Tioman island, 2 travelers and a baby

21 Feb

I’m a breastfeeding, cloth-diapering, baby-wearing, co-sleeping backpacking mamma – Tioman Island.


“I’m sorry ma’am but the room you booked has bed bugs and will not be available for another week.” These are not the words any backpacker wishes to hear, especially when travelling with a 4 month old baby. A little weary, we were taken to a dark, wooden cabin with a thin mattress on the floor and an array of old dusty shell mobiles hanging from the rafters. “It’ll only be for two days until another room becomes available,” we were reassured by the bare-footed, long haired hippy who welcomed us.

The backpackers we had booked into was, for a lack of other words, full of character. The upkeep seemed minimal, although the rooms were surprisingly clean. Old fishing tackle hung as strangely decorative ornaments, and driftwood, old surfboards, shells and broken snorkels nestled between tropical plants, like they were washed up with the tide. As the days went past, I started to reflect that it is perhaps this lostness which appeals to the weary backpacker taking a break from tour buses in bustling cities. It is a place to come in with the tide and be hidden amongst the hibiscus.

And with the tide we came to Tioman island on a ferry. A big, comfortable, safe ferry. I was 21 when I put on my first backpack and set sail for the world. I was determined that a baby would not change our discovery of new places. So with Jack, our 4 month old baby, in his front carrier and a backpack on each of our backs, we boarded the ferry to Tioman island, Malaysia. Backpacking with a baby is not easy. I forfeited a number of clothes to make space for baby clothes, towels and blankets. My husband expanded his bag’s straps to make room for the cloth nappies. Yes, that’s right, we’re cloth users. Imagine 10 days of using 10 disposable nappies – who has space for 100 nappies? And in 500 years, when Jack’s great grandchildren are travelling the world, his disposable will still be on that island. Nope! Instead we took 6 covers and 24 inserts, found a bucket and hand washed daily. Actually my husband hand-washed the nappies as he said I needed a holiday too.

In many ways, Juara beach is the most perfect location in the whole world. All accommodation in found directly on the beach with beach views and, apart from a few local surfers and a handful of tourists, the beach was desserted in monsoon season. Monsoon season brings with it rough seas and good waves for surfers, like my husband, but it doesn’t attract the majority of people as the white water makes for poor snorkeling.

One night it struck me that perhaps my time of staying in cheap backpackers is coming to an end. The young travellers were celebrating a birthday party and the beer cans were piling up. The music was loud and repetitive and the echoes of drinking-game songs filled our cabin (our new cabin, which actually had a bed.) My son was fast asleep but I couldn’t sleep – don’t you know that sleep for a young mother is so important?? We felt like the party-poopers shuffling to the communal area to ask them to move the party to the other side of the hostel. They obliged because they had come to love Jack and didn’t want to keep the baby awake (I didn’t tell them Jack was fast asleep). And it struck me odd that I could smell marijuana, considering that Malaysia has the death penalty for drug sellers and life in prison for drug possession. But then I remembered that youth believe they are invincible.

The following day one of the other young travelers remarked, “Jack is such a good baby. He never cries.” At which point, I wanted to say, “That’s because I work very hard to ensure that he doesn’t cry. I change his nappy often, I put him to sleep every 1 ½ hours and stay in my cabin to avoid overstimulation. I wear him to help him feel secure. I breastfeed him. I nurture him so he doesn’t cry. So he doesn’t ruin your holiday and keep you awake at night!!” But I didn’t.

Our activities (a walk on the beach, a swim, a coffee or milo at the local restaurant) are all planned to fit into Jack’s awake time. Possibly the best advice I received to avoid colic and long crying spells was to limit the amount of stimulation. “The more they sleep during the day, the better they sleep at night.” To avoid over stimulation we mostly left Jack in the cabin and Baden and I took turns to socialise in the common room with the other travelers. This was very refreshing for me because I had the opportunity to talk to other interesting adults (something I don’t get too often being a house wife).

Feeding Jack was a never a problem. He’s exclusively breastfed which was also the most convenient option for us as travelers. No sterlising bottles, warming the milk or mixing the formula. In a predominating Muslim country, it’s quite conservative and I would never dream of feeding in public without a cover. So I would usually find a quiet corner, cover up and attempt to feed discreetly. This was not always successful considering that my son is such a noisy eater; he gulps milk like we’d drink a Coke on a hot summer’s day.

In general I’m not a fan of bed sharing. Not for fear of rolling on him or for fear of developing wrong habits but simply because I don’t sleep. Jack stretches out his arms and legs and takes up the space of a full adult so my husband and I are forced to sleep like pins as still as a photograph. My husband attempted to sleep in the hammock on two occasions to give us more space which helped us more than him, I think.

And like all holidays, ours needed to come to an end. Unfortunately, the seas were too rough and no ferries were operating for another 11 days. We had no more money or clean clothes so as a last resort to get off the island, we joined a charted boat of cowboys who sped across the open sea on a very bumpy 2 hour ride. It was neither big, comfortable or safe. We were soaking wet, I got sea sick and we were surprised that we were still alive after the driver lit up a cigarette while refueling the boat. But somehow my angel slept through it all. We were going home for a holiday.


One Response to “Tioman island, 2 travelers and a baby”

  1. Calvin February 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    Certainly not a dull holiday. Thanks for sharing.

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The Dowies in Asia

2 travellers and a baby

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