Tioman island, Malaysia.
This hilly island and its surrounding isles was a popular dive spot for Singaporeans some twenty, thirty years ago.
Unlike other West Malaysian dive spots like Redang quite far north or Langkawi on the eastern coast, Tioman was closer, about two hours by hydrofoil or 45 minutes by propeller plane.
Singaporeans came to Tioman in hordes, but now, not so much.
The last time I’d come here was 20 years ago with friends to do a bit of diving. My best memory of that last dive was seeing sea cucumbers inert on the floor of the sea, like large animal poop but hot pink in colour.
Tioman in the 21st century has aged well. The hills resist much development so only new beach resorts spring up where the live entertainment plays songs from the 1990s and I reacquainted myself with the repertoire of Michael Learns To Rock.
The kampongs are still rustic, unspoiled by a lack of tourists, but still linked to the outside by the odd Internet cafe.
Tioman’s dive spots are sprinkled over little islands 20 minutes by speedboat and I discovered, thankfully, that the reefs hadn’t yet been depleted by marauding sea urchins.
A day snorkelling in the sunlit depths makes you want to watch Finding Nemo all over again. I trailed a gang of squid torpedoing their way above the stiff coral branches, sea-borne missiles dotted with fluorescence gleaming in the green light.
Unlike the popular and busy resorts of Phuket, Thailand, or Bali, Indonesia, this quiet little island in the South China Sea remains a best-kept secret, unfashionable to the worldly traveller of today but worth a visit, if only for old times’ sake.