28 November 2003

Malaysia: Tale of two islands

By DIANA McCURDY

It's a mistake to attempt a pleasant evening stroll from the resort to the village. For a small island, Tioman has a lot of traffic. Small motorbikes and taxi vans whine past constantly, puffing fumes into the muggy jungle heat.
After three days on Tioman, I feel a little worn out by the organised activities and thronging crowds and turn my attention to finding a more remote island paradise. My island of choice is Pulau Rawa, a much smaller, privately owned island halfway between Tioman and the mainland.
It's something of an educated gamble because Rawa's advertising claims many of the same assets as Tioman (sun, sand and snorkelling).
With no airstrip and no ferries between Tioman and Rawa, it seems unlikely to attract the same crowds.
After booking accommodation on Rawa, I take my bags to Tekek's main jetty and start negotiating with ferry drivers to make a detour to the island. Half an hour later, and 30 ringgit ($12.50) poorer, I'm on my way to Rawa.
The little open-air ferry is full to overflowing. A sign at the front of the boat instructs passengers to wear life jackets but is ignored.
I arrive at Rawa safe and sound 90 minutes later. After the crowds of Tioman, Pulau Rawa is truly an island paradise. Little beachfront chalets dot the shoreline, 20 metres from the water.
The sea is such a clear, pristine blue that the fish swarming below the jetty are easily visible from above.
A reef just metres offshore hosts stunning coral and an enormous array of fish. Beautiful rainbow-coloured fish swim gently alongside me. Other long, skinny fish with big teeth show a disturbing penchant for rushing at my face.
The man in the snorkelling hire shop laughs when I ask him whether any of the fish are dangerous. "No tourist die," he says.
There's no point in worrying because there's no way for me to differentiate the nasty fish from the kindly ones. The only fish chart on the island details natives of the Atlantic Ocean.
My fish spotting is limited to identifying clown fish (the star of Finding Nemo) peeking out from anemones.
With fewer people on this little island, the beach is cleaner than Tioman's and provides ideal snorkelling conditions. Best of all, there are no noisy diggers.
The only interruption in this paradise is the sound of construction work behind the little beach chalets.
A resort worker says they are building more accommodation and enlarging their eating hall.
At his words, my heart constricts with selfish sadness that this little island may soon go the way of its larger cousins.
It seems a depressing inevitability: everyone wants a slice of paradise. In a few years, no doubt Rawa will have its own big orange diggers roaming the beaches.