A few years ago on a trip around Malaysia and Thailand I decided to experience first hand some of the ever popular Thai islands that were renowned for their paradise like beauty and atmosphere. Choosing to head to Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. I soon came to realise that these islands were not the paradise that I had envisioned. Although their party atmospheres were fun, they were just yet more places that had lost their uniqueness and peaceful spirits to mass tourism.

As it turns out, the paradise I was searching for on the Thai islands was further down the coast in Malaysia. Malaysia has a whole host of unsung little postcard worthy islands. Many overshadowed by the popularity of Thailand. But they offer just the same beautiful scenery and a less touristy experience, which really drums home that popular is by no means better.

Travelling in your mid-twenties, Tioman Island


The atmosphere

The thing I loved most about staying on Tioman Island compared to the Thai islands was how blissfully underdeveloped it still was. Being a holiday destination for only locals and a minority of backpackers. Commercialism had not yet taken a hold on Tioman Island. So there was no one trying to flog you fake sunglasses or pushing you to eat at their restaurant. This made it the perfect place to get some real escapism from the rest of the world for a little while.


The beaches

Don’t get me wrong, the beaches on the Thai islands were beautiful. But the traces left behind by the beach parties and the selling of jewellery and drinks by the locals made them lose a bit of their shine. On the other hand all the beaches on Tioman Island were both extremely beautiful and left very much how nature intended. It’s actually where I found one of my favourite beaches I’ve ever been to so far, Monkey Beach. Sat in a completely uninhabited part of the island it can only be reached by boat or through the jungle. It’s the epitome of a tropical desert island beach. Think turquoise water, beautiful yellow sand and no one in sight (except for the odd monkey).


Things to do

Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are not exactly hot spots for diving and snorkeling unlike their sister island Koh Tao. So naturally Tioman Island was going to be better on this one. That said, the diving and snorkeling on Tioman was very good. As a protected nature reserve, it’s shores are filled with extensive coral reefs, colourful fish and other marine life. Plus there’s lots of trips available so you can go and explore.

Trekking however was something all three of my islands had to offer. On both Thai islands I found the walking routes were a lot more developed. They had sign posts and were frequented by more people. Where as on Tioman Island it was just you and the jungle. The only instruction was to not stray too far from the power cables that marked a path through the foliage. Trekking gave me a great feeling of adventure and was also a good way get out the sun for a day. And although I enjoyed trekking on all the islands I did enjoy it more on Tioman Island as it was a bit more of an authentic experience.



As Malaysia is a much more of multi cultural country, the food options are a lot more diverse compared to Thailand. Both countries offer amazing and delicious food, but I preferred the choice that Malaysia offered. Here, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes are common place on all menus, as opposed to Thailand where it was mainly just Thai.


The cost

With the rise in popularity of Thailand’s islands among international tourists, the price of everything has risen too. So these places now seem expensive for South East Asia. Whereas Tioman Island has not seen such inflation so everything is still really cheap and is great for those on a budget.



As Tioman Island is less developed, there was also a lot more wildlife around the island. On the Thai islands the most wildlife I saw was the hostel owners cat. Whereas on Tioman Island we had a family of chickens living under our beach hut. Prehistoric like monitor lizards lounging around in the villages’ rivers. And monkeys swinging among the trees. As well as being interesting to watch, I loved seeing that the people here still shared the island with these animals rather than pushing them out with concrete and bricks.

Tioman Island, Malaysia (2)


I’m not saying that all Malaysian islands are better than Thai ones. There will be Thai islands out there which will offer a completely different experience than that of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Plus if you want somewhere with a busy nightlife then Thailand definitely has much more to offer you. But if you are looking for a less touristy experience. Something more authentic and adventurous perhaps. Or if you are on a bit more of a budget, I would really consider Tioman Island. It might just be the best thing you ever do.


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