Shark! Shark! The guy sounds genuinely excited though considering he works here and probably sees sharks every day his excitement has nothing on mine when I look into the water. A shoal of baby black tip reef shark is swimming just below and while they are little and I am not even in the water, they take my breath away.
Hello from Japamala! I am on Tioman island in the South Chinese Sea and like any proper deserted island paradise should be it is far away from civilization. The journey from Kuala Lumpur is anything but short: First a six hour ride with the night bus, a two-hour wait at the deserted ferry station in Mersing, followed by a two-hour ferry and then a five minute speed boat ride. A girl's gotta work her way into paradise, that is unless she can effort a private seaplane. Obviously I can't, so I find myself a kitten at each stop to keep entertained and relish in the knowledge that it was worth the effort once we get closer to the resort: Proper paradise at last!
Just like its sister hotel, Villa Samadhi in Kuala Lumpur, Japamala is all about local, barefoot luxury in the truest sense as shoes, unless they are diving booties, are completely unnecessary here. From the boat onto the jetty and into the sand.
Or in my case, as I'm starving, into the restaurant for breakfast. I sheepishly look at my naked, sandy toes, but apparently nobody cares. The waiter hands me the smoothie and breakfast menu and doesn't blink an eye when I order Eggs Benedict AND my first proper Malaysian breakfast, Nasi Lemak.
My Jungle Luxe Sarang is nestled up in the hills as are most of the other rooms, which provides perfect opportunity to
work off lunch and dinner get me huffing and puffing; how the porter who seems half my size gets my luggage up there remains a miracle.
Once inside I discover that I don't just have a room, I have rooms. Those are spacious, cool, and smell of jasmine and other delights. I am reminded to please keep doors shut as the monkeys may pay me a visit otherwise. Of course, I am ridiculously tempted to leave them open and share my welcome treats with them.
As per usual, I use my jacuzzi to wash off my snorkeling gear in lieu of romantic company and the private plunge pool with miniature waterfall to eat my afternoon snack and search for wildlife.
The wildlife finally finds me in form of a whole monkey family while I do a Bikram class on my patio later. Me, the city girl, has never been so close to a real monkey and I'm torn between wanting to pad one and being a bit scared that it will actually let me. I settle for taking pictures and videos to send to my monkey-crazed friend – you know who you are! - at home.
Happily I interrupt my yoga class for them and settle for an early cocktail hour instead, celebrating my first monkey sighting. Only later will I learn that if I had a cocktail for every monkey I'll see in Malaysia, I probably would have been drunk most of the time.
Dinner is done with a view and again barefoot, in fact I would deem it rude to put shoes on the cushiony sunbeds where it is served. Seafood marina meets pizza meets fresh spring rolls meets an extensive cocktail menu = happy me. It can only get more paradisaical with an extended shower in my rain shower and a ten-hour snooze in a bed with the best turndown service ever. Obviously that includes untucked sheets – thank you, dearest housekeeping!
The next morning I am ready to get into the water and swim with some sharks. Or so I think. I change my mind when I actually see them hang out in the same spot and they look so very shark-like. Miniature, yes, but still like a proper shark. While the water is warm, I take a looong time to immerse one toe after the other, paddle around, fiddle with my camera, and when I finally gather all my courage the little beast is simply too fast for me to be captured on film. Of course, I am not fast enough to follow it or so I tell myself and get my double portion of breakfast instead.
Breakfast is followed by some serious work: sun tanning, a dip in the pool, eating watermelon popsicles, and after lunch I have to repeat it all. That session is interrupted by a tropical downpour that gives me the perfect excuse for a nap. Have I mentioned that napping is my favorite hobby of all times? Honestly though in this place it feels a bit like a waste of time, but then again, I tell myself I'm on holiday after all and there is only so much shark-chasing a girl can do in a day.
Today I make it for Japamala's official complimentary cocktail hour which throws me back into the 80s or rather to my teenage years when we considered Barcardi and Coke to be a fancy cocktail. Then again with views like this everything is a fancy cocktail...
The next morning I feel like I'm being kicked out of paradise. As per usual, I have slept badly and when I wake up in the dark I actually feel like crying and not like someone who has a three-week adventure ahead of her. In case you haven't noticed, I am not a morning person! Luckily Anori doesn't pay much attention to my whining and simply has the nimble porter fetch my bags onto the boat and hands me my paper bag breakfast. She shakes my hand, wishes me well, and then I am off. The boat ride to the ferry feels dreamlike and eerie. I close my eyes and pretend I'm back in the turquoise water with the baby sharks, this time I'm a lot faster and get the perfect picture. When I open my eyes again, I'm at the ferry station, paradise feels far away, but luckily I still have sand on my feet to remind me.
Disclaimer: I was invited for a two-night stay by Japamala Resorts. Opinions are my own, but honestly one cannot not love this place