Bahia Tomini in the Togean Islands

The Last Stop: Malenge and Bolilanga

The Last Post

This is the last post recording our travels on our 2015 – 2016 Asian odyssey. I can be thankful that I can type these last lines staring out of our Seattle apartment on a clear sunny day with views of the magnificent Mount Rainier. But, with the maelstrom of a miserable election campaign washing over us I pine for those quieter and simpler times.

But, hey, winter’s coming and you are looking for a beautiful tropical place to sit back, get some rays, and unwind. Well, I have two wonderful places for you to contemplate. Jeez, even looking at these photos is chilling my ass the f#*@k out!

May I introduce the fantastic and mostly unspoiled islands of Malenge and Bolilanga in the Sulawesi region of Indonesia. If you are looking for stunning coral, astonishing marine life, soft white sand, tasty but simple food, and zero connectivity then this is the place for you. The islands are a pain in the ass to get to (for now). But, that’s why they are unspoiled.

Snorkeling in the Togean Islands

Scared Swimmer to Scuba Diver: Paul’s Odyssey

A contrarian’s guide to overcoming fear of water

Just over a year ago, I refused to jump into the deep end of my local swimming pool despite the presence of three lifeguards. Just six months ago, I was deeply apprehensive about swimming over a coral drop off despite wearing a life vest. So, how did I fall in love with the ocean and end up scuba diving in the notorious currents of Komodo?

I am here to tell you that if I can learn to swim, snorkel and dive, then anyone can. Like many things in life, motivation and persistence are required. Oh, and it helps to be on a tropical beach with crystal-clear water and a fabulous coral reef.

Read on to find out how I went from being scared of deep water to plunging into the depths, and why you can and should too.

Why didn’t I learn to swim?

I have plenty of reasons (read: excuses) why I steadfastly avoided learning to swim. My school didn’t have a swimming pool or dedicated swimming program. When my dad took my brother and sister swimming on Saturdays, I played soccer. At college, swimming and booze didn’t seem a good … Read more

Boat at the jetty at Poya Lisa resort

Poya Lisa: Cats, Coral and Birdwatching in the Togean Islands

Poya Lisa is a must-stay destination in the Togeans. The resort is on a tiny island in a small bay off Batudaka island in the southwest part of the archipelago. As is the case throughout the Togean Islands, the term “resort” doesn’t denote a five-star luxury experience. Rather, it’s a set of basic beach bungalows in a magnificent setting. Like all the resorts in the region, accommodation is full board, dining is at communal tables, the hosts arrange great snorkeling trips, and there is a pleasant stretch of soft white sand. Divers can arrange submersible activities with Bomba Divers just across the water.

To get there from Una Una, we took the thrice weekly public boat to Wakai, then transferred to the convenient express boat, the Hercules, which runs a daily shuttle Ampana-Wakai-Ampana. The captain will make the short detour to Poya Lisa on request.

Snorkeling at Sunset

Clear Togean seas.
Sunset snorkel trip.

We dived straight into the action soon after we arrived. The house reef is nothing special but the resort runs free late afternoon boat trips out to nearby reefs. We jumped into an outrigger, grabbed a life vest for Buxton, and headed out to Stefan Reef. The reef was … Read more

Diving Una Una

Diving Una Una: Ending a year of travel in style

How do you wrap up an amazing 14-month tour across Asia? Visit a new country? Stay at a plush resort? Do a thirty day monastic retreat? Climb Everest? Or, revisit one of your favorite spots? We opted for the latter and headed off to the gorgeous Togean Islands in east Indonesia for a couple of weeks of snorkeling, diving, chilling, and wildlife watching. We fondly recalled our first trip to the Togean Islands in September 2015 as the moment when we really found our travel groove. Even better, there is so much to do there we didn’t have to repeat anything from the first trip.

Our return to the Togean Islands confirmed our new-found love of the ocean. And it reminded of us of the stark choices humanity has to make if we wish to protect the oceans for the enjoyment of future generations.

Our Story

Jetty. Una Una
The jetty at Sanctum Una Una.

As ever in Indonesia, there were some transportation issues prior to arriving at these remote islands. We had booked flights from Bali to the port town of Gorontalo in North Sulawesi. Alas, we found out the day before the flight that the Tuna Tomini ferry was in dry … Read more


Announcing Photo Atlas for Android

We are pleased to announce that Photo Atlas, the first Design Think Travel app, is available on the Google Play Store.

With Photo Atlas, you can explore the world in Flickr photos. Get inspired for future trips, scout locations for a photo shoot, or just browse billions of amazing images from around the world. You can save photos in collections to refer to for trip planning.

Why Photo Atlas?

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I love to go to beautiful places and take photos. My second favorite thing to do is to find out about more beautiful places to take photos. I developed the Photo Atlas app to make it easy to visually research destinations.

The app displays geotagged Flickr photos on a map. You can search for places and zoom in to find more photos for a destination. You can also filter photos by keyword. By default, the app displays photos that rank high in in Flickr’s interestingness rating. You can also sort photos by date taken or date posted.

