Author Archives: Paul Buxton

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

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. … Read more

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