No Road to Nipah
No Road to Nipah
WRITER: Angela Chew PHOTOS BY: Ernest Goh
No Road to Nipah 27. March 2024, by Angela Chew, Photos by Ernest Goh
Photographer Ernest Goh takes the path less travelled through Tioman’s rainforest in search of untamed beauty and makes some fascinating discoveries.

The earthy scent of loam. The steady crunch of dry leaves underfoot. I was hiking from Kampung Genting to Kampung Nipah on a trail the locals had promised was a challenging one. On their advice, I had engaged a guide and put on a good pair of hiking shoes. My guide, Boy, however, led the way in flip flops.

Walking in single file, we followed the power lines that snaked through the rainforest, climbing over rocks and mushroom-covered logs while keeping an eye out for the narrow path that sometimes ducked out of sight. We walked in silence, enjoying the mid-morning calm that was broken only by the distant chirping of birds and insects.

It wasn’t long before we reached a series of rickety wooden bridges. “Must be careful. Some of the wood not good,” came the friendly warning. Taking care to walk down the centre, we were joined by throngs of ants out on their daily foraging trip.

Then in a blink-and-miss-it moment, I glimpsed sparkling sand and blue waters in a small clearing through the trees. We left the trail and stepped into the sunlight that warmed the sand and danced with the waves. This was what I had come to Tioman for—quiet, untouched beaches that capture the imagination. I stood there for a moment to take it all in.

“Sometimes, turtles come and lay eggs,” Boy remarked, drawing me back to reality. I looked around but, of course, there were none that day.

Continuing down the trail, we trudged passed the remnants of an old resort. I was told that it was the workers there who had built the bridges. We crossed the last of the wooden structures, which led to another pristine beach protected by rocks. The heat and humidity persuaded me to remove my shoes and wade in. It was here that I chanced upon something I didn’t expect. Half buried in the sand were the white shells of giant clams. An interesting find, given how rare they are.

Leaving the beach, I realised that the easiest part of the hike was over. So far, we had been following the coastline. Now, we made a steep upward climb over tree roots and moss-covered boulders with the help of guide ropes—and sometimes without. The trail was littered with leaves upon leaves which made getting a firm footing that much harder. It had just rained early that morning but thanks to Boy’s suggestion to delay our departure, the ground was mostly dry.

Fungi growing on damp wood

Ants out on their daily quest to feed the colony

“Sikit lagi1,” he encouraged. We had been climbing for 40 minutes. Sweat was running off my chin and soaking my shirt. The camera that was slung around my shoulder had also taken a few knocks. I looked up to see a giant boulder looming ahead of me. Batu Permata. The rock outcrop marked the three-quarter point of my journey and offers scenic views of the surrounding area. One last push and I was there at its base.

My chest heaving, I stopped to catch my breath on a rock and finished what was left of my water. Boy had thoughtfully packed an extra bottle just in case and wordlessly handed it to me with a knowing smile.

Standing in the shadows of Batu Permata

Scaling new heights at Batu Permata

Inscription at the base of the ladder

Despite its sheer sides, scaling Batu Permata itself was easy enough, thanks to sturdy metal ladders that had been anchored securely to the rock. It wasn’t too long ago that these were wooden stairs with little to hold onto, I learnt.

Once I reached the top, whatever fatigue I had was displaced by the view. Deep blue waters stretched into the horizon. Poking out from the beach beneath us was a jetty which belonged to a now-abandoned resort. It was a sight I had worked hard for. Taking off my shirt and laying it on a rock to dry, I pulled out my camera to capture the moment.

The bay of Kampung Nipah from a distance

Meanwhile, Boy had shimmied down and up another set of ladders and was already perched on the edge of the rock outcrop. He beckoned me to join him and I did. Sitting there, soaking in a scene that few of Tioman’s visitors got to experience or even knew about, I felt like I got to know the island a little more.

Boy taking in the view from the top of Batu Permata

I could have sat there forever, but a familiar rumbling told me it was almost time for lunch. So, I put my semi-dry shirt back on and made my way down.

From there, it was an easy trek to the jungle behind a stretch of beach the locals call Pasir Cina, where the abandoned resort stood peeking through the trees. The sight awakened the explorer in me. Besides, after having endured the tropical jungle’s heat and its resident mosquitoes for over an hour, the beach was a welcome relief and I gladly took the detour.

Despite some signs of wear, the resort’s structures and walkways were sturdy, and we quickly made our way onto white sands. There, the turquoise waters devoid of people were a siren call. Pulling off my shirt, I dove in as Boy looked on in amusement. As I cooled off, I saw many more giant clam shells, which speak of the quality of Tioman’s waters.

A giant clam shell on the beach

Refreshed from my swim, I was ready to make the final push to Kampung Nipah. “Only 30 minutes more,” promised my guide.

In truth, Nipah’s beach was just around the corner by sea. But by land, this meant a steep ascent into the jungle once more and clambering over boulders which, by now, had become a familiar friend. At certain points, the trail disappeared completely and Boy had to improvise our way forward.

Eventually, we reached the tipping point. “All downhill now.” He wasn’t kidding. The descent was steep. We could even see the beach through the trees from our height. Using the guide ropes, I made my way down, while Boy bounded from tree root to rock with the ease of a mountain goat.

Before long, I came to the large boulder that stood between me and Kampung Nipah. One big leap onto soft white sand and I was there.

A boat was patiently waiting for us just offshore. But as we headed towards it, the trail had one last gift for me. Where a small freshwater stream meets the sea, I spied a little Snakehead Gudgeon going about its business in the clean, clear water. It was a welcoming sight and a promising one too—something that I hope Tioman will be able to preserve for the years to come.

A Snakehead Gudgeon enjoying the clear waters of Tioman

1Sikit lagi — Just a bit more