You can save photos you like by adding them to collections. Collections help with planning trips, making bucket lists, and finding great shots to … Read more

Khan Tengri from South Inylchek Glacier Base Camp

South Inylchek Glacier Trek

In Up To Our Necks: South Inylchek Glacier Trek, August 2013

A good travel story is worth telling even if the events took place nearly three years ago. We also noticed that there wasn’t too much information out there about this trek from the perspective of non-expeditionist backpackers. We hope you enjoy the crazy tales and awesome photos.

What better way to prepare for a friend’s wedding in South Kazakhstan than going on the demented Inylchek Glacier trek into the heart of the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan? Yes, it sounds rather ridiculous to us now too in hindsight! But, that is precisely what we did.

We super excited when our friends, Eric from Seattle and Assela from Kazakhstan, told us they were to be wed in the bride’s hometown of Kulan, 400km west of Almaty. The wedding and related activities would take up four days but we weren’t going to fly all the way there and not check out more of the area. We had always wanted to do an extended Central Asia trip and this was a perfect opportunity to test the waters.

We looked at the map and figured we could visit the Tien Shan mountains across … Read more

Boardwalk at the entrance to Bako National Park

Down and Gout in Bako and Kuching

We had big plans for our trip to Kuching. We had planned on staying there for six days. We were going to partake of its renowned local food, see Orangutans at Semenggoh, check out randy proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park, inhale the stench of a Rafflesia flower in Gunung Gading National Park, and visit a museum or two.

We ended up subsisting on Vietnamese food, visiting a sketchy doctor, and hobbling around a couple of museums. And, we spent a ridiculous amount of time in a shopping mall. Why? Buxton got his eight-yearly bout of severe gout in his right ankle! Thankfully, we didn’t miss out on proboscis priapism though!

Our Story

I rarely drink Coca Cola. But, when I do I end up in screaming agony!

Laura snarled at me when I said I wanted a Coke while watching the spectacular bat exodus from Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park. However, I was pig sick of guzzling down gallons of water to fight off dehydration in the fetid humidity of Borneo. For some reason, I instantly regretted drinking it. Don’t know why. The next day we headed out to the airport to fly to Kuching. I had … Read more

Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park

Bat S**t Crazy and Sweaty at Gunung Mulu

Gunung Mulu was at the top of our must-see list since we first started planning our trip. This remote National Park in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo is famous for spectacular caves, nightly exodus of three million bats, accessible rainforest hikes, and a vertigo-inducing canopy walkway.

Gunung Mulu is certainly visceral. It will be some time before we forget the ammoniac smell of tons of bat poo, the ever present sheen of greasy sweat, and the ferocity of the midday sun.

We stayed at the grungy Mulu River Lodge for three nights. It is cheap and is located just outside the park entrance. But, convenience aside, there is little to recommend it. The breakfast provided by the hotel restaurant was pretty low quality, so we ate lunch and dinner at the Park’s Mulu Cafe.

There are a huge range of activities on offer at the park. Spelunkers can travel through some of the world’s largest cave systems. Intrepid trekkers can climb the 2700m Mulu Summit or visit Mulu Pinnacles. Lord knows why you would want to trek in the hideous heat and humidity though.

We opted for the less strenuous pursuits. We visited Deer, Clearwater, Wind, and Lang … Read more

Sepilok Orangutan

Sepilok: Orangutans, Sun Bears, and Rainforest

Sepilok is the last chance saloon for tourists who didn’t luck out on orangutan sightings in the wild. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center has been so successful, it has spawned a couple of welcome copycat centers for sun bears and proboscis monkeys. Let’s not forget the trees and plants either: the Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) has some terrific jungle canopy walkways, towers, and exhibition centers to give you a gentle but exhilarating introduction to rainforest flora. The patient amateur David Attenborough also has a good chance of seeing cool birdlife. If your luck is really in, then you may even see some of our closest animal cousins.

Surprise Orangutans at the Rainforest Discovery Centre

Canopy walk. Rainforest Discovery Centre

We stayed two nights in Sepilok, and on the first night we opted to visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre. If you want to see animals, then visit early morning or late afternoon. We headed straight for the canopy walkway in the afternoon. It gets you up to 15m or so. The jungle is surprisingly pleasant here but we saw no beasties apart from a giant tree squirrel.

We dropped off the canopy and headed for the Hornbill Tower. At 27m, it is the highest viewing platform … Read more

Kinabatangan orangutan

Kinabatangan: Where a Brazilian Wax Has Gone Too Far

The palm oil plantations keep ‘waxing away’ at the Borneo rainforest. This is one area where you wish the inspiration for forest maintenance was more 70’s Playboy rather than Shaven Havens. Ironically, the thin strip of bush on either side of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah is the best place in Borneo to see wild animals. The reason is obvious. The animals have nowhere else to go.

Our Story

We booked into a riverside resort called the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. They run good-value, nature-oriented 2N/3D packages. These include transfers to and from the lodge from nearby Sandakan, Sepilok, or Kota Kinabatangan.