Author Archives: Paul Buxton

Danum Valley sunrise

Danum Valley Field Centre: How to Visit Independently

Ahh, Borneo! The land of sweltering rainforests, soaring Mount Kinabalu, hairy orangutans, horny rhinos, and priapic proboscis monkeys.

Not quite!

Actually, it is a green sea of ever-expanding palm oil plantations, which threatens the existence of all the above except the high mountains. And, it wouldn’t surprise us if in 15 years Mount Kinabalu is covered in oil palm trees too! Thankfully, small pockets of primary forest still exist. And the well-heeled traveler, or backpacker wishing to bust her budget, can still visit areas of tropical rainforest that have not changed in millions of years.

Once such place is the Danum Valley Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. It is primarily a research institution, but provides facilities for visitors. … Read more

Padar Island, Komodo

Island Hopping in Komodo

There is more to Komodo National Park than dragons, coral, currents, and big fish. There are beautiful hikes, Bajo villages, flying foxes, and gorgeous beaches. It seems odd to me that many backpackers come to one of the world’s most beautiful places then opt for a cheap-ass tour, on a crappy boat, with no safety equipment or English-speaking guide. Yeah, they see the dragons, snorkel at Pink Beach, and have a craic with like-minded cheapskates. But that seemed a bit lame to us.

We had already spent 3 days on the Wicked Diving liveaboard in Komodo, but we wanted to take another trip to see the dragons on Komodo and Rinca, snorkel, and hike. We wanted a good boat and an excellent guide with great language skills and knowledge of the park. Safety was paramount too. We want life vests, radios on board, and a speedboat for evacuation and/or transfers to beaches and snorkel spots.

Not too much to ask. But, unbelievably, there is only one operator in town that offers such a service. That company is Flores XP Adventures. And, thankfully, they had a trip that fitted into our schedule. We joined their 3 day Liveaboard Adventure and it … Read more

Learning to Dive in Komodo

Why go to Komodo National Park?

If you want to see the most magnificent underwater world on Earth, you come to Komodo. The park should be on every diver’s bucket list. This is the place to see Manta Rays, Sharks, Turtles, Bumpheads, Octopus, and every imaginable fish big and small. The coral reefs are pristine and, for me, it is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever seen

But is this a good spot for a novice diver?

The park is also (in)famous for its very strong currents. Side currents, down currents, up currents, and whirlpools, Komodo has them all. Worse, the currents are extremely changeable. A placid dive can turn into an air-burning swim against a down current in seconds.

Komodo can be challenging even for experienced divers. Of course, the first thing you learn in your Open Water training is that diving always carries an element of risk. As if I needed reminding further, a Singaporean diver lost her life a few days before we arrived in Komodo.

For sure, this is no place to book your dives and/or dive courses based solely on budget. Choose a dive shop based on reputation. And dig deep into … Read more

Rice terraces near Ruteng, Flores, Indonesia

Ruteng: Hobbits, Spiderwebs, Ugly Sound Systems, and the World’s Best Coffee

Ruteng, in the Manggarai region of inland western Flores, is not the most inviting town in Indonesia. The best hotel is in a convent, 90% of locals think you merely exist for their English practice, and local transport tends to be an ear-splitting sound system on wheels. However, with patience you will find that the surrounding areas are beautiful, hobbits existed locally (albeit 10,000 years ago), and that the best coffee shop in Asia is just around the corner.

Our Story

Our first impressions of Ruteng were not great. We arrived after a gruelling six-hour bemo ride, found our hotel of choice was full, booked into a grubby shithole, and got harangued by an aggressive local youth wanting to know if we were Catholic or not.

After checking in to the hotel, we headed back out on the streets and got pestered at every turn by groups of young guys wanting to practice their English. They also seemed to want us to go on tours and bombarded us with local information. One dude asked us where we were heading so we told him, ‘to Kopi Mane Cafe’. ‘May we accompany you for coffee’, came the reply. We were used to … Read more

Tololela village. Bajawa, Flores

The Ngada Villages of Bajawa

The Bajawa region is a regular stop for travelers crossing Flores. The area is dominated by the picture perfect volcano, Gunung Inerie, and is dotted with delightful traditional Ngada villages. Bajawa seemed like a typically scruffy Indonesian town, so we opted to stay in the fantastic Manulalu Resort, which sits on one of the flanks of Inerie.

Our Story

It is fair to say that most accommodation in Flores is neither pleasant nor good value. There is just not enough competition in most towns and villages for hotel owners to have to up their game. A quick look at TripAdvisor would probably put you off coming! However, we managed to find one decent place in every town we visited. The downside is that lots of other travelers have found the same place so often they can be fully booked.

