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
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!
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
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 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
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
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.
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
Ahh, Borneo! The land of sweltering rainforests, soaring Mount Kinabalu, hairy orangutans, horny rhinos, and priapic proboscis monkeys.
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
I was aware of Sipadan, the famous dive site off northeast Malaysian Borneo, even before I started my Open Water course. Diving Sipadan is on the bucket list of just about every diver coming to Southeast Asia. A tiny volcanic pinnacle rising 600m from the seafloor, it is home to huge amounts of marine life.
Diving Sipadan wasn’t in my plans. It’s a lot more expensive than diving almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia. A complicated permit system helps keep the sites pristine, but it makes advance bookings a must. I was prepared to skip Sipadan in order to save time and money. At the time we were planning our trip to Borneo, Paul wasn’t yet a diver, and I was hesitant to spend a lot of money on an amazing experience that he couldn’t share. But a well-traveled American diver we met in the Banda Islands emphatically told me that Sipadan was not to be missed. Paul also encouraged me to go for it. And I’m glad I did!… Read more