out, quiet engine, gentle turn to the right, looks like we’re heading back toward Tioman.

Take 2. Landing gear out, down we go, turn to the right, fishtail in the wind… abort! Landing gear up, nose up, turn to the right, back out over the ocean, silence. Panicked glances to the left and right between passengers wondering what’s going on. Rise, rise, rise, loud engine, level out, quiet engine, landing gear down, landing gear back up. Are we crashing? Pilot on the intercom: mumbo jumbo blah blah something about strong winds but no further information. Looks like we’re heading back toward Tioman.

Take 3. Landing gear out, down we go, turn to the right, fishtail in the wind… abort! Landing gear up, nose up, turn to the right, back out over the ocean, silence. Lots of eye rolling, a few nervous laughs in the cabin, people sweating. Starting to feel sick and like I may never see land again. Is this normal? How many times before we give up and head back to Singapore? Looks like we’re heading back toward Tioman.

Take 4. Landing gear out, down we go, turn to the right, fishtail in the wind… abort! Landing gear up, nose up, turn to the right, back out over the ocean. Silence. Frowning. Going to my inner quiet place, beginning to recite the Tibetan prayer Om Mani Padme Hum. Are we going to die? Will we get our money back for this? Need to go back to the budget terminal and demand it. Never going to Tioman Island again. Looks like we’re heading back toward Tioman Island.

Take 5. Landing gear out, down we go, turn to the right, fishtail in the wind… abort! Landing gear up, nose up, turn to the right. Anger. How many people want to go back to Singapore? Is there a ferry we can take? Are we going to die? Do we have enough gas to make it back to Singapore? What else is there to do in Singapore this weekend? We should go to the spa and try to forget about this, if we make it.

It’s interesting how fear of the unknown (and no further information from the pilot) causes one’s mind to flip back and forth between the ordinary and the worst case scenario. Part of the fun of travel is just that — the unknown. But occasionally the unknown becomes the seemingly dire, inevitable conclusion that your luck has finally run out, the odds are no longer in your favor and on this flight, on this journey, there are bad consequences ahead. How quickly my mind had raced to that conclusion, ready to brace for impact, even while sitting upright amidst relative stability. But the pilot was obviously experienced — choosing NOT to land FIVE times rather than trying to land one time in the wrong conditions. Get a grip! You are going to live through this.

And then, after 45 minutes circling, through the cockpit wall just as we begin to head back out over the ocean for the fifth time, we hear… “OKAY! OKAY! OKAY!”

In other words, the wind is good. LAND NOW.

Take 6. Fast, hard right turn back around toward the mountain!! Landing gear out!! Descend!! Hard right turn to the runway!! Less wind!! Less fishtail!! Drop!! Land ho, wheeeeee, release, wipe the brow, smile, GET ME A @#$%^&* COCKTAIL. And that’s how our vacation began.

Finally on the ground

Finally on the ground

Minang Cove Resort

Minang Cove Resort

As there are no roads on Tioman, we were picked up by speedboat and whisked off to Minang Cove Resort at the southern tip of the island where Tioman’s geology is ever-present. Legend has it that the rocky formations on Tioman Island are a sleeping dragon — a Chinese dragon princess, on the way to see her prince in Singapore, stopped here to rest and never left. We stopped here to rest in our beach-front rooms with adjoined balcony overlooking the ocean. Awesome!

Minang Cove Resort

Minang Cove Resort

Saturday we walked from Minang Cove to the village of Mukut and its refreshing waterfall. Although the path was concrete most of the way, it was a typical jungle hike — hot, sweaty, slightly uncomfortable (or maybe it was just me). We were caught briefly in a tropical torrential downpour but stripped down to our bathing suits, took cover under a tree, waited it out and kept going. This island is moody — continually changing weather, dark storms, aborted landings, bright sun and swirling mist around the mountains like a King Kong movie set. The rock climbing looks to be pretty epic — if you can get to it, that is. Myriad colorful trees, plants and flowers strangle the island in an impenetrable jungle. The waterfall was a welcome relief after a long walk — deep pools, cold water and even a couple of turtles.

It was low-tide when we returned to Mukut — a tiny fishing village with a seaside “cafe” and a few huts where you could stay the night. The nasi goreng and bee hoon were tasty — prepared in a rustic kitchen over the water.

At night we were treated to distant lightning storms, a full moon rising, beers on the jetty and a seafood barbecue as good as any in the world. Chicken, shrimp, squid, mackerel and whole crabs were masterfully grilled and perfectly spiced with red chili, tamarind, ginger and garlic. After five attempted landings and successfully touching down, it’s hard to say if we’ll go back to Tioman Island — but the Minang Cove barbecue might just be worth it.

Tioman Island sunset

Tioman Island sunset

***

Go along for the ride! Here’s a YouTube video of landing on Tioman Island.

33 comments

  • Tioman Islam seems like a real tough place up get to, don’t know whether the weather when you visited made it particularly challenging. But the Vista of those twin peaks, that waterfall and that beach barbeque which sounds so yummy should make it more than worthwhile maybe. The photos are beautiful, thanks for the many lockdown journeys Kelly.