Our favorite place in Flores was the Manulalu Resort near Bajawa. It is well out of town so your food and drink options will be limited to the in-house cafe. However, the sublime views more than compensate for the limited, but tasty, menu. The rooms weren’t bad value at IDR400,000. We arrived late in the afternoon just as the sun was … Read more

Kelimutu crater sunrise, Flores

Volcanic Views at Kelimutu and Moni

As a rule, visiting volcanoes in Indonesia is a right royal pain in the butt. Thankfully, the sublime Kelimutu on the island of Flores is the exception to the rule. The volcano seems not to attract scammers, the site is not overrun with tourists, there seems to be good litter management in the park, and the views are truly unique and sensational.

Our Story

The most convenient base for visiting Kelimutu is the delightful village of Moni at the foot of the volcano. We stayed at the best place in town, Angi Homestay. The owner, Johannes, and his wife Rose, have a couple of lovely bungalows overlooking the rice fields. Breakfast was simple but delicious. Pancakes, avocado, passion fruit, and excellent Flores coffee. The price was good too. In low season bargain.

Johannes helped organize our ojeks up to the lakes in the morning and our bus out of town. The village is a pleasant spot to wander around but you are here for the lakes.

We woke up at 4.30am on our second day in town and met up with our motorbike taxis. It is surprisingly chilly on a bike at that time so long pants and a sweater … Read more

Rice terraces of Hungduan, Philippines

Hungduan Rice Terraces and an Ifugao Festival

Most tourists that venture up to the Ifugao Rice Terraces of North Luzon in the Philippines typically visit the terraces of Banaue, the hub for the area, and Batad, a small village a few kilometers away. However, with a little more effort you can see jawdropping terraces and villages that see comparatively few tourists. If you are lucky, as we were, you might even happen on a local festival. We visited the rice terraces of Hungduan to the northwest of Banaue.

Where did we go and how did we get there?

Laura can never get enough rice terraces! Our overnight bus back to Manila was leaving at 6pm so we had a whole day to kill before the journey south. The genial owner of the Bogah Homestay recommended we visit the rice terraces of Hungduan and Hapao. He fixed us up with a local tricycle driver and after squeezing into the vehicle like sardines, we settled in for a rough, dusty, and ear-splitting ride up to the villages.… Read more

Bandaneira Sunset over Gunung Api

Return to the Banda Islands

We love the Banda Islands! The beautiful beaches, incredible coral gardens, fascinating history, friendly islanders, great accommodation, and delicious food enticed us to down backpacks for a couple of weeks last year. It is a our perfect tropical paradise in all senses of the phrase. When we were looking for a place to relax for a few weeks this year, there was no competition. We headed back to Banda.

Why go back to the Banda Islands?

We wanted a place that had all the above plus reasonable wifi so that we could work on a few ideas for mobile apps. We had an idea for a new kind of guide book in app form. The Banda Islands were the perfect subject for a prototype. There were several Islands with lots to do but they were small enough that we could do our research quickly. Banda was an up and coming destination which wasn’t covered well by current guides and blogs. So, we knew there would be interest.

It was also a good place for me to push on with with my swimming. The waters were generally safe and calm plus there was the distraction of big fish, turtles, and stupendous … Read more

The sea in front of Putih Lessi Indah

Putih Lessi Indah: A Beach Escape in Saparua

Saparua, one of the Lease Islands in the Maluku region of Indonesia, is unlikely to be a major destination anytime soon. But, it is a fantastic side trip for travelers wanting to extend a Maluku trip beyond the magnificent Banda Islands. There are white sand palm fringed beaches, snorkeling and diving, and divine tropical fruit. And one really awesome budget beach resort – Putih Lessi Indah.

Why visit Maluku?

Maluku is a mystery that slowly unfolds the more you dig around. The area was never well traveled and the sporadic communal violence that broke out in the early noughties killed off travel for all but the hardiest backpacker. The guide books still do not cover the area in detail and even the blogosphere only lightly touches on the region. The area has no functioning tourist office, contacting hotels and beach bungalows is difficult, the electricity supply is sporadic, and the transport situation is extremely changeable. It probably took me more time to figure out the ferry schedule for Saparua than it did to organize three weeks in Philippines!

The upside is that for the time being, there are relatively few tourists in Maluku. … Read more

Manta rays at Nusa Penida Bali.

Manta Madness at Nusa Penida, Bali

Another in our series of where to find guaranteed big fish encounters in Southeast Asia. If you want to swim with manta rays, then head to Bali and sign up for a snorkel trip to Manta Point at Nusa Penida. Nusa Penida is a wild island just 45 minutes away from Sanur in Bali. There are a number of outfits that run manta ray snorkel and dive trips out there. We did a snorkel trip with the well-established dive shop, Blue Season.

Why did we go with Blue Season?

They run ‘snorkelers only’ trips on fast boats. You are accompanied by two divemasters, who are your guides in the water, and a couple of boatmen. The company is super-safety conscious and runs a tight ship. They are not the cheapest but the high degree of professionalism impressed us. They are a particularly good choice for novice snorkelers. … Read more