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

Banaue rice terraces

The Rice Terraces of Banaue in Photos

I am a rice terrace addict. There aren’t many other kinds of landscapes that are shaped by both nature and culture. The Ifugao people of north-central Luzon in the Philippines built some of the world’s biggest rice terraces 2000 years ago. The terraces follow the contours of the deep valleys and steep cliffs. The Ifugao rice terraces around Banaue are a UNESCO World Heritage site, feature on the Filipino currency, and are nicknamed the ‘8th Wonder of the World.’

The terraces immediately surrounding Banaue aren’t inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The agency disapproves of the amount of building and development that is taking place in the town. You need to get out of town and visit one of the smaller villages like Batad or Hungduan to be able to say you’ve seen the World Heritage site.

But the terraces around Banaue are still staggeringly beautiful. There are at least four viewpoints on the road leading north of town. We visited at several times of day to get the best effect of the changing light and shadows. When we visited in the middle of April, the terraces were at varying stages of cultivation. Some areas were bare and flooded, … 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.

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.

Batad rice terraces

Annoyed in the Batad Rice Terraces

Anyone who makes the long trip to the Ifugao region in north Luzon should visit the Batad rice terraces. Batad, a small village off the road system east of Banaue, has some of the area’s most beautiful rice terraces carved into a natural amphitheater in a deep valley. After setting up a home base in Banaue, we headed to Batad for a couple of days of hiking in the UNESCO-designated rice terraces.

The Batad rice terraces were arguably the most spectacular ones we saw. But Batad also felt like the least friendly village in the Ifugao area and Walking ATM Syndrome was prevalent. One obnoxious would-be guide pushed me to my limits of patience. Still, we recommend a stay of at least one night in Batad to appreciate the marvelous landscape.

Highlights

• Possibly the most beautiful rice terraces we visited in the Philippines
• Trekking to the viewpoint across from the village
• Good weather and nice light in the late afternoon and early morning

Lowlights

• Annoying guide who followed us around
• Mediocre food and atmosphere at Ramon’s Native Homestay

Planning Central Asia Overland Travel

Central Asia Overland Travel: What You Should Know

We had grand plans for the beginning of our round the world trip. We would travel across Central Asia overland from Istanbul to Xinjiang in the footsteps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great. We had dreams of visiting the ancient cities and mosques of the Silk Road and trekking in the land of the snow leopards in the high Pamirs.

This wasn’t our first trip to Central Asia. In the summer of 2013, we attended our friends’ wedding in Kazakhstan and did two treks in Kyrgyzstan. But our Central Asia overland trip threw up a few more challenges than we anticipated. In the end, we didn’t make it all the way to China, and it wasn’t quite all overland. We saw some amazing sights, met a lot of interesting people, and went to a lot of remote locations that most people will never visit. We also experienced a lot of bumps on the road. For several reasons, we cut our trip short and bailed out to Bangkok.

Travel in Central Asia has more pitfalls than in many parts of the world – and some pleasant surprises. Here are some of the things we wish we had known when we … 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.