Vegan Island Life
As much as we loved Melaka with it’s amazing vegan food, we were really looking forward to a bit of time at the beach, so we set off to have a week of sun, sea and sand on Tioman island…
This involved staying overnight in Mersing, a town where even the local travel agent told us there was “nothing to do” and it turns out she was right.
This didn’t bother us because we love meeting people and we were lucky enough to meet a very nice man called Mr Tan. He runs the only vegan place in town, a tiny restaurant in the back of the bus station, where he serves up food for just a few hours each morning. We managed to catch him just before closing which was great because the vegan eating options in Mersing are limited.
Vegan Food Quest discovers the only vegan restaurant in Mersing = Very Happy Vegan
Stir fried green beans, rice and crispy soya pieces
We were stuck in a town with nothing to do and not much to eat but Mr Tan took pity on us delivering some nasi goreng (fried rice) to us after he closed.
The universal love and kindness of the vegan community was strong that day
We have nothing else to report about Mersing other than somehow managing to get a great vegan version of char kway teow (flat, wide rice noodles stir-fried in soy) & popiah (spring rolls) made for us at a cool cafe.
Delicious vegan char kway teow – a Malaysian noodle speciality successfully veganised
Popiah or spring rolls – these are found either fried or fresh with a tasty vegan ‘sambal’ chilli tomato sauce
It only takes a short ferry ride from Mersing to get to Tioman. We had decided to stay in Juara which is a small quiet bay on the East coast of the island and had booked accommodation in the Juara Mutiara Beach Resort (a basic room with a fan and bathroom for about RM50 a night).
If anyone is planning to go to Juara then be advised to take supplies with you as once you have made the journey over the island, it takes some effort to get back over to the busier centre of Tekek (where there is an abundance of duty free shops for those looking for cheap alcohol).
The whole reason we went to Tioman, and Juara in particular, was for some peace, quiet and a bit of tropical island bliss. Now, it’s probably worth mentioning we are pretty fussy about tropical beaches at the Vegan Food Quest. We can’t help it because we’ve been spoiled over the years with trips to beautiful places that have become our benchmark.
The beach in Juara was nice, but it wasn’t amazing. It’s true that the water was warm, calm and particularly good for floating in but there was a lot of litter on the beach. As the numbers of tourists grew, the litter did too and no one cleaned it up. There were also a lot of sand flies. We hate sand flies.
The beautiful Juara Beach before the tourist numbers increased and litter was left everywhere
We thought we would at least make the most of the peace and quiet. However, nobody told the fruit bats that lived in the tree in front of our bungalow that this was our plan. As they hadn’t received the memo they took it upon themselves to go about their usual bat-like business which turns out to involve a lively exchange of communication with each other about who is roosting where and what is going on in the fruit bat world.
They are amazing creatures to observe and make the most unusual and penetrating screeching noise when they are all coming back to roost, which seemed to take place between the hours of 4am and sunrise. It may not surprise you to hear that this is not our preferred waking-up time.
After a couple of days of not really feeling comfortable on the beach because of the sand flies, and the fruit bat induced lack of sleep, we started to go a little stir-crazy and found solace in vegan ice lollies… Eaten purely for research purposes of course. No lovely raw, vegan cake to be savoured here we’re afraid.
Our daily ice lolly addiction
And the rest of the vegan food available? Well, we made our own chia porridge every morning and did take some soya milk (which can be bought from the local shop) to a restaurant on the beach who used it to successfully make the porridge on their menu into a good vegan breakfast (we added nuts and seeds from our snack box to make it a bit more interesting).
Vegan Food Quest healthy travel tip in action: always have some nuts and seeds with you
We also ate a lot of vegetable curries and vegetables in peanut sauce which seemed to be the ‘standard vegetarian traveller fare’ on the island. We haven’t really seen these dishes elsewhere in Malaysia but they were pretty tasty and it’s always a pleasure to eat your meal while looking out to sea.
Vegetables in peanut sauce: a sweet tasting, tomato, peanut and chilli flavoured creation
Simple and tasty vegetable coconut curry creation
In short, vegans here will not starve and will find some tasty food in the smaller beach shacks towards the North end of the beach.
We also spent our time visiting the Jaura Turtle Project, which is a project that is doing some crucial work to help save the endangered turtle population. We loved meeting people who are passionate about saving these beautiful creatures and learnt some interesting new turtle facts. We were so sad to hear about the threats to these awesome beings from plastic, fishing lines, the destruction of their habitat, hunting and their eggs being taken for food.
You inspired us with your work to protect turtles and taught us lots of new facts about these amazing creatures
With turtles in our minds, we went snorkelling and were once again reminded of the threat to our oceans as the coral reef was all but dead and there were hardly any fish swimming about. It’s always worrying to see a mass of bleached and broken coral and we were about to swim back to shore when we caught a glimpse of a turtle.
We didn’t want to scare it so kept our distance until it seemed to be used to us and then we got to swim with it for nearly an hour, watching it eat, explore and glide gracefully through the water with skill and ease. It was a moving experience and one that will stay with us forever. Swimming with a magnificent sea creature in the wild felt like a gift to be cherished and it left us wondering why anyone would want to see animals like this kept in captivity?
wow. wow. wow
One of the most beautiful moments we’ve ever had in the sea
The landscape of Tioman is nothing short of beautiful, with the jungle interior forming a backdrop to the beach that made us feel humbled by it’s sheer scale and wildness. We contemplated the power of nature as we swam in waterfall pools and stared up and the gigantic trees in the jungle.
Paul contemplating the power of nature
Happy faces after our waterfall swim
Final thoughts in this post have to go to a fellow traveller that we met on our first night on Tioman and who sadly went missing the next day, he was found dead a few days after we left, leaving us reflecting on the fragility and impermanence of life.
We have made many sacrifices to give up our life at home and travel long term but following our dream and living life for now is something we feel is important. None of us know what awaits us tomorrow.
RIP Gareth Huntley