When we departed for our 15-month trip around the world, we didn’t even pack swimsuits. But a few months in, after our first look at the coral reefs of Indonesia, we were enchanted by the underwater world. Soon, we were seeking out unique underwater adventures and planning our itinerary around them. By the end of our trip, we had chalked up over 50 dives between us, countless hours of snorkeling, and some truly weird and wonderful fish encounters. Everyone who plans a trip to Southeast Asia should have a sea life encounter, but it takes some planning and know-how to pick the best spots. Here is a list of our favorite places to see marine life in Southeast Asia.
Manta Rays: Nusa Penida, Indonesia
What: Manta rays swoop in circles around a cleaning station in a rocky bay, lining up to get nibbled by small fish. It’s a hypnotic spectacle. After a few seconds with the mantas, they became our favorite marine animal.
Where: Nusa Penida, an island off the southeast coast of Bali, Indonesia.
When: Any time of the year.
What are the chances? Excellent but not guaranteed. We were lucky and saw over 10 mantas. Our guide … Read more
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.… Read more
A contrarian’s guide to snorkeling and diving when you are scared of the deep
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 … Read more
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
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
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.
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
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
“I’m glad we’re not scuba divers,” I mused to Paul, flicking through the Lonely Planet Indonesia while lounging on the couch in our Seattle apartment one Sunday afternoon. “It’s so expensive, and if we were divers we would have to add so many places to our itinerary. We don’t have time for that!”
How things change! When we left home, we thought that our trip was going to be focused on mountains, jungles, and culture. Beaches were places where gap year backpackers got drunk, and there was nothing that interesting to see underwater anyway. We never would have guessed that by the time we arrived Labuanbajo, the gateway to Komodo National Park in Indonesia, we would be more excited about the diving than the dragons, I would have Advanced Open Water certification with 28 logged dives, and Paul would be ready to overcome his fear of water and do a dive course.… Read more
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
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 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
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.
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