I have been busy researching the history of Pulau Tioman for the Bluesails Sportfishing Blog, and except for the minor irritation of a race horse named (of all things) "Pulau Tioman” in the 1980's that played havoc with my keyword searches, it was great fun and extremely interesting.
So, following are a few of the more fascinating (and lesser known) facts about Pulau Tioman, an unspoilt island paradise in the South China Sea that in my opinion is a perfect setting for your own personal Lord Jim (the book by Joseph Conrad) experience:
1. In the 1970’s, Time magazine listed Pulau Tioman as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. (Ok, this fact is actually quite well-known judging from how often it's quoted in travel guides, but it's still pretty awesome that out of thousands of exotic islands dotting the oceans of the world, Pulau Tioman gets a top-ten beauty queen ranking for its pleasing physical attributes.)
2. If you study volcanic rocks (I don’t, so I have to take the scientists word for it) Pulau Tioman has more in common geologically with Borneo, indicating that it was likely connected to East Malaysia during the last ice age…this despite the fact that the island now sits demurely off the east coast of Johor, nowhere near Borneo.
3. In February 1972, the royal yacht Britannia secretly weighed anchor off Pulau Tioman to enable Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Ann to enjoy a picnic on the island. Their excursion was classified as a “private personal matter” so it won’t be possible to pin down the exact beach where the Queen ate her crustless (I’m assuming) cucumber sandwiches and glugged down her ginger beer, but a member of the Queen’s entourage did confirm their visit to reporters who took delight in pointing out how sun-tanned Prince Philip appeared after a day of frolicking in the sun on Pulau Tioman.
4. In the 1960’s the RAF Seletar Sub-Aqua Club unearthed a giant clam fossil on a beach on the "seaward side" of Pulau Tioman. The clam was big enough (in case you were wondering) for a toddler to crawl into and use as a cosy crib. Giant clams are highly endangered in the wild and can weigh more than 200 kilograms (440 lb), with a lifespan of 100 years or more!
5. Villagers on Pulau Tioman only got water (at a cost of $100,000) and telephones in 1963 as part of Malaysia’s rural development plan of the 1960’s called the First Malaysia Plan.
6. In the 1970s, the Dragons Horn peaks of Pulau Tioman or Chula Naga were usually referred to in far less romantic terms as the Asses Ears. Descriptive; yes. Romantic; not really.
7. The name Tioman apparently comes from the local name for a Hill Mynah, Burong Tiong. A long time ago (so the story goes) a fisherman on the island kept a pet song bird that was greatly admired by the local villagers and when it died, they decided to name their island 'Tioman' an endearing tribute to the bird as it combines the word ‘Tiong’ with 'teman', which means ‘friend' in Malay.
8. In August 1969, Australian “Apple Queen” Jan Slattery, toured the islands off the East Coast of Malaysia and declared Pulau Tioman “ideal” for planting apple trees. Her assessment was quite scientific. She was quoted as being "confident" that apples could be grown on Tioman because of the "equalising temperatures" there
....although she admitted that the apples would probably not be as big as those grown in Australia. Naturally. She promised to tell apple growers back in Australia that there was plenty of land in Malaysia available for growing fruit but since apple orchards are conspicuously absent on Pulau Tioman today, I'm assuming that someone discouraged Ms. Slattery's dreams of wandering through a shady orchard barefoot on a tropical island while plucking rosy apples to munch.
9. The islands off the east coast of Malaysia (Pulau Tioman included) are all rumoured to be the resting places of vast hoards of sunken treasure. Pulau Tioman appears on ancient Chinese sailing maps but while the Chinese junks were likely carrying nothing more valuable than sea cucumber and birds nest, the Dutch and Portuguese man-of wars sailing the Spice Route during the 16th and 17th centuries may have had holds stuffed with far more valuable cargo. The islands were also said to have been the nests of dangerous pirates. Aaargh. Bugis and Achinese pirates used the islands as convenient launch pads for violent raids on foreign ships sailing the South China Seas….and after sending the ships to watery graves, the pirates apparently buried the stolen loot on the islands, no doubt marking the spot where the treasure was hidden on yellowed maps with crosses in red ink.
10. The Japanese occupied Pulau Tioman during World War 2 and bought cattle with them from the mainland. The idea was that the cattle would stay close to shore where grass was abundant, and they could be on hand for milking or slaughtering as required. But the cattle had other ideas; they promptly took to the hills and settled around the freshwater streams cascading down from the mountainous interior of the island, where they embraced a less domesticated, more natural way of life close to nature. Apparently, descendants of these herds of wild cattle are still present on Pulau Tioman... and they have amazing stories to tell, passed down through the generations!