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
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
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
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
Imagine the perfect beach: white sand, blue sea, and palm trees leaning languidly over the shore. Believe it or not, after traveling for almost a year and staying in countless beach huts, we hadn’t found that perfect beach. Maybe that’s because we had been looking for great coral and sea life, which doesn’t always come with the prettiest beaches. The Philippines is known for its beautiful beaches, so our first goal was to find white sand, turquoise water, and palm trees leaning at the perfect angle. We found it all on the sleepy island of Siquijor in the Visayas.
Our Story: The Beaches of Siquijor
We were sitting in the rain in the Banda Islands, deciding what to do next. We were itching for sun and sand, and the weather forecast in the Philippines looked beautiful. We moved up the dates of our Philippines trip to take advantage of the great weather. But how to choose a beach? The Philippines has thousands of islands, all of which look amazing. The most famous beach destinations, like Boracay, are overrun with people. To make matters more complicated, we were going to arrive in the country at the tail end of Easter week, … Read more
“Now! Jump! Swim, swim! Look down!” OMG! I am swimming six feet above a 20’ long whale shark. Welcome to Donsol in the Philippines, where finding whale sharks is a gazillion times easier than finding an ATM!
Why were we there?
It may take two and half days to get to Donsol from Moalboal, but only two and half minutes to find the world’s biggest fish. Guaranteed! Almost…
Paul’s Swimming Challenge #3
I passed challenges #1 and #2 like a f#@kig champ. I swam with turtles in Apo Island. And, in Moalboal I swam over a deep dropoff (accompanied by millions of schooling sardines). If I pass challenge #3, Laura will open our splurge fund and let me do an Open Water PADI course. If I don’t, I will continue to suffer the lonely life of a dive widow.
This time, I have to drop off a boat into the deep blue sea. The supporting cast will include the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark, and numerous non-swimming and raucous tourists.… Read more
Who wants to swim with a shimmering swirling cyclone of silvery sardines? You do! Awesome. Pack your bag and head for Moalboal on Cebu Island, Philippines. This is one wildlife encounter that is straight out of Discovery Channel’s Blue Planet. It is exhilarating and frankly unmissable if you are in the area.
Why were we there?
Laura had set me a few swimming challenges in preparation for doing a PADI Open Water course. I needed a big distraction to take my mind off challenge number two. And, a million metallic minnows seemed to fit the bill.
Paul’s Swimming Challenge #2
I sailed through part one with ease. I swam with turtles on Apo Island. We snorkeled with several of these gorgeous beasties for hours but they were easily within my shallow water swimming comfort zone. Part two would be psychologically more challenging. I had to swim over a deep dropoff. I would be staring down into the terrifying deep blue Abyss, which I had singularly refused to do on my last opportunity on Pulau Hatta in the Banda Islands. There was a dark blue line drawn in the sand (well, ocean) and I could not cross it!
Why the … Read more