    Liked by 1 person

  • About the only thing that comes close to that stressful landing, is being on a COD flight that missed the wire 8 times in a row trying to ‘trap’ on an aircraft carrier. Nothing like actually landing, then going right back up in the air again…lol

    Like

    • OMG! EIGHT times?! Wow. And it’s not like you have a lot of room for error on an aircraft carrier. Where were you? Why so many misses? Does that happen very often? Cheers to living to tell the story! Happy to have you here and thanks for the comment, Kevin. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, that was ages ago. I was 19…lol East Mediterranean. It doesn’t usually happen 8 times in a row. But, it does happen more often than you might think. Sometimes it’s too much wind across the flight deck, or rookie pilots not long out of training. But, standard procedure is to keep the engines at ‘flight rpm’ so there’s still enough thrust to fly right back up.Managed to find this short video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HJCYJ5V_jQ First one is a ‘missed trap’….lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • Omg, I just watched the video. Terrifying! I think what’s so scary is having water all around and such a thin line (literally) between success and failure. I can’t imagine being the pilot. Nerves of steel! Make sense about the engines being at flight rpm, but wow, hitting the deck and coming off of it again … makes the Tioman landing look like a piece of cake! πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know…lol but, there isn’t usually any fish-tailing. That’s why I think yours was more scary. At that age of 19, I of course just thought being in a plane, landing on a carrier was so cool, and had no other thought than that. πŸ™‚ But, there was always that other kid somewhere telling us, ‘we’re all gonna die man’…lol

        Like

      • Ah, to be 19 and carefree again!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  • All these tough moments should make you stronger for the future.
    It seems that the island is worth it, but I understand that the second visit was by ferry πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  • Holy shit Kelly! Remind me never to fly to Tioman. I would be totally freaking. It looks wonderful once you finally got back to earth, but better to go by boat I think.
    Alison

    Like

  • You had me gnawing my thumb! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Are we going to die? Will we get our money back? Ha! πŸ™‚ But what a beautiful place, Kelly!

    Liked by 1 person

  • That flight would have scared the bejeezus out of me, but I can see why people want to go there. Beautiful! But I’m still trembling at what you described. Good job, though. Very real.

    Liked by 1 person

  • What an adventure! How did you find this place and was the diving worth it?

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We learned of Tioman through diving and got scuba certified there (our second trip to Tioman), as many people living in Singapore do. The diving around Singapore is not great and Tioman is the best, cheapest place that can be reached within about half a day — take the bus to Mersing and then take a boat to the island. We did most of our certifying dives off the boat, away from the shore. The diving is okay but what’s really sad is that you can see just a few steps off the shore from this guesthouse in Minang Cove that there used to be a beautiful coral reef. But the staghorn coral has bleached and died so its a dead zone. Overall, it was a cool rustic beach getaway (on both trips) but there are far better diving options in the region (most notably Manado/Bunaken National Park, Indonesia). Search here and you’ll find a post or two I wrote about it. Cheers back to you! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  • Kelly, this is my favorite post of yours so far. The pics are lovely, of course, but it’s the humor you use in telling the landing story that I love so much! You sound like a great travel partner! 🌞

    Like

    • Thank you, Lisa! I’m not sure I would have been a good travel partner during those 45 minutes on the airplane but looking back now, it’s fun to laugh about the whole thing and the thoughts going through my head!!! πŸ™‚ So happy you enjoyed the story so much! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  • “GET ME A @#$%^&* COCKTAIL.” No wait, make it a triple! πŸ™‚ Quite the tale, Kelly. I’ll go have a drink now in your honor. I do love tropical islands, however. –Curt

    Like

  • Pingback: Above and Below |

  • I have to admit I barely read what came after that landing! That was a great recounting of a super scary flight. I’ve made two of those scary landings (Lukla and Paro), but this one would have scared me much more! As if I didn’t already know this, you and I have so many fun similarities … this time it’s the Om Mani Padme Hum that we apparently both turn to at stressful times! (That and the less serene “GET ME A @#$%^&* COCKTAIL!”)

    Like

    • J is laughing at me because I’m giggling at your comment! We are so alike. So funny! Cheers to you never going to Tioman, LOL! And YES, get us some cocktails to compare stories and have a good laugh! πŸ™‚ Did you make through the hurricane okay????

      Liked by 1 person

      • After freaking out when the hurricane was headed directly at us and planning an escape to Colorado three days ahead of schedule, we sat tight to keep watch over the house, and Houston ended up getting nothing! No rain and not even the high winds. A non-event for us, but we are sad for the Louisianans who have been nailed yet again.

        Like

      • Wow, nothing?! Well, I’m happy to hear you’re safe and sound. Sorry you missed out on that escape to Colorado.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, we did get to CO – just not 3 days early! Loving the cooler temps and the outdoor opportunities!

        Like

      • Oh, yay!!! How fun! Enjoy every minute. We’re road tripping in October. Want to meet up somewhere? Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion… πŸ™‚ Let me know!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dang – I wish! I head east (DC) at the end of this month and won’t be back to CO until Nov/Dec. We will make something work out someday – I promise!

        Like

  • Five failed attempts! Yikes! My experience flying from Manado to Ternate pales in comparison. We took a propeller plane to reach the latter, one of the islands from which clove originated. The flight itself was quite uneventful, but as we saw the volcanic island of Ternate and attempted to land, the thrill began. The more we descended, the stronger the crosswind rocked our plane. And just as I sighted the runway, we went back up to the sky. We circled over nearby islands, which looked beautiful from above, and moments later the pilot attempted to land for the second time. This time the crosswind was even stronger, but we were able to get closer to the runway, and then we heard a loud thud. The plane’s rear wheels touched the asphalt, but then we ascended soon afterward. The pilot announced that due to the strong wind, we had to return to Manado. In the end, we had to take another flight the next morning to reach Ternate. If I ever get the chance to visit Tioman, I think I’ll be happy taking the ferry.

    Like

    • OMG! The rear wheels touched the asphalt?! What a scary sound that sort of probably sounded like crashing? Eeeeek! It’s all these little kinds of flights to remote places that freak me out the most. Small planes, big winds, tough attempts and you never know how much experience your pilot has…. gosh, it makes me nervous just writing this reply! Thanks for sharing your story, Bama! May we both always fly smoothly and land safely! πŸ™‚ Happy weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s